Let’s hear that.

December 9, 2012

 

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Let’s hear that

October 23, 2012

 

 

 

Kicking in the Brain

September 13, 2012

Our new single

 

As before, free dowload from http://jeromeslaw.bandcamp.com/

Just recently managed to find my copy of Songs That Saved Your Life. I was then reminded today about how I once got shoved out of the way by Morrissey’s security so he could run to his tour bus. It was raining, you see, so you can imagine what that does to one’s quiff.

 

Warming up the pipes

August 20, 2012

This seems to be the song of choice for vocal warm up at the minute.

 

Awaking the sleeping beast

August 16, 2012

Based on current activities here at JL HQ it seems appropriate to re-visit this little space of ours. Some noises are being made…

 

 

 

Shane

Not Today

November 21, 2011

Our debut album ‘Not Today’ is available now for free download from jeromeslaw.bandcamp.com

Our “Knives at Concrete” E.P. is now available for free over at jeromeslaw.bandcamp.com

It comes complete with cover design by artist Paul Roy

 

 

We’re having a launch gig for the E.P. in The Lower Deck on July 1st and everyone will get a free cd.

Everyone “wahey” on three….Ready?……One…..Two…..Three……….did you do it?

Becoming a Jackal

June 10, 2010

Following on from Adam’s post, I too had a “Villagers moment” recently – specifically at their gig in The Button Factory, which changed a lot of my experience of their music. Here I try to convey that experience, and how it relates to certain broader feelings about art and stuff. I warn you: it’s pretty long.

Conor’s songs are full of references to performance and the general nature of being an artist: “The Meaning of the Ritual”, “On a Sunlit Stage”, “Ship of Promises” and “Set the Tigers Free” are some that immediately come to mind. They all revolve around the relationship between the performer and the audience, his/her friends and the people who manipulate and figuratively bring him/her along for a ride in the music business.

The song that deals with the question of artistry in the most immediate (ba-dum chish!) way for me is “Becoming a Jackal”, which, for obvious reasons, seems to frame the entire album. When I first heard it, while watching the official video on YouTube, I wasn’t that impressed. I was sort of lazily listening to it in the background until it suddenly changed in tone and I snapped back into consciousness at that striking line:

So before you take this song as truth

You should wonder what I’m taking from you –

How I benefit from you being here

Lending me your ears while I’m selling you my fears

Of course, it isn’t the first time that an artist has made reference to the fact that he’s singing a song, but it was the first time I had encountered something so direct; it seemed like a significant step beyond the usual “meta-lyrical” affair; it directly addresses the listener and asks him to consider something, right here, right now, about what he’s listening to and why it’s even playing in the first place.

Aside from the obvious consideration that “he’s making money from this”, it shows that Conor has an acute awareness of the exact nature of what he’s doing at a very basic level. Firstly, it seems quite clear that, all things considered, the songs are very genuine; there’s very little indication that O’Brien is some sort of Dylan-esque shapeshifter who actively constructs myths about himself; most of the songs are about him a very real way (cf. his tongue-in-cheek introduction of “Pieces” at The Button Factory as “a song about my problems”). Rather than primarily cautioning us against believing everything he says (something to keep in mind anyway), the line simply reminds us that he’s got other motives beyond a basic need to express himself.

Crucially though, the line also brings out an important difference between the artist and the audience; there’s a clear distinction between “you”, who “take this song as truth” and “I” who can also, literally, “take” something (admiration, money) too. The song as whole deals with what it takes for the artist “I” to reach that place; it details a journey, where someone leaves the indolent, comfortable confines of his home – where food, shelter and teaching are offered freely (unmade bed, feed me till I’m fed, read me till I’m read etc.), where he’s clearly in a very passive state and the most he can do is gaze longingly out the window “in an eyes-wide-open sleeping state” – to dance in the street with unscrupulous creatures who strip him of all sources of comfort, tying him to a pole with all his humanity laid bare.

This is all described in fairly necessary terms; to reach that point of control at the end of the song, the artist had to “learn a new way to move”; there’s something about the way he behaves or communicates that distinguishes him from his listeners. This brings me onto a question that I had been considering around the time I first heard the song, and it’s something the song seems to engage with: put simply, like most artists, he’s describing some pretty personal, pretty weighty stuff that possibly implicates a lot of people he knows in very dramatic and sometimes disturbing ways…

how do you do that?

How do you bring yourself to sing something like Sufjan Stevens on “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, where he compares himself (sort of) to a notorious serial killer of children:

And in my best behaviour

I am really just like him

Look beneath the floorboards

For the secrets I have hid.

It’s a very touching line, but that would be an extremely difficult thing for most people to say, especially after such a detailed account of the killer’s life – and even methods – that comprises the rest of the song. What kind of realisation is that to reach for yourself, much less to share it with others? What must that do to the relationship between you and your family, your close friends, not to mention the relatives of the killer’s victims? It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the problem well enough.

In relation to Villagers, this very problem was brought out for me at the gig when, not too long after playing the song “Home”, Conor introduces his family despite an earlier resolve not to (“I wasn’t going to do this, but…”). Now, of course, the song isn’t about his own family, and maybe it’s just a repressed Irish thing, or maybe it’s just something particular to me, but I would certainly feel strange singing about “poisonous family ties” in front of my parents and relations. It’s something that caused serious problems for Billy Corgan after releasing Siamese Dream, when, at dinner, his parents called him out on the lyrics of “Disarm”, which (to put it mildly) weren’t all that favourable to parent-figures.

The answer to this question lies in the title; it lies in “Becoming a Jackal”. My understanding of this phrase, and of the Villagers project itself, only hit me at one particular moment during the gig, and that was the performance of “Pieces”. When I first heard the album, I was pretty disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, most of the songs were great, but I felt like everything was a bit stifled. I felt this was particularly the case with “Pieces”; the chaos of the ending was very quiet and the howling just made it a bit surreal. I didn’t even notice this on the Hollow Kind version, but that’s because it was swallowed up and enveloped by all the noise; that’s how it should be, I thought.

I had never seen the band live before and the album only started working for me after I left The Button Factory. All of the parts that sounded a bit lame (the “shouty bits”, as Shane called them: in “I Saw the Dead”, the end of “Home”, etc.) were fully realised. All the jagged guitar riffs, all the heavy distortion and all the screaming became very real; the whole thing sounded huge, like it was supposed to. After the gig, I was able to listen to the album and infer from it what all these parts should ideally sound like; I felt like I fully got the whole point of the performance, and from that understanding I could enjoy the album to its full potential (though the howling is still a bit lame on record).

It was at that moment in the gig, however, that this realisation hit me. I had noticed from the start that a lot of the lyrics are very animalistic in nature; the imagery is of flesh, body parts, and beastly appetitive desire:

And we will be thankful

And we will be fed

You take the torso

And I’ll take the head

he uses the verb “chew” on a number of occasions, there’s talk of emotions “feeding” on one another, there are lots of references to creatures of all sorts: tigers, snakes and, of course, Jackals. All throughout the performance, the band were throwing themselves and their instruments about, grimacing and scowling while Conor screamed his lungs out; in short, behaving like animals – like the Jackals themselves. Everything in the darker songs, the sounds and sinister lights, aimed at something feral and demonic. At the climax of “Pieces”, when I could finally see the person doing the howling, I realised what the phrase “becoming a jackal” really meant. In a quite literal sense, it meant, like the character in the song, leaving all the comforts of society, shedding even his clothes and all marks of civility and just giving in to pure “bestial oblivion”. Thinking about the image of this person, who had been “stripped of his clothes” and – a young adult – was reduced to howling in front of a crowd of other adults, I was reminded of (wait for it) Hamlet.

Bear with me here.

After seeing the ghost, Hamlet stumbles back to the castle. We should remember, at this point, that he’s just been through something which has destroyed or shaken just about every aspect of his worldview. It’s confirmed his darkest suspicions about society and all its false customs and empty facades. He appears in Ophelia’s closet very much “stripped” of all his clothes:

My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;
No hat upon his head; his stockings foul’d,
Ungarter’d, and down-gyved to his ancle;
Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors,–he comes before me.

All remnants of his former prominence as “the glass of fashion and the mold of form” have been literally torn apart. He’s no longer a member of civil society, and can’t even bring himself to speak, but he just stares at Ophelia – and can only make one terrible sound:

He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being…

As I looked at Conor, and heard this terrifying howling, he seemed to be swallowed up by the noise and the strobe lights, so much so that it was very hard to make him out as something distinct. It was “shattering his bulk” in a very real way; it was tearing him apart. Kind of like this:

But with rock music too...

As it happened, I began to think, firsty: “Christ, there’s some real pain there”, and secondly: “Christ, this is tearing me apart”; it was almost too much; a sensory overload, the volume and the intensity of the strobe lights were almost unbearable. I quickly realised that the whole point of this chaos was to convey the pain that words never could – the words that “never come out the right way”. It reminded me of another character I had read about (still bearing with me?): Benji from Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, an “idiot” in the most technical sense; someone who sees the world in a very particular way, but cannot communicate. Like Hamlet, he cannot form words but can only moan. His terrible groans punctuate the story, expressing a kind of pure pain that language never could:

Then he bellowed. Bellow upon bellow, his voice mounted, with scarce interval for breath. There was more than astonishment in it, it was horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound…

Faulkner described him as “just an animal” , the “sound of all hopeless misery under the sun”. He’s on the outside of society, never able to convey his feelings in any socially acceptable way; he is a pitiful creature. Jackals are clever to a certain extent, but for most of the album, Conor doesn’t come across as a very powerful, mysterious figure; he’s not Dylan. Despite the fact that he stands to gain from his endeavours, he’s still very exposed (While he’s able to “sell his fears”, they are still very much “his fears”. We still witness some immense pain and suffering), and not altogether proud of himself; Jackals are also base, craven creatures; their appetitive desire comes out in other ways, such as in “The Meaning of the Ritual”, where O’Brien’s love is content to “cut you out to satisfy its thirst”. They are also quite pitiful in some ways. The dual meaning of the word comes out nicely in its definition:

1: any of several small omnivorous canids (as Canis aureus) of Africa and Asia having large ears, long legs, and bushy tails
2 a: a person who performs routine or menial tasks for another b:a person who serves or collaborates with another especially in the commission of base acts

Rather than being some sort of mysterious, manipulative artist behind several masks, O’Brien feels paralyzed by them, as in “Ship of Promises”. A lot of control seems to have been sacrificed: “you put it on” becomes “you have to put it on”. Like Hamlet, he’s caught between all sorts of social structures and has to maneuver between them to arrive at some sort of genuine interaction:

And I’ll meet you in between

What I say and what I mean

As in the second definition, this song depicts someone who is very much subject to the actions and demands of others; it’s the realisation reached at the end of “The Meaning of the Ritual”, where he comes to see himself as “a puppet on a string” and abruptly cuts the music (I think this works particularly well because the strings are so lush, and shouldn’t cut out unless something has gone wrong – like a conductor becoming frustrated and storming out); Any time he even approaches a conception of himself as someone in a position of power (in this case, a Mose like figure who can “seperate the Earth”, keeping apart from the “cowards in the corner”), he realises that he’s part of someone else’s show; he’s ultimately being used. He’s still very much in a passive role, epitomised by the image of a ship on the high seas; something that’s impossible to escape from, where you just have to ride the journey out, where the most you can do to rebel is engage in some sort of mutiny or petty act of defiance: “we will make our own mess”.

The album tells us that there is really quite a lot of complicated stuff to consider in order to become a Jackal; it’s been described in a few reviews as a “coming-of-age” album, and I think this is pretty accurate. These are the questions that a very thoughtful person would raise when embarking on a big enterprise such as this. The issue that interests me the most is, as mentioned, those feral, animalistic elements that depict the artist as some sort of Kavanagh-esque figure on the periphery of society, sometimes literally out in the wilderness – a “king of banks and stones and every blooming thing” – while everyone else is inside enjoying tea, cakes and polite conversation. The Jackal is the base, craven creature who dances outside on the street and bursts into the room with his clothes torn to scream about all the things we aren’t that comfortable thinking about; the upshot for him is that sometimes we pay to see him do it on a stage.

It’s important that the very last lines of the album express explicit sympathy with these poor beasts. The “Paul” character speaks of his affection for “every crooked lane that you can see/every open hole, every hollow tree”; like the “great wide open plains”, these wild places are outside of all civilised society, and homes for “creatures loved by me”. Like the open plains or the streets in the title track, these places are where the intrepid artist must go to realise the “holy spark” or they are some sort of limbo where he must live while simultaneously outside of society and still part of certain of its mechanisms. To start talking honestly and frankly about these issues, the conversation can’t really happen within the framework of civilised convention. Hamlet can’t express his horror in words, and even if he did, it would involve the breakdown of that convention, because it would reveal that the very head of society, the King, is a murderer, and that all his lauding of civilised reason is empty. Benji can’t be a part of society because he could never form words and O’Brien in “Pieces” can’t be apart of society because words would never convey the pain and fragmentation that he has felt.

In Hamlet, it’s constantly stressed that when a person is divided from himself/herself and his/her judgement or reason, he/she becomes “a mere beast.” This feeling is present in a lot of what Villagers do. The animalistic imagery and language are just some tools that emphasise a disconnect between the artist/performer/Jackal, and the audience. The album demonstrates that O’Brien is acutely aware of this disconnect and all its complexities. I hope I’ve managed to show that in some way, or, if nothing else, at least managed to explain what the hell that howling was all about.

Mark