The rise and rise of HAAi
The faintly salty breeze blowing in from the channel is deliciously soothing as I wander along Brighton’s seafront to meet CONNAN MOCKASIN. It’s lunchtime on day two of The Great Escape and the sun is blazing its approval. I’m listening to the aquatically appropriate Forever Dolphin Love (listen above): the sprawling, seductive heart of Connan’s debut album proper ‘Please Turn Me Into The Snat’. It’s a heavily scented wonder of a song that takes its time revealing itself but when it does – BAM – you’re in its grasp. That experience is reflective of the entire album: a sensual triumph that languorously levitates somewhere between psychedelic Rock and far eastern Folk. It’s full of beguiling language, mystical ideas and stirring instrumentation. There’s also humour, without straying into whimsical territory. In fact, so much about him calls to mind early Syd Barrett, though Connan’s perspective on the world is eccentric rather than erratic.
We meet in the courtyard of Skint Records where he’ll perform in the sun to Norman Cook, Egyptian Hip Hop (download their Dummy Mix here) and various other music types in an hour or so. But first we toddle off to a generic seafront restaurant for a glass of red wine and a chat. Dressed in blue cotton long sleeved t-shirt and trousers, like an off-duty Cold War era astronaut someone later comments, Connan is open and friendly yet also a little shy. Compliments about his album seem to take him aback; thanks are timidly spoken through his scruffy white blonde fringe. Which is funny because timid is something he absolutely isn’t. There is a calm aura about him but it’s the kind of peacefulness that commands attention. When he’s on stage everything runs at his pace; the audience awaits his glance to applaud. It’s a pretty incredible thing to witness, seeing as – in his own words – he’s just been “floating around for ages”. That floating around, however, has included a couple of small releases with his old band (then called Connan and the Mockasins), a track with Cook, a string of gigs at Durrr and his fair share of touring, supporting Late Of The Pier amongst others. There was interest from labels but every potential deal called for creative compromises, something very much at odds with his sensibilities. Plus he’d slowly fallen out of love with the band’s musical direction. “I got really bored of it, and couldn’t get out of it so I was stuck doing that for ages. Eventually we broke up, it was bubbling up for ages. And then I went back to New Zealand for a while and started working on this record, eventually after hanging around for 8 months or so smoking pot,” he laughs.
Holed up at his parent’s house in Te Awanga, a little beach village in the North Island of New Zealand, it was actually his mum who prompted him to make the album. “She said ‘you have to make a record, what are you going to do otherwise?’ So I was like, fair enough.” Going solo has clearly been the making of Connan, and in Phantasy he’s finally found a label that’s allowed him to fully indulge his singular vision, including taking a sequential approach to writing the album. “I’ve never really recorded music before, produced stuff – apart from little bits here and there. I’m no computer whiz or geek at all. It’s just trusting your ears and having a go. I kept listening back to hear what you’d want to hear next and pretty much wrote what it felt like what should happen next.” The album was written and recorded in stints between tours in his parent’s house. “It was quite relaxing doing it. It was in the summer, mostly at night. I’d open up the windows, turn the lights off and be laying down recording with my bare back because it was so warm. I’d put a lamp on and the moths would come in and tickle my back.” Like a moth massage? “Yeah, it was touching on bestiality,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Connan’s refreshingly offbeat perspective on the world is reflected in the language woven throughout ‘Please Turn Me Into The Snat’. It’s colourful and enchanting, evoking bawdy stories from Shakespearian times. “I can’t remember where I first heard snat [half snake/half rat] but I remember being fascinated with it. The same with choade; I just kept saying it. Then the snat thing morphed into a small guy thing. I’m really small, I reckon another couple of inches and I’d be snat material but I’m talking about guys even smaller than me. I’ve found a few now and I’ve been taking them on tour to wear snat suits on stage. I found one in London so hopefully he can come on my album tour.”
Currently supporting Crowded House on tour (Neil Finn and his family are friends from back home), Connan also has a string of other projects on the go. There’s an album with Liam Finn and Lawrence Arabia under the name BARB coming out at the end of the summer. Plus a new project with Late Of The Pier’s Sam Eastgate that’s yet to be unveiled. Somewhere along the way he hopes his music takes him to Japan, as it turns out the madcap world he’s created is to woo his future love. “I’ve got a thing for the Japanese gene pool and I thought I’d make the album to hopefully become popular in Japan.” So it’s to find you a Japanese wife? “Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s the main thing,” he says with shining eyes. Falling from anyone else’s lips, this could sound insincere. But like anything CONNAN MOCKASIN gives voice to, somehow it becomes a fairy tale.