Q&A: O Emperor's Paul Savage
On the band's unusual origins and festivals
You all grew up in and around the rock 'n' roll capital that is Waterford. Was there much of a local scene there to inspire you in the early years of the band?
It was great because there was a really strong cover-bands scene. Most pubs in Waterford from Friday through to Sunday night would have two to three gigs on a day, so there were always opportunities around to play. It was great to get out there and play, even if it was only covers.
Speaking of covers, I believe you started to forge your career in a bikers' bar called the Hog's Head in Cork. You certainly don't look or sound like a bikers' band!
When we were teenagers, we started playing in bars and we did a couple of gigs for the bikers. They didn't give a shit about hiring an underage band and plying them full of drink, so that was good for us because we were only about 17 at the time.
We started off doing Led Zeppelin, Beatles and Pink Floyd covers, so that's how they liked us and took us under their wing for a while. It was a good way to learn the classic songs and it has subconsciously filtered through into our own music. It was also a nice way of earning a few bob at the start.
On the other extreme, you were all in the school choir. While perhaps not particularly rock 'n' roll, it has audibly informed your keen sense of harmonies.
In secondary school, we were in the choir and our music teacher, Brother Fenn, was a great help and inspiration. It's where we got the confidence to sing. When we ended up in a band, all five of us were pretty well-seasoned singers. I have found that people always seem to respond well to harmonies, so it's a nice thing to have. We like to layer the harmonies with the music where two of us can sing the lead.
When you wrote the debut album Hither Thither, you studiously avoided the bright lights of Waterford, Cork, Dublin and New York in favour of ... Kinsale?
Some of us studied music technology, so we rented a house that was able to accommodate five lads and a recording set-up. It was definitely good for us, and the right place to demo and write an album. We spent about six months there, and after all that we had the makings of a record, so we recorded it in The Factory in Dublin. Now we're about to release it, but it has been about three years in the making.
So much for 'overnight success'...
It's naturally progressed, so that it feels very natural talking to you about it now. A year and half ago, it would have felt very strange. When you get to a certain level, you keep thinking about the next thing. We played Oxegen two years ago and no one was there. This year, there was a full tent, so there has been a massive sea change for us.
On the subject of festivals, three different people individually told me that you were their favourite band at Electric Picnic. By all accounts, it was a triumph.
We were a little fuddled from the night before, but I think that made us just a little more relaxed. We were on at 2pm, so it was nice not to be sitting around dwelling on playing all day. I didn't know what to make of it when we came off, but from the reviews and feedback, it seems that it went okay. In terms of people being there because they wanted to be there, it was the biggest show we've done. Even though we got a good crowd at Oxegen, the weather was so horrendous that people just wanted to get out of the rain.
Hither Thither is released today