We're not even two weeks into January and we're already staring in the face of not only the most anticipated Irish record of 2013, but arguably the most anticipated Irish release of the last five years. Villagers' second album {Awayland} sees the light of day on Friday 11th January and, trust us on this one, it delivers in every way imaginable. Conor J. O'Brien, the Malahide-based frontman of the band, has gained firm foothold on musos the world over after the band's Ivor Novello-winning and Choice and Mercury Prize nominated debut album Becoming A Jackal unleashed itself, revealing an artisan-like approach to orchestration, lyrics, musicianship, songwriting and just about every other factor which combines to form a fully-realised album of the highest quality.

Entertainment.ie's John Balfe recently sat down with Conor J. O'Brien to seek his thoughts on the upcoming record and the accompanying expectations.

I can only imagine it must be a little daunting approaching a second album after such a successful debut. Did the pressure get to you at all?

I was letting it affect me when I first started. I couldn't write at all. I was thinking about the criticisms before I'd ever written two words.

How do you get past something like that?

'The Waves' was the first breakthrough for me. A lot of the other songs on the album started off sounding quite like 'The Waves' as well, a lot of them were way more electronic. Like 'Nothing Arrived', I listened two nights ago to the first demo of that and it has beats all over the place and I almost wish we went with that version. It's got this breakdown in the middle that sounds like Asian Dub Foundation.

That sounds similar, in theory at least, to an early demo of 'Meaning of the Ritual' I heard about four years ago in which the first two thirds of the song are similar to how it is on Becoming A Jackal, but the last third explodes into riotous beats.

I think I was still coming out of The Immediate then, so I was thinking then in terms of an electric guitar band. I was listening to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Neil Young back then, so when I stripped it back that was what I found exciting because I'd never done that before. "My love is selfish", those words are really direct so I think that the less I do the better. This time around I wasn't listening to that kind of music so I was much more interested in making the music more uplifting and physical. I have a different idea about what I want music to do now.

Have you made a deliberate effort to stray away from sad songs?

When you're younger you sort of romanticise sadness and then when you experience shit you think 'I don't want to wallow in that. I want to pull myself out of that'.

Villagers are about to go on tour again with the new record. You had a brief three week tour in support of Grizzly Bear towards the end of 2012. Has that got you back into 'touring mode'?

[That tour] was demented. We took the benefits of being a support band a little too far! It was like 'we're back on tour, we're playing new songs, we get to see Grizzly Bear every night!' - it was a bit mental. It was excess but it was fun. We were playing to larger crowds than we would be able to in those places, but crowds of proper music fans.

Did you get a good indication of how the new songs were being received by those audiences?

The new songs are going down, I think, better. They're definitely going down better with the Grizzly Bear crowds, who perhaps didn't even know some of the old songs because I think there's more of a drive to them. There's more of a sonic identity and they're a bit more colourful the first time you hear them.

Now that you're firmly in the cycle of touring and promoting the second album, have you noted any differences in the process now compared to when you released your debut?

The big difference is that we had the experience of touring [this time around]. We went to Donegal and rehearsed, where we realised that certain things I was getting them to play weren't feeling fun. We were rehearsing with the idea of 'are we going to get sweaty, are we going to get excited?'. We weren't trying to think of the album, we were trying to think about having to play these songs for the next two years. That's the big difference. We knew what songs were fun to play, and the songs that weren't fun to play. Usually the songs that weren't fun to play were the ones where I was having an ego trip, where the drummer wasn't allowed play for three minutes. We wanted it to be more a thing where everyone enjoyed the touring process, so we just rehearsed for that reason.

This interview was conducted in conversation with entertainment.ie music editor John Balfe.

Villagers release their second album {Awayland} on Friday 11th January. Read our review right here.