This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes Issue.4, Autumn 2014.
Words by India Windsor-Clive
Photos by Eddie Wrey
A musician who doesn’t listen to music, recorded his latest album in a hotel room in Tokyo, and whose name derives from previous days spent crafting shoes out of sheepskin and recycled bike tyres, Connan Mockasin is anything but conventional. Born Connan Tant Hosford in the small beachside town of Te Awanga, New Zealand, Connan puts his career down to a series of lucky accidents, and his mum.
As far as rights of passage go, Connan Mockasin has recorded a live Boiler Room, had a song covered by Anna Calvi and David Byrne, and kissed Mac DeMarco. However, he notes Andre 3000’s The Love Below as the last record that made an impression on him over a decade ago. He was also given a Metronomy record, but it was only a year later that he discovered he was playing it at the wrong speed. Even his own songs don’t get an airing, “It’s a shame because I can’t enjoy what I do. Once it’s released I don’t listen to it.”With long, wispy, platinum-blonde hair adding to his Andy Warhol-esque manner and an offbeat sense of humour comparable to Ariel Pink, it’s as if Connan hails from another time, or dimension. But behind a quiet demeanour and modest nonchalance lies extraordinary talent.
Connan did listen to some music growing up, discovering Jimi Hendrix while watching the Steven Segal movie Under Siege 2 with his mum. He was performing from a young age, starting his own band around the age of ten or eleven, “We mostly played covers and we’d make up a few bluesy songs. We were called, my dad named it actually, The Foreskins. I didn’t know what a foreskin was, but we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah we’ve got four skins on the drum kit and there’s four of us – that’s a great name!’ I had no idea at the time.” It’s only after intervals of making moccasins, welding homemade fantasy fairground rides in the garden, and painting that Connan returned to music.
He first made an appearance in 2006 with his Sixties blues-sounding group Connan and the Mockasins. After spending six weeks in London sleeping on park benches and working bars, the trio began to gain recognition, recording a track with Fatboy Slim and releasing a single via Parlophone Records. After turning down a number of unappealing offers, Connan returned home disillusioned by the venal industry. It wasn’t until his mother urged him to make a record that he got back into making music, “I was being brainwashed into thinking you had to have a producer, a label, an engineer etc. and she was like, ‘No you don’t’; she’s good like that.” Connan picked up a tape machine and self-released what became the intergalactic and lo-fi outsider funk odyssey Forever Dolphin Love after being unexpectedly picked up by DJ and producer Erol Alkan; “I was embarrassed by it; I didn’t want anyone to hear it.”
In contrast to Forever Dolphin Love’s expansive and psychedelic patchwork of derailed electronics, his latest album Caramel is intimate and sultry. Similarly uninhibited musical arrangements are now moulded with slinky 80s R&B and a flirtatious groove. Syrupy and meandering, the album is what Connan Mockasin thinks caramel sounds like.A collection of spacey synths, euphoric melodies,moans and pitch-warped vocals either reverberate into outer space or echo inside an underwater stethoscope. One track begins with peculiar breathy sobs as a deep computerised voice repeatedly asks, “Why are you crying?” And they are genuine tears: “It wasn’t supposed to be real, but I got a little bit carried away.” Peppered with the voices and laughter of friends visiting his Tokyo hotel room, Caramel immerses you in a softly focused, lucid dream where anything goes amid ruffled sheets and goose-down pillows.
Ignoring every protocol in pop music, Connan’s spontaneous and unprocessed experimental soundscapes offer up something new on every listen. Connan’s enjoyment in delivering off-the-wall performances to a cult following outweighs any fears of compromise or feeling ‘trapped’ in the paraphernalia of the industry, for now. Whether it is another infectious album, a foray into painting, or something else entirely, we stand by for the next pearl to surface from his scintillating imagination.