Thursday 19 April 2018

O Emperor strike back by hitting a groove

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

I had the privilege of spending two hours with Prince in a suite on the fifth floor of the Bristol Hotel, on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, in the summer of 2011, discussing, amongst other things (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bono, Barry's Tea and Sinead O'Connor), the timeless virtue of the groove, the existential, bone-shaking beauty of the jam.

The writer of 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, and Kiss put me straight.

Outlining how he has little or no interest in contemporary music, he told me: "A lot of it sounds phoned in. It is all machines. You can't jam with a machine. You can put your dirty clothes in a machine but you can't jam with it.

"Carlos Santana, who is a real cosmic guy, told me that we are analogue creatures. We feel music as human beings. But a lot of the new stuff lacks feel."

I want to get this out in the open: I am not comparing grown-up Waterford wunderkinds O Emperor to Prince, but having watched them perform at's Windmill Lane Sessions and having listened to their groove philosophy, there are certain small sonic similarities.

O Emperor's lead fella Paul Savage explained - with no little honesty - the future sound of the band (formed in 2009): "We're leaving the 1960s and 1970s slightly behind and we are ripping off Prince and Kate Bush now."

Emperors of irony: More the young dudes than angry young men, it's O Emperor
Emperors of irony: More the young dudes than angry young men, it's O Emperor

Easier said than done. How do O Emperor rip off Kate Bush and Prince?

"I guess we are maybe switching into those middle pick-ups that we don't normally touch on the Strat - the Cream-y tones," he said presumably meaning either Prince's song of that name or Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce's legendary trio from the mid-to-late 1960s.

"The ones that you shouldn't ever really use. It's kind of like Robert Cray. It is something that you would cringe at when you are a teenager but when you get older you love it - and not in an ironic way either.

"Because that 1980s music is treated in an ironic way: 'Hey! Look! We're throwing back to this gaudy, awful era!' I think we genuinely want to avoid it being like that, because we do genuinely dig a lot of those artists from that time, you know, the late 1970s and early 1980s."

As for the future, the O Emperor man says the future will be "a bit more jam-orientated".

"We have recordings of, like, half-hour jams that we have to pare down and edit, but I think it is going to be a little bit of a self-indulgent jam.

"There are jams that came out of nowhere and sometimes the first thing you think of can be the best, in terms of spontaneity."

Savage adds that at the moment there are even songs.

"For the last two albums," he says, referring to Hither Tither and Vitreous, "we would come in with the songs half-written, chords and lyrics, whatever, and we would make a song out of it. But with this we are just meeting up and someone is starting to play something - a drum beat or a bass-line - and everybody eventually falls into finding out what the key is.

"And it starts to get okay so you can hear something developing. In a way it kind of sounds cheesy - but they are popping out of mid-air.

"Still, you record them and you listen back and it literally comes out of nowhere. Some of it is fairly dodgy and you have to edit out a lot of the stuff but you do get a couple of minutes where it's nice and something makes sense and you take that idea and throw vocals over it."

And whatever O Emperor do, it will never lack feel. In the meantime, Godspeed You! O Emperor.

To watch the full interview with O Emperor plus two exclusive performances, see The Windmill Lane Sessions on You can now also watch's Windmill Lane Sessions on TG4. O Emperor play The Sugar Club on November 26

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