"The whole thing acts as a kind of cycle of faith and having faith in the cycle" - hmv.com talks to Villagers
Over the 10 years of his career, Conor O'Brien, better known simply as Villagers, has established himself as a remarkable songwriter.
Able to combine whimsy and tenderness with experimentation, it's no wonder he's scored two Mercury Prize nominations as well as a string of songwriting awards.
For new album The Art Of Pretending To Swim, O'Brien has offered up a stripped back collection of songs, written, produced, mixed and performed at his Dublin studio.
As the album arrives on shelves, we spoke to O'Brien about putting it together and why it was almost called Hot Drops...
When did you start putting together the songs for The Art of Pretending to Swim?
"Roughly two years ago in a little cottage on the Dingle peninsula."
How did you want this album to move on from Darling Arithmetic?
"As usual, I had no clear plan really. I thought I was going to make a little electronic side-project album but as soon as words started appearing it slowly morphed back into a Villagers album. I felt like being more playful with arrangements and textures and I think that's reflected in the music."
You produced the album yourself, were you ever tempted to bring in an outside producer?
"I toyed with the idea but then I just got massively obsessed with production techniques and hardly left my studio for months. I'm interested in the process of creating a fully formed and integrative mode of expression which transcends the limits of its individual parts."
When did you decide that this would be a nine-track record?
"When the record label told me that the 10th song was too insane to leave on the album. They were right, although I fought it at the time. I'm excited about releasing this 10th song at some stage in the near future because it exists in its own universe. It's called 'This is the Art of Pretending to Swim'."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"I can only ever pick apart my music in hindsight and I still feel like I'm too close to this one to analyse it with any sort of objectivity. The whole thing acts as a kind of cycle of faith and having faith in the cycle. Have a listen to it instead of listening to me talking about it."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"'Long Time Waiting' went through various guises before it found its mojo. I'm so happy with that one. I was tearing my hair out for a little while but it was worth it in the end."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Sweet Saviour' pretty much popped out fully formed after a couple of weeks of writer's block. It was a little emotional to record because it was so raw."
When did you settle on The Art of Pretending to Swim for the title? Were any other titles in contention?
I settled for that title right at the end of the whole process. The album's working title was The Idea of Faith and when I went insane I thought it was going to be called Hot Drops. Don't ask me why, some things are better left unsaid..."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"We've just finished eight days of pretty intense rehearsals and its sounding extremely groovy. I've never put more work into a show. We've got a huge tour coming up and our biggest UK shows yet lined up for next year. It's all very exciting."
You’ve got four records to pick from now, is it getting harder to decide what makes it into your live set?
"Yes, but it's a good problem to have. I think we'll be playing pretty much the whole of the new album at most of these shows but we'll be sprinkling the set with some old favourites. I can't wait."