Francis Jones on the act bringing the pomp back to pop
Tim O’Donovan is a busy man. Amidst rehearsals for a forthcoming UK tour to promote his eponymous debut, he's responsible for every aspect of Neosupervital and also manages to act as live drummer for Irish art-rockers BellX1.
However he was keen to stress that the electro-enthralled Neosupervital has always been his primary musical passion.
‘Well, quite simply it’s my main thing, not a side project by any means. With BellX1 my responsibilities are as live drummer. I don’t have any input into songwriting or anything like that.
'I joined BellX1, god it must be three years ago. Even before then I was doing Neosupervital, not perhaps to the degree that I’m doing it now. This has always taken up so much of my time and especially now that things have started to take off.’
Listening to the keyboard hustle of Neosupervital, it's clear that O’Donovan is a man entranced by the thrilling synth sound of the 80s.
‘Hmmm, I just sort of gravitated towards the sound of the keyboard I think. First and foremost that’s it. Also when I think of all the bands that were on the radio when I was growing up, like The Pet Shop Boys with ‘West End Girls’.
'It’s not that I have anything against guitar bands, I mean I love The White Stripes.’
Many contemporary acts who revisit the 80s electro scene do so in a patently ironic manner. However, O’Donovan is quick to refute any suggestion that Neosupervital should be numbered amongst this horde of tongue-in-cheek nostalgists.
‘People might perceive that from my stage act, but really I’m simply taking my cue from anyone who’s prepared to put on a show, be it James Brown or Little Richard. The idea is to back up the music that you’re proud of with a decent live show; it’s not that I’m taking the piss.
'There’s nothing novelty about what I’m doing. I think people just have this idea of synth pop acts, probably because they've put on interesting visuals and dressed up in a funny way. For example, The Human League with all the make-up and the girls, The Pet Shop Boys with their crazy hats and stuff.’
The Atlas-like responsibility of carrying the Neosupervital heavens on his back, though an occasional burden, does provide O’Donovan increased artistic satisfaction.
‘I’ve been in bands before and although I’ve always really believed in the music, there are just so many different personalities, and sometimes people weren’t on the same page.
'When I started writing I was confident enough in my own abilities to produce and didn’t see the point in recruiting anybody else. I wanted to keep the vision as simple and as clean as possible.
'In fact the burden is mostly of a financial sort. I took out a pretend car loan to pay for this album. That’s all gone. I might wake up at night wondering what if I’ve spent X amount of money on this record that nobody wants, but you’ll never know unless you try.’
Due to embark on a UK tour, O’Donovan will soon receive confirmation of whether or not anyone wants what Neosupervital has to offer. Two notable pit stops on the journey include Belfast and Derry.
‘We’re playing Radar in Queen’s Students Union. You always get interesting crowds there and it’s always different to playing down South. I just love playing new places. I played The Empire not too long ago as support to Duke Special.
'It’s a wonderful venue, I was only playing for half-an-hour before Duke, but it was just so special to be up there. I love the Belfast audiences, there’s a real friendliness.
From all accounts Neosupervital provide a true not to be missed live spectacle that combines synth flash, genuine showmanship and some rather interesting dance moves.
‘In the early shows, it was just me, a drum machine and a synth guitar. In May I brought Jesse Love Action onboard as bass player. That happened quite naturally and we’re just about to go into rehearsals with our new keyboard player, Lauren.
'Also there’s Dancin' Vin, I’ve known him quite a few years, went to school with him. Vin comes onboard, as you might have guessed, for the dancing element of certain songs and plays some keyboards in the middle of the set and various other things.
'Live it’s about giving people something different, having as much of a party as you can every time you play. So even if people didn’t like it they’ll still remember it and maybe tell their friends.’
If time, effort and dedication lead to success, Neosupervital should be surefire winners.
‘Recording the album wasn’t primarily a studio experience. Ninety percent of the actual recording, the laying down of sounds and arrangements took place in my front room in Dublin on a laptop. I even sang all the songs at home, thankfully my neighbours are into their trad music!
'It was a hard, arduous process and still there was only so far that I could take the record on my own. So at different points I brought it into two studios in Dublin, put it up on a real mixing desk, with proper outboard equipment and good speakers and a fresh pair of ears more than anything else.
'Then it was over to London for mastering to a guy I knew through BellX1. He’d worked with The Chalets, Beck, Money Mark, Hot Chip, oh and The Sugababes. That was a really interesting experience, the chance to work with a real pro. It cost me, but it was worth it.’