Interview with The Villagers Conor O’Brien.
Parlour Bar, Belfast
16th march 13
Conor O’Brien formed Villagers after the break up of The Immediate in 2007. Villagers were nominated for a ‘Mercury’ music prize for ‘Becoming A Jackal’ in 2010, and won an ‘Ivor Novello’ for the title track ‘Becoming A Jackal’. They have just released their new album ‘Awayland’ to critical acclaim so now is a great time to catch up with new chez Villagers.
Louder Than War: I’m doing this interview for a website called ‘Louder Than War’.
Conor: It rings a bell.
There will be people reading this who won’t be sure of Villagers music. Can you describe yourselves?
That’s OK (laughs). How do you write your songs? As you have a degree in English Literature, an interest in the English language & an interest in Hermann Hesse and Kurt Vonnegut are the lyrics are more important to you than the music?
Emm, when I wrote this album the lyrics were less important because I couldn’t write lyrics so I had no words. So I was just making music without any words. Then the words slowly started to come out of the music. But when I wrote the first album I had lots of stuff in my notebook. But that was stuff that I had written in college and before that even. So I had to learn to do it in the opposite way this time. I think I almost prefer the words on this album, because they are less self conscious. They are a bit more of a slave to the music, which I kind of like. I think I prefer being less self obsessed with the words.
You’re interested in literature, would you like to write books?
Well, I don’t know if I’d be able to. Because I’ve never written words without music, well I have, but it’s been with the aim of putting them to music. I think it’s a different part of your brain you use to do that. I am not sure if I’d have the patience to do that. It’s hard enough for me to write a 3 minute song!
With The Immediate you were nominated for a ‘Choice’ music award in 2007. ‘Becoming A Jackal’ got you a ‘Mercury’ nomination and you won an ‘Ivor Novello’ for the title song. Do you think with ‘Awayland’ having excellent reviews, the critics expect more and more from you?
I don’t really know. It’s up to them. I think when you write music and you get really involved with it and properly obsessed with it, which I do when I write albums. I don’t go out I just focus on it, and I just do it. Once you bring an album out, the critics are irrelevant, because you know how good it is, you know yourself what it is. You only write music because you have to do it. You couldn’t not do this I’d go crazy. So for someone to give it a score is crazy. Sometimes I read some of them, some of them are interesting most of them aren’t. It depends how well the review is written. It’s difficult to find a journalist who has listened to the full album.
You’re just back from Japan, was that a culture shock?
That was amazing. We only did one show, and then I did a solo show. We went down really well. We were the first band on at the festival of about 7 bands. We were on at 1.00PM, so we were warming up the room. It was one of the best shows we’ve played and they filmed it for MTV Japan, so it felt really exciting to play for people. I was aware that they might not be aware what I was singing. So I became more physical and more in representing the songs rhythmically with my words rather than what they meant. It was really visceral and really great. I was really sweating after the show as I’d moved a different way.
In the ‘Hot Press’ interview you talked about the legalisation of drugs. Was that quite scary what happened in Mexico?
I am just going to put this straight. I didn’t talk about the legalisation of drugs, somebody else talked about it. I just nodded yes or no. I do think they should be legalised. I don’t take drugs. I used to smoke weed, but I stopped completely. I stopped as I think it makes you dull and boring. What happened in Mexico was scary (for the record somebody not of Villagers party was caught with something illegal). We were out of our depth. We were handcuffed to chairs and put in a cell. The first 2 or 3 hours were funny, we could see each other through the cell doors, and we were laughing. Then we thought when are we getting out of here? Then the morning came, and it was strange. Then we had to drive another 9 hours to play a show in San Antonio, and about 15 people turned up to the show, so it was a pretty low ebb in our history.
How did that show go when there weren’t many people there?
There were about 19 people there. And that included the support band who watched us. We just played the show. Then we found all these fireworks, and we were setting them off outside. Everybody who came to the show said that is so illegal here, and they started running away. We were left with all these fireworks going off. We thought we’d be arrested again.
Do you like your releases to come out on vinyl?
Yeah, I think the way it’s going there’s only going to be streaming and vinyl. That’s OK with me. I think as long as vinyl continues to exist then I’m happy. It means the album as a format will continue to exist. You can really have a beginning, middle and an end. It’s just a nice amount of time to listen to music. It requires a little bit of investment from the listener.
I think it’s personal, but vinyl is something you can handle.
Yeah, the art work. I spend a lot of time with the art work of our albums. I was bummed out when I saw the albums on spotify. I thought no one’s going to see it, the art work is so small.
Do you have any non musical interests?
I read graphic comics. I read 2 beautiful comics on the history of Iran, a bit of cycling (I should have asked more about the cycling – Louder Than War).
Have you had any ‘Spinal Tap’ moments, when you have been on tour?
Well the Mexican one. Not finding the stage a couple of times. On an aeroplane I woke up with the air hostess holding my legs up in the air. That was kind of embarrassing, I realised afterwards no one knew it had happened.
That’s the end of the interview Conor. Thanks very much.
All words by Dermot Campbell. This is Dermot’s first piece of writing for Louder Than War.