Connan Mockasin

INTERVIEW: Connan Mockasin was inside you this whole time

The pop star who fell to earth makes music with a universal sense of play.

- May 5, 2014

"[Record labels] were telling me I could quit my day job but I'd have to work with this person, make songs that sound like this," recounts New Zealand psynger/psongwriter Connan Mockasin. "It was awful. I freaked out and went home."

Connan Mockasin discusses his 2006 encounter with record industry hawks like he's recalling the sound of a gun go off point blank in his face. "It would have killed anything I had." And while his cartoonishly surreal visions, like the wryly exaggerated lothario he's adopted for sophomore album Caramel, are too distinctive to seem fragile, their spirit isn't entirely alien.

Mockasin - nicknamed for his talent at making shoes out of old tires on his parents' home in Te Awanga, New Zealand - defines his work with a strong sense of play. It's a feeling he's been chasing all his life: "I’ve always grown up making projects," he says. "At the moment it’s making records." As a child, he would build roller coasters from scrap steel. Sometimes they would even work. "It feels the same now that I’m an adult. I’ve turned it into a career. It feels good."

Have you ever seen a picture or a word and a whole atmosphere comes off it? "Caramel" was like that for me.

Connan Mockasin
 Following his brush with the industry, Mockasin eventually joined with Erol Alkan's Phantasy Sound to release Forever Dolphin Love in 2010. His first album's devoted fan base includes Tyler, the Creator and Radiohead, who took him on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The follow-up, Caramel, is split evenly between the goopy, goofy sex jams and piercing vulnerability. His funky-yet-finely-coiffed guitar tone and creaky falsetto both offer knowing smirks and fascinating spritely head trips, like the proggy 16-minute excursion "It's Your Body" that dominates the second side of the album.

Connan Mockasin - I'm The Man, That Will Find You (Official Video)

"Have you ever seen a picture or a word and a whole atmosphere comes off it?" he asks "'Caramel' was like that for me. Naughty, flirty, smooth, slick sounding music. That got me going. I couldn't write anything that didn't sound like caramel to me."

Especially with that album cover, his eccentricity carries Prince's multitool vagueness with a ragged Lost Boys grit. But it's easy for these layers to get lost in this, the era of the winky-face troubadour. Perhaps that's why Mockasin is wary when I talk to him on the phone: "Promoting a record is all quite new to me and it sort of stifles everything. It doesn’t get me going, the way the record industry is now. Feels like it’s not as important anymore, to make a record that is a record."

There are good distractions and bad, I suppose. For the writing and recording of Caramel, Connan displaced himself entirely. He stayed in a Tokyo hotel for a month, relishing this new "alien" strain of isolation: "I love being alone. I kind of get overcrowded if I’m around people too much. When you’re far away in places you don’t know, it’s far more relaxing." Describing the process as a series of "shrink sessions," he taps into something more honest than his pencil moustache signifies.

Connan Mockasin - Do I Make You Feel Shy? (Official Video)

Mockasin has a penchant for characters in his songs. His latest leisure suited devil is a more confident version of himself, he admits. And Caramel's first track "Nothing Lasts Forever" is a goodbye to Forever Dolphin Love's titular porpoise by a paramore named The Boss. Touches like these offer tastes of an intriguing free-association storybook existing outside of music. The atmospheres on Caramel aren't delicate things, but rich with personality and very nearly tactile.

For the artist, the recipe is integrity. "I want to be proud of what I do rather than cringe later in life." Whatever galaxy he visits next, he'll make us feel right at home.

Connan Mockasin plays Lee's Palace tonight (Monday, May 5) in Toronto.

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