OSCAR SCHELLER IN LONDON, JUNE 2015. PHOTOS BY KATE OWEN.
Born, raised, and still based in London, singer and musician Oscar Scheller makes music that includes everything from summertime indie pop to dark R&B-tinged tracks. He has a deep voice fit for an orchestral ballad, but his harmonizing vocals are just as appropriate for MacBook-made pop. In his makeshift, messy bedroom studio, the 23-year-old creates catchy songs with seamless production, which, as the artist says, are “gangsta melancholic.”
“It’s a mash up of pop writing and production. A lot of the beats are straight up ripped from hip-hop records and gangster rap,” says Oscar, who drops his surname for professional and artistic purposes. “I sample James Brown and stuff I’m heavily influenced by, like East Coast hip-hop—Nas, Big L, AZ. It is kind of mean sounding, like crushed, compressed, and odd, funky drums, with this sad, melancholic melody over the top.”
Oscar grew up singing and playing classical music on the piano, but eventually began writing pop songs at the age of 13. “I got really tired of [classical music] and really tired of bands, because there are too many ego problems,” he remembers. After attending a fine arts-focused high school, he went to Central St. Martin’s for university, but the dream of becoming an artist was crushed by the school’s intellectual priorities instead of hands-on studio time. It was then that he began seriously pursuing music.
These days, Oscar can write songs in 10 minutes, and although he might rerecord instrumentals, vocals are always one mic, one take. “I tend never to go back because I feel like it’s such a emotional and instinctive thing. You can never say the same thing twice, so even if it’s a little bit wrong, it still captures the mood,” he continues. “Vocals are holy, in a way.”
Following Beautiful Words, Oscar’s seven-track debut EP out today via Wichita Recordings, Oscar will venture into a proper studio to record his first full-length. But before then, we spoke with the artist about everything from writing to Baby Spice and his sock collection.
NAME: Oscar Scheller
BASED: I’m sitting at the top of my street, because I have no [cell phone] signal in my house. I’m in London. I grew up here. I was born in Northwest London.
GROWING UP: When I was growing up, music was always being played, and I decided I wanted to sing around the age of eight, so my mum just brought me to her lessons that she’d been going to for years, before I was born. I think that was what started it. Then I realized I was really into and was able to express myself clearly through that. I was really into R&B and hip-hop way before guitar music, so I was listening to Missy Elliot and Destiny’s Child—all the U.S. R&B. Alicia Keys was a big part of what made me start writing on the piano and singing. When I got into my teens, I was into The Strokes, Blink 182, and The Cure, and The Smiths, the teenage bands. I never actually got into The Libertines at the time, even when it was taking off. I just never got into them.
BABY, POSH, SCARY, AND GINGER: I listened to a lot of Spice Girls when I was younger. My mum had this magazine called Junkmail in the ’90s and it was all about staying righteous—being conscious of global warming and eating healthy. This was before all the hashtag-vegan stuff. So she interviewed them—they were just this band, kind of unknown at the time, they didn’t have a name yet—on reusing toilet roll and what they did with tampons.
It was kind of silly, but I took a day off school and I met them and we hung out all day. We had fish and chips and then we went to my grandma’s house to do a photo shoot in her garden. I’ve still got all the pictures. They actually ended up getting really drunk with my mum because they got on so well. My favorite at the time was Baby Spice and I got to sit on her lap on the way back to my granny’s house so that was pretty amazing. I was about six [and] I was in heaven.
WAKING UP FROM A DREAM: I went to a high school that specialized in art called Fine Arts College in Hampstead. We were taught properly how to paint, do sculptures, and mix oil paints, so it was quite a traditional education. That started the love affair with art and I wanted to continue. I was always doing music, or classical music, on the side, but I applied to go to art school, to St. Martins. It was completely different from what I thought it would be. The dream was to be covered in paint and really inspired and having lots of people to talk to who have the same ideas as you and share thoughts, but it wasn’t like that at all. I felt like it was very constricted and very intellectual, as opposed to physical. It was a classic, coming of age story, and I realized it was all a dream.
THE ARTIST IS PRESENT: I still draw a lot and I do all the artwork for the music. I have a huge love for art. I go to galleries and exhibitions quite often. I try to keep up with it all. Of course there is a lot going on, but I do my best. I think the most influential for me, visually, [are] Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Egon Schiele. Musically, I would say Lionel Bart, who wrote Oliver, and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana.
“STAY”: I think the song “Stay” encapsulates the general feeling the EP and the gangsta melancholy. I wrote that really quickly and it was all built around just the chords that you hear at the beginning, then I got the drum loop and it had a really nice swing and groove to it, and I was just writing off that. Then I did the melody and it happened really, really quickly. I think that my favorite songs, of the ones I’ve written, tend to happen like that, very stream of conscious, like within 10 minutes.
FROM THE BEDROOM TO THE STUDIO: It’s really become a natural progression. I am so tired and frustrated by doing everything in my room. It reached that point where the song needs to be orchestrated in a more focused environment, so I think now I am ready to this—before I wasn’t ready. I’m aware of how working in the studio can change the music, so I am going to make sure I don’t lose anything special; you tend to lose things when you go into big studios, just the weird, fucked-up-ness of things that sound great altogether. I think it’s just going to sound a bit bigger and a bit more explosive.
SOCKS, SOCK, AND MORE SOCKS: I have a whole drawer dedicated to my sock collection, like a big drawer. It’s not a small sock drawer. I have my most expensive pair: they are traditional woolen, sort of English countryman socks, and they’re dark blue, light blue, and grey. My favorite socks have burgers and hot dogs on them. They are baby blue and the burgers and hot dogs are in the typical colors. I wore those for the first time in New York, when I played in October at CMJ at Pianos in New York.
BEAUTIFUL WORDS IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON OSCAR, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.