OSCAR AND THE WOLF
I’VE LEARNED THAT YOU CAN’T THINK OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO – YOU JUST HAVE TO BE WHAT YOU FEEL- OSCAR AND THE WOLF
About the band
Enter Max Colombie’s world, and you’ll discover a uniquely dazzling and shimmering fusion of contemporary R&B and a more European electro-pop sensibility, uniting shivery melody, shifting beats and vocals steeped in drama, sensuality and yearning. Colombie hears, “a twilight zone where it doesn’t sound dark nor happy. It’s like the name Oscar and the Wolf; it’s a balance between light and dark, this perfect combination between the sun and the moon. It’s beautiful and scary at the same time.”
Colombie truly came of age in 2014 with his debut album Entity. Balanced between dancefloor anthems and slow jams, Entity went 4 times platinum in his native Belgium and quickly jettisoned Colombie to superstar status. He sold out arenas in Belgium and the Netherlands, taking the penultimate headlining slot (behind Muse) at 2016’s Lowlands festival before headlining Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival sharing the bill with Rihanna and LCD Soundsystem.
Released in 2017, the second Oscar and the Wolf album, Infinity went platinum at home, whilst amassing a huge Middle Eastern fanbase across Turkey (where his 2018 tour sold out inside minutes), Egypt, Israel and Iran. On stage, Colombie cut a commanding and lithe performer, often garbed in shimmering outfits that interacted with the dynamic lighting.
The new Oscar and the Wolf album The Shimmer distils the essence of Colombie’s sound and vision in its title and the image of Colombie on the album cover, bathed in starry light. The album is a benchmark of his transformation on record; whereas Entity was recorded in a barn, “very lo-fi with no access to gear,” he recalls, The Shimmer’s bold, rich and layered dynamics were captured at ICP Studios in Brussels, home to, “one of the best live rooms in Europe, with all this vintage gear.” More intimate moments were added at Colombie’s house outside the city, “those magic takes we made just after we’d written something, which are so hard to capture again.”
“I’m really happy with The Shimmer because I hear a more mature version of myself. I always want things to grow, and I’m proud that I allowed myself to not follow people’s expectations and reproduce what had been successful before. There are no four-to-the-floor clubby pop songs this time.”
Instead, The Shimmer more accurately reflects Colombie’s personality. “My emotions run from super-happy to super-melancholic in a split second,” he says. “To me, The Shimmer feels like the soundtrack to a blockbuster, with many types of tracks and themes. It’s always changing.”
The album’s lead single James – which came to Colombie in a dream, “the complete structure, with chords and a beat, a vocal melody, even lyrics” – is multi-faceted all on its own. It’s named after his nephew (born on the day the track was recorded), “but the story grew, so James could be my character too. It can have several interpretations.”
In Oscar and the Wolf songs, nothing is quite what it seems. Are these intimate stories of love, lust, loss and surrender reality or dreams? Is the narrator of these beguiling scenarios real or imaginary? “It’s always me fictionalising myself, almost like method acting,” Colombie explains. “I create a world and then live inside of it… on a daily basis! I think my problem with reality is that I’ve been bombarded with all these beautiful fairytales that reality isn’t interesting enough anymore.”
Colombie admits Ghost of You, “is really me: I was hopelessly in love with someone who didn’t love me back.” Nostalgic Bitch aims to reverse those roles. “I imagine I’m in power, which I never feel I am,” he says. “To be an ice queen, I wonder what that feels like.” Similarly, in Livestream, Colombie is, “this huge star, who my lover can only see on a screen, but I love to be adored. It’s a blissful romantic song in a physically distant world.”
The instrumental ‘PIC’ – which stands for People In Charge – delves into deeper into fantasy. “To me, the People in Charge are a higher power, from another dimension. I also see a bullfight, and when the toreador kills the bull, they accept each other. It’s a metaphor for accepting the higher power is coming to get you.”
Uniting these tales is a warm, sultry, shimmering vibe that Colombie defines as “French Riviera. On the street, with typical old French music playing, and people sitting on benches drinking pastis. I think ‘PIC’ could be a soundtrack for that scene.” Whilst he hears Sade’s influence on The Shimmer (likewise Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens and, on ’Nostalgic Bitch’, The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’), Colombie also traces the riviera mood to the influence of the film romance Call Me By Your Name, in which the teenage Elias meets the older Oliver (but not the same Oliver in The Shimmer’s luscious ballad of that name) whilst on summer holiday in Italy. “I felt so connected to that movie,” Colombie sighs. “It immediately summed up my life when I was 17.”
Colombie’s ease in discussing his sexuality again shows how far he has come. “I never used to think my sexuality was important or unimportant. “But we live in a world now where you have to raise your voice higher. I have a huge Turkish and Iranian audience and I was scared before that I might lose a lot of them, but now I’ll live with the consequences if they’re not supportive of my world”
Ultimately, honesty is as integral to Colombie as fantasy. “I’ve learned that you can’t think of what you want to do – you just have to be what you feel,” he concludes. “I’ve let myself be one hundred per cent authentic about how I want to create sound and what I want to write. The Shimmer is me coming closer still to the music I love myself. It’s impossible to write the perfect song, but it’s the search that makes it so fulfilling.”