Former Enemies man Mark O’Brien, now functioning under solo-moniker ‘Royal Yellow’, is about to skip out on Dublin. “You kind of see it through different eyes once you’ve decided to leave,” he says, “it’s unsustainable.”
O’Brien is heading to Limerick, a move he announced publicly to widespread support online, and one which reflects a broader trend in Dublin music, a need to be more fiscally sensible, as covid times and expensive rents hit. The move strikes, oddly, just as events return.
“It’s a blur coming out of these times, like a surreal dream now we’re experiencing the tail end of it,” O’Brien says. “I played a gig with Jape in Offaly, and that got me back to playing in front of a small number of people without much pressure. The next day we played at ‘Love Is A Stranger’, a mini festival, and that felt amazing.”
“It’s already become a cliche, but you don’t realise how much you’d missed that feeling of purpose and meaning. That physical element of feeling bass and drums in your body that you don’t get at home. I could only describe it as euphoric, two of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever played. It’s like fasting for two years and then eating something delicious.”
In that particular scenario, the mental space offered by lockdown helped out. “The lockdown gave us space to figure out what it is in terms of a live performance,” O’Brian says. “The EP, ‘Still Until’ gave me the chance to focus on multiple tracks at the same time, and take a more widescreen view of what our writing is.”
“Then there was space to go away with the band to Wexford for a couple of days. We jammed, tried out different instruments, and made a short film about it all. We worked out the different permutations of the band, and it coalesced into this feeling of ‘this is what it is’. Before that, it was really just me experimenting with different line ups and becoming a solo artist, in inverted commas, for the first time. Now it’s become a more comfortable thing.”
Royal Yellow’s sound is very distinct from previous outlet Enemies, one that reflects a different side of O’Brien to his previous experimental rock incarnation. In his new guise, the music is electronic, relatively sample heavy, collaborative, and takes on an almost summery, jazzy undertone that blends upbeat pop with late-night fuzziness.
“There was always a lot of creative freedom in Enemies, we weren’t constrained by conventional pop song structures,” O’Brien recalls of his popular old act, who achieved an almost cliched impact by becoming ‘big in Japan’. “There’s definitely a continuation there in terms of what a song could be. It can be seven minutes long, and doesn’t have to have a verse and a chorus. It feels like a natural extension to me, but obviously, having full creative control and being able to indulge every bizarre, dumb idea you have is probably a blessing and a curse.”
“There’s nobody to reign me in when I go off the deep end, but it’s easy to achieve that state of flow operating with my own ideas. There’s a lot of fiddling, a lot of sound manipulation, and I suppose I’ve learnt a lot more about production, as I was never behind the controls with Enemies.”
“There are some Tibetan bowl samples in there I found on YouTube during my covid anxiety period, the sound of my crackly fireplace, and lots of tapping on cans and glasses that I had lying around in the studio. I work it all into songs.”