Interview Project #8: Villagers

Photo by Simon Houston

Photo by Simon Houston

Villagers is Conor O’Brien, the songs he writes and the people he plays them live with. You might remember Conor from The Immediate, with whom he recorded one fantastic album, blew up the Irish music scene and then vanished, leaving a vacuum that’s only lately being filled by the likes of Fight Like Apes, and a scar that’ll probably be there a while longer. Villagers carves out a whole new niche, however. “The aim is to feel the songs out”, according to MySpace, and when you listen to the utterly economical, no-note-wasted arrangements of the Hollow Kind EP, you can see that it’s true. At once evoking smoky, empty jazz clubs, 1960s girl groups, pensive guitar poets and (not incongruously) some later Radiohead, Villagers were perhaps prematurely but not unreasonably placed at number 6 on the Irish Times’ list of best Irish bands of today. And (if In Towers and Clouds is anything to go by) once Villagers get an album out, they could be making a play for the top spot.

Villagers – Pieces

Q 0.5 How are you?

I like the way this is question ‘0.5’. I’m okay.

Q1 Nowadays, when everybody has a decent computer and gear is more available, it’s much easier for anyone to make music and have it heard quickly – does the bedroom music explosion devalue music at all by making it so easy to do?

No, I don’t think it devalues music at all. I can’t see anything negative in it.

Q2 Is downloading a good thing? Does the fact that it’s possible to get so much music so easily and for free make it more disposable at all?

Yeah, I guess music is treated more like a disposable commodity these days. Downloading is just a natural step in the evolution of the music industry – the result has been a greater emphasis on live shows. This could be a good thing – it definitely cuts out the middleman to some extent – ie. the act is either good or bad; the audience decides as they watch the show in the same room as said act. The way it was in the forties and fifties – more direct and primal. There’ll always be an uproar when the balance of power is tipped, in any case, but there’s no stopping it. It’s like a massive lizard.

Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is it intentional?

I honestly have no idea. Maybe…

Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from your music and look at it objectively?

Sometimes its difficult.. sometimes it’s not needed at all – mostly my favourite way of writing is in a flurry of sweaty excitement, with no conscious thought being afforded to the song. Often I’ll return to the results of this sweaty evening, open the windows, make some tea, and rip it apart for about a year, only to return to the original version finally. Recently I’ve become more trustworthy of my first attempts. This negates rest of the process. This is good.

Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are you a part of one?

I don’t really know – I’m not the most social musician in the world – definitely not part of one.

Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.

My mother Maeve is an influence.

Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from the beginning to the finished article.

Most of my songs are written while I’m focusing on writing another song.. for instance, I recently had two days off and decided to make a song out of this weird spinning chord sequence I’ve been playing with for the last few months. The first day was spent locked in my bedroom, repeatedly playing the chord sequence whilst singing wordless melodies and looking at lyrics I’d written recently. Day two started similarly, thought I was getting nowhere, but then I got distracted by a different chord change, which contained an implied melody. This implied melody instantly suggested lyrics to me, or, at least, a very particular emotional viewpoint from which the lyrics could flow. Within two hours, this other song was complete. I really like it because it’s full of joy – something which I haven’t been able to write about until now. It’s called ‘The Pact (I’ll be your Fever)’. I’m still working on the spinning chord sequence one (I won’t give up!).

Q8 Has music criticism ever influenced your music, or at least made you think about it differently? I mean proper reviews, but also blogs or even just hearing someone you don’t know talk about you.

Oh, it really depends on how I feel that particular day… somedays people can really get to you, you know? Other days I’m completely invincible to it all.

Q9 Have you ever felt guilty for trying to get other people to take an interest in your music, if you aren’t making the effort with new music yourself?

No, I can’t say I’ve ever had that particular (complicated!) emotion.

Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music, either as a listener or in how you go about writing/recording/performing?

I wouldn’t really call myself anything… I suppose the Villagers stuff is pretty traditional in how it’s constructed and performed.. but I think some aspects of it are rooted in the 21st century, although I’m very wary of intentionally producing ‘modern’ music…

Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?

The new Sonic Youth album ‘The Eternal‘ is absolutely mindblowing. ‘Claire de Lune‘ by Claude Debussy. The new Elvis Costello album ‘Secret, Profane & Sugarcane‘ is really good. Also, I know it’s very hip to say so, but I can’t stop listening to the new Dirty Projectors album ‘Bitte Orca‘… lots of new stuff. Also did a lot of travelling recently and those Dylan basement tapes kept me company. Oh, and the first two tracks from ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion‘ by Animal Collective.. amazing! Cass McCombs, Ray Charles, Elliott Smith, Philip Glass, Shangri-las, Randy Newman… lots more, can’t think..



13 responses to “Interview Project #8: Villagers

  1. That’s a great interview, really insightful responses from an amazing artist. Refreshing to see intelligent questions.

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