Calgary Folk Music Festival: Aussie act Oh Pep! getting props for their peppy folk-pop

Posted by Mike Bell on 21 July 2016

Sometimes Wikipedia is your friend.

Yes, you can trust it for the basics, but it also yields a fun nugget or two.

Take the Australian band Oh Pep!, for example.

It’s got the typical bio elements, the fact that the core of the folk-pop group is guitarist-vocalist Olivia (Liv) Hally and violinist-mandolinist Pepita (Pepi) Emmerichs, who met at school, began writing music together, touring, releasing some EPs, receiving some acclaim and eventually releasing their full-length debut Stadium Cake this past June.

What it doesn’t immediately tell you, though, it provides you by way of an Easter egg which is the link on Emmerich’s name which sends you to her own Wiki page that reveals: She was Max’s sister, Claire, in Spike Jonze’s wonderful adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are.

“I haven’t really done anything since then,” she says with a laugh at the revelation. “But I was just lucky that it was such an incredible production to be a part of because I don’t think that creative teams like Spike Jonze’s are that common. I just had the best experience possible and then stopped.

“That ended my acting career.”

Prior to Oh Pep!’s appearance at this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival — and on a day her filmic denouement showed up on the tube — Emmerichs and Hally spoke with the Calgary Herald.

Q: Canada seems to be a large part of your story and seems to have embraced you quite a bit.

Hally: Well, yeah. It’s good because it’s reciprocated. As you know we did our album here, so we have a pretty strong connection to it.

Q: Why did you record it here?

Emmerichs: We came over for our producer Daniel Ledwell. We met him by chance at a festival last year called Folk Alliance International … and after the festival he had recommended we go and record with him. We had a week off so we just jumped at the opportunity and we went over there and it went really, really well. We recorded two songs that are on the album as well …

It went so well that first recording session that we were like, ‘Oh, wow, we have to go back and do the rest of the album there. And it was funny because we were there in winter the first time and the whole place was iced over, we’d never seen so much snow in our lives. (Laughs) And when we went back in August last year it was super warm and we were swimming on the lake that the studio is on instead of standing on it, so that was bizarre. You’ve got real seasons.

Q: I know you’ve done EPs in the past, but did you view Stadium Cake as your full coming out? Did you want to use it to show all sides of what it is you do?

Hally: Yes it is. We started the band in high school so we’ve done a lot of growing up together, so that record encapsulates all of that time in between the start of the band and right now. There’s a lot of touring in there and endless shows and a lot of life stuff.

Q: With all of the sounds and styles you incorporate, the music you still have a very defined sound. When did you know what the Oh Pep! sound was?

Hally: Definitely we’ve grown a lot as a band, but the thing that stayed the same that kind of got us to this point was the attitude we started with and it’s the shared approach to songwriting that Pep and I have — which came to fruition in its most complete sense for the album — which is this idea that we don’t like to write with any boundaries in mind or anything like that. And we come from a similar taste in music, I mean, not always but enough that what we find interesting in music we share together, which is getting a kick out of those little quirks that your hear in other people’s music. And then we apply that to our own backgrounds, that we both went to university and studied music, and we met at a classical music high school.

Emmerichs: And that also goes for genres, so when we were in the studio we weren’t thinking about making a folk record or making a pop record, it was just doing whatever felt right to serve the songs. And even though we grew up in the folk scene, probably because of the instrumentation — fiddle, mandolin and acoustic, in particular — we never were writing with that kind of style in mind.

Q: How much of the band and the music you make is just an extension of your friendship?

Hally: I don’t know. That’s hard to answer when you’re in it.

Emmerichs: We started becoming friends at the same time we started writing music together so it’s always been entwined, I guess, which is really cool. Regardless of whether or not we’re playing music there’s still a huge connection on many, many levels.

Q: Your music sounds so effortless and easy. It can’t be that easy is it?

Hally: I think that the main thing is that it’s really fun, that’s probably why. Even if we don’t get a song out of it, the creative process is generally a really fun one for us. There’s a lot of laughing even when we’re writing a sad song. (Laughs) Which is a really great thing. In saying that, it’s not like every song that’s written came out in five seconds or anything like that, we’re also working hard at this thing but enjoying ourselves while we’re working hard, which is all you could really ask for.

Q: The song Doctor Doctor is doing incredibly well for you and seems like a pretty good calling card.

Hally: It has. It’s funny, that song nearly didn’t get finished. It was a very quick write. Actually, it kind of follows up on the last question in that I took that song to Pep and said, “I’ve got this thing. What do you think?” And she said, “Uh, it’s kind of boring, you can finish it yourself.” (Laughs) So I was like, ‘Oh, all right, I will,” and I went home and I wasn’t sure it was going to go anywhere so I spent not very long on it at all, put most of it together and then it just seemed like an almost complete song. I showed Pep again and she was like, “Oh, yeah,” and we both agreed what needed to be changed about it, but all very quickly … All of a sudden it was complete and all of a sudden it was our single, which is kind of a funny way for it to happen because had I not spent that extra half-hour on it it wouldn’t exist.

Oh Pep! perform Friday and Saturday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.