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Music Is The Only Place I Feel Confident
He may have topped the album chart in Ireland and received a Mercury Music Prize nod, but Conor J. O’Brien has never really talked about the intense personal experiences that shaped his brilliant Becoming A Jackal debut – until now that is. Before a sell-out gig in Paris, the 28-year-old tells Hot Press about the emotional struggles he went through as a teenager, his continued social anxiety and why he’s most comfortable expressing himself through song.
Adrienne Murphy, 26 Apr 2011
It’s a warm, lilac-scented spring day in Paris. I’m here to intercept Conor J. O’Brien of Irish act, Villagers, who are playing a gig tonight in La Maroquinerie. As missions go, it’s a hugely attractive one.
In 2010, Villagers’ beautiful debut album, Becoming A Jackal, was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, catapulting the act to well-deserved and rapidly expanding international acclaim. Better still, it was named the Hot Press Album of the Year, seeing off every other contender, both Irish and international. This guy is on a hot streak, but one that is fuelled by O’Brien’s own special brand of deeply emotional misanthropy.
Appropriately, Hot Press photographer Mark Nixon and I meet O’Brien and his band near the famous yew-forested cemetery of Pére Lachaise, wherein lie the graves of Oscar Wilde, Collette, Chopin, Proust, Jim Morrison and other cultural luminaries. What better backdrop for a conversation with the man behind the dramatic poetry of Villagers?
The quality of presence is noticeable in O’Brien the moment we shake hands. He has a warm smile and intelligent eyes, framed by unusually long eye-lashes. Immediately I feel at ease in his company – there’s no big ego to contend with here. As we stroll along Parisian walkways, he asks politely how my journey was, and quietly describes the big house in Malahide, County Dublin, that he shares with six friends and Casey, his dog.
O’Brien’s aura extends way beyond his petite, well-proportioned physique. He has the clear skin of a vegetarian, and could pass as a decade younger than his 28 years, although he’s clearly a very old soul.
“I have to bring my ID everywhere,” he smiles. “My dad said he had to do the same till he was about 35. Although this year I’ve started getting proper white hairs, so it’s not gonna last for much longer! My plan is to grow a beard and get really fat for the next album. Actually no, that’s probably more of a third album thing. I’ll call it Steak And Bourbon!”