Hailing from Melbourne, Olivia Hally and Pepita Emmerichs make up the folk pop duo, Oh Pep!. Despite only releasing their debut album, Stadium Cake, in late June of 2016, Oh Pep! have taken their three previous EPs around the world, performing throughout the EU, UK, and USA. Building on their previous folk instrumentation with electronic elements, Stadium Cake is Oh Pep! debuting a new, poppier sound, which works as a really interesting backdrop to lyrics that, at times, delve into some pretty heart wrenching territory. I sat down with Olivia and Pep to talk about this new direction, the importance of writing uninhibited, and how artists should use their public platform.
So, the premier question… What’s the origin story of Oh Pep! ?
Olivia: We met at classical music high school… well it was a music high school and we both studied classical music. But I was always playing songs on the side, that was like my little rebellion. Pep was in the year below me, so the teacher was like ‘there’s someone else who likes rock music!’. Then one day I was sitting in the corridor and Peppy walked past and I was like ‘oh, that’s that chick that the teacher wanted me to work with!’. It was a very serendipitous thing. And then it just went from there. It was like ‘wow, we do really value the same things in songs.’
Pep: I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it, my whole brain was like ‘oh my god I’m going to be in a band with this cool girl’.
Olivia: I don’t wanna be called a cool girl! It was totally not my vibe in high school!
Pep: I thought you were cool!
This particular album has taken that folk sound you had in the past few EPs, and expanded it with some poppier electronic sounds. What made you decide to push your sound in that direction?
Olivia: We’ve always thought we wrote pop songs, but our instrumentation has always led to us being labelled as a folk band. Pep plays fiddle and I play acoustic guitar, and that’s where we sat in the world. Even though we’re really informed by folk music, we spent a lot of time learning traditional music – I studied classical guitar at uni, and Pep studied jazz – so we’re actually informed by a heap of music, but aesthetically, I think, people are like “… folk band!”. And we’re like ‘totally! Cool!’. And then when we worked with Dan, he just really opened our world to understanding synth sounds and more electronic sounds, and it was more a conversation that we were having with him.
Your album starts off with some really interesting dissonance, and this gives your music an edge, and I was wondering where that came from.
Pep: I think we both value this idea of having tension and release in a song, and I guess you could say that comes from studying different kinds of music, or just like listening to lots. I mean… our kind of thing is that we make what we would want to listen to ourselves.
Olivia: It’s a funny thing to say, but it’s true.
Pep: I think also, in our choices, we do go for the more dissonant, over the consonant. Because even if it’s like not as sonically pretty…
Olivia: it goes to us ‘oh woah, what’s that’.
Pep: Yeah, it’s not expected and that kinda keeps our interest up.
I wanted to talk about one of the singles from your new album, Doctor Doctor. There are a lot of songs that have dealt with issues like abortion in a really ambiguous way, what made you decide to be so explicit with the subject matter?
Olivia: I think it’s funny, it definitely deals with abortion within the song, but when I’m singing it, when I’m thinking about the essence of the song, it’s actually about seeking all this advice. Like all the choruses refer to consulting a psychic, or a doctor, or your mum, but you know the answer the whole time, whatever that might be.
And I feel like a lot of people can relate to that idea of seeking advice all the time, and you don’t know what’s up, but you really do know what’s up, you just don’t want to acknowledge it. So that’s how I’ve come to interpret the song. But then you travel the world with this song, and you’re all of a sudden in a place where the approach to women’s rights is very different… It was a bit of an eye opener. Because you do an interview in Missouri, or something like that, and you’re like ‘…oh. This is a very different topic here.’
What was your experience with that?
Olivia: It was never negative or anything. It was more like… I think my experience with the song is that I really had a sense of where I’m from and how that shaped me as a person. And it was a really eye opening experience to take a song like that around the world, because a lot of people listen to it and they might not ever pick up on it. Like I’ve read (not that you should ever do this), I’ve read reviews of that song and they’re like ‘a hip, new, bouncy Oh Pep! tune’ and I’m like ‘oh, cool, that’s what you got out of the song’. And that’s great because I want people to interpret stuff however they like, but then you go to other places and it’s like ‘oh… That’s hit a different note.’ The whole point is just to facilitate a discussion.
What do you think the role of the performer or musician in addressing social issues?
O: It’s interesting, because Stadium Cake was our first album, so we didn’t know how a lot of things would roll out. So I think it’s good to go in with a kind of… I’m trying to find the right word… it’s not naivety, it’s not disregard…
O: Innocence! Yeah, innocence, and an uninhibited way of writing. But I also feel like that fact that Peppy and I are in a band and we write what we write is a statement in itself, without actively being like ‘we’re going to make a statement’. So I feel like some of the stuff we’ve been writing recently, or some of the stuff I’ve shown you (Pep), I’ve been like “woah! I love this line but like… that’s a big line!” But therefore it’s so empowering that we can do that and we should be because that’s a truth for us, and people can take it or leave it however they like. It’s definitely a powerful platform.
P: And I always think, because of my experience with songs, that you just take from it what you want. I think you kind of have to do what feels right for you, and be authentic to yourself.
O: We get people writing in about Stadium Cake with personal stories of how they relate to songs in a complete different interpretation to how we wrote the song. Like I know Tea, Milk, and Honey has been used as a wedding song for someone, and I’m like ‘wow that’s a really fucked up song!’ and they’re like ‘this is our wedding song!’ and I’m like ‘… cooool!’
I mean if that’s what you’re getting out of it.
O: Yeah I mean go for it! I’ve had songs that have totally changed my life, and I’m like ‘wow. That writer really gets me. They totally understand me.’ and now I have this thought that like maybe they really don’t, but like that song totally changed my direction for whatever reason.
P: That’s why I think all art is so important. It makes you feel this connection in your own personal way, which nothing else does, and it’s going to be different for everyone. And that’s such a precious thing. If you took art away for a day you wouldn’t know what you were doing.
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