Whenever a band split up there is a sense of loss but imagine how it must feel if it’s your own band which you started aged thirteen and was all that you knew of life. This was the situation facing Conor O’Brien , the man currently plying his trade as Villagers. He and his friends started The Immediate, from their school classroom and went on to achieve success, touring Ireland and Europe before drifting apart and splitting in 2006. Waking up the morning after, a bleary eyed Conor took his first steps towards what we see today. “When we broke up I got very drunk. I woke up the next morning at 6am with a horrible headache and wrote a song that sort of kick started everything for me.” He says sitting across from a small table in a London bar.
From small drunken aftermaths come great things however and now Conor finds himself about to release his debut album ‘Becoming a Jackal’, an album that has already topped his native Irelands charts. A musical talent since his youth, Conor describes his first forays into making sound as “Being about four and watching the film American Tail and crying at the end of it but singing all the songs for about two years afterwards.” Eventually his brother gave me his old guitar and taught him some chords and he’s been writing songs ever since. The result of years of song writing is ‘Becoming A Jackal’ an album of intimate exploration and creeping self doubt tempered with a romantic lust for beauty and beguiling sense of imagery. Unsurprisingly the album was written and recorded in stark isolation, “I have a house that I live in with seven other people and we’re basically like the caretakers of the house. Whenever I got off tour (Conor spent time on the road as folk singer Cathy Davey’s guitarist) I’d just lock myself away and write as many songs as I could. I’d written songs with my band since I was about fourteen so when it ended it was a pretty big deal. I’d never written with anyone else so that was something I had to get used to pretty quickly.”
Get used to it he did and soon enough Conor found himself with enough songs to record Villagers debut album ‘Becoming A Jackal’ in Donegal, Ireland. “I chose to call the album ‘Becoming A Jackal’ because it seemed to me that the songs deal with a sense of change and growth and I wanted to represent that in an almost grotesque way.” Signed to Domino records and with total creative freedom Conor and his band decamped to a home studio in the Irish countryside to lay down the tracks for what is set to be one of the biggest breakthrough albums of 2010. Speaking of the album recording Conor says, “A lot of the time when I’m writing it’s figuring out how to best present an idea. No two of my songs seem to come from the same place so it was important to have the songs written before we started recording anything.
To say that Villagers music is sourced from a variety of Conor’s thoughts is no understatement. Where many bands plunder the treasure chests of their love lives or tales of a Saturday night, Villagers operate on a higher plane. “The song ‘Becoming a Jackal’ started out as a drawing so no words or music. I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember and it’s something that’s really important to me. The sketch I did for ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was based on the painting Narcissist my Caravaggio. I loved it so much and wanted to do my own version only one where the reflection was of a scavenger creature.” The resulting song and indeed album display this cerebral approach to song writing pinned down by a soaring sense of emotion and passion.
Having gone solo, written and produced his album and with plans to sketch and design all of Villagers artwork and merchandise might Conor be something of a control freak? Not if Gigwise’s hour spent with him is anything to go by. Charming and eloquent he speaks of a respect and admiration for fellow singer/ songwriters such as Jeffrey Lewis and Daniel Johston with the excitement and reverence of a typical music geek. It is when he discusses the future of Villagers however that some light is shed, “I really want the show to be as big as possible. I love playing the club shows but I think this music suits the larger stages and when we play them it really ups our game” he says excitedly
Never mind becoming jackals, Villagers are on their way to becoming this years most unlikely super stars.
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Wednesday, May 26
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