voice on the verge #13: oh, atoms
Gwen Cheeseman is a bit handy with the violin, as anyone who saw her on tour with Psapp in 2006/07 would be able to tell you. When she wasn’t throwing the wacky duo’s handmade cat-themed paraphernalia into the audience or ‘playing’ various flotation toys, she was adding gorgeous flourishes of strings to Galia and Carim’s adorable musical clowning. With Psapp holed up in the studio working on their new album The Camel’s Back (out later this year), Gwen has been busy making music of her own as one half of Oh, Atoms (the other half being a man called Marc). Describing themselves as the sound of “a candlelit evening in a dusty attic with a Victorian spectre and a drunken bee”, Oh, Atoms, like Psapp, come with whimsy in spades. Citing random things like blue icing on cupcakes, lost hair clippings, underdeveloped photographs, Formica, violets and voles as influences, our first introduction to the duo came with their brilliant ode to an underappreciated confectionery. ‘Sugar Mouse’, currently reaching the ears of tweenage cinema audiences as part of the soundtrack to ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ producer Gurinder Chadha’s new film ‘Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging’, was recently described by Music Week as “the sound of sunshine being let out of a jar on a rainy day”, which Wears The Trousers can only concur with. For the next two weeks only you can download it for free from the Oh, Atoms Myspace and see for yourself. We caught up with Gwen to get an opinion on the matter from the horse’s mouth…
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What’s your middle name?
It’s Ruth. I’d prefer Spartacus.
What’s your earliest memory?
Being bought a green ice lolly and eating it in the car when my dad took me to see my new little brother and my mum in hospital. I also seem to remember I was wearing some very fetching dungarees that day.
What did you listen to when you were growing up?
My dad liked American singer-songwriters. He and my mum had lived in America and Canada before I was born so I’m guessing that’s how he got into that kind of thing. He’d play lots of Joni Mitchell, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon – and I still listen to them now. He also loved The Beatles and I remember nicking his records so I could play them by myself and sing along.
Who was your childhood idol?
Felicity Kendal in ‘The Good Life’. I thought she was so beautiful and wanted to be like her when I grew up. But seeing as I don’t now live in Surbiton with a goat and two pigs maybe I have failed on that point.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever worked and what was so bad about it?
There have been quite a few to be honest! But I guess the worst one was working for an electronics company making up circuit boards in a windowless basement room. The tedium was quite extraordinary.
What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
An archaeologist. I’m a bit of a history freak.
What was the last good book you read and how did it affect you?
It was ‘The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher’ by Kate Summerscale. It’s the true story of the murder of a little boy in 1860 in a country house, and one of the occupants committed the crime. It’s all about how a London detective arrived to try and solve the case, and what he revealed about the way this family lived – and all of their dark secrets. I’m a bit obsessed with Victorians so I absolutely loved this.
What’s your favourite poem and how much of it can you recite from memory?
Probably ‘The Jabberwocky’. I can remember the first few lines and then it goes a bit hazy.
What’s your tipple?
Margaritas or red wine. I’m yet to find a margarita in London that comes anywhere close to the delicious ones I’ve had in Texas. I’m still looking though, of course. All in the interest of research, you understand.
What’s your top household tip?
Get a dishwasher. They’re bloody brilliant.
What are your pet hates?
London’s bendy buses. The Routemasters were brilliant, perfect for London traffic, so you could hop off and walk if it was taking forever. I was gutted when they went. Plus I almost got knocked off my bike by a bendy bus so that’s another reason for me to hate them.
Do you have a tattoo?
No tattoos, but I did have my tongue pierced. I took it out a few years ago.
Who was the first person/band you saw in concert?
Aside from mates in bands at local pubs it was The Frank & Walters and Carter USM in Portsmouth. I even met Fruitbat’s auntie which for some reason I was very excited about at the time. There was also a lot of moshing.
Tell us about your favourite instrument…
I guess my favourite instrument has to be my violin. It’s a gorgeous old French one from 1900 and I’ve had it since I was 15. My parents and grandparents bought it for me just before I did my Grade 8 violin exam. I’m very attached to it and love its tone. I also really like my autoharp which I bought on eBay when we were making our album. I mainly like it because it’s pretty. We should all be allowed to be shallow sometimes.
Do you have an instrument you’d still like to learn? What’s stopping you?
The accordion. But they’re quite expensive so I can’t really afford one right now, so I’ll have to save up.
Which female musicians have most inspired you?
Two of my favourite female artists are Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Gillian Welch. I think both of them have amazing voices and are really good songwriters. I also saw Joanna Newsom perform for the first time the other day – it was great that she could carry the whole show on her own, just her accompanying herself on harp and piano.
Which artist would you most like to work with – your dream collaboration?
Morrissey. But I’m sure that’s pretty unlikely to happen! I can dream though.
How would you describe your new single or less?
Our new single, Sugar Mouse, is: ‘a song of sun-filled pop confectionery’.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Finding out our song was going to be on a film soundtrack. Sugar Mouse is in ‘Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging’.
Would you rather see a ghost or simply have a piece of toast and watch the evening news?
I think I’d probably completely freak out if I saw a ghost, so I’ll settle for some toast, thanks. Sourdough bread with marmalade please.
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Oh, Atoms release their debut album You Can’t See The Stars From Here on September 29th. The double A-side single ‘Sugar Mouse’/'Let’s Go Away’ will be available from August 11th (digital, with a physical release on September 22nd).