Royal Yellow: “My girlfriend put me on to Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’, which pretty much changed my life then and there”

Mark O’Brien’s musical change of direction in recent years has been an abrupt one. Once part of the popular instrumental rock band Enemies, a hit on the Irish music scene that went as far as making waves in Japan, he turned in a totally different direction when his old project wound down.

Back under the name ‘Royal Yellow‘, he’s mixing together complex, multi-faceted beat tracks which have drawn love from the lofty heights of BBC Radio One. His most recent, May The First, is hung cleverly on a vocal from Lisa Hannigan’s Pistachio.

Below, Mark talks me through the change in direction, and how he landed himself playing with Lisa’s sound…

Congrats on the new single. This is quite a change of pace from Enemies. Was that a very conscious thing when the band ended?

Not at all. Enemies was a huge part of my life and creativity for almost a decade, so once it ended I hadn’t a clue of what kind of music I wanted to make next. I had to just stop thinking about the creation of music and go back to simply soaking up and appreciating music for a while.

I spent a few months travelling across Asia with my girlfriend and she put me on to Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’, which pretty much changed my life then and there. It floored me, and opened up the door to whole new realms of music that are miles apart from what Enemies were doing.

What gave you the idea to play around with Lisa Hannigan’s vocal – does it have a particular appeal to you?

That song was sketched out over two years ago, so it’s difficult to remember exactly what was in my mind at the time. But I do remember that I had hit a complete wall with my own vocals. Nothing I sang was really adding to the atmosphere of the track, so I went in search of something I could just drop in to inspire something new in my own approach.

I think I had recently seen a video of Lisa performing Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ at Vicar Street, so maybe subconsciously I knew that her voice was perfect for a trip-hop tune. Either way, as soon as it was in there I knew that it couldn’t be anything else. I was smitten.

How difficult is the process of getting permission to do something like that?

I was really nervous to approach Lisa about it. I became so attached to the sample and how it was enriching the song, but knew that she would be totally entitled to just say “thanks, but no thanks”. Fortunately Lisa turned out to be just the nicest person, and was very much into the track. I think it helps that we’re both part of a community of musicians here in Dublin. Maybe there’s a kinship there, even if you’ve never met in person.