- 23 Nov 15
O Emperor are back with what they’re calling their “most accessible work to date”. Enjoy their Lizard incarnation while you can, before their group ADHD has them leaping off into the unknown once more.
Shape-shifters in a way that even Alex Jones could appreciate, O Emperor are ready to unveil the latest animal they’ve become. When last we spoke to the Waterford childhood friends now making their music in Cork, they were combining beautiful bombast with a cerebral approach on 2013’s Vitreous, a second album that nodded to their debut and set its sights on more expansive sounds.
Two years later, the shackles are totally off and the groove is very much at the heart of the Lizard EP, as they look to the twin ‘80s peaks of Prince and Kate Bush for inspiration. Singer Paul Savage points to the “attention deficit disorder of the group” as the reason for yet another sonic swerve, but what was guiding the direction the quintet’s oft- discussed “communal brain” took on this outing? Having dismissed the likes of Phil Collins and Genesis as younger musicians, the band found themselves approaching their late twenties and mellowing in their attitudes. And in keeping with the ‘80s theme, Savage unintentionally drops a Huey Lewis reference into the explanation.
“When you’re in your early twenties, you’re like, ‘fuck that.’ You’re more into Nirvana, or The Stooges, or something that’s harder and more aggressive. Now getting into my late twenties, I love Kate Bush and some of the Prince stuff. Eight or nine years ago, I’d be like, ‘no way, that’s too cheesy.’ It’s hip to be square. It’s fun. As a communal group of people, we tend to shift to the same sort of style. If one person starts to look at something, they generally infect the whole group after a while.”
John Peel famously said of his favourite band, The Fall: “They are always different, they are always the same.” It’s a line that rings true for O Emperor. You can always expect the unexpected from them, though some familiar tropes make their return. They will, for example, unashamedly talk about their self-indulgent streak. There will be talk of planned double albums and hour-long jams, before the end product arrives as, say, a half- hour slip of an album or, in this case, a four-tracker.
With Lizard, replete with vintage synths, a wonderful sense of abandon and the sort of insistent hooks that arise from the reptilian part of your brain, O Emperor were keen to offer a “snapshot” of where they were at. Recorded in their Big Skin HQ in two weeks, Savage found it a refreshing approach after the nine-month gestation of Vitreous.
“We always liked the idea of putting out stuff more quickly and without thinking about it, instead of labouring over it. We finally got it right with this. But we have since been recording new stuff and we’ve fallen back into that ‘labour’ approach again.”
Forever changes. Right now, they’re in the process of distilling five or six hours’ worth of jams at a time.
“We’re taking on the Can approach where you jam and edit it afterwards. Sometimes the process is so long that something you’re excited about from the start may not make it to the finishing line. It’s almost like when you boil spuds and you boil them too much, you end up with half of them disintegrated…”
What’s bubbling at the moment?
“There’s definitely a groove-based vibe. Tinges of hip-hop and jazz. We’ve been listening to stuff like Madlib. Lots of melding of different sounds, into a breakbeat and groove. A lot of it could lend itself to a very chilled summer vibe. Hopefully we get the album out by the right side of summer.”
When they do, it should garner plenty of attention. Critical darlings at home, with a fanbase in Germany, they’re finally getting kudos across the Irish Sea with Lizard. After their November dates in Ireland, they’re bound for the UK.
“We were always a little bit lazy getting out of Ireland,” Savage admits. “We’ve finally done it now. So yeah, it’s tentatively taking off. It’s been nice to get back a couple of reviews for the EP. It’s probably our most accessible work to date, so it probably had the best chance.”
It was interesting, perhaps even fitting, to see them described as “Irish newcomers” by one UK publication.
“If it’s new to them, it’s new. I guess in a funny way, you always feel like you’re starting from scratch anyway with new releases. There’s always something new going on. There’s always new places to play.”