We spoke with Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht of indie-pop band Oh Wonder on London's evolving music scene and how it correlates with coffee culture.
The pop-indie duo rose to fame in 2014 after the release of their debut namesake album and has since been making waves in the music industry. Four albums later, Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht have another venture to add to their portfolio – a coffee shop in the heart of London's artsy Peckham neighbourhood. The community-focused project began during COVID while live music and concerts were put on hold. We caught up with West and Vander Gucht on London's everchanging indie music scene, new albums, and Nola, London's new favourite coffee shop.
This is the uncut conversation from our feature on ‘London coffee culture and its relationship with music' coming out this Fall in print.
Interview by Faye Bradley and Sarah Wei.
Paradigm Haus: How has the indie music scene in London evolved over the last decade?
Oh Wonder: We both grew up in the indie scene in London, playing super small venues and pubs to very small crowds. Streaming services have had a huge impact on the way bands can develop and have enabled musicians to not just rely on playing shows to be noticed by fans and the industry. You can have many listeners and fans of your music without ever having played a show, but we both feel like it's so important to get on stage, find yourself as a musician, and grow in a very organic way.
PH: How is London as a city inspiring your new albums (including the solo album)?
OH: London is our home. It's where we grew up, where we met, where our studio is – it has soundtracked our whole relationship! Our new albums are very personal and reflective of the conversations we've been having walking the London streets in lockdown.
PH: Why did you open Nola?
OH: We were a week into our 2020 world tour when we had to return home because of the pandemic. We'd just released our third album, and put so much work into creating the live show. It was actually really difficult to go from performing on stage and being mentally prepared to play hundreds of shows to thousands of people, to sitting inside with absolutely no prospect of live music opening back up. Nola was a distraction from that loss and also a way to stay creative whilst in lockdown. We became extremely grateful for our community and neighbourhood, and wanted to give something back to the locals after 6 years of travelling all around the world and learning about what makes a good coffee shop. We've been to so many amazing coffee shops all across the globe and used those experiences to curate our favourite elements of all of them and put them into Nola.
PH: Why did you choose Peckham as the neighbourhood?
OW: Peckham is our local neighbourhood and it's the centre of culture and cool for South London. It's where we walk our dog, go out for dinner, drink cocktails, see our friends, visit ceramics fairs and creative markets, go to the gym, fix our bikes, do yoga... it's the best place!!
PH: How do you work with the local community to design the menu?
OH: Our slogan is "coffee for everyone". For us, this means being able to facilitate the local coffee fans who want to enjoy our hand brew or try our rotating seasonal espressos, whilst also welcoming those who just want a flat white and a chat. Coffee should be about connecting with people. It's a ritual, it's an escape, it's joy. Our menu has something for everyone.
PH: What were the similarities and differences between designing a coffee shop and curating an album?
OH: It's actually quite similar! In both processes, you are driven by an overall big feeling but very focused on the details. We have spent hours trying to find the perfect synth sound and hours trying to position the word NOLA on a cup. The joy and the reward are in the details. It's also strangely similar in the way that you make an album and it's not yours anymore; it belongs to the listener. Nola now belongs to the Peckham locals. As the creators, we are simply facilitating everyone else's emotions and providing a soundtrack to their lives. The difference is that a coffee shop is about what other people might want. Even if we don't particularly like a mocha, we still have to try and serve the best one we can. We'd never release a song we didn't like though!
PH: How important do you think music is in a coffee shop?
OH: Put it this way... one time our speaker system cut out for an hour and it was the most awkward hour EVER. Music is so important. It dictates the vibe and feel of the space and fills the gaps to create a flow in the store. It puts people at ease, provides a soundtrack to the ritual of a coffee. It has to be the right song at the right volume.
PH: What is unique about London’s coffee culture?
OH: We have been so lucky to enjoy so many different coffee cultures around the world, but London will always feel like a "local" coffee culture to us. We admire that each coffee shop, whilst sometimes being a destination coffee spot, predominantly and proudly serves its local people. We love seeing locals come into our Nola and our barista knows exactly what they'd like to order.
PH: What inspired your playlist at Nola?
OH: Our playlist changes depending on the time of day. In the morning people need a gentle nudge, by the weekend the sun is out, everyone is a bit happier and our staff want something to boogie to whilst they're making hundreds of coffees. You've gotta go by the sun!
Listen to Nola's Morning Coffee Playlist on Spotify here.