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Interview Various Cruelties

Dan O'Dell talks to recent Leeds émigré Liam O’Donnell on his transition from playing in the back rooms of local bars to appearing on the most influential music programme in the country

Interview: Various Cruelties

We met up with Liam O’Donnell, frontman of Various Cruelties, on an acoustic night at Sandinista and agreed that it seems a strangely appropriate place to talk about his music as, up until two years ago, Liam had being playing his own solo material around these exact same acoustic nights across Leeds city centre.

However, life has changed a lot for him since those evenings, and when we met up it was only a week since the bands’ TV debut on Later With Jools Holland, playing alongside the likes of Metallica and Lou Reed. He recalls it as, “a surreal experience… I’ve grown up watching Jools Holland and I’ve seen lots of my heroes playing on there, so when it actually came down to the performance I was pretty nervous.” He may be getting closely acquainted with those butterflies, as at the time of writing, Various Cruelties are scheduled to open for Kasabian on a couple of dates on their December tour, with venues holding in excess of 20,000 people.

It’s an impressive rise since decamping from his hometown of Leeds down to London, a change which he explains, “wasn’t primarily a music move, I just wanted to think about doing something else with my life”. After some time in London, the band was formed and together they helped to flesh out and arrange many of the solo songs originally created in Leeds, bringing with them new influences and a slight change in direction.

For those unfamiliar with Various Cruelties sound, Liam does a good job of summarising it as “Soulful elements with a rock/indie vibe thrown in”. He cites a wide ranging number of artists that have influenced their music from the likes of Etta James and Otis Redding to Primal Scream and Jesus and the Mary Chain, as well as early Van Morrison – despite acknowledging that it’s perhaps not the coolest name to mention!

After recording three songs with acclaimed producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, M83, The Kooks) in early 2011, the band were invited to LA for a month to record an album. A huge grin sweeps across Liam’s face as he tells me about their time in Hollywood, “It was mind blowing, we’d been together for a relatively short time and we’d literally been a band for less than 12 months at that point. We were recording six days a week, but got to go to go out a lot at night. At one party we got to chat to Miss USA for a while, and there was another bar we often went to where all the lookalikes would go and in one night we met all the different guises of Johnny Depp – Captain Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands and Willy Wonka. It was bizarre!”

The result of the time spent in LA is a self-titled album that will be released on 2nd April via Hideout Records, an offshoot of Mercury. Before that though, the band head off on a headline UK that stops off in Leeds at The Cockpiton 21st January, for which Liam excitably declares, “the Leeds gigs are always the highlights!”

Various Cruelties’ last two gigs here saw the band play to a packed Brudenell Social Club, before supporting Noah & the Whale at the O2 Academy, and it’s in venues such as these that Liam recalls seeing great gigs from bands such as LCD Soundsystem.

“I can remember the O2 Academy when it was Creation nightclub, going in through the fire doors when I was barely old enough to get in there, definitely borderline 18 at the time!” he says. “So getting to come back to these places that mean different things and to be playing them as an artist is pretty special. These are the sort of places you never expect you’re going to get to play at, so when you do it means more to you.”

When pushed on where he would love to play in Leeds if he had the choice, he considers the option of Millennium Square, and professes that he’d “love to follow in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps”, as he was there as a school boy when it was opened by the great man.

So make a date in your diary for The Cockpit gig, as if the band continue their upward spiral with the same rate, these dream gigs could one day become a reality. For now though Liam is more than content to be returning to gig in Leeds; he confesses to missing life in his hometown, friends and family and… Balti King curries at

Posted on Wednesday 11th January 2012

The Cockpit

Swinegate, Leeds, LS1 4AG

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