Let’s start with the facts. Connan Mockasin is: a surfer, a former vineyard employee, an ex-member of London’s homeless community. Connan Mockasin is not: a flirt. In light of the singer/songwriter’s sensual sophomore album, the idea that Mockasin doesn’t profess to having much of a romantic side may come as a surprise. “I light candles on the beach,” he says, then immediately follows with, “No, I’m just being silly now.”
Perhaps it’s that he chooses to save seduction for his music. A collection of R&B songs with a woozy pop sheen, Caramel is an album with bedroom eyes. Vocals are pitched from a Barry White-style croon to a Prince-like falsetto (with occasional bouts of heavy breathing thrown in for good measure).
But as the conversation turns away from romantic notions, it becomes easy to see just how different Mockasin is from his Caramel persona. Innately polite, he apologizes for conducting the interview over a bowl of soup, and often pauses to make sure he understands the full meaning of a word or question, lest he accidentally give a knee-jerk answer. It’s clear that Mockasin prefers to look at the larger picture, often chalking his creative journey up to luck. He admits that he often discovers new facets of his personality through music. “But I could be doing something else and learning stuff,” he adds demurely.
Laura Studarus joined the enigmatic Kiwi for a chat about flirting with the mainstream, life in New Zealand, and taking notes from his biggest fan.
On his sweet as candy album title:
A record called Caramel has to be quite flirty. I wanted to make a record called Caramel, and I wanted it to sound like a record that would be called Caramel. I needed it to be slick and fluid-y, which is what caramel feels like to me. Smooth soul, fluid music…I figured I’d sex it up. I’m not a great flirter, as you can tell. I like to think of myself as one, but I don’t think I am. It’s easy to flirt on a record. There’s no rejection there.
On moving from New Zealand to England:
I’d never been overseas before. I’d only just been on my first airplane. I wasn’t very well traveled. I was very naïve as well. I came over with not much. I ended up being homeless for a little while. It was quite scary. It was really hard, but also incredible. I didn’t think it would be that intense. But it was. It was really different. Everything over there is very slow and relaxed. It takes time to adjust going back there.
On the New Zealand music scene:
There’s some really good music in New Zealand. But it gets hidden away. The good thing about New Zealand, they try to copy things that they like in America and the UK. That’s the main influence, but they usually get it a bit wrong, and it ends up sounding like its own thing in a way. That’s quite a positive thing. On a whole, it’s a country that really looks up at the rest of the world and feels a bit insecure. It always wonders what the rest of the world thinks of it, when we’re actually not thinking about New Zealand every day. Well, we might think about Lord of the Rings every now and then.
On touring with Crowded House:
Neil Finn has been a great supporter of what I’ve been doing. Some of the audience was a bit confused. It’s really hard — you do feel like you’re a bit of a nuisance, and that everyone is waiting for you to get off so they can see who they’ve come to see. But there are some bands I really want to support. Radiohead is one of them, and we were lucky enough to do that last year. Grizzly Bear as well. They’ve got nice, supportive audiences that are open to listening to something new.
On staying honest while making music:
You learn things about yourself on the way, but I could be doing something else and learning stuff. I’m not doing it to learn about myself necessarily. I’m enjoying it. I feel really lucky. No one [at the label has] changed anything or said I needed more singles. That’s why I originally shied away from the industry when I first came over here — I was getting told by the labels that if I was going to sign with them, this is what’s going to happen. That’s why I decided not to. No one trusts you when you haven’t made anything before.
On his biggest fan:
My mom told me I should make a record on my own. That’s what became my first record, Forever Dolphin Love. I don’t actually know how she feels about Caramel. I should give her a call very shortly. She was the first person to hear how the last record was going. Maybe I’m a little bit scared that she doesn’t like it as much.
On unusual guitar use:
The car race and siren and crash in “It’s Your Body 3″ are all done on guitar. I was thinking about trying to record a real one outside, but it excited me more this way. I like making sounds on instruments, especially sounds that are day-to-day. It’s the bit that I’m really proud of and no one has asked me about it. I’m looking forward to trying it live.