Interviews

Veröffentlicht am 19.09.2018 | von Sophia Kahlenberg

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VILLAGERS – Interview & Verlosung

Conor O’Brien ist bekannt für seine poetischen Texte und für seine Gabe, mit zutiefst ehrlicher Musik zu berühren. Nun steht mit The Art of Pretending to Swim bereits sein fünftes fantastisches Album in den Startlöchern: und wieder hat die Band es geschafft, sich gewissermaßen neu zu entdecken. Ein Grund mehr Frontmann und Kopf der Band Conor in Berlin zu treffen, sich mit ihm über die Entstehung des neuen Werks zu unterhalten, über die Bedeutung von Glaube in einer von Technologie bestimmten Welt zu sprechen und nachzufragen wie sich das Leben in zehn Jahren Villagers gewandelt hat.

To start off – it seems like you’ve been a busy man in the last years. Darling Arythmetic came out only 3 years ago, following a bunch of shows and also a live record two years ago. It seems like you are finding inspiration for new songs very easy or are you forcing yourself into working constantly?
I took a little break after touring the last record and did things like moving house and such. Things that I’ve been meaning to do for a few years. But then I got straight back into writing and recording. I’m an addict I think. I’m obsessed with it, I can’t stop.

So you don’t have to push anything?
Well it’s not easy, I go through a lot of blocks and moments of thinking that I have nothing inside of me at all. That happened quite a lot with this record, but most of the time you realize that’s out of some sort of fear. You know that there is something in there, but you might not want to approach it yet personally. So you have to play tricks on yourself. This time I had a separate project, where I was learning how to engineer and produce and mix properly. I was reading loads of technical manuals and that was a good thing to do, to avoid thinking about writing. And it allowed my brain to degustate for a while and get deep into that world. Then I thought, fuck I have to write some songs, but by that stage something had started trickling out a little.

You just mentioned moving house. Why did you leave the farmhouse at the coast, where you’ve created all the other records? And how does your new production space in the city center of Dublin look like?
Just change. I’ve been there, in the same house, for 12 years and just needed something new. I wanted to feel what it was like, city center living. It’s good, it’s fun, it’s got challenges when you’re trying to make something creatively, because there’s a constant pull of friends and pubs and distractions. I had to learn how to live slightly differently, because I didn’t have the luxury of being far away from everything. Now I just walk out of my door and I bump into someone I know straight away.

When your last record came out, everyone was expecting a more electronic record. But instead you released a very intimate, introverted and acoustic piece of work. How would you describe The Art of Pretending to Swim in comparison to it and what has changed this time around?
Very different. The last record was basically trying to learn how to be as minimalist as possible and trying not to put too many ideas into every song. And on this record I was trying to build on what I learned from that. Holding on to grooves and keeping feelings going, without making too many diversions. But I also wanted to arrange the shit out of it and throw loads of colours and textures at it. I did a lot of friction there, in terms of the different ways it was pulling. I feel like it’s groovier and more upbeat and more fun. I had more fun with it and there was less crying on this record basically. There was more laughing and questions like ‘Can I do that?’ I answered with ‘of course I can’.

What was the reason for that, you think?

I think that came from learning how to produce properly and getting deeper into the technical side and realizing, that I can do anything I want. Suddenly there were millions of options. I feel like this is only the tip of the iceberg and I know what I really want to do now and can start working towards that. I finally think I’ve gotten somewhere with this whole songwriting thing.

You mentioned, that this time around you focused way more on producing and mixing – what overall difference did that make?
I think it’s the most finely tuned record that I’ve done, in terms of frequencies and arrangements. I was really obsessed with every aspect of it, which I’ve never had with a record before. Because of technology, I was able to do all these things, that were adding to the overall effect of the song. All these tiny little details I can hear now, which make me happy. It’s the record, where I feel like I had the most control over how the audio aspects will effect the emotional arch of the songs.

You’ve also used samples for the first time – when did you come up with this idea, which samples did you use and how and for what reason did you use them?
There’s a song called Who Are We by a gospel group called The Dixie Hummingbirds. The reason I’ve used that sample was that I’ve listened to that song a lot, but a Mahalia Jackson version. She’s the queen of gospel and just belts out the songs. She’s fearless and incredible and I was quite obsessed with her, when I was writing the album and kept listening to that particular song and different versions of it on youtube. I found this one version, that just clicked with me. The soul of it connected with the song I was working on. The other one is a Donny Hathaway sample. It’s from his album Everything Is Everything from the 1970s. It’s this amazing song and it sounds like a party in the studio, with everyone clapping along. I just wanted to grab a part of it and infuse my song with a little bit of the energy that they had.

Let’s talk a bit more about the lyrics of the songs – when did you come up with the title of the record and how would you describe its meaning?
I actually had the title from the very beginning, but I didn’t think it was the album title. I was writing a song called The Art Of Pretending To Swim, but it never really got written. But bits of the words and lines of that song made their way into almost every song on this album. So it’s kind of infused in the album. In the end of the process, I ended up writing an instrumental piece of music called This Is The Art Of Pretending To Swim, which is gonna come out as a separate piece.

Why did you choose to keep the song, and also another version of Ada, off the record and release a ten-inch EP?
The full version of Ada, yes. They’re both just too crazy, there’s too much information in them. The long version of Ada has four or five poems in it and it has The Staves doing backing vocals and John Grant doing some talking and Lisa Hannigan singing. There’s just so much information. When I was listening to it in the context of the album, I realized that it was just too much. The album already had so much going through it, that it would’ve weakened the whole. It works better as its own piece. And This Is The Art Of Pretending To Swim is this psychedelic, aggressive synth journey thing. With samples of a guy being tested with LSD by the CIA in the 60s. It’s just this weird trip and I thought it was gonna be on the album, but the more I listened to it, I realized that it’s in its own world with its own thing going on.

What would you say the whole album is about?
It’s about the idea of faith. That in the context of our technologically driven world and about how computer algorithms are taking over our brains. It’s about having some sort of protection against that and realizing, that there’s a spiritual world you can dive into, which is completely separate from that.

We also read that you’re trying to embrace your existential fears and hopes in this ‘desperate, technologically-centred dystopian age’. Can you share the kind of fears you have in this time and what technological developments you dislike?
Just the fact that I didn’t read a book for about two years. I kept checking my phone. And I realized, that my brain had stopped being able to take in information longer than a tweet. Having a realization, that technology can be a virus and it can take over our minds. We’re becoming slaves to technology and it’s taken over the political landscape as well.. it’s terrifying. An antidote to it can be a certain type of spirituality. Every day we are worshipping our phones. Hours every day we’re checking information, making sure that our brains are always full and we’re always trying to get something out of it. Get something, get something, get something.. And I think in this day in age, the idea of getting away from that is very important. Maybe with some sort of meditation, any sort of spirituality, whether you call it god or togetherness or music or anything. Something that brings us together, separate from our phones and TV screens and stuff.

Overwhelmed by information..
I think so. And addicted to information. Addicted to keeping our minds busy, without actually holding on to too much of that information. Since I’ve started reading books again, I’ve noticed my brain starting to slow down a bit in a good way. Standing back with some distance and not just instantly judging everything. When I got addicted to my phone, I found myself very judgmental. Because in my facebook-bubble, my twitter-bubble, I surrounded myself with people I agreed with and I would always be seeing things they’d put up. So I stopped having the capacity to live inside somebody’s mind, who I don’t agree with. I stopped being able to distance myself from that person enough to be able to see it from their perspective and to then have some sort of debate within myself about why I felt a certain way.

We totally love the complete record – but A Trick of the Light is such a stand out song with such a beautiful video alongside it. Could you describe a bit how the song came to life, what it is about, when you came up with it and also what the idea was behind the video?
It was the first song I wrote for the record, actually. The energy of that song really fuelled the rest of the album, it made me realize that I could go there. That I could go somewhere a bit groovier. The lyrics of the chorus came out in one go, it was like a Mantra. Then I tested it in front of a classroom full of ten year olds in Denmark. My nephew is ten and he brought me into his school one morning with my guitar and his teacher let me play songs for the class. The first time I played it was in front of these kids and they seemed to like it, so that was a good sign. I went back to Ireland and finished it. And the video was my friend Bob, who lives near me in Dublin. He made so many amazing videos, I thought he was the best video maker I’d seen for a long time and I really wanted to work with him. We just sat down with the song and realized that it’s about blind faith, signs of optimism, a mantra. Allowing yourself to go with some flow. He suggested to take that to a crazy extend and have it about a guy who sees so much more in everything around him, but he’s not quite sure if he’s actually seeing it or if it’s just his mind. Then the record label told me that I’d have to be the guy in the video, which I really didn’t want to be. So I decided to be all these different characters. It was so much fun, I learned how to walk in heels, painted my toe nails..

Most of your covers were paintings up to now (besides Awayland of course), this time the artwork looks a lot different, but amazing. How did you come up with it and why did you think it was a good fit for the record?
I finished the album and I listened to it and it sounded more angular and more clean cut than the others. The last record sounds like everything is bleeding into everything else, it sounds like paint. Whereas this record sounds like graphics, like something that’s more blocks of colour. I definitely knew I wanted something, which was graphic rather than paint. Then I asked a friend of mine, Niall McCormack, who does really amazing posters, vinyl and book covers. I think I wrecked his head a little with it, because I got him to do about 10 million versions, but we got there in the end. I’m really happy with it, it reminds me of old computer cassette tapes, that I used to have when I was a kid. To him, when he first heard the songs, it sounded like an instructive book from the 70s. You know, the art of pretending to swim, the art of how to cook, the art of whatever. He basically looked at old manuals and books and based the cover on them a little.

You’re now making music as Villagers for about ten years – what has changed? In the music business too, what pros and cons do you see nowadays, compared to the time when you started making music?
Everything! Literally everything, I’m a very different person. For me personally, I don’t have the same energy that I did when I started. I started making music to try and make people uncomfortable. I really wanted to do that when I started. I loved playing in a room and then whispering and getting really quiet and staring people in the eyes. I had this anger in me, I almost wanted to disrespect the audience and making people not wanting to be there. I had this strange reason for starting performing and I don’t have that at all now. I’ve got the opposite feeling and wanting to entertain people and wanting people to enjoy themselves and having a huge amount of respect for people. I became more open, well I suppose I grew up.

Especially after the last record came out, you spoke a lot about the issues around homophobia. Did that have something to do with how you were feeling back then?
Totally, that was a huge part of why I got into that type of music making. I was so angry at the experience of growing up and feeling uncomfortable with myself in Ireland and not feeling like there was any support framework in society. And now Ireland is a completely different country. If I had grown up maybe ten years later, maybe I wouldn’t have had that anger, maybe I wouldn’t be making music. Back then I wanted to create my own world and now I want to connect that world with the world again.

Villagers Tour:
03.11. Frankfurt, Zoom
06.11. Hamburg, Gruenspan
08.11. Berlin, Kesselhaus
27.11. Köln, Kulturkirche

In Kooperation mit FKP Scorpio verlosen wir zur anstehenden Villagers Tour 2×2 Gästelistenplätze – ihr wollt zu den Shows? Dann schickt uzns bis zum 1. November eine Mail mit dem Betreff „Villagers + Stadt, wo ihr zum Konzert wollt“ an gewinnen@bedroomdisco.de und mit etwas Glück versüßen wir euch den November-Anfang mit einer kleinen Gewinn-Mail!

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