Having just released their second album Vitreous on their own record label Big Skin, O Emperor have left the world of major labels for a more DIY approach, with everything down to the artwork and videos produced by the band themselves. State met with Paul Savage to talk about returning to their roots…
After a month or two after Sedalia came out there was talk of us doing a second record, get us into the record studio as fast as possible. We weren’t really feeling it, the label wanted to rush something out and hit the mainstream market or capture that Mumford & Sons vibe that was going on at the time. We didn’t think we had the songs ready for the album. We were always fully aware that it was a means to an end, it was an Irish release with an Irish label, we got the exposure and the feather in the cap to say we were with a label. At the end of the day they are under pressure to move records, just like we are at the moment, but at least when we are doing it ourselves we can record what we want to do and it’s up to us to sell it the way we want to .
What do you think you gained from that experience? Did it open your eyes?
Definitely, yeah, even just meeting the people involved whether it be the radio people, DJs, promoters. It was certainly a good learning curve and we were blessed in a way that it was just contained in Ireland that we were able to wind it up much easier. We learned from it, gained a certain notoriety and this time around we got the reviews and the DJ’s are responding which is great.
I find it ironic that the record label were pushing you for a radio-friendly single, whereas on Vitreous you have those in ‘Holy Fool’ and ‘Contact’.
Yeah it is, we are kind of like children, when you tell us to do something we will kick up and not do it. We had set out and wanted to make a big experimental kraut-rock double record with 20-minute jams, and then, ironically, when we went through hours of experimenting we started to whittle it down and realise that inadvertently, when we didn’t set out to do it, we have made a much more commercial record.
Is it strange after spending so long with the guys in the studio to get back onto the press/promo circuit; do you find it hard to shift into that gear?
No, I think we are enjoying it, we made the record, and we did the artwork and the videos ourselves even down to calling the record shops to get it stocked. We are treating it as a cottage industry, you know, you are just selling your own product and it’s enjoyable when you make it and you can see it being sold.
The new album is a lot looser than your first one, did you think being in your own studio and not being under as much pressure made it easier?
Yeah, when we were touring Hither Tither in Germany and places like that, we were playing small venues sometimes and it was nice to play some of the new songs, just practising them on tour. It’s nicer sometimes just to let things hang loose, have a bit of fun with it not be as uptight about like a lot of the stuff that was on the first album. We were conscious about going out playing some of the songs live, and not holding back like we might have done on some of the songs on Hither Tither which was very much for listening with headphones. We took that element of what the band sounded like live and tried to put that in the album.
The other thing that struck me was the sound, there are a lot more keyboards. Was that a conscious decision to move away from the Mumford & Sons/Fleet Foxes comparisons?
Pretty much, and it kind of happened nicely. Alan’s dad had a Juno analogue synth in the attic and we were curious to get it out. It has a bizarre kind of character, you can turn it on and it may work or it may not. You might turn certain knobs and it will give you a different sound, and sometimes it might even suggest a certain sound. You turn it on and it’s set to some pre-set that you can’t even get to anymore. So it was kind of this other character that was suggesting different sounds to us, or maybe that was just us going mad being in the room together for too long. We went full on into it, we thought we could make this a real definitive feature of the album and just take it somewhere away from acoustic guitar and harmonies and just have fun with something else.
You said it took six months to record this album, was it a condensed or was formed from some ideas from years ago?
There were a lot of ideas and song that made it up to 50% but we abandoned a lot of them and moved onto something else. The last three months were very condensed as we kind of put a deadline on it, so that was pretty intense and some songs like ‘Contact’ only came about in the last three months. That just started as a kind of Kraftwerk demo because I can’t play piano and I only have like three chords and I can’t play drums either so I just had a drum machine on a loop, then Feno (Brendan) wanted to bring in more of an 80’s kind of Chic feel. So the drums and bass are more funky which I was kind of apprehensive about at that start, I wanted my little bedroom Kraftwork vibe! But this goes back to us thinking what would work better live, but fuck it if you kind of go balls to the wall with it people will have more fun with it.
O Emperor play in Whelans this Friday June 21st, tickets are available on Ticketmaster for €15