Following an album launch in the Sunflower Public House, I saw down with Tony Villiers.
►So Tony, you’re from the Armagh area yourself? What about the rest of the villains?
Yeah, it’s a city now…buzzing metropolis. We’re all from Armagh direction, we got Paul Meehan on Guitar, Aidan McGillion on Percussion and Kevin Mahoney from Keady on Bass guitar.
►And where did you record the new album?
We recorded the whole thing live down at Real World Studios, Longford, Ireland with Paul Gurney.
►And as far of creative control and mixing did you have much to do with the finalised product?
Fully in control, as always. The thing is you always have to take control, you have to listen to opinions and take them on board but at the end of the day as the executive producer I make the final decisions. I must say Paul Gurney was absolutely brilliant in the input he gave especially at the mixing stage, he actually plays piano on all the tracks like ‘Dear Mama’ ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ Most of them.. Probably 9 out of 10.
►Production wise you get a Dylan ’65 / ’66 sound of the album, would you think so yourself? Was this something you set out to achieve?
If you think so I’m very happy to hear that, Dylan has always been a major hero of mine.. The hero of mine. It wasn’t something we set out to do, but if that’s what it’s sounding like, that’s a great compliment.
►The last track ‘On the Run’ seems to have a bit of a Townes Van Zandt feel to it, both lyrically and in delivery. It also seemed like a great track to end the album on.
I’ve had a few friends tell me that already, a lot of thought went into the sequencing and thinking about that.. It opens with ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, an acoustic introduction, and then we close it with ‘On the Run,’ and I think there’s maybe a message of hope in there somewhere towards the end of it. I wouldn’t say it’s a wholly negative song, when the band kick in at the end you get a feeling that no matter how black and dark it gets there’s always love in the world and there’s always hope.
►Songwriting is obviously a huge aspect of your music, anything on the new album that still sticks out to you in particular?
Ah man, you’ve put me on the spot, I suppose ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,’ as a complete works and the story that it tells. Also ‘Lucky Rabbits Foot’.. I suppose when you say it, ‘On the Run’ too..
►I have to say, my own favourite off the new album is ‘Rocksalt.’ You introduced it tonight as a “song about love and drugs” do you want to go into that at all?
[laughs] No, I’m not gonna go into that at all. Not gonna elaborate on that.. I think I’ve said enough already.
►In the lyrics themselves perhaps?
I’ll let them speak for themselves, I had a man called Michael Park.. he runs the International Americana show in the States and he was asking about what the songs mean to me and my interpretations, and that’s all well and good, but I think everybody interprets things in their own way and applies it to their own life, so I think if I was to come in with what it means to me it’d be wholly biased. I like when people offer me their interpretations.
►Kind of what you would get from Dylan’s work?
Yes, there’s a vagueness and specificness in it as well.
►You’ve been part of the NI music scene for a while In quite a few incarnations, I’ve got a copy of the old Chrome Horse album, the sound is quite different to what you’re doing now.
No way.. [Laughs] Yea, well it was a different band. I had a great drummer at the time called Maciej Szczepanski, Gordon Lee from The Phantom Engineers on guitar, his brother Aidy Lee on bass and Anthony McKee on keyboards and we went out to Poland to record it, so that affected the sound. I think we could take every song off that album and play it in this style now, like ‘Steam Traktor Blues’ the core is still there, we just approached it in a grunge/punk kinda way, that’s where we were at the time.
►As an artist do you think you’ve grown from that to this, or is this another aspect of your music?
I think that was the direction we took, I had taken sidelines playing bass and doing other things in bands for a long time and that was the first band I was ‘leader’ of if you like, so we just let it take its own direction and that’s the result that we got. We might revisit some of those again. They were great times. Great times.
►How was your experience with Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival?
Colin and Anne run that festival, they have been such great supporters, from the early days doing gigs. It used to be put on in different pubs around the town and then they focused it all in one venue. They foster so much music it’s incredible, they just give people the environment to exist and also the support, which is vital. I think with the music scene the way it is at the moment, when times are tough, people turn to the arts, I think maybe not for solace exactly, but it gives people hope. People can hear ideas. You know, people aren’t congregating as much as they used to, people are afraid to go out, the world has changed.
►You’ve been described as a man whose “confidence has fiercely grown” in this last year, would you agree?
The confidence? Well I’m not gonna turn into Mick Jagger if that’s what you mean. [laughs] I think sometimes as an artist there has to come a time when you realise you’ve got something to give. I was working with these gentlemen (the Villains) and I realised maybe I can write songs cause up until then there was a bit of doubt. I think for a lot of artists doubt is a major Achilles heel.
►And one of your new tunes is going to be used in a film?
Yea man. Michael Beattie is gonna use ‘Swingin’ into the Sunshine’ in a documentary coming out in the new year called That Vitamin Movie, that’ll be for the closing credits, Laura Hale who I’ve been in touch with has been really helpful and got in touch with a friend called Jamal Al Nasir in Village Music World in Bleaker Street, Greenwich Village NY and he’s stocking our album. We’ve had Lynette Fay at Radio Ulster and Ralph McClean has also been a great supporter as well. So many things happening, it’s hard to keep track.. It’s only out two weeks and it’s starting to snowball.
►The line-up tonight was great, you picked them all yourself?
Yea, they’re all people I’ve met over the last 4 years, NJ McClean, David McCann, Chase the River, Mandy Bingham all great acts and deserve more recognition and it’s great to be able to give people a taste of what all’s out there cause there’s so much talent out there at the moment.
►Got to say, by the fourth ‘one-more-tune’ there was a great feeling in the room for the artists and the music. There were a few people up jiving.
Yea we had a few romantic dancers, I was delighted to see that, a beautiful thing it was [laughs] a beautiful thing indeed. It’s the type of music we’re doing, people open their hearts to it, and it’s accessible. We’re just playing it from our hearts.
►There was a bit of a working man’s vibe going on.
Very much so, with us you get what you see, so listen close.
►So, what’s next for Tony Villiers and the Villains?
Well we’re gonna keep writing and start in the new year working on a third album. We’ll just keep going, I’ve written about four tunes over the last couple of weeks, one of which you heard tonight ‘Montpellier Hill’. With Songs of Love and Fate I was bringing the songs to the band and they were interpreting them and doing what they do, and I’m now writing thinking about how these men can play the songs. So it’s an exciting time.