You probably wouldn’t guess it from looking at him or even listening to his music, but Connan Mockasin is friends with Tyler, the Creator. On the day we meet, the only hint of any rap ties is the Power 105 shirt plastered with a picture of Eve just barely sticking out underneath his black blazer. Like Tyler, Mockasin is tall, thin and lanky. Unlike Tyler, he has long blond hair and apologizes for talking too much, even though the only reason we’re together is so that I can hear him speak. He blames the coffee.
Over the past couple of years, Mockasin, who’s originally from New Zealand, has attracted attention from many more than just one wild and creative rapper from LA (although he sounds most excited about that one). His first album, Forever Dolphin Love, was rated 7.1/10 on Pitchfork and just last year he opened for Radiohead on the New Zealand and Australian leg of their tour. On November 5th at the age of 30, Mockasin is about to release his second album, Caramel. This one doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before.
Mass Appeal: I feel like Caramel transports listeners to another world. Did you imagine a different world while recording it?
Connan Mockasin: Well, I was in Japan. That’s a weird world. Everything’s different — the people, the atmosphere. It attracts me. I like it there a lot. It’s very alien. The people there are just so cute. We had some Japanese people come over and stay quite often and have little parties and all go out for dinner. Nothing too crazy.
MA: I read that you said this album is supposed to sound like caramel.
CM: It’s smooth, slick. I came up with the name of the record first and then made the music for what I thought a record called Caramel should sound like. It’s a simple record I didn’t want to make it complicated. It’s just simple caramel sounding.
MA: How would you describe your sound in general?
CM: I like to call it sensitive rock, but I don’t go, ‘Ok, I’m going to make this type of music.’ It’s just whatever I’m hearing at the time that I’m doing it. I don’t sit down and write music. I just hear things and if I could put them onto recording, I do.
MA: You don’t really listen to new music, right?
C: I just don’t have a collection. I’m very lazy with lots of stuff and one of them is collecting music. I would like to have a record collection when I’ve got a settled place and I’m not going to keep moving. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPod or anything on my computer. Just last night we were out and there was a song that I liked. I will never remember the name or go out to find it and download it.
MA: How did you get into making music?
CM: I’ve always liked it. I started playing guitar when I was quite young because my friend was doing it. I got obsessed with it for a year or two and then I got sick of it. I’ve never really played since except for shows.
MA: And then you moved to London with a band to get back into it?
CM: I wasn’t too keen on the industry when I first moved to London. I was working at a vineyard just picking grapes and stuff at home and then I thought ‘Oh, it’ll be exciting to try and do shows,’ so we moved to London. It was my first time overseas and it ended up being really tough. I was homeless, living in parks for a little while. We ended up doing some shows and getting a little bit of label interest, but the labels were always saying ‘We’ll sign you and you don’t have to work anymore,’ but you have to make songs like this with this producer and this studio. I was like ‘Fuck this,’ so I went back home. Then one day mom was saying ‘You have to make an album.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know how to record.’ I had a few bits of equipment around, but she was like ‘Yeah, you should make a record it’ll be good.’ I got quite excited that anyone wanted to listen to anything, but it was kind of just for mom and myself. That ended up getting released by mistake really. That was Forever Dolphin Love.
MA: By mistake?
CM: There’s a DJ and producer in the UK Erol Alkan who has a label called Phantasy. He ended up hearing a couple of tracks and asked me to come to his place to play him the record. I went to his house and he said, ‘I really want to release it’ and he seemed like a nice person so I was like, ‘Yeah, you can go for it.’
MA: I heard that you used to build carnival rides.
C: Yeah, I did. I was actually thinking today how much I would love to make a much better ghost train now. My mom and dad bought me a welder when I was really young and we had a lot of steel and stuff from the vineyards, so my brothers and I used to make rides. Most of them didn’t work, but I was just really obsessed with the way they folded up into trucks and the whole atmosphere. There’s something about it. My mom would take me to the carnival in the closest town when they would set up. We could see them fold it up and after school we’d go and take photos. There’s something about the traveling and that they fold up. We kind of do that in a weird way playing shows because you’re traveling to a new place and setting up.
MA: A ghost train is similar to a haunted house. Do you like Halloween?
C: Actually that’s when we used to set up our carnival. We had all our rides set up and other kids would come, and we were kids too, so it wasn’t that weird. They would pay us in lollys (lollipops) to ride the ghost house or the giant swing and stuff like that. We had those games that you could never win. You know the hoop? It’s like a bottle, but you have a square thing coming up and then it’s cut on a 45 degree angle so there’s no way the hoop fits on it, only if it’s peeerrrrfectly done.
MA: Can you tell me about working with Fatboy Slim?
CM: I was really young it was at least seven years ago. He wanted to produce and release a record before I’d made one, so I went and stayed at his place and recorded some songs with him and I decided I wasn’t feeling it. Even though it was a lot of fun it wasn’t quite right, but we still stayed in touch. Then, when he was making a record he wanted me to sing on it. He just let me sing any word I wanted. It was kind of like being directed in a way, I was just doing whatever he wanted.
MA: Do you like hip hop?
CM: I do. I really like Andre 3000. I don’t know much about hip hop, but I’ve been in touch with Tyler, The Creator. He’s been saying really nice things about me. For me, hip hop is completely new. It seems like there’s no boundaries, which is really exciting for me.
MA: Have you and Tyler worked together?
CM: No, but I would love to. I should put it out there. We email. It’s really flattering and all that stuff seems completely new to me. I find band stuff or, as they call it indie, which isn’t even really indie, boring and limiting and that’s not the way that hip hop seems. Maybe if you’re within those things there are the limits, but it seems like there are no boundaries. You can do what you like. It seems really free.
Interested? Stream Caramel now on Soundcloud.