They’re saying his debut album is a work of genius, a psychedelic odyssey beyond compare. Connan Mockasin started out axe-mangling in Connan & the Mockasins, who lived in the UK for a while. But now he’s back on home ground with his idiosyncratic album, Please Turn Me Into The Snat, and a raft of collaborations with the likes of Ladyhawke and Liam Finn in the works. Gary Steel sat down, drank strong coffee, and had a yarn with the shy young pop prince.
Witchdoctor – So what’s this project that you’re doing while you’re here?
Connan – I’m doing two while I’m back. Well actually three… I’m just finishing off one that me and Liam Finn and Lawrence Arabia are doing. And then I’m doing one with Ladyhawke. And there’s another one. Have you heard of Late Of The Pier? The guy that does that, he’s coming over to do a record with me as well. We’re building mechanical instruments to try to make synth sounds. We started that in Nottingham months ago. We’ve got one that goes up a whole octave in strings, and it kind of goes up like a vase, and there are knobs to tune it at the top. And there’s a spinning disc and you can change the speed of that, and… I don’t know anything about synths, but he’s a bit of a guru, and he was taking me through all the sounds and why they do that, and we’re figuring out mechanical ways of recreating that. It’s not going to sound quite right. They’re mechanical instruments. And we’re a two-piece as well, because I’ve always had this obsession with two pieces. I’ve been wanting to do one for years, but have never really found the right guy. And we’re calling that one Soft Hair, because he said ‘you know how every time you go out someone will pat your hair and go you’ve got such soft hair?’
WD – Is that really your hair and eyes on the album cover?
C – Yes.
WD – With all these collabs, aren’t you concerned that it might put a dent in any plan for world supremacy you might be getting through the Connan name?
Connan – It’s taking up heaps of time and it’s a really bad time to be doing it with my first album out, but… It’s really annoying because with all the other collaborative records we want to touring them as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not a bad problem.
WD – It’s not a creative problem, it’s an industry problem.
Connan – Well, I don’t have to worry about it, because the label that’s putting out my record in the UK, this guy is awesome, I can do whatever I like. And it’s just been licensed to other labels, so I’m not held down to any label.
WD – You were signed to Parlophone?
Connan – I just did a single with them, and when I had my old band, the bluesy Mockasins, we got to the UK, and those major labels were happening. We didn’t have any money or anything. It was very tempting to have something in advance. I feel really lucky I didn’t sign, because they don’t trust what you can do. They pretend that you can do whatever you want to do, any way you like it, but you get close to signing and it’s like ‘we’re going to do it in the studio, it’s going to cost this much’, and it freaked me out a bit. And at the time my music was too shit. It would have been a crappy record. I don’t think I was ready for it. So it was lucky.
WD – Is the album going to shock and surprise people who are used to the older styles?
Connan – Oh yeah. But there aren’t many people that have heard those older tracks. It’s heaps different. I’ve only released a tiny bit of music and that was years ago, a lot’s happened. But the next stuff is completely different again from this record. I can listen to this record without being too worried, and that’s a surprise for me.
WD – So you recorded the album over quite a long period of time all over the place?
Connan – Yeah, just between here and the UK.
G – Did it require a lot of overdubbing?
Connan – Yeah, because my equipment is just a few old machines, I can’t do more than two things at the same time. I recorded it as a record, track by track, what I wanted to hear next, rather than decided the track order later. I wanted to make what I thought would make a good record.
WD – It’s literally the order you recorded them in?
Connan – Yep.
WD – How do you play those songs live?
Connan – I’ve never had to. I’ve played a lot with all sorts of bands, constantly. I’ll have to figure out how to play them live. I’ve been doing rehearsals at the moment with Liam and his brother Elroy, because they know the album really well. It’s been quite good, quite encouraging. But I don’t know that I’ll be able to do it all.
WD – Does humour belong in music?
Connan – Yep. I like trying to pretend to be serious, which I find funny myself.
WD – Obviously you’re quite an adept guitar spanker.
Connan – I used to play a lot, heaps, when I was young, 10 and 11, blues guitar. Then I got sick of it, got back into it a bit. I really into the blues back then. And then when I left school I was thinking I really want to be an actor. So I got into a play in Hastings and moved down to Wellington and got back into music a bit. But I got sick of guitar again, and now I just pick it up now and again. Pretty bored with it.
WD – It seems rare to have someone who has that background moving into the indie stratosphere. It’s like a different religion, and indie doesn’t value musical ‘chops’. You seem to have reconciled the indie ethos with the musicality side of things.
Connan – Oh right.
WD – Not something you’ve thought about?
Connan – No.
WD – Do you think that maybe one thing that defines the up and coming generation is they can play better?
Connan – Yeah, it makes it seem not just anyone can do it then, people got pretty lazy, because you don’t need to get good at it. I remember when I was 10 I just wanted to be a guitarist, but now I think ‘crap’.
WD – Who were you guitar heroes?
Connan – BB King, Hendrix, Clapton, Buddy Guy… all my Dad’s records. I like picking up the guitar just to surprise myself on it. I’m enjoying the singing more. The next record I want to be a pop singer, I just want to sing.
WD – Who are your current musical inspirations?
Connan – [long silence]. Um. Um. I don’t really listen to much music. [Turns to girlfriend] I like hearing what you play. I’m too lazy to collect. I don’t have an iPod. I have a computer but I don’t have much space on it so I have about 20 albums on it.
WD – If you were able to put together your dream band, who would be in it?
Connan – Probably Mica from Micachu. [Hot young classical composer and DJ from the UK]. I’ve been playing lots of shows with her and she’s been remixing some of my music. And Sam from Late From The Pier. Probably what I’m doing. I’m very lucky. If it was someone that was really big, like Prince, I would be too uncomfortable.
WD – You’re a painter, too?
Connan – I love drawing. I should be doing it a lot more. I’ve got an exhibition in London and LA and really good galleries, but I’m doing nothing. I’d like to do more, I just don’t have time at the moment.
WD – Do you see a crossover between music and the visual arts?
Connan – Yeah, definitely. I want to do more soundtrack work, it’s a bit of a dream to be doing that when I’m older. I did the soundtrack for a New Zealand film that’s doing really well called The Six Dollar Fifty Man. It won Cannes and Sundance awards. I’ve done a few others. I’d love to do that.
WD – Do you write music?
Connan – With notes? Only at an airport or something when I don’t have something to tape it on. It’s not perfect, but I can remember it from that.
WD – Anything else you want to say?
Connan – Mum. Buy my album.