Connan Mockasin - The RFB Interview
08 Nov 2013
"I think it’s weirder to try and be popular over doing something that you really believe in..." RFB chat to Connan Mockasin about being an artist and his new album, Caramel.
Words like ‘idiosyncratic’ and ‘psychedelic’ are frequently slung around in the direction of New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Connan Mockasin. It’s a lazy way of describing an artist who, by his own admission, doesn’t govern his actions in any pre-ordained way that would merit such tired and superfluous comments. Quite the contrary; Mockasin is a man who doesn’t like to plan things or think ahead too much, instead having his life dictated by his own stream-of-consciousness.
Mockasin’s second record Caramel has just been released courtesy of Erol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound imprint, the same label that recently delivered Dan Avery’s acid-tinged club album Drone Logic. It’s fair to say that in Phantasy, Mockasin has found a home that shares a similar zest for his own exploratory imagination. Recorded entirely by himself over a month spent in a Tokyo hotel room, the creative process behind Caramel only began because the artist thought that the word sounded quite nice and wanted to see what a caramel-inspired album would sound like. This in itself is as good a representation as any that Mockasin is the kind of guy who just does whatever he pleases whenever the mood happens to strike, regardless of what others may think of him.
I’ve read you don’t try to think too much while you’re composing music - why is that?
It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t know if it’s that or if I'm lazy. I do analyse some aspects of my life, but with music, I made my first record because my mum told me to release it. I wasn’t expecting it to be heard or released or anything. For my second album I just wanted to make a record called Caramel. I just like the word, I don’t know if it’s been used before but I just like the word. So then I just made what I thought a Caramel record would sound like. I just hear tunes in my head, especially while I’m excited. I don’t just sit down and write, I hear music and then try and figure out how to put it onto record. It just seems normal to me. You can hear everything, but then the work part is getting onto record, which can be scary.
Have you ever had an idea in your head but not been able to re-create it as you imagined it?
Yep. Although not that often, I’ve only done two records so I haven’t really started much… Sometimes it can happen for a positive reason as well. I don’t really like trying to do it straight away as I can hear it rather than working out parts in the instruments and refining it, I just want to get that first initial idea down and even if it seems like a mistake or really rough I’ll leave it and not listen to it or not delete it. Rather than doing loads of takes, just rush it and listen to it the next day. And usually it sounds better the next day.
Is that something you carry through in the recording process?
That’s what I have been doing, but I’m still pretty new to it.
Your first record was inspired by your mum telling you to make a record; has your family been instrumental to Caramel?
My mum has always been really encouraging. My dad’s more into music. He would play a lot of music growing up.
Did they encourage you to play instruments?
Yeah I can’t really remember. I started playing guitar because my friend was playing it. I just did it because he was doing it. I remember going to my dad’s work when I was really young. They’d sometimes have parties after work, and a guy there had a white electric guitar that I got to have a go on. That was really exciting; I didn’t know how to play it of course. I forgot about that! I must have been around five. I didn’t start playing guitar until nine or ten. You know what, out of all these interviews I’ve only just remembered that now! That was a real moment.
How does working with other musicians, like Charlotte Gainsbourg, translate to your solo work?
I only did one song for her and we recorded it together in the studio. I’m not very used to working in studios. I don’t like having too many buttons; I like having it small so I can understand it all and try things myself, it excites me more when there’s less options. I’ve worked with Sam from Late of the Pier, him and I have made a record together that comes out next year. We work in very similar ways so once we got used to each other it became very comfortable.
Do you have any plans for once your relationship with music comes to its natural conclusion?
I don’t know right now. I really want to do soundtracks for films if I got the opportunity. I really love designing and making small carnival amusement park rides, just small ones. I’d love to do that. I love a bit of surfing, not that I’d be able to be a professional. I really want to go on a surf trip with Kelly Slater and do a soundtrack to that. I’d like to try and make a movie. I’ve always loved painting, I’ve always done that but music has sort of stopped that.
Were soundtracks, art and film something you did a lot of before you started making music?
Yeah it’s same with music, I was just mucking around with those things. It’s the same as when I was a kid, it’s just a bit more serious now. There are actually people coming to shows and not just next door neighbours!
How does this attitude translate to when you’re on tour and playing live? In comparison to your creative process, it’s a very regimented lifestyle. How do you cope with that?
It’s nice having a balance of something like that for a while, and then not having it. Because it’s so different, it’s nice but it can get pretty exhausting. But it makes it all worthwhile when you have a really good show. I like that feeling when you get a connection with the audience. That’s why I get nervous as well, you just can’t control that stuff. You never know.
How does getting nervous before a show manifest itself?
I don’t do anything in particular - it just goes one way or another. Sometimes it just clicks and it’s completely relaxed. That’s when time goes really quick.
What do you do on the occasion it doesn’t click?
I feel horrible, really bad. I start thinking. And when you start thinking it’s really bad. You got to try and snap out of it, when you start to play mind games with yourself on stage it’s not good.
And finally, is there a certain image presented when you’re up on stage or recording as Connan Mockasin – or are you completely comfortable in your own skin?
Yeah I don’t feel any different, that’s why I really like playing shows when I’m comfortable. It confuses me when journalists call me a ‘weirdo’ or an ‘oddball’, the way I am feels normal to me. It’s a funny thing to call people weird for doing something they want to do instead of trying to be popular. I think it’s weirder to try and be popular over doing something that you really believe in. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t really know…
Connan Mockasin's Caramel is out now on Phantasy.