Villagers new album The Art Of Pretending To Swim is no exception, but exceptional indeed. With an obvious indicator that Conor O’Brien has evolved even further musically. Far away from drowning in the attempt to capture his inmost being as well as societal observations. Instead, swimming to various islands that enabled him to let his ideas bloom. Synthesizers, gorgeous samples and plenty of irresistible grooves all within reach in his attic studio in Dublin. After the introspective nature and intimate soundscape of 2015’s Darling Arithmetic, Conor O’Brien ventures forward a great leap out of that atmospheric picture to gently pull us towards an overall more upbeat, but equally emotional complexity on his latest creative endeavour. The evening sunlight is already gently falling onto the street and into the corner of the room where we sit down with the Villagers mastermind in his label’s office in Berlin. The warmth of the day taking its last breath outside. Slowly vanishing by the minute while the comfort of the sofa is at least as pleasant as our upcoming conversation. In order to be able to make The Art Of Pretending To Swim, Conor O’Brien has – most certainly – mastered various arts along the way. Additionally to these processes, the art of telling us all about the making of the album, including his production skills, embracing the art of sampling and reimagining words.

The art of production

‘By the time I properly started writing the album I had much more of an understanding of production. I had learnt all of that the previous year. I got quite heavily into getting better at the studio work. All the production work and remixes I did for other artists totally helped me to push myself further. When I did the Paul Weller remix of ’She Moves With The Fayre“ there were certain production things which I did on that remix where I realized – fuck I should have been doing that for the Villagers stuff. Then I had to go back and re-do half of it.’

‘With this record, I would say technology was flirting with creativity. Actually, I was trying to make them get along as much as possible. That took a long time, but I got there.’

Sometimes I separate the production and the songwriting. Maybe the magic points are when they all just become part of making the song and then you don’t really know the difference between writing the lyrics and tuning the snare drum. It’s all just one expression. That’s the aim I think. Making the whole thing work as a tonal piece of emotion.’

The art of sampling Donny Hathaway

‘As for Donny Hathaway, ‘Everything Is Everything’ is one of the best albums. The ‘Sugar Lee’ sample is the sound of him having a party with his friends in the studio. Actually, when we were getting the rights to it, I was ready to let go of the idea – because I thought maybe we weren’t going to get the rights. It took a little bit longer and I was getting worried because I had really signed off on the record in my head so I started making plans to throw a party in the studio with my friends and record it and put the same beat in the background. But it wouldn’t have been as good. It would have been a bunch of white guys in Dublin with cans of Guinness.’ 

The art of resisting procrastination

‘Long Time Waiting’ is kind of a song about people that I’ve known who can’t stop procrastinating and who always find reasons outside of themselves that they haven’t gotten further in their career or life. They are always deflecting it from themselves. That song was kind of me singing to these people, but also singing it to that little aspect of myself as well.’

Villagers (Photo: Annett Bonkowski)

‘I’ve seen a lot of that bevaviour in the arts world especially. People complaining that they are not getting anywhere. They are usually blaming societal things. Usually outside influences. Anything, but themselves. And I find that really, really lazy.’

‘It’s dangerous because sometimes you’re dealing with self-esteem issues, I’ve dealt with that in the past myself. I think I just wanted to write a song addressing that because it seems to be a consistent theme in this sort of social sphere of people who are self-employed and have to work every day to try and make a living. There is no real rules to that. You have to do it all by yourself. I’ve seen some people just be a little bit too deflecting the issues off themselves. When in fact it is their lack of work ethic. Of course, luck also plays a huge role.’

The art of reclaiming words

‘I think with this new album quite a lot of it has to do with me realizing that I felt quite free reclaiming words like ‘God’ and ‘faith’. Just reclaiming them from the ugliness of the religion I grew up in and realizing that they are mine now. Nobody else owns them and they are personal to me. ‘God’ is a hilarious word. It opens up my imagination so much. It allows me to dream. It’s a great word. And if you spell it backwards, it’s ‘dog’. And dogs are better than humans. Now the word means just the freedom to dream about the possibilities of what we are and what this is. Sometimes I think it’s a pointless word to use, but it’s mine to use as much as I want and I’m not going to let some dirty, scummy religion dirty it for me.’

The art of making a (good) video

‘The video for the song ‘Fool’ manages to get all the depth of the song, but it’s also sort of stupid and funny and disgusting. You can watch it a few times and get more things out of it. The visual language is really important for me. It’s only now with the director Bob Gallagher that I’m finally finding someone that I feel like I can collaborate with in a really normal way. In the past, I never really found that our videos fully represented the songs. I always felt like they were kind of separate from the song. Finally with Bob, I feel like I found a language which represents the songs a bit more. I want to keep working with him.’

Villagers (Photo: Annett Bonkowski)

The art of writing lyrics

‘It’s usually just a subconscious act. You usually don’t remember the act of writing the bulk of the material. You usually just remember finding them in your notepad and then maybe adding to it.’

‘Mostly with songs, the actually written part is when you’re half asleep or your defences are down a little bit and you’re not guarding as much.’

‘In music the sound of the words is almost more important. The shapes that your mouth is making when you are singing those words.’

The art of abstract design

‘A guy called Niall McCormack did the artwork this time. He is a Dublin based designer and he is amazing. I think I wrecked his head because I had him doing ten million different versions until I finally liked one. There were endless amounts of changes until we finally came upon the kind of colour spectrum idea. If you look at the top of the album, the first color is fading into the last colour so it looks like a cycle.’

‘Each of those colours is to the grid lining up with everything below them. If you look closely, some of the stuff is badly aligned and Niall did that on purpose. It’s not quite right and I like it. That’s kind of his style.  He tries not to make it too much on a computer. Although I think he does do it on the computer. But he replicates old school printing with the computer. Psychedelic vibes.’

The Art Of Pretending To Swim will be released on September 21st via Domino Records.