Ronan Coveney caught up with Paul from O Emperor before they start their national tour and got talking about the music industry, seek the X Factor and music piracy…
O Emperor are back. It has been three years since the Waterford lads first album Hither Thither hit the shelves and since then a lot has changed. A new album, rx and a new sound. Gone is the big record company which is now replaced by none other than their own newly created one.
But lets go back to the start, check with most of the lads spending time in college learning about the music industry, it seemed natural to group together and form a band.
The five piece is made up of Paul Savage, Philip Christie, Alan Comerford, Richard Walsh and Brendan Fennessy, who came together over a long period of time. Savage explains that “I guess we kind of just naturally just fell into place…we all knew each other from school.”
When four of them headed off to college to study music and sound engineering everything seemed to work out for this group of lads who used to just hang out together. “Once we finished it seemed like the natural thing to do, to take what we learnt and just go and make our own record,” said Savage.
And that’s exactly what the band did. With that they were picked up by one of the biggest record companies in the industry, Universal Music and their first album arrived onto the Irish music scene to rave reviews, reaching number five in the album charts. With a deal signed, Paul had mixed views about the move, “we knew we had a good album and that it should be picked up by someone at that time, I think we were always apprehensive being signed to a label…We were a bit kind of wary.”
I ask Savage about the things that a big label can offer to a new band just finding their feet – immediate access to studio time, total PR handling, booking gigs and in general just looking after the band. Are these not massive incentives for a group like this?
“Working in the parametres of a record company is something that can be hard for many musicians,” he replies.
Speaking about being taken up by the label, Savage explains that they were delighted when they were first picked up, “it’s always just something that’s in the moment. You have to work with it as best you can…It was a weird kind of feeling and we were very happy that the album got picked up and got released.”
After the first album the band finished up with Universal, and three years after the release of ‘Hither Thither,’ which earned them a nomination at the Choice Music Awards in 2010, their second album ‘Vitreous’ was released earlier this Summer. An even bigger risk in all of this was setting up their own record label, on which this second album has been released.
This is a big move for the band and is coupled with the move away from the safety net of a big label. Savage says that there are definitely pros and cons to the whole situation, “you do have things that a label will take off your table and not make you have to worry about…but the flip side of that is you’re more under pressure to sell albums, you’re more industry aware…it’ll drive you to do more and more stuff, which isn’t a bad thing.”
“The advantage of having a label is that you have a team, that are also fighting your corner, sometimes…That pressure of getting the right PR and right management, that will never go away….that will always be there…it just varies in size and the amount of money that has been spent.”
Looking at their second album Savage explains that there is a totally different vibe when compared to their first, “It’s definitely a different sound, we’re getting away from guitar and trying on more synth..it was always naturally going to be a different record than one we made three years ago.”
“We’re proud of the two records, they both have their place. I think in terms of , if I only had a choice to listen to one or the other I’d listen to this more, we hit the nail on the head with what we wanted to get. In a weird way we didn’t know what we wanted but we’re very happy in the end.”
When asked about the current crop of talent shows and in particular xfactor, Savage suggests that it’s driven more by consumers than musical talent in general, ‘It’s quite obvious it’s the record labels way to hover up more sales from a shrinking pool….the whole thing is grotesque.”
“It’s on for several hours a weekend and it’s just ridiculous advertising for labels and all the music that’s used.”
And what of the people that take part in the show?
“The whole show is the star and the people that on it are just the product that are being used on it,” he said.
“They are being sold this opportunity to be stars…..They kinda see examples of One Direction…they coily operate that to make it even more tantalising.”
“The whole thing is completely fabricated, it is horrible, it’s a terrible thing…It’s sad the way the industry’s gone that they’re kind of exploiting people.”
With the growth of illegal downloading and the continuing reduction in money that bands now get from selling their music, Savage doesn’t see the majority of songs selling.
“The only thing that will sell probably these days is whoever wins xfactor for a week or two, they’ll actually get genuine sales back up for a week or two because they’ve been advertising it inadvertently for the 10 weeks. That’s how the whole thing is pretty disgusting.”
“It is quite sad how it’s gone that way.”
However, the lads operate in a different sphere to the X Factor, “I guess for bands like ourselves we’re completely in the opposite world.”
“It is a positive thing, you do have to go with it and accept that people don’t buy as much stuff, but in a way if your band is up on the internet..you are hopefully getting through to more than you would normally get through to and I guess if you’re lucky enough to tour and manage that correctly you could do well with concerts.”
Savage points to the revival in vinyl as an example of a format in which sales are actually growing, “I think we find once we’re playing we sell a lot of vinyl. Ironically vinyl is actually coming back up. The CD will soon be obsolete, but there’s still that space and that reason to have a vinyl because if they’re ever going to buy music, they’re probably going to buy vinyl and anyone who’s willing to buy music will probably be willing to pay for it.”
However, Savage suggests that the future of record sales is bleak, “there’ll always be a space to buy music..but I don’t think download sales are going to go up anytime soon.”
With a nationwide tour kicking off this November, fans are in for a treat. “Vitreous” will be the main focus of the gigs. Savage explains that “some of the songs on Vitreous we kind of wrote in the studio, and it it took us awhile to gel them as songs in a live setting.”
Fans “can expect slight variations of the songs..with maybe a different angle,” he said.
Overall it’s onwards and upwards for the Cork band, who over the past number of years have grown a massive local and national support base.
You can see Paul along with the rest of O Emperor on Saturday November 30th in Workmans. Door at 8pm.