In a celebration of DIY cultures everywhere, Charlie Mock and bedroom pop provocateur Oscar create an exclusive zine for Wonderland
“They’re helping me become a pop star”, Oscar giggles, pulling two rotund bottles of pills from his rucksack. We’re sat in the middle of a workers’ coffee shop; it’s quiet and not the place for a dodgy deal. Perhaps, then, “pills” is the wrong word. Stuffed with cotton wool to stop them from rattling, these bottles are home to a cocktail of vitamins and nutrient supplements. During his previous tour, Oscar caught the flu, and with debut album Cut and Paste just around the corner, he’s not taking any chances.
Really, it’s not something you can blame him for. Cut and Paste, released on May 13th via Wichita Recordings, has been 10 years in the making. “The reason I revisited ‘Fifteen’ was because my mum had it on cassette”, Oscar remembers of the oldest track on the album, written, not surprisingly, when he was just fifteen. “I had this little cassette recorder thing, like a little Dictaphone, that I carried around with me everywhere and used religiously.”
Returning after such a great length of time could come across strange, especially when it’s to something crafted at an age more closely associated with evenings spent downing Strongbow in the park, flanked not by creative milestones but curfews and Von Dutch t-shirts. For Oscar, though, it’s this collage of memories – both old and new – that makes Cut and Paste so indicative of where he finds himself now as an artist.
“I was kind of sampling myself, taking it, and putting it onto this record”, Oscar explains, thinking about the elements that have since come to fruition as his first full-length release. “It was totally a collection, and in a way, reflective of the title because it was taking parts of my life, moments of my existence, and like going, okay that’s relevant to me, for some reason that resonates.”
Looking back, Oscar has a lot of moments that resonate. From attending his mum’s MA Design Studies lectures at Central Saint Martins before he’d even reached his teens (he later returned to study Fine Art) to hanging out with the Spice Girls in his Nan’s back garden, Oscar’s youth is woven with the trappings of a soon-to-be creative.
Pausing to ruminate on his chance encounter with pop royalty, eyes glistening with the ghosts of childhood past, Oscar explains how it was all thanks to his mum who was, at the time, working on a zine promoting environmental consciousness. “I took the day off school and I was in the back of the car, sort of sleeping and I woke up to like, these five girls singing to me,” he laughs, “we hung out all day, I sat on Baby Spice’s lap.” Throughout the afternoon, the band also shared their recycling tips with the zine: Emma used an old ice cream tub for a make-up box, Gerri used tights as shower caps, and the five collectively stole loo roll from cafes so they wouldn’t get caught short. Really, we conclude, the Spice Girls are just like us.
With no doubts about the influence his mum – who, as well as writing, dabbled in music, design and property development – had on him growing up, Oscar is quick to recognise his privilege in having come from such a supportive and creative environment. “She definitely encouraged me to do things that were creative”, he explains. “I was always busy. I think she just saw that and naturally coaxed it out and then showed me that I could do that all the time.”
But, Oscar assures, this isn’t the only way to break into the arts. “Backgrounds where your parents aren’t creative can create a very creative upbringing,” he says, with emphasis on the creative part. “I think it can kind of be more powerful than growing up around artists and musicians, because it’s so exotic.”
Patti Smith, David Bowie and Lou Reed are amongst the suburbanites Oscar cites as zeitgeists of cool and pioneers of their genres, but who thrived without constant domestic creativity. “They were all normal kids who were into poetry and wanted to be cool, and then kind of, became very cool”, he says. “The point is if you want to be creative, you make it happen for yourself.”
It’s a sentiment that Oscar has continuously stood by; in the years since he began carving his path as an artist, Oscar’s work has remained both vividly personal and astutely DIY. Why? “I think it’s convenience but also, it’s a kind of, I guess, passion to arrive at where you want to get to”, he considers. “A lot of the time you can’t rely on other people or other things to get you there. If you’re particular in your artistic vision, it can be really hard to let anyone else, I guess, interfere with that journey. No one can do it like you, and that’s for everybody.”
This isn’t Oscar’s way of saying he works alone, though. Instead, it’s an attempt to energise more – as well as himself – into pursuing their own creative endeavors, be these musical or otherwise. “That’s kind of the magic of human existence and like, the human condition. It’s so subjective. It’s so personal. It’s how you see, or feel, or hear and that can’t be the same as anyone else.”
Looking to the future, there are only a couple of things Oscar hopes to avoid. “I think the worst thing for me in an artist is just like, either despondence or laziness.” And, although his current plan doesn’t stretch much further than his forthcoming U.S. and European tours, it seems certain that Oscar won’t be resting on his laurels anytime soon. “Artists that stick to one thing that they know works… it’s always a bit sad”, he explains. “Like, you’ve done that and so why would you want to do that again? Why would anyone want to do anything more than once?”
Rhetorical that question may be, but Oscar has an answer. “Working in our environment and our kind of, economic and political climate is very unforgiving for artists and new art and new culture. It’s so limited”, he points out. “It kind of discourages artists to change and develop because they’re scared that people won’t accept that and then they won’t have a way to survive in the world.”
It’s something few artists are lucky enough to achieve, let alone achieve on a worldwide scale. But what happens if, or when they do? “Selling out is being successful”, Oscar says. “If someone called me a sell out, I’d probably smile and say thank you.”