Villagers sing loud and proud: An Interview with Villagers’ Conor O’ Brien

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Having provided us with one of 2015’s finest records in ‘Darling Arithmetic’, it goes without saying that I’m very excited to see Villagers again, when they perform in Vancouver next week, at the Commodore Ballroom with Paul Weller (Tuesday, September 29th). 

It is Conor O’ Brien & Company’s second visit here this year, following their wonderful and absorbing show with Calexico back on July 12th. It  provides a perfect opportunity/excuse to share an interview done with Conor, prior to the last show.

Originally published by the Vancouver Observer on July 2nd – not long after Ireland’s Marriage Equality vote passed – here it is: 

Few, if any, recent Irish act commands as much respect as Villagers, the musical project of Dubliner Conor O’Brien.

Released by indie powerhouse Domino, Darling Arithmetic is a more stripped back affair to the two previous records, both of which were nominated for The Mercury Music Prize; it is Villagers’ most personal album yet. Recorded over eight months last year, with O’Brien putting in eight-hour days, at a barn by his home in Dublin, it is an intimate experience as O’Brien bares his soul on its nine songs.

“It just kind of evolved” that way, O’ Brien says. “I just started writing and tried to let it take me where it did. As it became more personnel and intimate, I realized that was the way it was going, so I was sort of conscious about finishing it of like that. It evolved and then became a conscious thing, and moved into a kind of little project for me to make.”

The fruits of this seclusion are breathtaking, as we’re treated to a delicate and tender, universal album of love and humanity. Previously shy about expressing his sexuality in his music, O’Brien has embraced it on Villagers’ third album.

Amid the softest of musical touches, O’ Brien tackles some of his personal demons, speaking openly about the difficulties that arise with being a gay man in Ireland, and having to deal with “homophobes” and “bigots.”

Previously uncomfortable with discussing his sexuality outside of his personal life, O’ Brien offers candid insight behind change of heart.

“I guess, looking at it objectively, growing up in our country (Ireland), I was 10 years of age when it was made legal to actually be me. I have felt the implications of that since I was born. You learn very quickly not to show people who you are really and how to hide. It’s just something I had to deal with, like most the gay people growing up.”

“When I came to my coming-out journey I guess, a lot people don’t have to come out to potentially hundreds of thousands of people at one time, so it took a little while. I was always writing about it but in a more oblique way, I was using my experiences of it to express more universal themes and this time around I just got a little bit more specific”.”

Fittingly, the album’s release coincided with the run up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum, in which the Irish electorate delivered a resounding ‘Yes’ vote to equality. The result wasn’t always a sure thing, something that played on O’ Brien’s mind. “A few days before the vote I was saying my friends that we couldn’t get too excited as there was a huge possibility that it would be a No. If you look back at the divorce referendum, everyone thought it would be a landslide yes but in the end, it was passed by half a per cent or something. I just had that in my head. I’m really aware that I surround myself with very liberal thinking types and artsy folk, and you can think that’s the world, when it really isn’t.”

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Rise of Super Furry Animals: An Interview with Ric Rawlins

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The wonderful, the magnificent and the legendary Super Furry Animals, make their return to Irish shores, with their first Irish show in many a year, at Body & Soul this weekend. As one of my all-time favourite acts, I can honestly say that there is more than a hint of jealousy toward those of you who will get to see them this weekend (or any other time in the not so distant future).

With all that in mind, here’s a chat I had with author and authority of all things SFA, Ric Rawlins about all things Super Furries and his book, ‘Rise of Super Furry Animals’.

Originally published for GoldenPlec, March 8th 2015, notably prior to SFA’s reunion. Enjoy!

Throughout their long and fascinating career, Super Furry Animals have proven themselves as one of the most enigmatic, creative and brilliant psychedelic pop bands of our time.

They had an army tank equipped with a techno sound-system, caused national security alerts with 60-foot inflatable monsters, went into the Colombian jungle with armed Guerrilla fighters, and drew up plans to convert an aircraft carrier into a nightclub. Yet SFA’s crazed adventures only tell half the story. Most importantly, there is their music.

Originally, an electronic music collective, Super Furry Animals started out playing raves across Europe before evolving into an experimental rock group in 1993. Signed to Creation Records, they shot to fame and thanks to the record sales of label-mates Oasis; they found they suddenly had a vast budget to play with. By mixing up electronic beats, surf rock, Japanese culture and more, the band produced some of the most exciting and memorable records of the past two decades, in their own uniquely surreal way.

Written with the band’s participation, new book, ‘Rise Of The Super Furry Animals’ tells this remarkable story and ascent to fame. Barry Healy caught up with the book’s author Ric Rawlins, to delve into the weird and wonderful world of Super Furry Animals.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK ON SUPER FURRY ANIMALS?

Ric Rawlins: They’re one of the most radical, creative and catchy bands of all time, but for some reason pop culture hasn’t quite embraced SFA’s legacy yet. Anyone who’s really explored them knows that they’ve created a multidimensional universe… at their best they’re like a crazy Mario-style game, with miles of palm trees and ice mountains to explore. In the ’90s they were labelled ‘Britpop’ by some, but they actually had more in common with stateside acts like Beck or the Beastie Boys; it was this sample-based, upbeat approach to fusing beats with guitars that really marked them out as a cutting edge pop group. So I wanted to kind of visit Furryworld: go behind the scenes of their fantastic songs, find out why they’ve had these radical flourishes, and meet Pete Fowler’s monsters up close. When I met the band for a magazine article in 2009, it sort of green lit the idea.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK AND WERE THE BAND ENTHUSIASTIC/HELPFUL ABOUT THE BOOK?

RR: It took about five years of slowly piecing it together in my weekends and evenings, and that was propelled forwards by a sort of annual ‘Gruff summit’ whereby I’d meet him in Cardiff and scribble down few more notes. The band were helpful although Bunf was strangely AWOL for about a year… the band didn’t know where he was… it was as if he’d been abducted.

HAVING SPENT TIME WITH THE BAND, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES AND THE DYNAMICS WITHIN THE BAND?

RR: I guess for Furry fans this might not be news, but Gruff is considerate, originally minded and obscurely hilarious… Cian is a kind of evil genius without the evil bits… Bunf is surreally hilarious but I only ever realise this after considering what he’s said for a few minutes, Guto is a real pleasure; he’s generous, considerate and has good manners and Daf is kind of like their star footballer who’ll slide through to score the goals!

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Best of 2013 w/ Keith from The Dead Heavys

It’s that time of year when every music website, publication and blog (including this one) are busy compiling lists, lists and more lists. Last year I asked bands and artists who’d played ‘BarryGruff Presents’ shows to put their own list making skills to the test in picking their ‘favourite album of 2013′, ‘favourite song of 2013′ & ‘favourite Irish song of the year’. After another successful year of shows, why break with tradition?

Right, that is enough from me, over to Keith from of The Dead Heavys and his picks from the year that was 2013.

Favourite album of 2013: Of Montreal – ‘Lousy With Sylvianbriar’

This album’s only been out since October but has already clocked up more listens than any other new release this year. Its quite a simple record (especially for Of Montreal) with a small band cutting it live to tape  but the songwriting is just fantastic. Great melodies paired with some seriously dark lyrics (a- la ‘Forever Changes’), makes for a great listen.

Favourite song of 2013: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘Faded In The Morning’

Great tune from a great record. It somehow manages to be lo-fi, funky, psychedelic & rocking at the same time. Also has a great hook running through it.

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Favourite Remix of 2013: Jagwar Ma – ‘Come Save Me’ (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Love the original track which has got a Phil Spector meets acid house vibe on it. The Weatherall mix drops the spector type beat and turns up the acid!

Favourite Irish song of 2013: O Emperor – ‘Contact’

Amazing band who really let loose on their new album. Great attitude & vibe to this track with so many different riffs going on throughout but never a not wasted.

Anderson’s Song | An Interview with Anderson

Ahead of tomorrow night’s ‘BarryGruff Unplugged’ show with Anderson in The Liffey Studio, Newbridge (details here), here’s an interview I did with Anderson, from the last issue of Lookleft Magazine.

When The Rags parted company last year, Dublin and indeed Ireland lost a great if somewhat underrated band. Between 2004 and 2010 they played scores of memorable gigs, released a string of brilliant singles and a superb album, ‘A National Light’. Slipping and sliding from one end of the indie spectrum to the other, The Rags music was lively and energetic, wrapped in poetic lyrics and delivered with a distinctive raspy vocal lilt.

All was not lost however. Having called time on The Rags, front man Daniel Anderson didn’t waste time in returning with his solo musical venture under the moniker of Anderson. While it witnessed a marked change in sound with a folksy sound of irresistible classic pop melodies preferred to raspy indie-punk, the intuitive and honest song writing remained a cornerstone of his work.

Yours truly caught up with Anderson for a quick Q&A to find out more about this exciting and intriguing new departure for one of Ireland’s very best songwriters.

LL: The new Anderson sound is quite different to what you did with The Rags and probably caught a few people by surprise – had you any lingering worries about how people would react?

Anderson: I never gave it any real consideration. My impulse when writing has always been to please myself and by that standard I’m always been hopeful that other people will enjoy it too, regardless of the way it is presented.

LL: You released your debut single & EP in the last few months, what has the reception been like?

A: The reaction has been everything and more than I expected. I think regardless of what anyone playing music says, you are writing to be heard and when people react in such an excited way to your stuff, it helps to reinforce your belief in what you do.

LL: What was the inspiration for this new sound? Was it something you had planned or did it just come naturally?

A: It wasn’t really planned but I was conscious of a need to make the lyrics and melody more prevalent than they had been in The Rags. Melody and lyrics have always turned me on and I think the solo thing has given me the opportunity to accentuated elements that were sometimes neglected in the band.

LL: What has this transition from band front man to solo artist been like?

A: It’s strange because in The Rags it always felt like we where a world within a world. In it I got to share a dream with people I grew up with and loved, and in a way that aspect was almost as rewarding as the music we made. It is a different feeling now it is a slightly more refined satisfaction but I think a part of me will always be stranded in the that youthful utopia I made with my friends.

LL: It seems switch has freed you up somewhat, the previous anger has been reined in somewhat with reflection, optimism and hopefulness preferred, is that a fair assumption of where you are right now?

A. Yes! I’ve brought optimism to this work that I didn’t always have with the band. I’ve worked hard to understand my craft and become a better writer, being the sole contributor I’m never pushed to do anything I’m not 100 percent about. The sense of well being that comes with this is priceless.

LL: You’re songs convey an insight to your life and the world, does your song writing tend to take inspiration from what you know and see around you?

A: I think so. I always feel compelled to express myself through the happenings in an around my life it helps me function day to day.

LL: You supported Villagers on their recent tour, how was that? And how did it come about?

A: Conor contacted me and said he loved the stuff and asked if I would like to do a couple of shows with them. It was a wonderful experience. I was exposed to an audience that wanted to listen and I got an invaluable insight into the life of an established band on the road.

LL: You’re planning to release an album this year? When/What can we expect?

A: I will aim for September but nothing is set in stone. I’ve been writing for a while and I am confident the record will sit comfortable alongside any great records in your collection.

The Derry Sound | An Interview with Our Krypton Son

The brand new issue of Lookleft hit the shelves across Ireland this week. Here is an interview with Our Krypton Son from the previous issue. Lookleft is available in every Easons north / south & other selected retailers.

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Our Krypton Son is the brainchild of Derry man Chris McConaghy, who released his self-titled debut album of warm alt-rock/folk songs late last year, that solidified a growing reputation as an exceptional songwriter.

Having cut his first musical teeth with psychobilly art-rockers Red Organ Serpent Sound, on their demise, McConaghy emerged from the ashes with something quite different. Our Krypton Son initially began life as a solo-project, before gathering close musician friends together to create the band in early 2010.

The path, from then to today, was far from straightforward as McConaghy explains “I’d been in another Derry band (Red Organ Serpent Sound) that were signed to Mercury Records for 3 odd years. It had been a turbulent time though and I knew things were about to go pear-shaped so I began just writing songs myself again. I hadn’t really done that in a number of years. Initially I started gigging with a laptop (mainly because the idea of another acoustic singer/songwriter bored the hell out of me) but before long I was writing more elaborate songs for different instruments and it became apparent a band was required!”

Our Krypton Son took their time with their debut LP, making sure it was the album they were happy with. The response, which McConaghy is delighted with, would suggest they were right to do it their way “The reception has been terrific! We’ve always been really lucky in terms of radio play anyway but the reviews of the album have been great too. Some reviews in particular have totally blown me away and it’s been picked up by everyone from Hotpress and AU magazine to The Irish Times and The Sunday Times.”

One gets the distinct impression that McConaghy is very happy with how Our Krypton Son is progressing and why not? Their so far fruitful relationship with Derry Indie label Smalltown Records too, rather than a major, appears to be a large factor. He explains further say there is“a huge difference! With Mercury, there was a lot at stake. Plus when we were signed to them – 2005/2006 – the industry was just beginning to change and there was a serious focus to be commercial and sell records etc. Smalltown are more interested in creating art than selling records. They’re a lot savvier than a major label and they’re a good enabler to allow me to achieve my modest goals! It’s nice too that they’re just around the corner.”

There is a lot of attention being paid to Derry at present with it being ‘City of Culture’ this year. Prior to the recent flux of interest, from the outside at least, there seemed to be a very healthy music scene in the City. McConaghy said: “there are a lot of eyes on Derry at the moment so it’s a good time for acts from the town. SOAK, Little Bear, Ryan Vail, Best Boy Grip, Fighting With Wire & Rainy Boy Sleep are all doing brilliant. Some other acts to look out for include Figure Of 8, The Wood Burning Savages, Strength, Invaderband and others.”

On the ‘City of Culture’ he adds “There are a number of big concerts planned throughout the year including certain local Derry bands. No offense to these acts – they’re terrific and totally deserve the acclaim given to them – but it would be nice if some other local acts got the call for these slots occasionally as well. Though I suppose in a town with so much talent, it would be difficult to include everyone”.

Excluding the recent flurry of interest surrounding the ‘City of Culture’, one question comes to mind, do Northern acts get their fair share of coverage by the southern media? He feels they do, saying “even back in 2006, ROSS was nominated for a Meteor Award – which was a massive deal for us. It can be hard for a working band from the North to gets gigs in Dublin, say, unless you have a promoter behind you but in terms of press and radio play and coverage it’s been great.”

2013 will be a busy year for Our Krypton Son with McConaghy planning “album number two, a couple of lo-fi ep’s and as many gigs/festival appearances as we can squeeze in!”

Our Krypton Son’s self-titled debut album is out now through Smalltown America Records. You can listen to it and others below.

[spotify http://open.spotify.com/album/2Qds5AjGvKfnx2WXaXcKOc]