Villagers' Conor O'Brien on Bangor Open House show and bringing flugelhorns back into fashion
Villagers return to the north later this month for a headline appearance at Bangor's Open House Festival. David Roy quizzed mainman Conor O'Brien about their massive outdoor gig at Dublin's Iveagh Gardens last month, new single Summer's Song and bringing the flugelhorn back into vogue
HI CONOR, what are you up to today?
I'm just at home in Dublin, in the sun – lovely vibes. I've a week off so I've been editing videos with my buddy Bob, doing a bit of writing and trying to get better at the flugelhorn.
Indeed, the new single Summer's Song features a chorus of six flugelhorns: are you trying to bring it back into fashion?
Was it ever in fashion? What happened was, I was learning how to play it and learning lots of big band stuff and lots of covers, and then that riff was the first thing I kind of made up, a melody.
I just kept playing it and then the song kind of came quite naturally, it being the summer time and all that. It's really fun to play live too.
So, have you mastered the flugelhorn now?
Oh God, no – Jesus, no! We just did three shows in a row there and there were a few bum notes each night, but I'm getting there. It's a funny one: it's one of those instruments where it's very much dependent on whether you're indoors or outdoors and the heat and all that kind of stuff.
I'm still a baby in terms of getting used to bringing it on tour and stuff, but it's really cool – it's like when you've taken up running or exercise or something, it feels really great.
It's nice to have a new project to play with and it's also inspiring my writing and stuff, which is good. I'm going to make a flugelhorn epic/opus!
Villagers recently played their biggest ever Irish show at Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. How was it for you?
It was magic, really really amazing. It was just one of those things where everything fell into place on the day. I've done big shows in the past where we've all been looking forward to it and then it just hasn't quite felt right or we've built it up too much and then haven't really been able to enjoy the moment.
But at Iveagh Gardens, with almost every song I was really enjoying 'the moment' and it really felt very present and 'real'. It felt kind of like the culmination of 10 years of touring, I guess.
It was very emotional, I guess, and there were a lot of people there who had been involved in Villagers in the past. It was just a really big party and we played well. There were a lot of good vibes and we continued it on afterwards too – we brought the brass party out on to the streets of Dublin and then kind of wandered into Whelan's.
It felt like a really magic day and night.
You mentioned the fact that it's now been 10 years since your first release – have you had a chance to take stock of all that's happened between then and now?
It's just a giant journey for me and because it's been over 10 years now, I'm starting to kind of see the shape of the work and the way it all acts as a document of where my head was at at the time – but I'm also quite proud of the fact that it sort of reflects what was going on in Ireland at the time.
I'm kind of starting to realise that you kind of have to keep alert and make sure to not get lazy with your creative output and stuff. And I really wasn't lazy over the last 10 years, apart from maybe a few little lags.
Now, I'm really focused again and writing a lot. There's a bit of a renewed energy, I think.
What were some of the 'lags' you mention?
It's weird, but I took things really for granted for a while, especially at the very beginning. What really fuelled me on at the start was sort of an arrogance – I do remember bumping into other musicians at festivals and having a sense of 'well, I'm just on a different plane to these people, so there's no point in even hanging out'.
There was a sort of a narcissistic feel to my writing, y'know? And I really don't identify that at all [now], but it allowed me to be more prolific. I have a very different energy these days – every single thing we do, I'm just really really grateful that I'm still doing it!
It's a completely different feel and I'm really enjoying that right now.
You've embraced the production side of things a bit more in terms of the sound of the current album The Art of Pretending To Swim and the new single, has that stemmed from this renewed creative energy?
Yeah, production not only in the music but also in terms of how we present ourselves live. Since we've been able to start doing these bigger gigs, we've been getting screens involved and visuals.
I really worked very closely with the guy who handles that, Brian Kenny, in the weeks leading up to the Iveagh Gardens show. When it comes to bigger shows you have to get more involved in the production yourself, otherwise it won't reflect the music as well as it possibly could.
With the music, the last album was a real production journey for me, just a lot of learning, with steep learning curves. But I'm kind of into that as well as the actual writing. In fact, at the moment I'm more into writing in order to produce.
It's a funny one, as you learn more about the production side of things you definitely start thinking about it while you're writing the initial songs. Which can be a good thing and a bad thing – I've seen it become the downfall of some bands I've loved in the past.
But I'm going to try and make sure that doesn't happen to me.
Are you looking forward to playing in the north again at the Open House Festival in a couple of weeks?
Definitely. We played The Empire in Belfast last year and it was amazing, a really fun show. Bangor will be our first time up with the group's new line-up, so it will be quite a different show.
I think we're bringing our brass section along as well. That will be a lot of fun, we do a lot of brass jams and stuff and I get to play my flugelhorn with people who can actually play and cover up a lot of my mistakes. It's quite a different buzz now.
:: Villagers, Friday August 23, Open House Festival, Bangor. Tickets and full festival information via Openhousefestival.com