Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, more commonly known as Oh Wonder, stroll through the elevator doors into Republic Records’ New York City office. As they do, their single titled “Hallelujah” happens to be playing over the lobby’s speakers. “It’s the best thing ever,” Josephine says, beaming. Anthony, meanwhile, cringes any time he hears their songs because the perfectionist in him will always want to try to make things better.
There’s no going back now, though. Oh Wonder’s third studio album No One Else Can Wear Your Crown is out today (Feb. 7) nearly three years after 2017’s Ultralife and five since their breakthrough self-titled debut.
“Hallelujah” is the album’s lead single, and really, there are plenty of doubters from Anthony and Josephine’s past that should have been the ones to walk out of that elevator and greeted by the self-empowering message in the song’s first verse: “I heard it on the radio / On my way back home / That I’m gonna be someone / I guess it was a song they wrote / Saying don’t go slow / ‘Cause you’re gonna be someone / They were singing hallelujah / Halle-hallelujah.”
The reception following the release of “Hallelujah” in September was overwhelming. The official music video, done all in one shot and directed by Gregory Ohrel, has surpassed one million views on YouTube.
“I think I was surprised at how many people connected with the song as a narrative because we wrote it about people that didn’t believe in us that we would ever make it or be successful,” Josephine tells tmrw, “and I was really surprised to hear how many messages we got saying, ‘Thank you so much for this song. I really needed this in my life at this moment.’ It just shows that most people come up against brick walls or naysayers.”
“Yeah, I think everyone, on their route to success, has a wall that they kind of need to break through,” Anthony adds. “For us, that song is just trying to explain our walls that we’ve been through. There have been many.”
Josephine once had a member of her former management team tell her to quit. She also remembers festival performances when she was 17 years old ending with people coming up and telling her, “Don’t bother.” Negativity primarily lived on the outside, but it’s only human to have a little bit on the inside, too.
“I think that, still now, there’s moments where you’re like, ‘Ah, this isn’t going well,’” Anthony admits. “But then you almost have to just pinch yourself. I think to get back to feeling good about it, you just need to feel gratitude towards it. Be like, actually, this is insane how we’ve done any of this. How are we even playing music in New York? How are we touring around Asia? I think just those pinch-me moments, you kind of need them just to keep you sane and to respect all the stuff that you’ve actually achieved.”
“‘Cause your benchmark is always raising, right?” Josephine continues, finishing her partner’s thought (which is something both of them naturally do throughout this conversation). “And when you go back and find the goals that I made seven years ago or eight years ago, and all I wanted was to have a 100,000 views on a video on YouTube and get my song played on the radio And to me, I’d have made it then. Those goals keep raising, and then suddenly find yourself waking up and thinking, like, ‘Why haven’t I won a Grammy? I’m so crappy!’ C’mon, reality check here. You’re doing OK. But I bet even when you win a Grammy, you’ll be like, why haven’t I got five Grammys? What’s wrong with me?’
Anthony: “Chasing the impossible.”
Josephine: “So then how do you find the secret?”
Anthony: “Just have to be grateful.”
Josephine: “Yeah, gratitude equals contentment probably.”
To watch them participate in an interview together, so fluid and synced, is to understand just how collaborative their songwriting process must be.
“I think the nature of being in a relationship with someone and in a band is that it’s all-consuming anyway,” Josephine says. “Even if we go out for dinner on a Friday night, on a date or whatever, we’ll still end up talking about Oh Wonder because it’s the biggest thing we have in common.”
Anthony and Josephine have been in a relationship for seven years and live together now in London. They have a studio out at the end of their home garden. If they want to write a song at 11 p.m. instead of veg out on the couch watching television, they just have to walk to the studio in the backyard. Josephine’s favourite part of the album process happened in their living room.
“When the string players come round, seven of the 10 songs have strings on, … It’s just the best day,” she reflects. “It was so old school. We had a Nest camera in the living room, and I got it up, so we were [in the studio] at the end of the garden, they were in the living room and we were talking to them through the Nest camera. It was super lo-fi, but your heart just breaks into like a million pieces because you’ve written these parts, and strings are just so emotive, and I’m just always in floods of tears when they’re recording because it feels like a real combination of your efforts ‘cause it’s the last thing that goes on.”
Anthony: “It’s the final layer.”
Josephine: “It’s the final layer, and it adds the most impact compared to any other instruments.”
Anthony: “And the song suddenly makes sense.”
There is no off switch between home and music for them because, well, there is no off switch in life for anybody. They are constantly inspired by what is happening around them.
“Better Now” is perhaps the most instantaneous example of this on the 10-track album. Similar to how everybody can relate to lacking in self-belief or withstanding others’ doubt, everybody can relate to the helpless feeling of sitting in a waiting room for hours on end. Anthony and Josephine were at home—and happened to already be sitting at the piano—when Josephine received a text that her cousin’s newborn baby was experiencing complications. She had the impulse to record a song for her cousin and his family, so they quickly recorded one by repurposing a previously written chorus and writing specific verses around it.
“And just sent him the voice note whilst he was in hospital,” Josephine remembers. “He listened to it, and he said he played it to his baby in the intensive care unit. We were like, ‘What! That’s insane. That’s so cool.’”
When Oh Wonder began putting out music, they kept their identities a secret for about a year. No One Else Can Wear Your Crown is a practice in the exact opposite: vulnerability. Anthony and Josephine are exposing parts of themselves that even they hadn’t previously confronted. “I Wish I Never Met You” is derived from several of Josephine’s ex-boyfriends that each cheated on her and left her with trust issues. Writing a song about it eight years later turned into a pseudo diary entry that illuminated emotions she didn’t consciously realize she was burying.
“The only thing I’m wary of is I don’t want to project what I think a song is about onto a song because I think the beauty of being anonymous and making our first record kind of quietly and just letting people consume it how they want is that so many people would read lyrics way differently to us and interpret them to mean something,” Josephine says, “which we’d just be like, ‘That song doesn’t mean that. What are you doing?'”
“It’s not your place to say that,” Anthony chimes.
“Yeah,” Josephine agrees. “It’s not mine. I’ve shared it, so then it’s like, the author is dead. I’m absent from that now. It’s about the listener and their relationship to the song. So, I guess I’m a little bit wary about us prescribing so vividly and providing such a detailed meaning behind the song. I just hope that people can still take it and allow it to mean something for them.”
Josephine circles back to this a beat later to recognize the “magic” in being able to “hold your hand up as an artist and also being like, ‘This is how I’m feeling!'”
Oh Wonder’s lyricism is a delicate balance between telling one-off anecdotes and looping in anthemic, overarching messages.
“Better Now” places listeners in a specific waiting room alongside Anthony and Josephine in the first verse: “Twenty-two hours / Pacing the room / Praying for you / Hot cup of coffee / They said you’re sleeping / No news is good / Nothing to do / Cold cup of coffee.”
But in “Hallelujah” and “In and Out of Love,” listeners are handed more metaphorical lines to run with about embracing your unique crown and wearing it proudly and holding onto love once you’ve found it.
People are able to grab onto whatever pieces resonate most, regardless of how each song is independently delivered, because the underlying thread is evergreen.
“The songs are about feeling really deep feelings of either euphoria or sadness and totally accepting them as yours,” Josephine says. “It’s really easy to diminish those feelings or have to justify them or just try and bury them because you don’t necessarily want to be feeling that, but I think it’s so important—on a personal level—just go, ‘This is who I am. I need to accept that in order to have compassion for myself and compassion for other people.’
“This year that we’ve had, we’ve both been working hard. I’ve been in intense therapy for a year just working out who I am and what I want to say and who I want to be, and I think I’ve realized that the best thing you can do for yourself is try and fall in love with yourself in all of your gross and amazing glory.”
Millions of people have fallen in love with Oh Wonder, and one of them bumps into us during our walk around the outskirts of Central Park. A young woman walking in the opposite direction abruptly stops and loudly squeals. When Anthony, Josephine and several others look at her, she meekly apologizes. “Sorry, I just love you.”
“That’s Oh Wonder!” she tells the man she was with as they continue walking toward wherever they’re going, pointing back at a smiling and waving Anthony and Josephine. As nice as the gesture was, the most important validation is their earned belief in themselves. Chances are, though, if Oh Wonder had the time to properly interact with that fan, they would have told her that her reaction was perfectly OK because those feelings are hers and no one else’s.
View Oh Wonder’s upcoming tour dates here and stream No One Else Can Wear Your Crown below.