Psych-pop sensation Connan Mockasin ventures into television

Photography/ Derek Henderson

Right Connan Mockasin, back in the public eye in  a starring role as the face of modern masculinity in  a Karen Walker eyewear campaign.

Mega-successful New Zealand psych-pop sensation Connan Mockasin Skypes me from his bedroom in Los Angeles. He is drinking a very full glass of red wine and dressed only in pyjama bottoms. It’s 2pm; outside it is 33 degrees.

He can’t move his computer so I can report only that his room has a white wall with a radiator attached to it, though a quick glimpse out the window reveals lush Californian palm trees. The Te Awanga-born composer of sunny, stoner-ey hits ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ and ‘Please Turn Me Into the Snat’ released his last album, Caramel, in 2013. Pretty soon, everyone from Kanye to Kendrick was embracing his dreamy vibes and Bee Gee-tastic vocals. Now, Mockasin has a TV show in the works.  

JULIE HILL Footage of your dad Ade singing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with your band [on an Auckland rooftop during a Barkers Sundae Session for The New Zealand Herald in 2015] is one of my favourite things on the internet. Does he play in public often?
CONNAN MOCKASIN No, he doesn’t. When he was younger he used to have bands. I love hearing him sing, so when we have a chance to play, we usually do that song. We print out the lyrics for him and he carries them around with him. I’ve been wanting to do a record with him for a few years now and so we’re going to work on that in Marfa [Mockasin curates an annual music festival, Marfa Myths, in Texas, for his US record label Mexican Summer]. We’ve never done it before so we’ll see how it goes.

What are you up to? When do you have a new album coming out?
I recorded one last year in Paris with my touring band for the first time. Normally I work alone, but it was easy because we’ve been playing together for a long time. You can try something that would normally take a day on your own, but if it doesn’t work, with a group of people you can figure it out in two minutes. It was very easy, quick and fun. And last year I filmed a five-part series that will be part of the record. It’s about a teacher who falls for a male student who he thinks is a girl. He’s got a band called Jazzbusters, this music teacher, and that’s the band that’s in the music for the record as well. I’ll be releasing the first four episodes then playing the last one at movie theatres and we’ll be performing as the Jazzbusters.

Are you playing the music teacher?
I'm Mr Boston.

From Boston and Dobson [a legendary early Mockasin comic series]?

Yeah, my next-door neighbour and my brothers and I used to do these comics and videos, since our early teens, so I got my next-door neighbour to come over here and we made sets and got cameras and stuff. I’ll show you [he fetches a large book]. So, this is the storyboard for each episode. We’ve being doing this since we were kids, and we’ve both been wanting to do it all these years and now just seemed like a good time, the right time to do it. So we’ll have the first episode out in October. We’re just waiting to confirm the right partner for that, the right platform to put it out on, whether television or online.

What does it sound like?
It’s quite serious. The show is a drama, or someone said a melodrama. It’s not a comedy.

I was expecting it to be a comedy.
No. And the music’s serious. It’s not, like, silly or anything. I wanted it to be something that a music teacher’s band would have made. Sorry, that’s not a great description.

You seem to enjoy putting restrictions on yourself when you record. 
I knew what cameras I wanted to use – old broadcast cameras – and how many. There were going to be four or five sets that would be built in a space and everything was going to be within that. Studios don’t excite me because there’s infinite options and too many buttons. It stresses me out. If you don’t have much to work with, you can always figure out a way of making the sounds that you’ve got in your head. So yeah, you’re right. I did have a limited way of making this one too.

Do you like acting?
I wouldn’t be very good if I had to remember lines. I wouldn’t be a good actor in that sense. But I really enjoy it. And I’m in the right city for it. I should get an agent.

Is everyone trying to make it in LA?
I’d hate to be in this city if I was here trying to make it. It wouldn’t be a nice place to be. It’s funny, but I only find it funny because I’m not involved with it, otherwise I’d find it depressing. There’s a lot of… Botox. It’s weird.

After Caramel, there was a fast uptake of your sound.
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of hip-hop artists tell me that they’ve been really into it.

Like who?
Like Tyler, The Creator; and Vince Staples. I mean, they’re all in the same circles. And whatshisname, Frank Ocean.

Kendrick Lamar?
Kendrick I’ve not met before but yeah… I’ve been getting some emails. I’ve been wanting to work with Kendrick. But I’ve got loads of work myself right now, I’m working to a deadline. The band has done all the Jazzbusters stuff but now we have to do all the soundtrack work and all the editing. It’s all new for me.

You’re the face of Karen Walker’s new range of eyewear for men. She says in the press release, “it just felt like the right time to reassess the concept of modern masculinity”. Are you the face of modern masculinity?
What a question. I need time to think about that. That’s very flattering though, from Karen.

How did it come about?
I just got asked, and I was in the country at the time, and I’ve met Karen before in Te Awanga. And I know Derek Henderson, the photographer who took the shots. I just got a message out of the blue from Derek, and I was in the country, so it was just one of those fairly simple things, nothing complicated about it.

Are you into fashion?
I like clothes but I’m not big on fashion. I don’t find anything interesting about following fashion, I don’t find anything clever about it. But I do like clothes and things. Does that make sense?

Yes. When I first saw you [at Indigo in Wellington, circa 15 years ago], you played guitar behind your back like Jimi Hendrix. Do you look back on that time fondly?
Not really. Because I felt like I was trying to rip off Jimi Hendrix and that started to bore me. I liked even earlier than that, when I had a band called Grandpa Moff with my next-door neighbour. And before that, when I was really young, we had a band called The Four Skins because we had four of us in the band and four drumskins. It was really exciting being that naive, I really miss that. You’ll only get that once. I remember being asked to support a band in Wellington years and years ago called Paselode [an early Millennium Wellington band], and that was more exciting than being asked to support Radiohead on their tour. I was definitely excited to play with Radiohead too, but just having done a lot more over those years has made me… but you find it in different things, and that’s why I’m doing a TV show that hopefully gets on television. That will be new for me, rather than just doing another record.

How’s your comedy career going?
I do sporadic stand-up around here and other cities if something pops up.

Is it a backup option if you ever leave music behind?
No, comedy is not an option. I love painting, as well. I drew and painted before music and that was my main passion, and I’ve been in talks about doing my first exhibition in Tokyo. But just before touring I’d like to make another record. Me and [British songwriter] James Blake have been talking about making a record together. He lives just up the road. And there’s a few other people I’m not allowed to mention in case it doesn’t happen. But I’d like to make another record, on my own or with someone. 

Connan Mockasin’s eight best YouTube moments.

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. For the encore of an epic live set on an Auckland rooftop for Barkers Sundae Sessions during a trip home in 2015, Mockasin’s dad Ade Hosford joins the band on stage, lyrics in hand, to sing a heartwarming version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

2. Skies Are For Flying. “When I was a young girl,” sings an adorable younger Mockasin in this song from his 2004 EP Naughty Holidays, while playing a wind-up clock and riding in a magical boat with his original band, The Mockasins.

3. I’m The Man, That Will Find You. This 2013 music video, one of the creepiest in living memory, finds Mockasin stalking a beautiful lady around her mansion, going topless in a hot tub and performing an incredible combat roll down some carpeted stairs.

4. Faking Jazz Together. In a beret, braids and silk pyjamas, Mockasin plays a deliciously languid version of the song from his debut album Please Turn Me into the Snat, at no less than London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2016.

5. Lying Has to Stop. Soft Hair is Mockasin’s duo with Sam Dust. Here, Dust writhes while Mockasin dances like a busting toddler, crooning, “I like to watch you run/but I’ll never touch your bum”.

6. Forever Dolphin Love. In this 2011 music video, Mockasin escapes from a painting to wander the streets of London, where he shops for a cellphone and falls in love with a dolphin.

7. She Lives In My Lap. Mockasin is big in France. He even met his French keyboardist and manager Sofia Karchi on the Eurostar. Here, he covers Outkast in a session acoustique for France’s OÜI FM.

8. Ashes to Ashes. Continuing the French theme, Mockasin plays the Bowie classic live on French TV with his collaboratrice, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, in 2012.