Continuing our accidental Australian theme for the week, this Friday marks the release of the second album from Melbourne-duo, Oh Pep! That record, I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You, is the follow-up to the band’s acclaimed 2016-debut, Stadium Cake. Listening to the album, it’s clear that Oh Pep! have pulled off that difficult trick of moving on without forgetting where they came from. It still walks the middle ground between folk and pop, and still has those incredible melodies that saw their early material stand so far out from the crowd, yet it is equally clear this is a band not settling for anything resembling their comfort zone.
Throughout I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You, Oh Pep! constantly seem to morph and evolve. On Asking For or What’s The Deal With David? they show a penchant for stadium ready pop in the mold of Tegan & Sara or Jenny Lewis, while Parallel shows a lovelorn country-folk sound First Aid Kit or even Lucinda Williams would be proud of. Throughout, their classical training merges with their ability to write a pure-pop hit, as bold instrumentation and crystalline production give it a perfectly judged sheen.
Today, ahead of sharing I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You with the world, Olivia from the band answers our questions, discussing songwriting retreats, collaboration and how Shazam and supermarkets fit into measuring their success.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Oh Pep!?
Oh Pep! is a band from Melbourne, that I started with Pepita Emmerichs.
FTR: You’re releasing your second album next month, what can you tell us about the recording process?
We recorded this album in our hometown of Melbourne. We hadn’t recorded here properly since 2012. It felt good to go into the studio everyday with our producer, Joel Quartermain, and then back to our own homes at night to absorb the intensity that is recording. The songs, however, were written in many places. One in Nashville, one in New York, one in LA, a few in Melbourne, which was inevitable considering how much we were on the road for the last record, and even still I would take writing trips to these places between gigs. When we got into the studio, the process was nutting out how we wanted the song to sound, I would lay down a guide track, usually Joel would lay down the bed of drums and bass, I might then play guitar and sing and then Pepi would play strings and we’d put on the shine, be it keys or extra percussion or one time I even had a go at playing fiddle to mix it up… we’d find our groove using that process most days. Hurt Nobody came out of a writing session I did in New York, and those vocals are the ones I laid down in that session… Bleeding Hearts I recorded with one of our long-time bass players Zac Barter outside of Melbourne in Geelong. On those occasions, Pepi would fly strings in remotely. But for the most part, it was the three of us in the recording studio, in our insular recording bubble.
FTR: What did you do differently with this record compared to your debut? Did you feel the pressure to live up to that record?
This was different to Stadium Cake because we were at home and were coming at it from a more grounded space. The recording studio was in the same suburb of the hospital I was born in and you could bring in your favourite foods and maybe meet a friend at night or be in the same time zone as family, or Pepi would ride her bike in on occasion… this was so different to the recording of Stadium Cake. With Stadium Cake we flew to the opposite end of the world twice with session players from Australia to make our first record in a place that was really unfamiliar and I think that sense of motion and delirium of jet lag and being consumed by something in a foreign place made the epic-ness that Stadium Cake was. I think we’d both had the notion that there was (and maybe even resigned ourselves to) a possibility that IWOTAY… wouldn’t sound as ‘big’, but I think we got there, somewhat unintentionally, from a completely different place. To me it’s a still so lush and dense, but far more rooted in what I think is experience. Stadium Cake felt like it was made in motion and it was. In some ways I feel like we’d grown into ourselves as a band.
FTR: You’ve mentioned this is the sound of you getting out of your comfort zone, was that difficult to do? Or are you naturally people who want to push your music into new directions?
I think we’re both naturally inquisitive people who do want to react to what we’ve done before. I hope that comes across in this new album. I hope that from consistently songwriting and always looking out for new inspiration and learning new things that you become a more insightful writer and your musicianship grows. I think there’s a part that runs alongside that of just getting a little bit older and experiencing more of what life throws at you.
FTR: We understand this album was written in a number of locations, do you find it easy to write on the road?
If there’s enough time and space, yes. I think being on the road is great for stimulation, meeting new people and collecting ideas, but harder for concentrated periods of time to be finishing songs. Generally, I don’t think how we’ve toured previously is very conducive to writing. Your priorities become: being super present at shows, getting to where you’re going, sleep and locating vegetables. In saying that, I do try to write as often as I can.
FTR: There’s been a lot of focus on the music of Melbourne lately, do you feel part of a scene there? Why do you think so much good music is coming out of Australia?
I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe it’s that there are so many great venues and opportunities to play. Maybe it’s that there are organisations like FReeZA who encourage young people to get involved and facilitate opportunities for them…or great community radio stations like RRR and PBS. Oh Pep! had it’s infancy in Melbourne coming out of music school there and the city continues to be like a refueling station… before I get home from tour I’m making a list of the gigs I want to see.
FTR: Who/what influences you as songwriters?
I think an authentic voice and a lot of tension are some draw points for me. In Lucinda William’s writing it’s how brutal she can be in her honesty that is confronting for the listener and that’s where the tension lies, in John Prine’s lyrics I think often tension is made through his insights and humor… in someone like Mitski’s writing it can be the subject of the song or that her melodies don’t often lie of a solid bed of harmony. Or in The Killer’s writing, maybe it’s how the sections contrast and seem to bounce off of each other like something suspended in space.
FTR: We were reading about your songwriting retreat, how did that come about?
Well, it was inspired by Melbourne in a lot of ways. Knowing that there were plenty of great songwriters out there who maybe hadn’t even played a gig yet and were mostly writing by themselves… I have found with co-writing that you can hit a sweet spot where the song you write that day is greater than the sum of it’s parts, something you would have never written by yourself or you walk away learning something new. It’s somewhat of a social experiment, walking into a room with someone you’ve most likely never met, and then having to write a song with them in a set amount of hours. We started FUN with Oh Pep! to facilitate an opportunity for people to find out if it was for them or not… the first one we did was on Phillip Island (where I grew up) and we also went surfing and ate good food and generally just had a great time and made new friends… we also wanted to emphasize being a healthy person alongside being a songwriter. Since then we’ve done workshops in Ireland and Boston and will hopefully fit in some more around touring.
FTR: You’re both frequent collaborators, what makes for a good collaboration?
When you walk into a room with someone you’ve never met and you’re both willing to meet the other person openly and honestly, somewhere between you and them you find new ground that you hadn’t explored before and maybe never would have had you not met that specific person. Or if you’re collaborating with someone you know, you learn what colors that they like to paint with and they do for you as well, there can be something comforting and effortless when you’re both playing to your known strength and getting in the groove like that. I find it’s good to have a bit of both in your world.
FTR: You’re both classically trained. How do you think that shapes your songwriting?
I think we both value the tools we have to draw upon. Often it’s the case of learning as much as possible and then throwing it out the window and then writing intuitively and maybe going outside to pick some of the things off the lawn that would help refine the song or make it more interesting. Also, there’s so much inspiration in listening really actively to other people’s work and then articulating what it is that you find interesting and using that as a launching pad if you want…
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record?
I hope that people Shazam our songs in the supermarket.
FTR: What’s next for Oh Pep!?
We’re on tour for the next little while and then who knows?!
I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You is out October 26th via ATO Records. Click HERE for more information on Oh Pep!