Liam O’Donnell grew up in Leeds, the son of a Scottish father and an Irish mother. They moved to London where Liam played around as a singer/songwriter for some time. In 2010, he formed pop group Various Cruelties which blends Britpop, mod and funk. The song “It Wasn’t for You” is featured in a holiday ad for Zales jewelry. The band supported Mumford and Sons and The Vaccines.
Debut album available for download now and on CD on February 26 in the U.S.
Amy Steele: Where did the name Various Cruelties come from?
Liam O’Donnell: The name Various Cruelties comes from a painting by the artist Ed Ruscha. I saw the picture on a wall and thought it looked like great and I really loved the name. It was a beautiful deep red colour and almost looked like dried blood. It was reminiscent of something like The White Stripes would have put up. It had a classic yet, darker, distressed feel to it.
Amy Steele: You look so young. When did you first become interested in music? Have you professional training?
Liam O’Donnell: My family was musical. So I can’t really remember not being interested in music. I don’t have any professional training except I used to play in bars when I was a kid. I could do an excellent rendition of “The Fairytale of New York” on violin at 12.30 a.m. or down the phone to someone.
Amy Steele: You started out a solo artist. What made you decide to get a band together?
Liam O’Donnell: It felt natural. It was a bit lonely being a solo artist sometimes. In the studio I could bring different colours and personalities to the songs I was creating. But playing them live on an acoustic guitar just didn’t hit the spot in the same way. When I met the other guys, we hit it off very quickly and were able to bring the songs to life in a live environment.
Amy Steele: What do you like about being in a band?
Liam O’Donnell: I like being able to hang out with my mates. I love people coming to and enjoying the shows. We get to meet our fans, make friends, all alongside the funny things that happen along the way. Such as our drummer being told he looks like “George Washington”. The amusing thing being that the guy who said he looks like “George Washington” meant “Denzel Washington”. Most people would think there’s quite a difference between the two individuals, but obviously not this guy.
Amy Steele: You are a big The Strokes fan. What do you like about the band?
Liam O’Donnell: I guess there’s always one band or musician that growing up you connect with. They are such a great pop/guitar band with timeless songs. I saw them when I was 15 and Julian sat on a chair, with his ankle in a cast but was still cool. Discovering your first band is a bit like falling in love for the first time. As you get older, you like other bands, but you never fall in love as much as you did the first time.
Amy Steele: I hear Britpop, folk, funk fused in your music. What other bands and musicians influence you musically?
Liam O’Donnell: I’m from Leeds. So we have a heritage of Northern British music. It’s not that we ‘totally invented pop music’ but so much has come out of this region. I couldn’t avoid not hearing The Beatles, The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys, growing up. I also developed quite an eclectic taste quite early. I became fascinated with musical scenes from Britain such as mod, goth and to a certain extent hip hop. I liked listening to old soul records and embracing culture of northern soul, ska and jazz nights that are quite prevalent in Yorkshire.
Amy Steele: I adore the song “Magnetic Fields.” What can you tell me about it?
Liam O’Donnell: “Magnetic Fields” is about a girl I used to hang out with. We weren’t very good for each other at certain points. Yet we had this strange connection.
Amy Steele: Tell me about the impetus for “Beautiful Delirium.”
Liam O’Donnell: “Beautiful Delirium” is about when you’re young and life is perhaps a bit changeable. Sometimes you feel thrilled but daunted at the same time. It’s about that. Sometimes I find those feelings to be quite intense.
Amy Steele: How about the song “Capsize?” There’s a cool Calypso-esque beat to it.
Liam O’Donnell: In all honesty. I had recorded the song in another style for the demo. Then shortly before recording the album I listened to aht ah mi hed by Shuggie Otis. Thought the “Calypso” vibe from that was pretty cool, so decided to try nick the vibe of that song for “Capsize.”
Amy Steele: What comes first the music or the lyrics?
Liam O’Donnell: I need to feel the music first to inspire the lyrics. I get to the point where I feel like I want to sing along. Then the lyrics just happen. Normally regarding the subconscious focus of whatever is on my mind.
Amy Steele: What inspires you?
Liam O’Donnell: Mainly things in day to day life. I’d be lying if I said all my ideas came from 19th Century Irish literature.
Amy Steele: If you weren’t a musician what would you be doing?
Liam O’Donnell: I did study for a law degree for a while. But I can’t see myself going back to that. I used to have a job where I maintained industrial dishwashers capable of washing an incredible 2000 plates an hour. I liked being able to fix them. So maybe something where I could take that to the next level. A dishwasher to support an army or something.
Amy Steele: What football team do you root for?
Liam O’Donnell: I have two to be brutally honest. I am from Leeds so Leeds United. But my Dad is a proud Scotsman and he supports Glasgow Celtic. But our manager’s first name is “Neil”. So let’s hope Leeds achieves promotion this year and Celtic beats Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League. The final is at Wembley which isn’t that far from my house. I can but dream. Closer than going all the way up to Scotland anyway!
In terms of US sports I need someone to tell me about the history of all the big sports teams. Then I can pick one?
purchase on Amazon: Various Cruelties