Photos: Tristan McDonald
Oro Swimming Hour are a duo making music that propels the soul. Oliver Wilde has become a distinguished force for his own solo output, but he’s had another project waiting to surface with London-based musician (and children’s book artist) Nicholas Stevenson for the last decade. Now, they’re about to drop their debut album Penrose Winoa on Art Is Hard and it’s a real beauty.
The project derives from a friendship which brought the pair back to their early days as musicians. Nestled into a table in the Friska café, Wilde says, “This whole project is very nostalgic. It’s that old thing of staying up all night in a room writing songs and making a little record just for the fun of it. There isn’t much more to our approach than that. It’s just short bursts. It’s very quick and instinctual. We don’t over-analyse it and we don’t expect anything of it. We’re not precious around takes. I think that’s the best way to highlight it, it’s nostalgia towards when you started out.”
“We’re not trying to sound like anything”
There are no conventional influences behind Oro Swimming Hour. They thrive off each other during these intensive bursts of writing. “It definitely started out as more of an excuse for us to hang out in many ways,” Stevenson explains. “The recording was a way of documenting us playing these songs. Some of them have been around for a long long time. We just wanted to play them again.” Wilde agrees, adding, “We’re not trying to sound like anything. We actually just really like each other’s music. That’s been the main influence – each other.”
The songs of Oro Swimming Hour are given life by simplicity, and there are certain rules in place to ensure their minds don’t wander too far from the original concept. “From the very first one we said we could only have so many guitar and vocal tracks and one extra thing,” Stevenson explains. Wilde agrees and says this helped them hone their sound. “The limitations make it more important to make the melodies stand alone and the tunes and the words. It’s very exposed and it can’t really hide behind anything,” he says.
Just like any mates hanging out together late at night, they often end up showing each other random things on the internet, which consequently influences their musical output. “We knew we wanted to have a voice for this project which was different to the voices that we use alone,” Wilde continues. “Obviously it’s still personal in the sense that it’s coming from us. We spend a lot of time finding weird stories and things online. It’s amazing what kind of inspiration you can find in the depths of YouTube.” Stevenson nods in agreement, “We’ve been looking at stuff that we find interesting and have been weaving narratives around that,” he says. “We’ve been using the language of really alien subject matter, which made the lyric writing quite a process really.”
The minimal recording process is a huge part of the sound. “It’s more pop-focused than other stuff we’ve done. We describe it as having to view it through a dirty window because the production is so basic,” Stevenson continues. “We can have these big pop ideas but they’re slightly obscured in a way by the whole process.” That murky window is also added to by the fact some songs were even recorded at a kitchen table. “We told people in the shared houses that they could still talk and make noise. A lot of that ended up on the record.”
Wilde suggests that these ended up as a sort of time capsule, describing the pair’s process as “documenting a certain moment.” “If there’re other things that happen to be within that moment, like somebody being in the room with us then we’re not opposed to that being on the recording,” he says. “We love old lo-fi stuff where there’s background noise, you get a feel for the space that it’s being made in.”
“That’s been the main influence – each other.”