Dublin band Villagers visit the north's Music City
Dublin band Villagers are set to play a headline gig at the highly anticipated Music City Festival in Derry. Michael Jackson spoke to frontman Conor O'Brien ahead of the gig
IRISH indie-folk band Villagers have been on gig hiatus for the last few months, but having released a new album earlier this year the lads are ready to hit the road once again. On Monday they will play a headline gig in Derry as part of Music City festival.
Fans will be glad to know that although the band may not have played many gigs recently, they have been keeping busy. Frontman Conor O’Brien says that they are looking forward to kicking off the new tour.
“I’ve been in studio land trying to write and record,” he reveals. “We’ve had rehearsals over the past two or three days to try to get our heads back into. We’re way more excited about it because everything is sounding new and fresh.”
This summer will definitely be an eventful one for Villagers; they have eight shows in July alone, and more still to come in August – it’s the kind of thing most people can only dream of. Like any job though, it does have its difficulties.
“You always normalise whatever you’re doing,” O’Brien explains. “It’s not just a constantly exciting thing. Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep it interesting for yourself, so that you put on a good show for other people. The only way to do that is to keep trying to get something new out of the music you’ve written.”
“It is a challenge, but you have to make sure you never, ever take it for granted because I still feel insanely lucky.”
The talented Dublin lyricist feels that he has been increasingly able to meet the challenge through the music that he writes.
“As you get a little bit older as a writer you learn how to write music which is open to more interpretation – it’s not stuck down on a particular riff, and it’s a bit looser.”
Being able to interpret his own songs differently is certainly a skill that O’Brien has honed in recent years. Villagers' new album, Where Have You Been All My Life?, features stripped-back versions of tracks from the band's three studio albums. O’Brien maintains that the featured numbers needed to be revisited.
“When we were on tour it occurred to me that songs were sounding quite unique,” he recalls.
“Some of them were singing to me a little bit more than the original versions. There’s a couple of tunes from the first few albums where I would write the song, and then there would be an impression from the label that it might be a single if we sped it up and made it three and a half minutes long.
“I occasionally bowed to that pressure and I think this was a way of reclaiming the song from the weakness that I had at that particular time. I think the lyrics really worked a lot more in these particular arrangements, and I just wanted to get that out of my system really.”
Tracks from Villagers' Ivor Novello-award-winning studio album Darling Arithmetic feature most heavily on the new album, including stand-out tracks Courage, and Hot Scary Summer. Courage is an emotional and honest track that looks at O’Brien’s sexuality; Hot Scary Summer deals with the issue of homophobia.
Both tracks were released the month before the Marriage Equality Referendum in the Republic. Reflecting on the effect that the referendum has had a year later, O’Brien believes that there have been a lot of positive changes as a result.
“I think Ireland is becoming infinitely better because of it for many reasons, and not just for gay people,” he says.
“When I was young I felt like I constantly read the room. No matter what room I went into, I had to read it to see if I was able to be myself fully in that room, and that’s how I grew up. There’s going to be a certain amount of resentment that you have to get rid of because people are changing their ways. It’s a complex change, but for the most part it’s incredibly positive and heart-warming.”
Those in attendance at Villagers' Music City gig on Monday can will be able to experience some of the fantastic stripped-down sounds of their new album. The band are always excited to play in in the walled city.
“We love playing in Derry,” O’Brien enthuses. “Every time we’ve played we’ve had a really amazing reception. The people seem to be really welcoming and exuberant; we’ve always had a great time.”
O’Brien thinks that their gig on Monday will be just what the people of Derry need following a busy week of music.
“I heard it’s at the end of a five-day electronic music festival, Celtronic,” he says. “I’m excited about easing people back into the real world,” he laughs.
"We’re playing a relatively mellow set which will work well for us."
After their own gig, O’Brien is hoping for a bit of time off to enjoy some more of Music City.
“We don’t have anything on the day after so we might be able to hang around,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll get to have a little Monday night boogie.”
:: Villagers play at Derry's Glassworks as part of Music City, July 4. For more info, see: www.musiccityderry.com.