Villagers

Villagers

Last Friday, May 10th, Dublin singer-songwriter Conor O’Brien returned with the seventh Villagers album, named That Golden Time. A couple of weeks prior, I met up with O’Brien in an old school gym in Utrecht, and filmed breathtaking renditions of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song and his own new songs You Lucky One and I Want What I Don’t Need.

It won’t be any surprise that a session with Villagers – whose first ever single Becoming A Jackal was released during the first year of The Influences’ existence – has been on my wish list ever since first hearing that song, and the new record truly is one of his strongest. So, it is with a profound sense of gratitude and pride that I present you 2024’s 15th session and – an excerpt of – the interview we did.

Pyramid Song is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written”

Covering Radiohead is not for the faint of heart. But, as O’Brien knows, courage is a feeling like no other, so he did it anyway. “They’ve been back on my circulation of music for the last… I guess since I went to see The Smile recently, and then just being back in the Radiohead buzz again. They were the first live show I ever went to see when I was a teenager. So in my mind, you know, they’re one of the greats… In a lot of people’s minds, I suppose. I’m very obsessed with their music.”

“But I did have to think twice about it because they’re not really a very coverable band, you know. I actually was part of a documentary about OK Computer and the cultural significance of it, for the BBC. They asked me if I wanted to do a cover song of one of the songs from OK Computer. And my instant reaction was, ‘oh yeah, of course, easy’. I know the songs inside-out: every guitar line, drum, bass, backing vocal; I’d lived inside it all.”

“But when I sat down to record a cover of one of them, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find my way into the songs; I couldn’t figure out my own way of interpreting them because it’s so much about his voice and their performance, I think. It’s almost intertwined with the songs themselves. So I ended up sort of doing a kind of intimate folky version of Let Down, nothing special, but it was okay. Those songs feel untouchable in a way.”

“So I was a little reticent for Pyramid Song, but it always hooks me in when I sing it. It’s almost impossible not to go on a journey with it every time”. It was very clear while filming the Radiohead song works really well with O’Briens voice and it sort of became his song. “Well, that’s the aim, hopefully. I’ll take it from you.”

“Songs are little maps.”

On previous records, Conor O’Brien would bring unfinished ideas to the band he was playing with at the time. But with Villagers’ That Golden Time, the demos just kept getting more sophisticated, he remembers. “And by the end, the demos were just… I just sent them to get mastered, you know? What you’re hearing is just the home recordings, even mixed at home and everything. That’s all… That’s what they are.”

“But I think it’s a good thing, because they sound quite internal, and I’m really excited to see where they go now, because we don’t have the same instruments, with this band. So they’ll be quite different live, I’d say, which is kind of cool, I think? There will be a clarinet player and stuff, and there’s only a little bit of clarinet on the album, so I’d say he’ll be playing a lot of the viola and violins. It’s going to be different, but I like that.”

O’Brien views songs as blueprints. “They’re little maps, you know? And then whoever’s listening to them can just place their experiences onto the songs. I’m not precious about the meaning of the songs, I want to just create patterns of words that have some sort of emotional significance to me and to other people. And that’s what I want to do. So when people instill their own meaning, it’s really part of the process of the song. I think that’s all quite a cliche, but it’s true for me.”

“You know, I don’t like having to explain literally, because I don’t really know literally quite a lot of them. I’m just putting words together, and the inside of our minds are always messed up and weird and abstract. To put words to those meanings is always a compromise as well, because words are limited. Songs are compromises, you just have to make them pretty compromises, I think.”

Playing in your village.

Villagers are on tour right now, on a run of shows that will take them through parts of Europe well into the Summer and they have another British and Irish tour lined up for November and December. Find all the dates and ticket links on Villagers’ website.


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Photos


Originals

Pyramid Song (Radiohead)
Tidal | Apple Music

Villagers

Website
Bandcamp
Apple Music
Tidal

Credits

Filmed by Charlotte Blokhuis & Matthijs van der Ven.
Edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.

Location
De Wilg
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Thanks
Antwan Cornelissen
Domino Recording Co.
V2 Records

There is no better way to discover music than watching great musicians cover the songs they love. The Influences has been producing these videos ever since 2008.

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