by Ben Munson
Oscar Scheller describes his relationship with pop music as “totally sewn into my inner core.” The 24-year-old musician from London is the son of artist parents who both came up as punks in the city’s squat scene. But his first CD was a Now That’s What I Call Music compilation and his love for pop is deep and true.
“I would say I’m always looking for a strong melody, and things that are well written, and things that I can remember. So yeah, I’m always looking for pop ambition or like the whole philosophy of pop music, you know, anything that kind of sticks. Pop’s really important to me,” Scheller said.
Scheller’s years of classical musical training, coupled with his appreciation for R&B, hip-hop and indie music, funnels into the bright melancholy pop on his debut full-length, Cut and Paste. Big beats dissolve into shimmery choruses on “Be Good” and Dandy Warhols-style manic ennui comes through on “Sometimes” while Scheller’s downy baritone drapes over the concise arrangements. The album is full of neatly constructed songs that seem to breeze by, which is very much the design with which Scheller was working.
“Classical music really gave me an understanding of structuring and thinking about making music in a lateral sense and really thinking about classical components like arrangement, theme and core melody,” Scheller said. “I think classical music and pop music have a lot in common, in that they’re both well structured and they both have a message that they’re trying to get across in some sort of way.”
Ahead of his album’s release, and ahead of his album appearing in our May Member's Store, Vinyl Me Please talked with Scheller about discovering hip-hop after he began “properly smoking” weed, how high-pitched his voice used to be, and Britpop.
A lot of your songs talk about relationships. How do you manage such sunny melodies while delving into what can be a very frustrating subject?
I just naturally like major chord progressions more than dirty, minor chord progressions. Really my favorite thing is major to minor, when they’re situated side by side, that’s where the melancholy strikes the hardest.
I don’t know about trying to keep it upbeat. I guess I’m just upbeat in general. With relationships, I haven’t had a very easy time, but who has? I think it’s all good for material.
Do you aim for having that kind of dichotomy in your music?
I think having that contrast, for me, is really important because otherwise it becomes too saccharine, too sweet or it becomes too depressing. Life is about balance and I guess it comes through the music somehow.
How did the breakbeats find their way into your music? Are you a big hip-hop fan?
Yep, massive hip-hop fan. When I started smoking weed as a teenager, like, you know, properly smoking it, that’s when I really got into hip-hop. And that’s had a really long-lasting effect on how I think about rhythm and sampling. I love those samples that come from old vinyl, old soul records, old hip-hop breaks.
Were you listening to a lot of weed rap?
[Laughs.] I think it started with Big L because my godfather was a massive Big L fan and I used to hang out with him a lot. Then I started listening to Nas, J Dilla, Slum Village, Lord Finesse, and a lot of the sort of wonky beat stuff like Flying Lotus. Stuff that sounds good when you’re high.
I want to ask you about your singing voice. When did you discover that baritone? Was it there when you first began singing?
Nooo. I used to be a mezzo soprano. I had one of the highest singing voices as a kid and my voice didn’t break until…it kind of didn’t break at all. It just went down and down and down and down and now it’s like Barry White. So I had to rediscover my voice because when I first started singing I had this really really high, angelic, tiny church boy voice.
It’s good where it’s at now. It works well with the music and it reminds of me stuff like Jens Lekman and the Ladybug Transistor. But I have to ask, being that you literally studied sculpture at Saint Martins, are you a fan of Pulp and Britpop in general?
[Laughs.] Yeah! Hell yeah! It was such a good time for British culture and such a good time for music. There were so many good songs in the charts. And we haven’t really had that kind of integrity, and I don’t think we will, for long time. Pulp is a really admirable band. Jarvis Cocker is definitely an idol. He’s got style. He’s got class. He’s a great lyricist and he knows how to write a pop tune. Plus, I like that it took him so long to break through. It was like 15 years of just trying and then they [Pulp] had their first number one. The struggle is real and I think it’s a good example to set. It doesn’t happen overnight.
But it does sort of happen overnight for some pop musicians.
I know what you mean. But those overnight sensations like Lana Del Rey and people that just come out of the blue, there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes that’s been very well hidden whoever’s looking after them. It really is about earning your stripes. And those who are overnight, like contestants on Pop Idol, that’s not real. You can’t connect to that for a very long time. It lasts for one Christmas and then it’s gone. I don’t believe that they’re real artists and I wouldn’t categorize that as music.