Following the unorthodox release of their eponymous debut album, which saw the duo release one track a month over the space of a year, alt-pop pair Oh Wonder guide us through their forthcoming sophomore release Ultralife, in which inspirations range far and wide; from climate change, to bizarre interactions on the tube.
"Solo" is about being in a crowded, suffocating house party, full of people who are absorbed entirely in themselves and each other, and the consequent realisation that you don’t want to be there; that you need space, freedom and isolation. As humans we are constantly flip-flopping between the need for our own independence and self-nourishment, versus the endless demands of socialising and staying connected to the world via social media, emails and the internet. Sometimes the social web is just too overwhelming and we need to focus on ourselves and celebrate our individuality.
"Ultralife" is the discovery of something or someone who makes your life ultra. For us, "ultra" represents an extraordinary, uncommon and revolutionary way of living. It’s important to find someone or something that allows you to return to the purest state of being: having "blood in your veins" and "soul in your bones". This then allows you to live your life to the extreme in a positive and impactful way without being clouded by self-doubt, loss and defeat. We wanted to call the album Ultralife, as this is the kind of life that music allows us all to live. Both artists and listeners internalise music in a cathartic way, and often experience epiphanies whilst creating or listening to it. We have certainly listened to songs at moments of abandonment, and found hope and comfort in them. Music changes the way we see ourselves and the world around us; it makes our lives "ultra".
"Lifetimes" focuses on climate change, and the ever-increasing need for a wake-up call across the entire planet. To us, climate change needs to be at the forefront of the agenda for politicians and world leaders. We coined the term "climaphobes" to describe climate change-deniers who are totally hindering progress and positive efforts to create a more sustainable planet and way of living.
We also wanted to address the relentless demand for technological progress and consumption, which is also contributing to the devastation of our planet. For us, "seconds, minutes, hours, lifetimes" is a countdown to either the destruction of the planet, or an alternate way of living that is sustainable for us and the generations to come.
"High On Humans" was inspired by a tube journey. On the way back from Heathrow Airport, Josephine eavesdropped on a conversation between two girls who worked in a sunglasses shop at the terminal. They were happily going back and forth discussing their favourite foods. When one girl declared that she didn’t like avocados, Josephine interrupted and said, "what do you mean you don’t like avocados!?" We then had a 20 minute conversation about hot sauces and condiments and the three of us exited the carriage high on adrenaline having connected with strangers. Josephine then went on to talk to a man who had knocked all his teeth out and was covered in blood, which created a carriage-wide conversation about injuries and operations. Everyone’s mood seemed lifted by this random interaction with the unknown. On the way back from the station to her house, Josephine sang "I’m getting high on humans" into her voice notes on her phone, and sat down with Anthony to fully write it the next day. This song celebrates the potential to "get high" and feel liberated by talking to strangers. It’s something we all fear, and something we should all do more of!
"Heavy" is a disco-inspired tune about idolising someone and proposing the idea of getting heavy on it - if you know what we’re saying…! We were inspired by Chilly Gonzales’ piano solos and the upbeat carefreeness of Feist.
"All About You" explores a character who is entirely self-absorbed, behaving in a self-serving manner and ignoring the will of the people. It was written in New York at the time of the presidential election, and whilst it isn’t directly about Trump, it reasserts the importance of acting in the interests of everyone, rather than a specific group of people. Now more than ever we need to focus not on money, power, or undermining social groups, but on celebrating equality, fighting for human rights and justice and making it about everyone.
"Bigger Than Love" is a break-up song, re-framed from the perspective of being at a point where two people still love each other, but for some reason their relationship is too consuming, too "big" to handle. It’s even more difficult and tragic to part ways when there isn’t necessarily a logical or practical reason, and this song tries to capture the feeling when the space between two people is too immense to contain.
"Heartstrings" is one of the first songs we wrote and it gently led the direction of this new record. We wrote it in New York after listening to a lot of Frank Ocean. It’s a conflicting conversation with yourself about the person you’ve broken up with. In the relationship you felt lonely and inadequate, and out of the relationship you are tinged with nostalgia and regret and trying to persuade the other person that you were right for each other.
"Slip Away" is specifically about that moment in the movies when two people are fighting, they go to bed with their backs to each other, and one of them is wide awake, staring into the dark. In this nighttime moment, you are in fact living truthfully because you aren’t constrained by the other person. It’s about the realisation that you’ve given the relationship your all and tried to salvage it, but neither of you can quite muster the courage to break it off, so you just co-exist in limbo.
"Overgrown" is a used here as a metaphor for mental health disorders - specifically depression. We can’t be happy when people we love are sad and struggling, and this song is a reminder of the importance to carry others when they cannot support themselves, and remember that it’s the mental disease that is making them the way they are; it isn’t their fault.
"My Friends" was written in New York after a teary morning walking around McCarren Park in Williamsburg, where we wondered why on earth we’d decided to spend our only month off from touring in America, rather than at home in London with our family and friends. Touring obviously guts your social life, and this song is a little admission of how out of touch we feel with the people we love back home, and a plea of sorts to remember us whilst we are travelling around the world.
"Waste" is about the regret you feel after you’ve had a fight with someone, when you wish you could take it all back. It’s the antithesis of ‘Solo’, in that it’s the realisation that it is in fact a waste to be alone. We need people in our lives. Humans are not solitary creatures, we work in packs. Change can only be effected if we work together and share our ideas with each other.