The inaugural video in our UO Live series, Connan Mockasin performs a live and unplugged version of “I Wanna Roll With You,” off Caramel, his second full-length album. We caught up with him and his band behind the scenes.
You can thank Connan Mockasin’s mom for bringing his music into the world. The New Zealand-born artist was living with his parents when he recorded his first solo record, Forever Dolphin Love, at home.
“I’ve done two records on my own,” he says. “The first record, I was pretty disheartened by the industry—still am in some ways—but the point is, I went back home to stay with my parents and I wasn’t really doing anything. And then my mum was telling me that I should make a record. And I was like, ‘No, no.’ Because I was kind of brainwashed into thinking you needed a producer, an engineer, a proper studio—da, da, da. And then mum was going, ‘No you don’t, you’ve got some equipment back home.’ So I just made a record on my own there, not thinking that it would ever be heard. And then it somehow got released and I started having to play shows all of a sudden and it just happened like that.”
The record “somehow got released” via influential British DJ and producer Erol Alkan, and brought Mockasin’s soulful, experimental grooves to the attention of Charlotte Gainsbourg, with whom he has collaborated and played backup band for, and Radiohead, who he supported on tour in 2012.
, released in November last year is, as its name suggests, Mockasin’s most deliciously slow-dance-ready yet, and sees him touring with a new line-up—a motley crew of musicians he picked-up from New York to London: Drummer Matt Eccles, bassist Nick Harsant, guitarist (and occasional bongo player) Rory McCarthy and keyboardist Sofia Karchi. (Fun fact: Mockasin met keyboardist-cum-manager Sofia on the Eurostar from Paris.)Hi everyone! Connan, can you tell us about the song you chose to perform for the first in our UO Live video series?Connan:
I recorded it in Tokyo in a hotel room. It was the one song that I’d written before I made the record and it had a caramel feel for me.How would you describe your outfit today? [Mockasin is wearing pale silk Chinese pajamas, an embroidered vest and black nurse’s clogs accessorized with a fencing sword he found on-set].Connan:
Where are you all based?
Connan: I’m not based anywhere at the moment, myself.
Nick: I’m in London, always in London.
Matt: New York
Sofia: I don’t have a place anywhere.
How did you all get together?
Nick: That’s a long one…
Connan: Matt and I met in London. Then I met Nick the day we played together. We met Sofia on a train and I helped with her luggage. I thought she was rude.
Sofia: I was just thinking, this poor man seems very tired, and he was already carrying so much, I didn’t think it was fair to ask for his help.
Connan: So we sit down and Sofia was one up from me but across the aisle and we sat chatting.
I met all of the other guys in Manchester at The Deaf Institute
. I came to see Connan; I had seen him a few times and he was a friend of a friend. He asked me to play bongos, which as a guitar player was a funny thing to be asked, but I ended up playing more bongos than guitar!
Matt: Rory just got up for an encore and never left!
What did you do for a living before you started playing music?
Connan: My last proper job was a gardener.
Rory: I as making fake teeth, which is ironic because I’m missing a tooth and I don’t have the tool here to make a replacement.
Band: How do you make a fake tooth?
Rory: I can go into it right now! It takes a lot of casts and semi-precious metals and all kinds of stuff...
So, how do you describe your sound?
Rory: “Sensitive rock”
Matt: "Café Soliel"
Nick: "Sleaze Rock"
Connan: "Wonka Dust"
You get pretty creative describing your sound. What about other people's descriptions? What do you make of it?
Rory: The weirdest one for me when you got called Auzzie-psych.
Sofia: Yeah, that was just wrong!
Rory: It’s fine but it’s wrong.
Nick: "Weirdo" always creeps up, which is strange. Aussie-weird. Psych-weirdo.
Connan: Or “Wellington Jazz Pianist”—that’s another funny one. I can’t play piano and I’m not from Wellington, either. I think it was on Wikipedia for a while, that’s why. It’s really hard to get things off Wikipedia. A lot of people run their interviews off Wikipedia and a lot of it’s wrong. So I wrote to them and said, “This is actually me and this is not true, can I take it off?” And then I got kicked off for trying to change it.
Your performances are very special: They’re atmospheric, wonderful and such an experience. How do you approach it as a band?
Matt: We try to make it different as much as we can.
It would be pretty maddeningly boring to do the same thing every night. Last night at the Bowery Ballroom we had a huge band. We had probably 20 people on stage!Within your music, do you feel like there is a commonality in your friendship?
Sofia: Fashion. I think that’s our common thing.
Connan: We enjoy hanging out together. I don’t know if it’s necessarily about music or enjoying the same music, but we do. Because you are doing the same thing a lot of the time: Going to the venue, setting up, playing, and going away. I think a lot of bands get disheartened and it starts affecting them.
Sofia: I think we just love each other so much and we genuinely really care about each other so much in our lives, and we are friends. It’s true. These guys are the most important guys in my life and every show is just about us having fun with the crowd and enjoying our job. It changes every time depending on our mood, but I think it’s love.
It must to be great to be so close and tour together. Are there any special moments on tour that you can share?
Matt: Tunisia was pretty cool.
Matt: Connan rode a camel to the stage.
Nick: With a Go-Pro
Connan: Which I had to hold! The camel would go down and up really quick and I was trying to hold on tight.
Matt: It took a long time to get to the stage as well. [Laughs]
Connan: Am I allowed to swear on this?
Connan: When we were in Tunisia, I had this moment—we were in a really nice hotel. That’s the thing, usually when you’re on tour you don’t get time to hang out on your own very often, but it was nice to have a day off and just spend it by myself in the hotel. I ordered a coffee and I rolled myself a cigarette and the sun was going down and I was standing on the balcony and there were camels walking along the beach. And I [dramatically mimics smoking a cigarette], I had my coffee and I was just like, 'Fuck yeah!' I spoke out loud to myself—‘Fuck yeah!’ I scared myself! [Laughs]. You know when you talk to yourself when you’ve been on your own all day? It was aggressive!
In general, what has touring been like?
Matt: It’s nice to play shows in America now. It’s always nice to go to new places and see how it goes.
Nick: People know the lyrics to songs. They’ve started to sing along, which didn’t happen before—our lyrics are pretty obscure. It’s pretty funny to see people sing what they think they’re hearing.
Sofia: I don’t know the lyrics!
Matt: Even we don’t and we’re all singing as well.
Connan: Even I don’t. [Band laughs]
What do you like to do when you’re not making music? What can you do when you're not touring that you can't on the road?
Connan: I watch a lot of surfing on the Internet and I love pasta.
Sofia: [Go on] dates. I feel like I've gone on more dates since I’m I the band so I’m happy about that. I think it’s a good thing, no?
Matt: Depends on the date really!
Sofia: Yep, it depends on the date. I had two dates in New York since I’ve been here! One good, one just okay.
Connan: They’re going to know who they are now.