O Emperor released their new album ‘Hither Thither’ this week, Vanessa Monaghan caught up with Phil and Alan from the band to find out about the album release and what’s its like being signed to a big label.

“This is actually our first full on press day” says Alan, “Very stressful altogether” adds Phil, very hastily, before Alan corrects him. “No it’s grand actually”.

At least GP are in early in the day, so the band haven’t been asked for the umpeeth time where they got the name for the band. Are there any questions that they really don’t want to be asked? “We’ve been already asked that one” says Phil, “we can handle anything you throw at us”, he says jokingly. Even the dreaded Smash Hits questions?

From just sitting with the guys for a few minutes there doesn’t seem to be any ego or fighting for the spotlight. They’ve been playing in bands in different guises since their early teens. Has this helped the chemistry in the band? “Personalities don’t get in the way anymore, we’re all fairly familiar with each other” says Phil. “We got the fights and arguments over and done with when we were 16” adds Alan.

In one of those guises, the band won the National Student Music Award. Was that a serious stepping stone for the band? “It was our first taste of National Press which was nice at the time, being in all the papers..” says Alan. While Phil jokes “The Mammys were cutting it out and sticking it on the fridge. It’s nice to have something to keep you going, if you think you’re making some progress than it will keep you going for a while”.

The band recently signed to Universal Music and the recent change in the music industry structure has forced many bands to adopt a DIY means of getting their music out there. What benefits have O Emperor found that being signed has brought them?

Alan is delighted to get stuck into this question. “I think it’s going very well, it’s all very well and good trying to do it yourself but I think its pretty hard to do it yourself” says Alan “you do need the funding”. Phil nods and says “yeah” in agreement. “You do need the backing of some sort of label.. something. Some sort of investment”, continues Alan. OK, he has a point, marketing a new band properly must cost a small fortune. “It’s just too expensive to do it on your own. You can try if you want but I think it is pretty hard”.

Phil explains further. “We recorded the first album on our own, it was great, we really enjoyed doing it. Get a bit of money and we got to go and do it again, we all our new songs and basically live in the studio, really get into it. There is a difference, it’s all spondulix really”.

The album was recorded in The Factory, “We recorded a lot live.. nice big room, set up everything and separated it pretty well.” Sounds ideal, setting everything up and playing as you would live. “That was one thing we always wanted to do but we didn’t have the gear and the actual space to separate things properly.” That’s one way to overcome the ‘don’t sound as good recorded as you do live’ problem. Alan says “When we tried recorded ourselves we found that you lose a bit of the feeling. It’s much nicer to play as a band, to play as bands should play.”

Then there’s the $64000 question. How did you get signed? Phil explains that the band got a good management team on board and they did a lot of work for them, “hassling people”. “We did a few showcases, met some people and thrashed it out. Once the word got around it and people got talking, it was just a matter of thrashing out an agreement. We’re getting on grand. Like the label.. they’re people too.” Gents, you make it sound very easy.

As O Emperor, the bands’ sound has been compared to that of Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes, do they agree ? Alan says “I don’t think we particularly sound like that. I think we get pigeon holed because we have a lot of harmonies in the band. We listen to them and they’re very good bands…” Phil interjects “People are always going to compare you something, latch on to something, it’s not that big of deal”. So if journalists latch on to a simple term or comparison, is it sometimes laziness? Both hastily agree “Sometimes definitely” says Phil, “Copy and paste the auld biog from the Blog or Myspace and Bob’s Your Uncle, you have an article!”.

2010 so far has been a good vintage for Irish album releases. Do O Emperor feel in competition to other Irish acts or under any pressure to preform? Phil responds.“We don’t really have time to be thinking about being in competition with anyone, we’re just trying to get things done. Watching Villagers, what they’re doing is really great, it’s actually deadly to just to see somebody doing that. It’s kinda heartening to see somebody doing so well.”

Big houses and flash cars aside, what would the lads like to see happen with ‘Hither Thither’. “I would like to see it making a sustainable, lasting career for us. We want to just be able to make a living out of making music” says Alan, “not sponge off people, sleeping on our siblings couches or basements” jokes Phil.

O Emperor had originally hoped to release the album earlier in the year. Getting signed to Universal and rerecording pushed those plans back a little. Do they still feel as connected to the album now as they did at the start of the year? “We all have a special place for it in our hearts” says Phil. Alan butts in “It’s like a four year pregnancy.” “There are new songs on it now from last year too” continues Phil, “it’s not all material we’ve been playing for ages. One of the songs we wrote in the studio. So its all good and still fresh. We’re all still very much in love”.

So what’s next for O Emperor ? Second album ? “We’re already writing new stuff so it’s just a case of recording it then” says Phil. “We’ll have it under the belt, I think we’d do that anyway just to stay sane. Hopefully another record next year. We just want to get to different places, UK, America, see what’s there and what’s biting”.

Finally two Smash Hits Questions:

  1. What colour of socks are you wearing? Phil says “Blue” while Alan says “Cream”, while looking at his feet “maybe they were white at some stage, I dunno.”
  2. Who was on the first poster you had on your bedroom wall? Without hesitation Alan says “I think it was Pamela Anderson, actually I think it’s still there.” Phil isn’t as forthcoming “Er, maybe er, Stan Collymore”. During his Liverpool glory days? “Yeah, that boy could run.”

O Emperor’s new album ‘Hither Thither’ is out now on Universal.

By kind permission, audio from this interview will be aired on Culture Cafe on DCUfm on Thursday 7th October 2010.