Since breaking through the hemispherical sound barrier, Australia’s Oh Pep! have become many things to many people. NPR enthused that they were “thoughtful, deep, funny, and poetic.” The New York Times marveled at how adept they were at “sharing a melody that’s both angular and affectionate.” And Paste magazine opined about their “stomping, earthy energy.” But ask the folk-pop duo, and they’ll pragmatically describe themselves as “a sustainable internationally touring band.” Which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, singer-guitarist Olivia Hally admits, “but we really just wanted to tour the world.”

Oh Pep!—who’s releasing their second full-length, I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You (WHEN, ATO Records)—has always been as driven as they have been wildly creative. Soon after first meeting in high school, Olivia and Oh Pep!’s other musical half, madolin/violinist Pepita Emmerichs, wrote out a list of goals that included channeling artists they admire (such as Tex Perkins and Lucinda Williams) and playing Glastonbury.

They made it to that festival while while touring their last album, 2016’s Stadium Cake—hand-picked by singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. So what do you do after you’ve reached your goal? You get out of your comfort zone. “This album is darker form of pop than we have played before. It’s less quirky,” says Pepita. “Basically, Liv wrote a bunch of hits.”

I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You thoughtfully explores the melody-rich expanse between indie pop and alt-folk, while dipping into themes of growing older, and seeing the world. Its first single, “What’s the Deal With David,” is nothing short of intriguing. They pause. “Well, I wrote that as a joke for Pep,” Olivia says of the bright, irresistible sing-along, “that excited energy about two friends talking about their love life.” Pepita pipes in, “I’m not sure if he should remain a fictional character or not,” before adding, “I am forever sorry about that.” We’re not. Oh Pep!’s anticipated return at once captures their spirit, their curiosity, their imminent likability.

For years, the group grew an organic following by touring their continent. “We played four cities regularly and then rural areas. We did heaps of driving, and it was very, very constant. We were always working,” Olivia says. “We slept on friends’ couches and drove my family’s station wagon. We didn’t even have a van! But it was still very fulfilling.”

The duo met almost a decade ago in Melbourne while attending a performing arts high school that specialized in classical music. Pepita happened to walk down a hallway past Olivia, when the latter was about to sing a song. She didn’t know Pepita, but knew of her, so she asked her to play along with her fiddle. “When we started hanging out,” Olivia recalls, “we immediately started making music together.” Adds Pepita, “We both loved musicians like Jon Brian and Lucinda Williams, who hit you really hard with their incredible work. Studying music, we both understood the importance in instruments and arrangement, but we were also really drawn to lyricists. Playing music that wasn’t classical was rebellious in that kind of environment.”

After graduating, they booked their own tours—mainly clubs or folk festivals—and just never stopped. Finally, in 2015, they entered a contest which won them a slot at the Folklines festival in America. A few years later, they played another Folklines event in the U.S., where they met Billy Bragg. He invited them to play a show with him in Adelaide. “We walked off-stage at this South Australian show, and he was like, ‘What are you doing in June?’ Do you want to play my stage at Glastonbury?”

Things began to change. “I remember in Boston,” Pepita says, “Liv was watching a woman in the audience who was singing the words to one of the songs that hadn’t been released yet.” As as result, Olivia’s demand as a songwriter grew. “With this album, in particular, I did a lot of sessions with other people. They weren’t necessarily sessions that were for the album. But every now and then, I’d be writing a song and be like, ‘Oh!’ Then Pep and I would Peppify it together.” All told, Olivia penned the album in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, and back home in Melbourne.

Her travels, from summer 2017 to early 2018, shaped the songwriting. Olivia wrote most of the exquisitely harmonic “Nail and Your Hammer”—its title inspired by a book title that happened to catch her eye—in Nashville, influenced by the city’s love of Americana. Most of Oh Pep!’s tracks were written on guitar, but she and Doug Schadt (Maggie Rogers, The Middle) composed “Hurt Nobody” on the piano during a “snow cyclone” storm in Manhattan. A spacious, mid-tempo lament, it’s haunted by the mantra “I’m coming undone.” “There was this underlying eeriness that day. The energy was apocalyptic, because we were snowed in,” Olivia explains. “A great way of describing the song is that we were in a very warm room, but it was snowing outside.”

She created the acoustic tear-jerker “Parallel” alongside Daniel James (The Veronicas) after humming the melody on her way to the Nashville studio. (“I’m always leaving when you come around,” she sings achingly, “looking for me in the lost and found.”) In contrast, with the L.A.-based Tony Buchan (Mansionair), “He’ll do the bare tracks and be like, ‘Come back in two hours with the melody and lyrics.’” That begat the sweetly soaring “Bleeding Hearts,” which, she says, “just came to me…I think it was tapping into subconscious things.”

After writing songs, Olivia brought them back to Melbourne, where Pepita added strings and collaborated on arrangements. “We do some of that stuff into the studio or on the road. And we do some at our homes individually,” Pepita says. “Liv and I have the same kind of ideas about what we like, a similar amount of tension and release in our choices of melodies as well. Most of the time we agree on whatever the other comes up with.”

They turned to producer Joel Quartermaine to tie it all together, alongside mix-engineer Marky Wallis (Talking Heads, REM, U2’s Joshua Tree). “Joel has a kind of workflow that we really appreciated. He was really positive and a fast worker and had a really good energy about him,” Olivia says. “Also, I grew up listening to his band, Eskimo Joe.”

Oh Pep! feel so strongly about the power of collaboration that they created the Fun With Oh Pep! collaborative songwriting retreat last year, alongside A Good Idea, a grant that gives musicians the money to actualize their visions. Amazingly, they fund it themselves. “It’s hilarious because being in band, you’re always strapped for cash,” Olivia says. Adds Pepita, “That would have been someone we would’ve jumped at five years ago.”

A few years back, Olivia happened to find that list of aspirations they wrote when they were just teens. “We’ve definitely evolved, but our values have remained the same,” she says. “But I like to think we’ve gotten better at songwriting.”