Jeff Bottari, Getty Images Kelly Rowland's new gig has caused her to cancel and…
- Posted on Apr 23rd 2010 5:15AM by Barnaby Smith
"I've already had to cancel a show and it looks like band rehearsals are out the window too," says a frustrated O'Brien, as Icelandic ash dictates he is stranded in Brussels. "I'm hungry and I need some breakfast," he mournfully adds.
O'Brien hails from Malahide, just north of Dublin. Prior to the formation of Villagers, he was part of noisier ensemble the Immediate, which released just one critically acclaimed album, 'In Towers and Clouds,' in 2006. After the band's dissolution -- due to "existential differences" -- O'Brien soon found himself arriving at a sound akin to Paul Simon's early work, the acoustic side of Neil Young (who Villagers supported at a Dublin show in the summer of 2009), and of more recent singer-songwriters, Mike Bones, Chris Garneau and Conor Oberst.
Of his early musical development, O'Brien tells Spinner, "My parents don't play any instruments, but they were always supportive of me while I was banging pots and pans. My older brother gave me his guitar when I was 12 and showed me the chords. My dad is a painter. So I was always painting and drawing -- I think music is just an extension of this."
Villagers' debut EP, 'Hollow Kind,' came out in February 2009 on the small Irish imprint Any Other City, before the ears of Domino pricked up, and O'Brien now finds himself on a roster including fellow literary songsmiths such as Cass McCombs and Wild Beasts.
Meanwhile forthcoming album, 'Becoming a Jackal,' includes the outstanding 'The Meaning of the Ritual', one of two songs O'Brien performed recently on 'Later ... With Jools Holland.'
"It represents a drawing that I did," he says of the record's evocative title, "which has since become the front cover artwork for the album. It focuses on the scavenging nature of the human being as it grows and changes. I thought this would be fun to explore, since it's preoccupied my mind for years."
O'Brien, however, is wary of being branded a purveyor of 'folk' music -- in much the same way as Young, Oberst and McCombs are -- though he accepts its influence on his own charismatic sound. That unwillingness to commit to genre is reflected by the moniker the young man chose for himself.
He explains, "I'd rather not think of it as being too closely rooted to any particular style or genre, because I want it to stay free. I came up with the name before I knew who would be in the band, so I wanted something that simply described a group of anonymous people. Also, I like the fact that it can equally describe the band members or the particular characters or aspects in the songs."
For a taste of Villagers' tunes and for all upcoming tour dates, visit the band's official Myspace page.