One of the best reasons to Buy Irish in October is Waterford band O Emperor's debut album, 'Hither, Tither'. Frontman Paul Savage tells Harry Guerin about how they made a great record - twice.
Harry Guerin: The biggest compliment I could pay you is that with 'Hither Tither' it sounds like you're on album number three, not album number one.
Paul Savage: [Laughs] It feels like our second record to be honest because we demoed it first and then we went back and recorded it a second time about a year later in a bigger studio. I suppose we had more of a mature attitude the second time 'round. That paid off in a way: being able to demo it first, live with it for about a year, gigging so much and then actually going back in and recording it.
HG: But when you recorded it the first time the intention was to release it as a proper album?
PS: Yeah, we wanted to put that out. We had put out a single and an ep under different names so we knew what the craic was - it might make a little trickle in the water, and your grandmother might buy it, but it wouldn't really go past that. We wanted to give it a better lease of life. We sat on it for a while and spent the bones of a year really shopping it around and seeing would anyone take it on.
HG: And then you sorted a deal.
PS: Universal finally came on board and in that time we had written more songs that we were playing. The initial plan was to go back and record those songs and see would they fit in the album. There was such a good atmosphere in the studio we decided to thrash out the old songs and see what they'd sound like in a bigger studio. Nine times out of 10 they turned out better, so we just went with that.
HG: Had you worked with your producer Kieran Lynch before or how did he come into the frame? He did a great job for you.
PS: We were hooked up with Kieran Lynch through our management; one of our managers had worked with him before. He's pretty well known around the Irish circuit; he's done a couple of assistant engineer jobs on U2 albums and [The] Corrs and that kind of stuff. The actual songs themselves, he kind of just let them off and let us record what we had. Some of the songs we'd been gigging for a year or maybe two years. A lot of them were set in their ways and very much finely turned so he basically just let them off.
HG: You worked together well.
PS: What he was really good at was just basically listening to the tracks as we were recording them, because we were all playing together live. He'd say: 'Take number three was the best' or 'I thought take number five was ok but it's getting better'. So that was basically the role that he played: he was the outside ear who told us what performance was the best. It can be tiring going in and doing the same song a second time in a studio but he 'deflated' that, and that was very crucial.
HG: What comes across on the album is that all the gigging has really stood to you.
PS: We were very much a live band before we were a studio band. Going in and demoing it first stood to us as well. Some bands don't really adjust properly to a studio and then obviously some studio bands aren't great doing live gigs. We cut our teeth a lot - even when we were younger we were doing gigs and we played in various different bars in Waterford and Cork.
HG: Did being away from Dublin helped?
PS: I think so. We weren't involved in the whole kind of NME entourage of what's cool and what goes on with a big city. It was nice to see that from a distance and to see what you actually like and don't like, to actually follow something you're interested in and not for the sake of a magazine and people saying that this is cool and this is not cool. Being from a smaller town there are less places to play - or play original music, anyway - so it gave us more of a drive to go out into other cities and countries and actually play. It has helped. We're proud of where we come from and we're proud of the scene that brought us up.
HG: Was there a moment with the five of you where you decided: 'We are really going to make a go of this. It's not a hobby'.
PS: From when we were teenagers we were always playing and it was always something that we really enjoyed and none of us really expressed any interest in anything else. Even if we weren't going to make it as an original band I think we were always going to go into the industry in some shape or form. There wasn't really a turning point where we decided: 'Right, this is going to be it'. It [the passion] just never fizzled out; there was never any question that it was going to stop.
HG: I ask because of the lyric "I was young once, I can still recall" in your song 'Sedalia'. It made me think of all the people who are really good musicians but for whatever reasons - circumstance, confidence - didn't make a go of it.
PS: I always thought: 'We are young enough that if we go for this and it completely falls on its arse in a year's time there'd be nothing to lose - we could still go off and do what we want afterwards'. It seemed ludicrous that we wouldn't do it because we had no responsibility, major careers going on or anything to lose. It didn't make sense that we wouldn't go for it.
HG: Has the dynamic between the five of you changed over time?
PS: We've known each other since we were kids - some of the lads have known each other since they were six or seven-years-old. There's a kind of lads' dynamic still going on - we don't really take it that seriously at the moment, which is kind of a good thing. Even though the music may come across as pretty serious, as people we are very easy going - just a bunch of lads, a bunch of chancers, really!
'Hither Tither' is out now on Universal Music Ireland.