Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Interview with Conor O'Brien of Villagers

Raging I missed this gig in Dolan's on Sunday night, looking forward to seeing Villagers soon. Interview with Conor O'Brien below.

THERE IS a point about half-way through the second song on the Villagers ‘Hollow Kind’ EP when Conor O’Brien sings ‘For a long, long time, I’ve been in pieces”. If ever there was less-opaque lyric in a song, this might be it.
The song moves from slow, Burt-Bacarach croon to a wild finish - think Radiohead recreating the Beatles’ orchestral antics on A Day In The Life - as O’Brien bangs the piano and literally howls at the moon.
Now, it might not be fair to read too much into such a seemingly transparent theme as the one named above, so it is important to tread softly.
O’Brien essentially is Villagers, a name he adopted for his latest vehicle after the band he was in - The Immediate - broke up in 2007. It is widely accepted that the band broke up just as they were about to take off. He speaks to the Limerick Leader from RTE, where Villagers are recording a live 2FM session.
O’Brien wrote, recorded, sang and played all of the instruments on the songs on the Hollow Kind EP and seems to have a revolving cast of players when Villagers play live, as they will this month, embarking on a small Irish tour.
On the cover of the EP, O’Brien explained that he hopes to “breath new life into these compositions on stages throughout the land”.
“I like the idea of the songs taking their own form, depending on who is playing,” agrees Conor. “For instance today, I have a friend David, who plays keys but who only plays with us sometimes and has never played with Danny, who is playing bass - so today is kind of a new band and that is really interesting, it is sounding different again.
That is the exciting thing really, not trapping it too much, trying to let it go on its own course.” The obvious conclusion is that this way of working is a reaction to the demise of The Immediate, O’Brien keeping things loose and fresh rather than the opposite.
“I suppose, I don’t know,” he says, almost sighing at the notion.
“That makes sense because there is no way this band can break up, it is completely based around the songs, it is not about a group of people necessarily.
It is about the group of people performing at that time but it is very much of the now - if you had a gig it mightn't be the same a few weeks down the line - so the only way that could ever break up would be if I decide to stop writing. I guess it is less susceptible to ending, then yeah.”
There is a lyrical richness to the songs O’Brien has recorded, Down Under The Sea and The Meaning Of The Ritual and the aforementioned For A Long, Long Time, I’ve Been in Pieces sticking out particularly, folk-centered soul songs surrounded by epic pop arrangements.
O’Brien released the EP earlier in the year, after a building of hype in the Irish music scene saw Villagers become one of the hotly-tipped bands of the year.
As he has spent some of the intervening period since The Immediate split as Cathy Davey’s guitarist - and still currently is, helping to record her third album this summer - one wonders what he makes of this hype as he steps out of the shadow.
“Em, ehh, I don't know,” he mutters. “Well if you thought about it too much you wouldn't write good songs - I'm happy that my mum gets to read about in the paper, you know? It makes them think you are doing something with your life,” he laughs.
With an album due to be recorded in August - he says it might be called Becoming A Jackal - upcoming tours of the UK with Bell X1, Conor’s mum will be reading a lot more about her son. But he seems happy, the way he is working clearly quite interesting and innovative, far from the sentiment of being “in pieces”.
“Yeah it is, I think we have cracked on something that is a bit more open and exciting and not as serious. I don't know, I don't really like the idea of taking it too seriously, I prefer letting it happen itself.”

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