Oscar is the self-made Kilburn slickback putting the fun back into pop.
Iridescent cotton suit jacket by PAUL SMITH and red striped cotton t-shirt by MARGARET HOWELL
Taken from the Summer 15 issue of Wonderland:
The career of musician Oscar Scheller – an enviably strong-jawed Justine Frischmann replica from Kilburn, north London – didn’t get off to the best of starts. In fact, it was nearly over before it began. When in July of last year Oscar and his band played the KPH, a decrepit sewage pipe of a pub on Ladbroke Grove, the ceiling collapsed on the crowd, sending two gig goers to A+E. Though the incident didn’t affect Oscar’s blistering show – which ripped through his keyboard-grunge tracks “Sometimes” and “I Don’t Care” – it could have cost him everything. “It was actually the night that got me signed” Oscar tells me on a mustard-yellow couch on Hackney Road. In attendance was Ben Wileman, head of cult London imprint Wichita Recordings, who signed the 23 year-old shortly after.
Wichita are known for carefully vetting their roster. Wileman and co. famously took a punt on Bloc Party’s debut LP Silent Alarm back in 2005, the soundtrack to a million indie discos to come. Set to release Oscar’s forthcoming EP, which he promises has a “grittier, gangster-rap edge”, they’ll strike gold again soon. While “Sometimes” nodded to the ambivalent comedown-synthpop of Modern Life is Rubbish-era Blur – all dirty weekends down Margate, red wine lips and Goldsmiths qualifications – his newest track “Daffodil Days” is its soberer, sarcier older brother. “I call it Gangster Melancholy,” Oscar says, stony-faced. “My older stuff was take on Brit Pop in a way, it was sort of tongue-in-cheek. I guess [the new EP] sounds a bit like that, but I have songs that are like [The Pixies album] Bossanova and I’ve got songs that are Dancehall and I’ve got songs that are hip-hop.”
Oscar certainly knows his way around a record store. The Eric B. & Rakim sample buried in early cut “Never Told You” came from crate digging sessions in Soho stalwarts Sister Ray and Reckless. The boy wonder can credit musical knowledge to his parents, who played in new wave band The Regents in the 70s. The songwriter/producer casually namedrops early muses, German composers Schubert and Schumann, and the classical singing lessons he had as kid won him the North London Singing Festival prize three years in a row.
As a pre-teen, even Oscar’s dress sense was fiercely individualist. “I knew exactly how I wanted to dress and I wanted to dress like my sister,” he explains. “I would wear like kilts and cardigans and boots and I had long hair in bunches. My dad had just said, ‘You know, Jean Paul Gaultier can wear dresses and skirts so why can’t our boy?’. My granddad – he was a self-made Jewish eastender – was like ‘men shouldn’t wear skirts!’ He actually paid me a pound every time I’d wear trousers.”
An early EP by his first band Animals Talking was produced by childhood friend Alex – better known nowadays as A.G Cook, the mastermind behind surrealist pop label PC Music. Following that, Cook would warp Oscar’s voice well beyond recognition for a project they worked on together. The material they recorded, which laid the groundwork for the PC Music collective’s darkly high-pitched, kitschy aesthetic, will surface one day he says.
“Alex was a huge inspiration, because he did everything to such a high level in his room – his set up was so basic,” Oscar explains. “I was just fascinated and had so much respect for him, and that spurred me on. When he played me stuff I was like, ‘I want to get to that level.’ He became a master of his trade because he had done it, and done it, over and over. He would make like ten songs a day.”
If Cook and co are putting the fun back into pop by refusing its tired build-and-drop formulas, in many ways Oscar is too. “Do people not care about songwriting anymore?” He tweeted back in March. “It’s all about production these days?!” His jovial, hook-laden tunes, sung in the kind of exaggerated baritone your dad does when he’s aping a teenager, kick against the cold, atonal naval gazing of James Blake. And like Blake, Oscar wants to shake up the mainstream charts from within. “So yeah @rihanna hit me up yh I got hitz 4 u” was another tweet from January, and later “@BrunoMars just followed me on @vine. I feel a collab coming on?”. “It would be a dream come true to work with a big artist,” he bleats. “To write or co-write with someone like that… definitely that’s the goal, you know, people with incredible, undeniable voices.” It takes one to know one, Oscar.
Patterned t-shirt by LANVIN, navy striped trousers by TIGER OF SWEDEN, gold ring and gold chain model’s own worn throughout
Photographer: Daniyel Lowden
Fashion Editor: Sam Carder
Words: Jack Mills