Review/Interview: Connan Mockasin
The New Zealand psych-popper is more contrarian than barbarian at London show
Words Alex Denney
Photography Andy Parsons
Listen to Connan’s mixtape for The Stool Pigeon here
From early days spent kipping on London park benches like some exotic species of dandelion clock, New Zealand native Connan Mockasin appears to have come a long way of late. His debut for Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label, Forever Dolphin Love, was as fine and eccentric a slice of cracked-nursery rhyme psych as we’d heard in many a moon, and Mockasin’s cult potential appears finally to be taking root by the time of this, his headline show at Bush Hall.
First he had The Horrors singing his praises to anyone who’d listen. Now fellow Kiwi and Crowded House man Neil Finn can be heard complaining about the traffic coming in from Shoreditch backstage, and Jarvis Cocker blocks our view of proceedings when the show finally kicks off — though he seems more concerned with pawing at his missus than with any unfolding drama onstage.
Performing under a creepy-looking effigy which hangs above the stage, Mockasin himself is every bit as good-natured and rambling as you’d hope for in the flesh. With a recently-assembled five-piece including a drummer who’s the spit of Dave Grohl (or so we keep being told) and late-Late Of The Pier frontman Sam Eastman on keys, he proceeds to deliver a loose, occasionally thrilling but frustratingly unfocused set.
More than anything, it’s a show that feels like a work in progress, shuffling along with the slightly goofy air of a jam session between friends, which dissipates the magic of the record somewhat. Likewise, Mockasin struggles to replicate the curious vocal sounds he achieves on Forever Dolphin Love; with the exception of one spectacularly silly (but kinda brilliant) moment when he suddenly morphs into the mysterious snat creature on ‘Please Turn Me Into The Snat’.
Whatever the short-term defects, though, Mockasin’s eerie talents come to the fore on numbers like ‘I Wanna Roll With You’, a classy new track with a little of Prince’s ineffable strangeness about it, and a heart-stopping rendition of the witchily beautiful ‘Forever Dolphin Love’. Give him chance, and Mockasin will take up residence in your heart like a ghost takes to a haunted house.
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SP: You moved to London from New Zealand five years ago. How have you enjoyed life in the UK so far?
CM: Yeah, the last three years I’ve been enjoying London and living nicely out here. It just takes a few years to get used to, especially when you haven’t been overseas before. My first six weeks here I was homeless, living in parks and things so it was not a good start. It was lucky, though — I got here during a heatwave in 2006.
You went back to New Zealand to record Forever Dolphin Love. Why’s that?
I was with this other band for a time [Connan & The Mockasins]. We were doing lots of shows and getting some interest, but in the end I got really disillusioned with the labels. I didn’t like the way they’d say, ‘Yeah, we’ll sign you and you can do anything you like,’ and then you’d get closer to doing it and they’re like, ‘We’re gonna put you with this producer in this studio.’ I just wanted to choose all that stuff, and I thought what they were suggesting was gonna end up sounding terrible. It was really tempting ’cos they offered me a living advance, which means you don’t have to worry about working, but I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to go down that track.’ So anyway, I went back home, I wasn’t doing anything and then my mum told me, ‘You need to make a record,’ so I did.
We hear you’ve been making music with Sam Eastgate from Late Of The Pier. What’s that sounding like?
Yeah, we’ve been doing a record under the name Soft Hear. Hopefully we’ll get it finished by the end of the year. It’s funny, actually — I played a few of the tracks to three of my friends the other day and they all said the same thing. They said it reminded them of the bar scene in Star Wars… You know, like the lizardy band?
In Return Of The Jedi?
That’s the one, yes!