This Irish indie-folk band shot to fame in 2010 following the release of debut album “Becoming a Jackal”, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Mercury Prize and the Choice Music Prize. Three years later, the oft-dreaded second album (“Awayland”) bust forth to similarly high acclaim, and was again shortlisted for the (2013) Mercury Prize. Having toured with the likes of Tracey Chapman and Elbow, Villagers, aka. Conor O’Brien, Tommy McLaughlin, Danny Snow, James Byrne and Cormac Curran are preparing themselves for the release of their brand new album “Darling Arithmetic”. Speaking ahead of their UK tour, XYZ Magazine caught up with founding member Conor to find out more ….
On a dull, grey day in Dublin, enjoying some relative calm before the storm ahead when the band set off on an extensive European tour, Conan settles into a good ol’ chat with us about the band’s music: ”In terms of all of the albums we’ve released so far, they’re quite eclectic, but this particular album is sort of an ambient, intimate folk album”. “Although then again” he continues “I’d have to add a tagline, because I think folk can be a misused term. A lot of people when they say folk they’re kind of describing white men with acoustic guitars. But folk is such a wide-reaching term”.
Conor’s soft, reflective tone mirrors his records, such as on lead track “Courage”, from the brand new album. “It was a funny song, because I was kind of writing two songs” Conor explains; “I was writing a song called ‘It took a little time’, and then I couldn’t get rid of this weird mantra going around my head which was the chorus: ‘Courage is a feeling like no other’. It took me about a month or two to realise I was writing that same song! I guess it was about finding strength in dark times, and ending a relationship and moving on”.
Such honest lyrics on a very personal track; “It took a little time to be honest, it took a little time to be me. I took a little lover but then we parted, I took a little time to get over this. From time to time, I get heavyhearted, thinking of how you used to kiss …”. In fact the whole album is generally a lot more ‘confessional’, and stripped back – so how does it feel to be so transparent about innermost thoughts and feelings on a record you’re sharing for all to hear?
“It’s funny, it’s actually really exciting, because I’ve never really written like this before. It’s a different kind of process. I think I’m using a little bit less of my head and little bit more of my heart y’know?”
“It’s from a purely emotional place, this record, but I think it’s exciting! I’ve actually played a couple of shows already with the news songs, and the shows are really interesting, because where there’s a danger of it just being me singing my diary entries to people, I’ve kind of crafted the songs and spent a lot of time and effort making sure there was space in the songs, so that anyone can listen to them – and bring their own life experience and memories.”
The great care and attention that has gone into making the new material inclusive and involving is clear, and we look forward to seeing how that translates onto the stage during the live show.
Speaking of the few shows they’ve done so far with the new material, Conan told us “I really felt like I’d shared a moment with the room – it was really nice, because you really feel like everyone’s there right behind you. I only feel like a song is finished when someone else listens that isn’t me” he confesses. “I’ve kind of made all these half finished creatures and put them out in the world for everyone else to finish off!”
A heart-warming point of view, and there will be plenty of listeners during the current tour across the UK and Europe, which will see the band on the road throughout April and May. Do the band enjoy being on tour as much as they do being in the studio? ”It usually feels quite natural for me to travel and play, particularly at the beginning of the album cycle, it’s very exciting… and therapeutic “.
And on the topic of stage performances, if you’ve not yet seen it, Google “John Grant & Conor O’Brien – Glacier” and watch their spine-tingling Other Voices performance . Conan has described Grant as an important external influence in the shaping of his new material: “I remember coming off stage after singing that song, and just shaking with excitement. He puts it all out there, I had never sung about my experiences of bigotry, or homophobia that I’ve had against me. I suddenly realised shit I could write like this! There’s this huge untapped well within me which could make this album! That was a really huge inspirational moment for me in terms of writing this album – it helped me untap emotional ducts.”
You can really empathise with the personal journey Conor has been on, and how that has helped to mould his latest material. Giving us a little preview snippet about the tour, Conor reveals: “It’s definitely previewing the new album, but it will have its own flavour. On the tour we’ll have a double bass player, a keyboard player and a harpist; an eclectic mix of musicians and instruments!”.
And what about after the tour, we’ve heard word that Conor’s something of a workaholic, will he take any time off? ”Not really no” he tells us, “I tend to enjoy burying myself in my music and writing. Even when I was very young, people will be out doing things and I’d be stuck in my room writing my next song!”.
A real must-see this month! For tickets in your city to what promises to be a memorable show, visit the official website at wearevillagers.com.
The new album “Darling Arithmetic” is due out for release April 13.