Conor O’Brien formed the indie folk band Villagers in Dublin in 2008. A tour to correspond with the release of their third album, Darling Arithmetic, visits Leeds City Varieties.
How have the first few gigs of the tour been?
We’ve only played a couple of shows in Ireland a couple of weeks back and then we did BBC6 Music festival and they were cool. It was really the first time we’d played the new songs live so it still feels like it’s still kind of evolving , and I kind of hope that doesn’t really end.
And how have the new songs been going down live?
Really good, it’s a different kind of experience for me, I can’t really speak for the audience but it felt like they were with me when I do songs because they’re so intimate and personal. When we started playing them I wanted to make sure it didn’t sound like I was pouring out my diary entries in front of random strangers in a room but it ended up not feeling like that. It was so much more like a shared experience and the universal nature of the songs really shone through.
Do you find it stressful been on the road or do you learn to enjoy it after a while?
I’ve always had kind of phases, I guess. I’ve been touring properly for five years now I’ve gone through a lot a different phases while touring but it all depends on how you look after yourself. I know it’s a really boring thing to say, but it’s kind of true, I mean the show is everything but I’m still learning hat as I get a bit older the most important thing to me is the actual music and that hour or two hours that you’re actually on stage you’ve got to make sure you’re working towards that all time. If you’re just on the road to party I’m not really interested in that any more.
So let’s talk about the new album then. Darling arithmetic is set for release next month, but where did the title come from?
The title was taken from one of the songs on the album that I wrote the earliest out of all these songs. I wrote it before the last album came out, but it felt like it was about losing somebody and the effects that it has on you. It was too close to home for me to sing about at the time but when I finished writing half of these songs I realised it would fit in really nicely with these tunes. I wanted to put a really impersonal and not human kind of word to distance me from the feelings of the song.
Do you think the lyrics on this new record are much more open and honest? And is it quite a reflective record in comparison to the last one?
Yes, I think so, the last one I was using a lot of symbolism and metaphors and using lots of imagination. I just wanted to kind of go outward and make something quite epic, far reaching and colourful whereas with this one I think it was more of inward looking experience that I really wanted to take from my own life. I kind of just delved straight into it and went for it and I lost any sort of fear I had before of going too deep within and exposing yourself too much. It was quite inspiring and it helped me write the rest of the album.
Your last two albums have been Mercury Prize nominated. Are you aiming for the same again or is that not important to you?
No, it’s definitely important. Those things are great because whenever you get a nomination you get more audience and more people hearing your music so I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean a lot but I’m not going to assume that I am going to get a hat trick or anything, so when I’m writing music or making music I tend to be in a bubble so it’s not an issue when I’m creating stuff.
You’ve released the first single Courage already. How have you found the reception to the first single from the record?
Really nice, people are playing it on the radio and I’ve had a lot of people saying nice things about it. We’ve just found out that we’re on the radio 6 playlist and when we play it live you can hear people singing along. Even in the third show we definitely had a nice reaction to it so I’m happy with it.
The song has minimal accompaniment in comparison to some of the tracks on Awayland. Is that a recurring theme on the album?
Yes, I wanted to keep as much space as possible. A lot of the time we were taking stuff away rather than adding stuff. I kind of just threw stuff at the beginning of the song and then by the end of the song I would have got rid of 50 per cent, so just the bones of the song are there, and them I just got more into that idea than trying to make something epic.
I know you’ve produced the album again this time but when you’re doing it all is it hard to say that this album is finally finished?
What happened with this album was that I ended up writing quite a lot of tunes. I think I got about 14 or 15 songs written and one of those songs took about half the time of the whole process of making the album and then that song didn’t even make it to the album which was quite frustrating, but I kind of overworked this one tune and that’s what took all the time, so by the time I got round to eight months or so after I started to make it, I was done. I felt like I had no more energy in me to do any more tunes and I felt that what I had was really fully rounded and ready to go.
And what about Record Store Day? I’m not sure whether you’re releasing anything this year, but is that important a concept that’s important to you?
Yes, definitely. I’m kind of a vinyl freak, we’ve done stuff a lot in the past but I’m not sure if we will get one in on time this time round but it’s cool. There’s a tendency these days to become a little bit hijacked by majors reissuing things for Record Store Day and it’s not very creative or interesting but rather a little bit cynical, but in terms of people putting stuff out for the day, I’m all for creative, beautiful music.
Finally Conor, what’s the plan for when the tour finishes in May, will you be playing any festivals and will you keep writing on the road?
We’re starting to get festivals through now. We’re going to Deer Shed Festival but nothing else is confirmed as yet, but we will be doing the festival trail but touring throughout the year. I’m going to try to do some writing so we’ll see how that goes. It’s going to be a different experience this time for me because we’re on a sleeper bus and I’m really excited about that – it means having a bit more time to perhaps write on the bus, so hopefully, yes.
Villagers play at Leeds City Varieties on April 21. For details visit http://www.wearevillagers.com/