Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview with O Emperor

ACROSS A Limerick city centre hotel, Waterford band O Emperor are clearly discernible from the business power lunches taking place in the riverside restaurant, five scruffy looking individuals eagerly tucking into fish and chips, huddled around a table, awaiting the arrival of yours truly.
While they clearly stand out among the suits, shirts and ties, the five piece, who have just released one of the albums of the year in Hither Thither, also exude a dynamism and natural confidence in each other’s company, the type of attitude that can only come from years of gigging and touring together.
The fact that they are childhood and school-friends adds to that aura, as they complete each other’s sentences and giggle mercilessly at each other’s answers.

O Emperor are made up of Paul Savage, Richie Walsh, Alan Comerford, Philip Christie and Brendan Fennessy and despite their young age, have produced one of the most assured and anticipated albums of the year - a shoo-in for a Choice Prize nomination and possible win. Boasting a deeply layered sound, mature instrumentation - ringing guitars, shimmering, lush soundscapes and delicate pianos - and songs that namecheck influences as diverse as Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Midlake, The Band and Neil Young; simply put, this is an astonishing piece of work from such a young band.

Not many bands get two opportunities to record their debut album, but then not many bands are of the level that O Emperor have reached in just a few short years.
This band recorded their debut in Kinsale over a six-month period, had it packaged and printed, and then decided to scrap it - using the completed album as a calling card to record companies. A management deal was signed, a contract was secured with Universal Ireland, and the five piece headed back into the studio to re-record some of the original songs, and some newer ones.
There is a palpable sense of relief at finally releasing the much anticipated product.

“Yeah definitely, it has been a long time coming,” says Paul, something of a spokesman for the group.
“It is nice to have an actual body of work out that people can judge - people always ask you what you sound like and you never know what to tell them, at least if you have an album they can listen to it and find out what you are about,” he adds.
Asked if they are happy with the end result, Philip leans in: “We are pretty happy with it. We had a long time to mull it over and get everything that we wanted on it - we would want to be happy at this stage! If we weren't, I don't think we ever would be”.
“It was pretty crucial we get it right this time, because it was last chance really, we couldn't possibly do it a third time. But it was pretty easy to do, it was all done in four weeks,” adds Savage.

However, the experience of recording themselves and then going into a studio to work with an engineer ultimately helped shape this album, the band explain, meaning they almost skipped that ‘first album’ experience that many bands suffer through.
“That kind of helped in the end really, because we had such a good idea of where the songs were going from having all that time to play around with,” says Brendan.
“It definitely wouldn't have happened as easy if we hadn't gone through the process of recording the songs already and gigging them so much,” he adds.

The obvious closeness between the five friends must help as well, certainly given their eery harmonies, which often number five separate parts in a song.
“We all feel the same way about what is a good song, and seem to have the same sort of idea about what we want a song to sound like,” says Brendan.
“We never really thought of doing anything else to be honest. We didn't have an original vision, but once we had a set of songs that all worked together, then we decided to do something with it.”
Paul takes up the baton: “I think everyone needs to be equally as passionate about it; if it gets to any stage when you have a leader and a sideman, people start thinking, what's the point? If it is everyone's collective responsibility, you feel the same and put a lot more into it”.

Brendan adds with a grin: “It helps more in terms of touring. I suppose we are used to playing with each other live, but definitely touring it helps - we know each other too well, we have no qualms telling each other where to go!”

O Emperor play Upstairs in Dolan’s this Saturday night. Hither Thither is on general release.

No comments: