Vil­lagers al­bum de­tails an­nounced

Just 12 months ago, The Ticket tipped then lit­tle-known Conor O’Brien as one of the best 10 Ir­ish acts around. Now, with his song­writ­ing skills honed by ex­pe­ri­ence and Vil­lagers’ de­but al­bum in the bag, O’Brien is ready to take on the world, he tells Tony

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - News - By Lauren Mur­phy

The long-awaited al­bum by Vil­lagers, Be­com­ing a Jackal, will be re­leased on May 14th on dig­i­tal down­load, vinyl and CD. The 11-track al­bum will be pre­ceded by a sin­gle, Be­com­ing a Jackal, on April 17th (7-inch only for Record Store Day) and April 23rd (dig­i­tal down­load). Conor O'Brien told The Ticket that the al­bum was the cul­mi­na­tion of three years’ work. “I feel like it’s scooped me out of my shell and left me squirm­ing un­con­trol­lably at the side of the street,” he said.

Vil­lagers be­came the first Ir­ish band to be signed to pres­ti­gious in­de­pen­dent la­bel Domino Records last year, af­ter re­leas­ing an EP and 7-inch sin­gle on Dublin’s Any Other City la­bel. They now count the likes of Arc­tic Mon­keys, Cass McCombs, Wild Beasts and Franz Fer­di­nand amongst their la­bel­mates.

Last April, O'Brien’s new project was ranked at num­ber six on The Ticket’s 50 Best Ir­ish Mu­sic Acts Right Now poll, and the young song­writer has also had ac­claim from his peers: f Jape as “about the r to come from here”.

To ac­com­pany the al­bum release, Vil­lagers will play dates in Kilkenny (May 19th), Cork (May 20th), Gal­way (May 21st) and Dublin (May 22nd). They’ll also be sup­port­ing Wild Beasts on their Ir­ish tour later this month. mys­ weare­vil­lagers Lmur­phy@irish­

‘INEED SI­LENCE, soli­tude. That’s the one pre­req­ui­site.”

You’ll be lucky, mate. Conor O’Brien has, un­for­tu­nately given his cur­rent sta­tus of pos­si­bly be­ing the best-bet tip for cross­over suc­cess in 2010, no more chance of achiev­ing si­lence and soli­tude than your cor­re­spon­dent has of be­ing picked for this year’s Mr Uni­verse con­test.

O’Brien, in his present guise of lead singer and main song­writer of Vil­lagers, is poised for good things. It is not without jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Through his ini­tial work with Dublin band The Im­me­di­ate (which abruptly split up just as the go­ing was about to get so much bet­ter), his sup­port work with Cathy Davey, and his lat­est en­deav­ors with Vil­lagers, O’Brien has steadily built up a fine rep­u­ta­tion.

His schtick? Well, gen­er­ally speak­ing, it’s all quite in­tense in a nervy, preppy, Talk­ing Heads Psy­cho Killer kinda way. Off stage, O’Brien is in­cred­i­bly po­lite, some­what re­served, ut­terly at­ten­tive. On stage, he’s a mix­ture of thou­sand-yard-stare and fo­cused ther­a­pist, pick­ing out the words to his songs like a kid choos­ing sweets from Willy Wonka’s chocolate fac­tory: as­sid­u­ously, full of con­cen­tra­tion, but with no small level of ex­cite­ment. It is no sur­prise what­so­ever to dis­cover that in­tel­li­gent lyrics are cen­tral to his song­writ­ing process.

“When I do the acous­tic songs, es­pe­cially in solo shows, I want the songs to stand up com­pletely lyri­cally, or else it isn’t go­ing to work. To play as qui­etly as I can and for the songs to be in­ter­est­ing – that’s the trick. That’s why I like lyrics. I also love ar­range­ments, but I love twist­ing the two and mak­ing them work to­gether. That’s my favourite thing in the world.”

What about his ac­tual song­writ­ing process – is it like draw­ing blood from a stone or some­thing more erup­tive? “It’s dif­fer­ent ev­ery time, I guess. Each song is like a new project, so if you’re do­ing a sto­ry­telling song you might have to spend a long time fo­cus­ing on that par­tic­u­lar type of cere­bral ac­tiv­ity.

“Find­ing char­ac­ters, lay­er­ing the story – I like to do that a lot, I en­joy that kind of writ­ing. Other writ­ing can be more in­tu­itive, more di­rect and emo­tional – some­times they just come out faster. I don’t pre­fer one over the other. A lot of the time when I’m writ­ing, I never com­plete the song I start out to write – I tend to get an­other song fin­ished on the side. So that ends up as a song that was writ­ten while fo­cus­ing on the song that never got writ­ten, if you fol­low. I don’t think you should be writ­ing too con­sciously; it’s meant to be a sur­prise to your­self. There’s no point in do­ing it oth­er­wise.”

O’Brien’s tal­ent first came to light as a mem­ber of The Im­me­di­ate, a highly rated Ir­ish band whose de­but al­bum, In Tow­ers & Clouds, was hot favourite to win the Choice Mu­sic Prize Al­bum of the Year for 2006. The sud­den split of the Ir­ish band most likely to suc­ceed (the of­fi­cial, if slightly glib, rea­son given was “ex­is­ten­tial dif­fer­ences”) caused ruc­tions among their grow­ing co­terie of fans, if not con­ster­na­tion among some con­fused band mem­bers. But O’Brien car­ried on re­gard­less, swiftly mov­ing his tal­ents across to Cathy Davey’s band (as well as con­tribut­ing to her mar­velous sec­ond al­bum, Tales of Sil­ver­sleeve) and spending time hon­ing his own for­mi­da­ble song­writ­ing. Cue Vil­lagers.

It took about two years to set­tle into what he wanted Vil­lagers to be, says O’Brien. He was on tour with Cathy Davey, writ­ing all the time, and con­fesses to not know­ing what he was go­ing to do. “I put up some songs on the in­ter­net. I wasn’t plan­ning on do­ing any solo shows, but then some­one asked, and I thought, why not. It was, I sup­pose, at some level planned, but I don’t re­mem­ber think­ing too se­ri­ously about it. I al­ways knew I was go­ing to write songs, I just didn’t know what way they were go­ing to be pre­sented.”

with – well, I won’t name names . . . Domino prob­a­bly get a shit­load of money via the likes of Arc­tic Mon­keys and Franz Fer­di­nand, but it seems to be that they use it right.”

By now, the de­but al­bum is done and dusted. At the time of this in­ter­view, there was still some fine-tuning to un­der­take. O’Brien talks about how, through the demo­ing process, he was still try­ing to pin down a par­tic­u­lar sound.

“When I demo now I tend to get the sound first time around, be­cause I’m start­ing to use cer­tain ar­range­ments, and it’s all the more co­he­sive. Search­ing for it was quite tough, though – some­times we’d do up to eight ver­sions of each song. But when I set­tled on them, and when we were mak­ing the al­bum, it was all plain sail­ing. We could fo­cus on the per­for­mance rather than the ac­tual writ­ing – all the work had been done.”

Search­ing for a sound? Is this as ab­stract as it seems? You can have the raw ma­te­rial, ex­plains O’Brien, but that might not be the key. “There’s a cer­tain thing about whether peo­ple will sit up and lis­ten to the song – I mean, will they lis­ten to me just be­cause I’m singing about my feel­ings? Do they care? It’s all about cre­at­ing con­text within the songs through the ar­range­ments, hav­ing re­peated im­agery through the lyrics, us­ing nar­ra­tive tricks. That’s the fun part for me; it’s the part that I strug­gled with at the beginning of the process, but I feel I’m on top of that now.”

O’Brien is on top of quite a few things by this stage. Com­ing across like a busy bee on a diet of honey-coated vi­ta­min pills (“Nerves? I don’t seem to be able to turn them on or off,” he of­fers) he has achieved more at 26 than many oth­ers twice that age. And yet, you know, he’s been through quite a lot, too.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing quite wide-eyed and ex­cited about ev­ery­thing, and I’m a bit less of that now. I’m more pri­vate, I think; I’m also learn­ing to con­trol my nerves. That’s my big thing when I’m on stage. I feel re­ally nat­u­ral when I’m on stage, singing. But not so much when I’m talk­ing, so I think I’ve learned to stay away from sit­u­a­tions that I’m not comfortable with, and fo­cus on sit­u­a­tions where I am. Like, I wouldn’t be able to get up on stage and talk to peo­ple – no way. I couldn’t talk those lyrics in my song – let’s put it that way – yet I can sing them.”

Some peo­ple are Rob­bie Wil­liams or Bono, and some are not. O’Brien is firmly in the lat­ter cat­e­gory. “I find when you go to shows, some­times you can get an­noyed when you see the singer mouthing off. And yet some­times it can be great, if they’re funny. I don’t think I’m par­tic­u­larly funny, so you won’t see me crack­ing jokes any time soon.”

Scooped out: Conor O’Brien

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