Australia’s Oh Pep! have been slowly building a name for themselves in the past few years. Already a powerhouse in the Americana realm, The duo of Olivia Halley and Pepita Emmerich’s expertly fuse their bluegrass and folk roots with a natural pop sensibility. This came to fruition on 2016’s Stadium Cake where the band wrote songs that fit as nicely on the radio as they do on the front porch of a farmhouse. The duo then released I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You in October 2018, which pushed them into the pop realm even further without losing that bluegrass foundation. We recently had the chance to speak with Olivia Halley from Oh Pep! about their musical roots, their home country of Australia, and the growth in musical philosophy between Stadium Cake and I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You…
How did Oh Pep! Form?
Pepi and I met in high school in Melbourne. We were both at a performing arts school studying classical music. I was playing classical guitar and singing on the side. Pepi was studying violin. Pepi walked past when I was about to rehearse a song and I asked if she wanted to join me and that was that.
What was the music scene in Australia like as you were coming up?
There was and still is an incredible original music scene in Melbourne, especially. When Oh Pep! was first starting I remember going to the Evelyn on Monday nights for their residencies and watching these amazing bands, thinking ‘that’s what I want to do’. Even before Oh Pep! I was lucky that my family loved live music. We’d drive up to the city from Phillip Island to see acts like Liz Stringer and Jordie Lane. I remember when Loudon Wainwright III came to town, I think we went to every gig of his in the state.
There’s always so much going on in Melbourne. Even now, when I’m coming home from tour, I get out my diary and make sure I’m not going to miss anything while I’m home. We run these songwriting hangouts too, called FUN, and get people together to write music and go for a surf or something like that – and I get a lot of inspiration from that as well.
Where did the folk influence come from, is there a large folk/bluegrass following in Australia?
I was listening to lot of rock/folk/roots/country, maybe what we’d call Americana, when I was growing up and so was Pepi. I think our conversations around what we listened to as kids and seeing the similarities really consolidated the band. After uni finished (I had studied classical guitar and Pepi studied jazz fiddle), we went on this big adventure which was really formative to our touring overseas. We hung out at fiddle conventions around the USA and met so many people in the old time and bluegrass scenes.
There is a small but lively old-time scene in Australia and we hang out with a group that we’re a part of called FOTA (Feminist Old Time Association) that’s really given us our sanity over the past few years. We come back and sit in circles playing these simple, but nuanced melodies over and over in this Zen-like manner with our friends, occasionally singing songs. It’s pretty cool/cathartic.
What is the vibe like when you are writing and recording? Is there a certain philosophy that the band sticks to when writing a song?
The general philosophy in songwriting and collaboration (and life) is to not be judgmental. Sometimes someone will come by with an idea they were going to throw out and then next minute someone else has picked it up and it’s become a song with a lot of life. There’s something very special when you collaborate with someone else and what you create becomes larger than the sum of its parts. I also love solo writes, and a lot of the new record was written that way, too.
Stadium Cake is a beautiful record and saw the band’s sound move into more of a pop realm. Was there a conscious decision to do that, or was it natural?
I believe we’re just growing more into ourselves as a band. I think for both records we were like “let’s make a pop record”. We felt like we were writing pop songs but through the filter of ourselves and all the music we’ve absorbed over the years. And as time has gone on, we’ve just moved deeper and deeper into it.
Would you discuss the most significant artistic, musical, personal change between Stadium Cake and I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You…?
There was a sense of naivety that was lost between Stadium Cake and IWOTAY. I think that came from us understanding what a record cycle felt like, what it’s like being on the road, growing into ourselves as people, and also just #life happening.
You just finished a pretty massive tour of the US, Europe, and then back to Australia, is there more new music on the horizon, more touring?
There is. We have our North American tour in February and March. There are always more songs on the horizon.