"Then I went home and my mum insisted I make a record" - Why Connan Mockasin is a good boy
Radiohead, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Beck and Johnny Marr have all queued up to work with Connan Mockasin, but the shy New Zealander with the childlike voice says he often thinks of giving it all up
It takes only minutes for Connan Mockasin to casually mention something no fan wants to hear: the idea of quitting music. It’s not that things aren’t going well. Since releasing the funky pop odyssey Forever Dolphin Love in 2011, something about Connan – an enigmatic figure with tassels of blond hair and a childlike singing voice – has sparked an unlikely momentum.
Famous admirers, from Jarvis Cocker to Tyler, the Creator, have sprung up steadily. Radiohead invited him on tour; Charlotte Gainsbourg asked him to write songs with her; Beck and Johnny Marr have joined him on stage.
“It feels like it’s all been by mistake,” says Connan, a soft-spoken 30-year-old from New Zealand. He’s grateful for how things have turned out, he adds, but there’s no obligation to continue. If the ideas stop coming, if the excitement wears off, if it starts to feel like work, then he’ll walk away.
Today, however, is probably not the best time to discuss the issue. “I’ve had my first day off because I’m sick and I’ve spent it in a Paris hotel doing interview after interview, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who are successful. I’m only just starting a career and it feels like there’s no time to think for myself.”
This, it should be noted, comes across good-naturedly. There is no pretension to Connan. In fact, for someone trying to eat dinner while battling sniffles and fielding questions, he seems exceptionably polite and amiable.
It’s also worth noting that this is not the first time he’s considered leaving music. After moving to London in 2006 with his band Connan and the Mockasins, a warped blues outfit named after his ability to craft moccasins from motorbike tyres, he ran out of money quickly.
“My first six weeks, I was mostly homeless and living in parks. That was my first time overseas, which was really depressing. It took two or three years just to get comfortable.”
Though the band persevered, interest from the music industry gradually became overwhelming. Connan found himself in the unusual position of being asked to record an album with Fatboy Slim before he’d even made a full-length of his own. But, convinced that record advances were used to tempt musicians into sacrificing control, he grew disillusioned.
“I’d given up,” he says. “I was upset with how the industry seemed to work, so I decided I didn’t want to do music if that was the way things were done. Then I went back home and my mum insisted that I make a record. I didn’t think anyone would ever hear it, so I was just making it for her, really.”
Retreating to an abandoned house he believes was haunted, Connan created an imaginary soundtrack full of melodic vignettes about uniformed unicorns and Japanese genetics. When a friend heard a few songs, he couldn’t resist sharing them with London DJ Erol Alkan, who wanted to put them out through his Phantasy Sound label – on terms Connan felt comfortable with. The resulting record, Please Turn Me into The Snat, was released on Connan’s mother’s birthday in 2010, before being reissued as Forever Dolphin Love on a wider scale the next year.