Connan mockasin: “A lot of mysterious stuff goes on that I don’t understand”
ow are you finding Tokyo? I just moved here a month ago with my girlfriend, Hiromi. I haven’t been here for about five and a half years or more, but nothing’s changed. The atmosphere’s what I really like here, and the food, and the people are really polite. It’s really nice. You recorded with a band for the first time, live in a studio. How was that? I wanted to do it with Caramel, but it didn’t pan out so that one I ended up making alone again. So I definitely wanted to make a band recording. Everything was live; I ad-libbed vocals with lyrics made up on the spot. I like capturing the ‘first idea’ feeling. That’s pretty brave to trust your initial instinct so much. Well, this is the first time I’ve stuck with the same band for a long time. I used to jump between trying out different combinations of people, and it took a long time to meet three people that I click with. So I’ve always been wanting to do something like this. Compared to your other albums, the instrumentation is very simple, kind of homogenous. It’s very simple, yeah. Going with the story, the concept was for it to be made by a band of music teachers. The kind of records they would make together would often be quite simple – classic instruments, guitar, bass, drums. And I also wanted it to be music that would be nice to listen to, nothing attentionseeking or in your face, not competing with anything. Because there’s a lot going on out there already, so I wanted something that would be nice to listen to, if that makes sense.
How did you come up with these pieces?
When I’m doing the most mundane thing, they come into my head. It’s as simple as that. If I’m excited by one enough I will try to remember it with a Dictaphone, but some of them stay there anyway. So it doesn’t really feel like work at all; it’s just something that pops in. If I try to sit down and write, it doesn’t happen, so it’s kind of out of my hands. All my music has been like that.
Your guitar sounds amazing, more like an Asian instrument than a guitar – was that intentional?
No, but I know what you mean. I always have my guitar tuned down a little bit, because it’s a more relaxed feel and easier on my fingers. Maybe it’s an influence from my girlfriend, who’s Japanese? A lot of the recordings are ad-libbed and all live, so just whatever was around that week that we were recording, that’s what happened. That’s what I was trying to capture – a moment, without thinking about things or having time to change things or overdub. There’s a reason why you did it the first time. I think there’s a lot of mysterious stuff that goes on that I don’t understand, so I’ll just leave it to that. Being able to have an infinite number of takes must be tough. Torture!
You enlisted James Blake for “Momo’s”…
He’s got a beautiful voice. He sang very quickly, in a couple of short takes – it was the first thing he heard off the record and it was an instrumental. So he got excited by that and wanted to try something over the top. That was really nice. I originally was thinking of him being in the film as the principal – he’s got qualities, he’s authoritative – so it made sense.
The idea of Bostyn and Dobsyn has been around for years, right?
We’ve been making short films and comics about them for more than 20 years now. It has become an obsession, especially for me and Blake – he’s my neighbour that I grew up with. It’s just been ongoing. It never died.
What’s the rough story of the series?
I won’t tell you how it ends or anything, but it’s just about the relationship between Bostyn, the teacher, and Dobsyn the student – his grades are not good and he’s gotta do anything to get good grades. It’s not necessarily ‘stranger danger’, but again it’s more of an atmosphere thing. You can read a lot of things into it, but that’s the basic story. For me, it’s more about the atmosphere.
It sounds a little creepy, to be honest.
Yeah, you could definitely take it that way. But it’s also not what it seems at first glance… It’s not gonna be for everyone, but I hope some people can really enjoy the atmosphere.
You’ve never made a film before – how did you cope?
I’ve really enjoyed it. I rented this space for a few weeks in LA, a disused hair salon. We made all the sets and painted them, and I bought a couple of old broadcast tape cameras. We had sound problems with street noise, so it had to be filmed from about nine at night to five in the morning. It was an experience. Then I went to Paris to record the album, and then after that we went to [guitarist] Rory’s studio, and we recorded five tracks live again, but this time filmed, for the ends of each episode. So in a way it’s two live records, but one’s filmed.
“When I’m doing the most mundane thing, songs come into my head. If I try to write, it doesn’t happen”
Connan Mockasin: “I was trying to capture a moment”