The Oh Wells are packed with sugar and spice

WEB-theohwells1-Christine Macavoy

Quirkiness is found in the form of diary entries and ukuleles

By Daryn Wright
Photos by Christine Mcavoy

I meet Sarah Jickling, face and anchor of the band The Oh Wells, in Kafka’s coffee house. The place is full of people loudly playing board games and chatting over strong coffees. We sip green tea as she tells me about the dance class she’ll be attending in an hour.

“It’s actually a burlesque class!” She says excitedly. This, as I find out, is not something she would ever have dreamed of doing four or five years ago, but the existence of The Oh Wells changed that.

Tenth-grade Jickling was shy and mostly kept to herself, but when her and a friend started
making music as a hobby, things began to change dramatically. “We decided to put some of the songs that we wrote online. This was over winter break in grade eleven, and over that winter break, our song circulated around the Facebook community of our high school. When we came back, people were stopping us in the hallways and saying ‘I love your band,’ ” she recalls. “It changed our lives. At first it was just a hobby, and not something I’d ever think of doing full time, but we got really good reactions from people right away and we kept getting those good reactions.”

About a year ago, The Oh Wells made it into the Peak Performance Project, and around this time things within the band began to shift. All the original members of the band, leftover from high school, decided that this wasn’t what they wanted to do — all but Sarah.

I begged to be accepted as a solo artist,” she says. Since then, the members of the band have fluctuated constantly, each person contributing a little something unique to the project. “Over the period of having so many band members, our sound has changed. We’ve had pop-punk songs, we’ve had afro-pop songs, and we’ve had some rock songs. I don’t like to confine myself to one genre,” she says.

This movement between genres in The Oh Well’s music is quite evident; in some songs, Jickling is strumming away on a ukelele, and in others a tinkling piano accompanies her enthusiastic and wavery vocals. One thing is clear, though: The Oh Wells are quirky. “I really admire a lot of British musicians, like Kate Nash and Lily Allen,” she says. Certainly, the honest, clever lyrics and poppy instrumentals are corollary to Lily Allen’s own playful, sometimes old-timey tunes.

Honesty is perhaps the most important element for Jickling: “Is it Too Late to Apologize?” begins with the confession “I’m sorry I’m not that girl from Transformers.” Her confessional lyrics have been described as “like a diary,” and this is perhaps why The Oh Wells feels like a best friend. “I’ve had people write to me to tell me ‘You describe exactly how I’m feeling right now, so thank you.’ That’s exactly what I’m trying to do: create a relatable experience for people,” she says.

When honesty is her driving policy, and the subjects of her songs revolve around exbest friends and ex-boyfriends, things can get emotional for her onstage.

“There are moments on stage when I’m holding back tears. When I’m writing [the songs] I’m really in the moment, so if I see somebody [familiar], or I’m in a place that reminds me of somebody and I’m singing a song about them, sometimes it takes me back,” she explains. This is why she also admires people like Tina Fey, who uses personal experience and honesty to really engage with the audience.

“That’s something I like to do in my music as well. I’m by no means a comedian, but we use the same tools for different goals: mine is to make people dance, and hers is to make people laugh.”

It is perhaps this honest, quirky quality that makes The Oh Wells so refreshing. Jickling’s strong vocals and multi-faceted instrumentals make every song an exciting experience, akin to walking into a colourful bakery: each morsel is sweeter than the last.

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