Connan Mockasin Heats Up Caramel
ABOVE: CONNAN MOCKASIN. PHOTO BY LILI PEPER
There is a smooth fluctuation between warmth and briskness on this particular Brooklyn afternoon. It is the second day of the Mexican Summer Festival, and New Zealand artist Connan Mockasin is performing on U.S. soil for the first time. Led by an unorthodox creative instinct, Mockasin has shaped a forum of sound where jazz, blues, funk, and psychedelic melody effortlessly cohere.
With his 2010 debut Forever Dolphin Love, Mockasin drew us into a galaxy of sound, dreamlike and peculiar. Distorted, jazz-soaked melodies introduced us to an artist willing to throw himself into the various soundscapes of his imagination—and into the musician’s life, supporting Radiohead and collaborating with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Recorded over the course of one month in a Tokyo hotel room, his sophomore record Caramel is full of blues-tinged guitar and smooth funk. “Why Are You Crying” is a six-minute track that includes sobbing and panting. Here, his naturally experimental sound takes full effect while remaining within the boundaries of funk laden rhythm. On the track “Do I Make You Feel Shy?” [below], Mockasin sings, “Tell me that you’ll never leave me, tell me the way that you need me” above subtly mutated sounds that all culminate into something deliciously alluring.
Ahead of his first U.S. performance, we caught up with Mockasin in the garden of the Pioneer Works building to discuss the new album, Steven Segal, and his favorite comedies.
J.L. SIRISUK: This is your first performance in America?
CONNAN MOCKASIN: Yeah.
SIRISUK: This really surprises me. I’ve been listening to your stuff for so long and assumed you must have played here before.
MOCKASIN: I don’t know why I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to for a long time. It’s kind of tricky, but I’m sure we will now.
SIRISUK: Have you visited New York before?
MOCKASIN: I’ve been once before. A long time ago, in 2007.
SIRISUK: You’re currently based back in the UK?
MOCKASIN: I’m in the U.K., yeah, in Manchester at the moment.
SIRISUK: I used to live there!
MOCKASIN: Did you really?
SIRISUK: I lived in the outskirts, in Radcliffe.
MOCKASIN: Ah, okay. I’ve mostly been in London since I moved here about eight years ago. But at the moment I’ve got a room in Manchester.
SIRISUK: How do you like it out there?
MOCKASIN: I’m not really there very often, so I don’t actually know it very well. I’ve hardly been.
SIRISUK: I heard you really like the word “caramel.” When did the word just pop up at you?
MOCKASIN: I just liked it and I thought it was a nice name for a record, just as simple as that. Then I wanted to make a record that sounded like what I thought caramel would sound like. So I just had a month to do it in a hotel in Tokyo. I like having limitations with recording and just bringing my own small amount of equipment. It just excited me, the idea to do it there. My dad had a major heart attack back in New Zealand so I went back for a while and canceled all the shows that we had, and so I stayed there for a bit and it’s halfway between Europe and Japan. And it looks to me that it’s quite mysterious—Tokyo.
SIRISUK: So what was that process like, when you decided to go to Tokyo?
MOCKASIN: It just excited me to make a record. I made the first record, Forever Dolphin Love, because my mum told me that I should make a record, and I moved to the U.K. about eight years ago. It was my first time overseas, and I thought it would be easy enough to get a house and stuff and ended up living in parks for nearly two months, just being homeless, and it was really, really, really hard. We started doing some shows with the band that we had together and started talking with record labels and put out a 7-inch. I didn’t like the industry, how it was, “This is how you have to make a record with this producer, in this studio, and we want this kind of song,” and blah blah. It just didn’t interest me, so I went back home and my parents have a place right by the sea, good for surfing and relaxing. And that’s how I’d rather do work back at the vineyard and just do nothing, than to do this, if this is what being in the music biz is about.
SIRISUK: Instead of having those restrictions.
MOCKASIN: My mum forced me to make a record. I got quite excited about the idea of doing whatever I liked without anyone telling me what to do. It was never meant to be released; I didn’t expect anyone else to ever hear it. So it’s all by mistake, it’s really strange to be here. So maybe that’s why I haven’t been here playing. [laughs] I’m having a lot of fun.
SIRISUK: It’s nice that you didn’t want to have those restrictions on your creativity.
MOCKASIN: Exactly. I felt like making this Caramel record, but I’m not sure if I’m making more, or I’ll see if I’m still enjoying it. I’ll just take it as it comes and see.
SIRISUK: So what was the process like once you got to Tokyo and were at the hotel?
MOCKASIN: I just had a little bit of equipment, and I had to be quiet in the hotel without annoying people too much. I mostly recorded on my own but had my drummer come for a little bit and had some Japanese people coming and hanging out. It was just really simple and funny, lots of fun. Then you go outside and it’s Tokyo.
SIRISUK: It seems like a very animated city. Did you feel that it added something to your music?
MOCKASIN: It must have. You’re in an Oriental country—I got this. [points at his jacket]
SIRISUK: I noticed. It’s very cool looking.
MOCKASIN: I got lots of clothes from there. [laughs] Yeah, I’m sure it did. I mean, you don’t think about it, and then it’s really strange doing interviews about it, like, “I’m not sure what.”
SIRISUK: It’s just a natural thing.
MOCKASIN: Yeah, it’s almost like being at a shrink session or something. “Oh, and maybe that’s why I did that.”
SIRISUK: “I’m the Man That Will Find You” is a great track.
MOCKASIN: Oh, thank you!
SIRISUK: Very funky, too.
MOCKASIN: Does it sound caramel-y to you? I mean, it will make more sense to the record.
SIRISUK: It sounds a bit like the textures of caramel.
SIRISUK: What would you say if you were trying to articulate some of the main ingredients of caramel?
MOCKASIN: Sort of smooth, feeling relaxed and easy, just simple. A little bit slick, nothing too complicated. I think I was aware that we’d be having to play these songs live, so I wanted to make it a bit easier. The last record, I never thought it was going to be released, so it was a surprise and it was really hard to play them live. So I wanted to make something a little bit easier.
SIRISUK: You’ve done work with Charlotte Gainsbourg in the past—do you plan on working with her some more?
MOCKASIN: Yeah, we’ve been doing some more. I did one song for her and we recorded it together—that was a couple of years ago, and then we got on really well and did some shows together and some bits and pieces, but we spent a couple of weeks recently doing some writing on an island in France. That was really nice, so we might do a record or something together.
SIRISUK: Any other plans if you don’t make another record after Caramel? What are other things that interest you?
MOCKASIN: I don’t know. Before I was doing this, I used to paint a lot, and I love doing that. I’d like to maybe do a little bit of that, I really don’t know. I like soundtracks. I’d love to make soundtracks for films and stuff one day.
SIRISUK: So, visuals?
MOCKASIN: Or something that’s not anything to do with music or art.
SIRISUK: I once read that you mentioned stand-up.
MOCKASIN: Oh, yeah, I’d like to do a bit of stand-up. I wouldn’t be really good, but I’d like to do it. I like getting nervous. It kind of makes me excited. I think doing that would be really nerve-wracking, just to stand there and try to make jokes.
SIRISUK: Are there any comedians you really like?
MOCKASIN: [laughs] I don’t know anything about comedy. I like going to bad comedy nights and watching, especially when they’re seriously trying to be funny.
SIRISUK: I read somewhere that you don’t really listen to a lot of music.
MOCKASIN: Yeah, I’m just lazy with collecting and listening. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPod or anything. It’s too much music to sift through to collect. Maybe when I have my own house, which would be nice. Have my own place where I don’t have to keep traveling around.
SIRISUK: So in terms of influences would you say they don’t necessarily come from other musicians?
MOCKASIN: We lived by the sea and by vineyards and farmland, and there’s a lot of rubbish, like steel and stuff, so my parents were really encouraging of letting us make things in the yard. My mum was particularly encouraging of us to do what excited us.
I got really excited about playing guitar when I was young because I was watching a Steven Segal movie, Under Siege 2, and there was this [imitates a guitar riff] and it was Jimi Hendrix. I’d never heard it before. I said to my mum, “What’s this? This is amazing,” and she said it’s a man called Jimi Hendrix, and we got a record, Band of Gypsys. She played it for me, and I was like, “This is amazing. I want to play it.” So I put it on tape and just kept replaying bits and trying to figure it out.
SIRISUK: So it’s because of a Steven Segal movie? I’ll have to go back and watch Under Siege 2 and try to pick up on that guitar part.
MOCKASIN: Yeah, it’s the part where there’s panning over the ship.
SIRISUK: Do you have a favorite movie?
MOCKASIN: The three movies that I’ve probably watched the most would be Hall Pass, Ghosts, and Endless Summer 2, which is a surfing movie. Those are the three movies I’ve probably seen 20 times.
CARAMEL IS OUT NOW VIA MEXICAN SUMMER RECORDS. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT THE ARTIST’S FACEBOOK PAGE.