Where Have You Been All My Life? is a collection of songs that distils five years and three albums of songwriting into one flowing narrative, recorded in one day, with a reimagining of older material seamlessly woven with present glories from the most recent studio album, Darling Arithmetic.
Released in April 2015, Conor O’Brien’s third album under the guise of Villagers is a more pared-back, intimate journey compared to the multi-faceted arrangements of Becoming A Jackal (2010) and [Awayland] (2013). This fresh approach was extended on subsequent Villagers tours, where old songs were reinvented to match the new. Then for one day in July 2015, Conor brought his band into London’s RAK Studio with engineer Richard Woodcraft (Radiohead, The Last Shadow Puppets). 18 songs were quickly captured and 12 songs chosen for the final album, making it Villagers’ most intense, but satisfying, session to date. These recordings are all first or second takes, and the immediacy of the occasion was part of the magic that day, live and unadorned by overdubs or studio trickery.
“The arrangements are in such a unique space right now, so I wanted to capture them before they move on” says O’Brien. Indeed, the unique nature of these arrangements is due in no small part to the musicians in the room at the time of recording: Cormac Curran on grand piano and analogue synthesizer, Danny Snow on double bass, Mali Llywelyn on harp, mellotron and vocals, and Gwion Llewelyn on drums, flugelhorn and vocals. The result is a lush, harmony-laden and vibrant document of a time and a place.
“’Where have you been all my life?’ is the line in [Darling Arithmetic’s] ‘The Soul Serene’ that I enjoy singing the most, that repeats itself over and over, as if the culmination of the themes in that song all come together to form one simple phrase. It’s such an overbearingly dramatic declaration of commitment and it’s what the session as a whole means to me; diving into a feeling head-first and letting it take you where it wants to go.”
Included in the album is a new recording of ‘Memoir’, which O’Brien wrote for Charlotte Gainsbourg (it can be found on her 2011 album Stage Whisper, as well as the other side of Villagers’ 7” single ‘Set The Tigers Free’) but has never before been recorded by Villagers. Also included is a spellbinding cover of Jimmy Webb’s classic ‘Wichita Lineman’, one of Conor’s all-time favourite songs.
Audiences will perhaps hear these arrangements in future Villagers shows, but as O’Brien concludes, “perhaps the songs will change again. I don’t necessarily have any control over this. The most important thing right for me right now is that the music does the talking.”