Christopher Willatt helps us get to know the Oracle Sisters.
Mysticism, astrology and the feel of European cityscapes are all wrapped up within the sonic essence of Parisian-based trio Oracle Sisters. Listening to the soft rock-psychedelic band, it’s hard not to want to pack a bag, fly across the Atlantic and feel the artistic inspiration Lewis Lazar, Christopher Willatt and Julia Johansen felt when they left their respective homes for the musical promise of Paris. It’s also hard not to want to get to know them, too.
Even the way the band members came together to form Oracle Sisters is just undeniably cool. At the tail end of their high school years, Lazar and Willatt played music together in Belgium, with Lazar eventually moving away to New York City and Willatt to Edinburgh. The two reunited in Italy, eventually finding their way to Paris where they met Johansen — originally from Finland. They wrote their debut album, “Hydranism,” set to release on April 7, in the midst of the pandemic on a secluded island in Greece.
District Fray spoke to Christopher Willatt over the phone as the artist took a stroll around rainy New York City ahead of the band’s sold-out show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. From astrology and musical influences to their upcoming performances at South by Southwest, Willatt helps us get to know the Oracle Sisters.
District Fray: Have you found that Paris has been a good place to grow your music and find your sound?
Christopher Willatt: Yeah, absolutely. Paris, for artists, in our experience — it’s been incredibly supportive. They really value art there; it’s placed in high esteem. You’re given a lot of space, and there’s a great supportive community of artists there. It doesn’t feel competitive or anything; people are all there to encourage each other. They like to critique as well. It’s French culture to critique, but I think that’s important, too. In terms of our sound, we lived in this little apartment just above a beautiful theater called La Cigale. We had a couple of classical guitars and we would just write around the table in Lewis’ apartment. I guess that certainly influenced the sound because we weren’t in big industrial, rehearsal spaces or anything — just in this cozy atmosphere — and that probably impacted this soft, intimate sound we started.
We certainly bring our own musical backgrounds to [our] songs. And then, of course, Paris made its imprint. Julia was heavily into bossa nova music, so that made it into the music, too. And Lewis had been playing a lot of rock and roll, painting and writing poetry in New York, and that’s made its way to the music. I was way more involved in the folksy scene in Edinburgh, and we really pulled it together to write songs.
I love your song “Asc. in Scorpio.” What does astrology mean for you and the way you write your music?
Lewis and Julia are usually into that. It certainly dictates how they make decisions; it’s something they use to guide them to guide themselves. But I think that whole element is really hats off in a way to intuition and the intuitive nature of songwriting. You don’t want to overthink anything; ideas come to you and you grab them. I think that plays into why we liked that name and why that inspired us. With a song like “Asc. in Scorpio,” the imagery was meant to be a bit like the Scorpio sign — everything coming to an end, catastrophe. But we wanted to create a lightness and uplifting breeziness around that as well.
You’ve opened for Durand Jones and The Indications before. I definitely see how your styles mesh well together, but what are your biggest musical influences that have led you and your band to this retro, sometimes psychedelic style?
Durand was kind of an interesting match. They certainly are carrying a flame for old-school music. I think a lot of people would associate us with a vintage sound as well. We’ve been really wanting to focus in on crafting songs, but then I think that’s when the production element comes in. And that’s where it’s fun to play with sounds and that’s where Lewis — he’s on his guitar — he can create incredible melodies and dreamscapes that take you beyond what it means to craft the song. That to me is the psychedelic element at the core of everything. We want there to be songs like all these great songwriters like Paul Simon, and we love Bob Dylan and we love The Beatles, obviously. But then we want to try to stretch things further than that — in our own direction.
So your album, “Hydranism,” is coming out next month on April 7. What should we expect regarding the overarching themes of the album and most importantly, how are you feeling about releasing your debut full body of work?
It’s like an incredible relief. Because you sit with songs for a while and it’s great then for those to be passed on and to feel like the exchange of energy, instead of it just being like an eternal thing, a little bowl of energy that you hold on to yourself. All of a sudden, it can take on meaning for other people and soundtrack whatever they’re doing. But for “Hydranism,” we wrote it during the lockdown on this on this island in Greece. We were completely isolated. There was like a week window when things kind of opened up and then closed down again where we managed to get a team of people together. We just headed out there and had to stay there longer than we planned because we couldn’t get back. There was certainly a powerful atmosphere. The songs are reaching for all sorts of things. I think they’re meant to be kind of a comfort to people. They’re meant to be uplifting. I don’t want to pin any direct meanings on them because it’s always fun to see how people interpret them. We had loads of fun making the record; we really got stuck and we lost ourselves and I think that’s important. You can’t think a record into existence, it needs to be a certain degree of letting go.
Is it cool to play your music live for fans from another continent, like in the States?
There’s always been this everlasting conversation and back and forth between the UK and the United States with regard to guitar music. There’s so much music we love from the United States that it just really makes sense to be here and to play our songs for crowds here who have such a rich musical heritage and knowledge of music and who’ve seen so much good music. It just feels great to be coming over here to do our stuff. It feels really natural.
How do you feel about performing for SXSW? Is it your first time in Austin? What are you most excited for?
Everyone tells you about [South by Southwest]. We’re kind of aware that we’re about to like, be thrown in the dryer. You know what I mean? And come out the other side with a few lanyards around our neck. [But] we’re just excited. We’ve got a few cool shows lined up. We want to make the most of being there by checking out some other bands. We’re playing on the same stage as The Lemon Twigs, who are a band we love. And then, we want to go see a band from UK called Jockstrap.
What has been your favorite part of tour so far?
I loved it. Every single night, there’s this huge swell of excitement. And you get to finally communicate with people directly. And that’s wonderful to feel that tension in a room. You kind of want to create and play with that tension and to know what’s coming, and then to feel it and then to hopefully put on like an incredible show. It’s one of the best things about music.
Oracle Sisters play SXSW March 17 at 8 p.m. and March 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be found here.
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