The last time Olivia Hally and Pepita Emmerichs of Oh Pep! were in Charlotte, it was just a stopover. Had the Aussie pair had the hind-leg capacity to travel like their Melbourne-based marsupial cohabitants, the journey might have worked by foot. But after landing in the Q.C. and struggling to find fast transportation options to Asheville, where they planned to partake in a fiddle convention, the sheilas jumped on Craigslist and hired someone to drive them there.
"That's my memory of Charlotte ... doing that 30-second check over with this person on Craigslist," says Hally between laughing. "Sounds like a horror film."
This time around the ladies are prolonging their stay in the Carolinas and closing their North American tour with performances in Charlotte at The Evening Muse and Cat's Cradle in Carrboro.
The indie folk-pop duo, which oftentimes pick up band members to play with them along the way, is hitting the road solo after recently touring with Lake Street Dive and Basia Balut in Europe, and Lord Huron and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats in the states. Next up, the band is slated to tour with The Mountain Goats, a Durham, North Carolina-based indie band. But for now, they're on their own. The nomadic sojourns allow them to be wild and free with intimate shows in the mix.
These twenty-somethings, friends since high school, combined the nicknames — Oh for Olivia who now goes by Liv and Pep for Pepita — they had been appointed to create the band's name. Both girls come from music backgrounds: Hally comes from a classical music background and plays guitar and Emmerichs from a jazz background playing violin and mandolin. Emmerich also pondered the prospect of acting before the band.
In 2009, she played the part of Claire, Max the protagonist's older sister in Where the Wild Things Are, a feature-length film adapted from Maurice Sendak's classic children's book.
"I had it very good with doing Where the Wild Things Are. I finished on top and music took over from that point," says Emmerich, 24. "I think in any case we were definitely going to be playing music, it's just way too much fun to pass by to be in a band and playing with a best friend."
The pair's diverse musical backgrounds have sharpened the band's sound, differentiating them from the indie pack with scratchy and playful rhythms and Appalachian-like harmonies.
Having previously released two self-produced and self-funded albums —a self-titled EP and a sophomore follow-up, II — the band's debut studio release, Stadium Cake, released in June of this year, treads new waters.
For the album, the pair crossed the pond to record in Nova Scotia, Canada. The result? A poppier array of soundscapes that left the girls in awe.
"We recorded it in a different way and we had a producer that was really into pop sounds. He kind of made all our dreams come true," says Emmerich. "We had ideas about sound and maybe didn't know how to get them and he showed us."
But Oh Pep! didn't need much guidance. At the core of the band's folk melodies they had a void that could easily be filled with pop elements. Previous EPs were recorded live and the group spent significantly less time in the studio recording.
"We couldn't expand on our ideas and create a really lush sound [for the other albums]. But I still think the songs that we were writing were always pop songs, we just really went nuts with it this time and took advantage of being in the studio and with a producer," Hally says.
Songs on the latest album are frisky with somber zest. Hally, 25, notes John Prine as being an unconscious influence in the band's since of humor in songwriting.
On Oh Pep! songs like "Bushwick" the comical aspects are apparent. Hally wrote the song after escaping the Melbourne summer heat for a trip to New York back in 2015. Then winter in the empire state, she faced luggage delays, icy temps and transportation dilemmas. All these travel blunders and obstacles turned out to be muses for the catchy ditty.
The album's first single "Doctor Doctor" was inspired by merely a line: "I know what I want and it's not what I need." Initially not intended for the album, the song came to life in the studio. Meanwhile, others like "Tea, Milk and Honey," take a softer and less pop-focused place on the album.
As for Stadium Cake: "We decided on that name when we first started recording. These two words are juxtaposed and you have this familiar thing and then when you put them together, it's like 'Oh, what is that? I know these words but I don't,'" says Hally.
"It also has that big and small thing — like a cake is usually personal and a stadium is big. That, hopefully, is like a description of our music. It's essentially pop music but it has all these twists and turns and it sounds deep but it's still personal."