From rural upbringings to sharing the bill with some of the best musicians, Paul Savage of O Emperor chats to Conor Conway to discuss the age old debate, Oasis or Blur?
“Development in an artistic sense never really stops. You always only think you are as good as your last work,” asserts Paul Savage, frontman and ringleader of folk/rock outfit O Emperor; his words a mixture of contemplation and conviction.
It has been three years since the Waterford natives graced the threshold of the musical world with their critically acclaimed debut, Hither Thither. From once humble beginnings to playing Benicassim Music Festival and garnering a Choice Music Award nomination, Savage’s band has evolved considerably.
2012 saw O Emperor shelled up in Cork recording their sophomore contribution, Vitreous. Having parted company with major record label Universal, the band has since moulded their own perspective on what they hope to do musically.
By opting to take on the responsibility of producing their second album alone, while simultaneously resolving to build their own recording studio to do so, the band have set themselves up for a long future of music making.
Taking charge of production, even down to designing the album artwork, was a process Savage enjoyed. “If I was to save one of our albums out of my house that was burning, I’d probably take this one rather than the other one.”
Almost afraid to insult his previous work, he backtracks, “They’re both something that you cherish, but for different reasons. I think this one is something that we would certainly stand over more because it’s completely our own work from start to finish and we’re proud of it.”
For those unaware of what to expect from an O Emperor record, their music sounds like it was written at a picnic attended by Robin Pecknold and Thom Yorke. With Vitreous, the quintet have “learned how to cut out a bit of the fat” and truly “go for the jugular of just really getting to the essence” of their musical vocation.
It embellishes some of the sounds heard previously on Hither Tither, retaining the dense harmonies the listener has come to expect from the group while also introducing synthesizer to the bands musical vocabulary.
At just 29 minutes, it is genuinely all-killer-no-filler; a fact Savage is not shy in admitting. “[On Hither Tither] there was a lot of instrumentation and stuff and then when we played it live as a five piece it was little bit more rockier, more rougher. We wanted to capture that in a record and that meant just cutting out a lot of the excess stuff that we used to put on.”
O Emperor is a band refusing to compromise their art for commercial pressure. This is reflected in the bands they cite as influences on Hither Tither. At the start of the recording process, the quintet turned to 80s new wave art rockers Talk Talk, who always expressed discomfort with the requirements of the music industry.
Talk Talk similarly had full recording control over their record Spirit of Eden, something that definitely resonates with Savage. “I guess the sound and almost the chaotic beauty of the whole thing was a nice approach that we thought was good for recording ourselves. They spent nearly a year, two years, locked in a darkened room recording it.”
Likewise, growing up in Waterford pays homage to the way this band uncovered youthful music inclinations. The Irish town provided a platform to listen to and indeed play music without the stresses of living in a big city.
It’s clear that Savage was subjected to a typical 90s Irish upbringing, rife with opera-loving dads and Blur-or-Oasis type best friends. “Dad was always a Pavarotti fan. I probably got it from other outside influences like going to school and hanging around with people that liked Oasis. I probably started off on Oasis and then progressed on to Radiohead. I still would very much listen to Radiohead. They’re kind of the Led Zeppelin of the era.”
O Emperor are grounded, unassuming lads. Indifferent to the happenings of popular culture, they are a breath of fresh air in a world replete with One Directioners and Kanye-filled feuds. Having played support slots with the likes of Villagers, Mumford and Sons and most recently MGMT, Otwo wonders has there been any particular milestone that stands out for the band.
“I guess playing Benicassim was particularly cool. It was great. It’s kind of a cheesy thing, but to see your name on a poster with massive bands is particularly cool.” Sharing such slots will soon become a usual occurrence for these Irish lads as a possible American adventure flickers in the near future. The future is indeed looking tasty for O Emperor.