The name sounds like a shrug of the shoulders at the vicissitudes of monstrous fate.
But in three years, the Oh Wells have gone far beyond something that began with two 16-year-old Earl Marriott students getting together to bake cupcakes and commiserate over boys (or the lack thereof), the problems of shaky self-confidence and the typical doom dramas of teenage angst.
There was always more to it than that, of course, as those who caught their local performances, including at last year’s Spirit of the Sea Festival, can attest.
Factor in Sarah Jickling’s years of classical training as a pianist and guitarist-ukelele player Molly Griffin’s lifelong passion for music, fueled by early exposure to The Beatles and Paul Simon.
Add their clear, musical vocals and harmonizing, fresh-faced appeal, original songs with an honest, down-to-earth folk-pop ambience – and the kind of wry humour that leads people to call a band the Oh Wells in the first place – and you have a group with ample potential to transcend the garage-rec room-coffee house circuit.
That potential picked up over the last couple of years as Jickling and Griffin transitioned into adulthood and the world of gigs at adult venues such as Vancouver’s Railway Club and The Biltmore – and acquired a rhythm section of bassist Dan Roberts and drummer Nathan Rice (although it must be noted the latter has since had to drop out of the project to be replaced by several temporary fill-ins from other bands).
“We want people to dance,” said Molly of the difference the rhythm section has made to their sound.
If there was any lingering doubt about their viability as an act, it surely vanished when the Oh Wells – now managed by Molly’s elder sister, Ginger – snagged the number 1 spot in the Shindig annual battle of the bands at The Railway Club on Dec. 7, winning featured appearances at Canadian Music Week in Toronto (March 9-13) and Vancouver’s Music Waste (June 1-4).
The band’s debut five-song EP – The EP That We Love – professionally produced by Phil Lehman, was released Jan. 20 with a show at The Railway Club and will shortly be available directly from their website (www.theohwells.com), which has also been linking visitors to their MySpace and Facebook pages for a listen.
Even though the band is taking a breather from live gigs for a few weeks, there’s still plenty to get excited about – including their appearance (with guest drummer Jess Desrochers of Their There) Feb. 26 at Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP) battle of the bands.
If they win there, they also get to play Seattle’s legendary Bumbershoot Festival, Ginger Griffin pointed out.
And there’s also a great deal of strategizing about how to get radio play for their songs, she added.
If this all sounds like pretty heady, marketing-driven stuff, the continued iconic presence of cupcakes on the Oh Wells website is a clear signal that, while they’ve come a long way in a few years, they don’t want to get too far from their roots – or the root of their appeal to fans, which surfaced early.
“We were just doing this for fun,” Jickling remembered.
“We recorded one song over the Christmas break (from Marriott) and posted it on Facebook. Then, when we went back to school, we had people coming up to us saying, ‘I love your band’.”
Quirkily titled tunes such as Is It Too Late To Apologize?, Secret Society, I Hate The Sun, Closure and Otis have a strong measure of indentification for a young fan base dealing with their own insecurity, they understand.
“People like the lyrics,” Jickling said. “People have said, ‘I don’t know you, but I want to thank you for making this song that says exactly how I feel’.”
“We’re a venue for teenage girls who don’t think their problems are big enough,” Griffin said. “We’re talking about problems that aren’t really problems – but we still need to talk about them.”
Although they work well together (“We were friends before we did music,” Griffin said), it’s surprising to learn the two principal songwriters don’t create their songs as a team.
“It’s too stressful to collaborate,” Griffin said. “Sarah writes her songs by herself and I write my songs by myself, and then we bring them to the band.”
But Roberts said there is a universality about Jickling’s and Griffin’s tunes that makes it easy for him to contribute as a band member.
“When I started listening, there was something really accessible to them,” he said.
The Oh Wells have also benefited from a great measure of understanding from their parents, who green-lighted – for now, anyway – their singleminded pursuit of music straight out of high school.
While Molly Griffin’s path was not unexpected (“I don’t think I ever wanted to do anything other than music,” she remembered) both Jickling and Roberts have parents in the teaching profession who have underlined the importance of education. But Jickling notes it was her parents who put her in piano lessons in the first place and Roberts, a history major at UBC, said music has always been important in his family, too.
“My Dad started me off on this,” he said. “The first album I got was Pink Floyd’s The Wall.”
“All our parents are really supportive,” Griffin added.
“They even come out to shows at 11 at night in Vancouver,” Jickling laughed.