Villagers – Interview

Villagers - Gebäude 9, Köln, 23. Februar 2013

Circa zweieinhalb Jahre nach dem letzten Headlining-Konzert von Villagers in Köln fand sich die Band am 23. Februar endlich wieder für ein Konzert im Gebäude 9 ein (hier geht’s zum Bericht. Wir ließen es uns dabei natürlich nicht nehmen, den Kopf der Band Conor J. O’Brien dort auch wieder zum Interview zu treffen. Schließlich lag unser letztes Gespräch auch schon zweieinhalb Jahre zurück (hier könnt ihr es nachlesen). So trafen wir den Iren vor dem Konzert, um über das neue Album {Awayland} zu sprechen und die Veränderungen, die das Projekt Villagers seit Release des famosen Debüts „Becoming A Jackal“ durchgemacht hat.

Hi Conor, nice to meet you again. It’s been three years since we last met. Lots of stuff happened since then, like your European tour with Grizzly Bear. How did that happen and what’s the most exciting thing that happened since your last headline shows in Germany?

We played a show with them in Cork, in Ireland. They watched the show and they liked it and then asked us to do more shows with them.

With the release of “{Awayland}” your label said Villagers has now become a band rather than being a solo project anymore – which is something we noticed when you played in Zwolle last month. In our last interview you said that after splitting up with The Immediate you didn’t feel like wanting to be in a band anymore. What has made you change your mind/feeling about being in a band?

Well, I didn’t really know how to be in a band. When I was in The Immediate I was with my friends who I went to school with. We collaborated, like, really strongly and I couldn’t imagine collaborating with anybody else in writing. We were best friends. But with Villagers we played more and more and we trust each other more now. The band is more involved with this album, even the lightshow is more band orientated as well.

The last time we met you told us that when you wrote “Becoming A Jackal” you had been reading a novel by Herman Hesse. In a recent interview you said that Kurt Vonnegut inspired you in the writing for “{Awayland}”. How big is the influence of literature on your songwriting? And do you ever choose books intentionally when you’re looking for inspiration?

I wouldn’t say it’s intentional. It’s probably just whatever I’m reading at the time, like, buying a copy and do my own version of it. With Kurt Vonnegut it was The Slaughterhouse Five there was Billy Pilgrim who is basically Kurt Vonnegut himself, but a fake version of him. He is like an innocent kind of person and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He survived the bombing of Dresden, he’s in war and he’s like „what’s going on? What’s happening? I don’t know exactly and I do all those stupid things“. I like the fact that he (Kurt Vonnegut) dealt with all these really heavy dark thing but he brought a certain humour to it and I want to try to do that in my album and I think, he’s kinda the main character in the album really.

Probably, when using characters you should be using aspects of your own personality as well so it is more an actual way of teasing out your emotions and feelings and stuff like that.

So no, I probably don’t pick a book intentionally. Cormac, my keyboard player gave me a Kurt Vonnegut book for my birthday so I read that first and Slaughterhouse Five after that, so it was sort of a mistake even.

Some songwriters are also known for writing novels or poems. Did you ever think of writing a novel? What would it be about?

I really don’t think I’d be able to write a novel. I think it’s very difficult. I think my words only really work with the music and I don’t think I could write poems cause I don’t feel inspired by words alone. I feel inspired by chords and melodies and feelings and the words only add up to the music really.

One of the songs on “{Awayland}” is called “Passing A Message”. Judging only by the song’s title: what’s more important to you, writing lyrics to pass a certain message, or writing lyrics to create a pleasing pop song?

Probably pleasing pop song. I don’t have any messages. I think if you focus on trying to give a message, then it’ll be almost the opposite of what it was. Writing should be a free thing. It shouldn’t be just a political statement or an opinion, it should be a mixture of lots of different things. I should try to cut between opinion and emotion, it should be something separate from all these divisions. What I’m really trying to do is make something beautiful. I don’t want to change someone’s opinion, I’m not into that. And Passing A Message is really about DNA, like passing a message on to each other from the beginning of evolution. There’s no real message in that, it just happens.

On your tour through the Netherlands you were supported by Luke Sital-Singh, who also is supporting you on this tour. How did you come together?

We got the same agent and I got sent two Youtube videos of his songs and I really liked them. When we went on tour we played this one show in The Netherlands with him. It was really good, the crowd loved him. He’s done really well and he’s got like these emotional songs, similar to Jeff Buckley but he’s got this croak in his voice I really like.

With “{Awayland}” you released a less folky record that seems to be more inspired by Kraut- and Prog-Rock. Was it your intention to leave folk music behind?

I was never only into folk music. When I was writing the first album I was listening to mostly folk music but that was more a coincidence. Before that I was listening to much more electric guitars, rock music, electric pop, Drum’n’Bass music. By the time I was recording the new album I was into really early techno music and all that stuff, so it kind of mixed up into a big collage of my influences. It took about a year to make a sense out of that, it was a big mess for about 8 months. It was a desaster. My manager made me send him demos, I really shouldn’t have sent them. He wasn’t very pleased, he was disgusted. He was like „Oh my God, what are we gonna do with this?“ and then the label heard the demos for the album and they were really terrified as well. Like, Nothing Arrived had a big Drum’n’Bass bit in the middle, whereas now it’s the most traditional, like, just piano and stuff. We made it really straight, it felt like the song benefited from that but the original demo was the most experimental thing you ever heard in your life. We had to go backwards and forward in order to find the album.

I read “The Bell” is a song you wrote a long time ago during your time with The Immediate and it continued to make appearances live in various forms, musically and lyrically. What’s the story behind the song itself and what is the song’s history?

Yeah, we used to play that song in The Immediate. In the song I’m trying to give the expression of things that language can’t express and I wanted to use language to describe that, which doesn’t make sense but I wanted to try and talk about those moments..whether it’s physical violent action or sex or death, stuff that you can’t, physically, put into words, really. That’s what the song’s about. It like “off goes the bell, ringing through my head, signifies that’s all’s been said”. It was an experiment. Before the Villagers‘ version I listened to lots of Bossanova stuff. The song used to have different chords. One of the lyrics I stole from my time from The Immediate is “center of my skin” etc. We released the song and we can’t go back now.

Do you reckon there’s a noticeably difference between songs that developed over a longer time and songs that were written in one session only and feel finished and ready to be performed or recorded?

Uhm, yeah. The only song that came fully on was Nothing Arrived. I literally woke up and it was in my head. Like a Paul McCartney moment. This never happened to me before or after. I just sang it to my computer and recorded so that was a quick song. The others were very long and slow and just, really teasing. They’re all different I think. All of the songs got a typical character. Which makes the live show kind of interesting for us. A lot of band hold on to a feeling during a live show and continue to activate it in song. In our live shows there’s different scenes and it’s almost like every song is a violent player who’s on stage with us.

The setlist you played in Zwolle was a pretty balanced one in regard to both albums. What is it like for you to play the new songs for the first time and does the audiences’ reaction to new songs affect the setlists for the remaining shows of a tour?

Yeah, we often came off stage and wished we had put more beat driven songs towards the end because everyone was slowly moving more. Setlist are really strange because it’s a mixture of how we feel and how we want to combine the audience and the songs. On this UK tour we kept changing the setlist over and over again and on the very last show we found one that we really liked, we were like “wow, that’s crazy! Amazing”, so we’ll try and play that one tonight as well and maybe change it again tomorrow.

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