Connan Mockasin returns to Laneway after a strange and starry year

by James Belfield / 25 January, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Connan Mockasin

Connan Mockasin. Photo/Getty Images

Back home for Laneway and a tour, Connan Mockasin is promising a few musical surprises.

Connan Mockasin finds it hard to say no. But for the musician from the sleepy beachside town of Te Awanga, Hawke’s Bay, who is now based in West Hollywood, this has resulted in a surprisingly star-studded résumé.

Last year, while he was working with fashion designer Karen Walker on the launch of a new range of sunglasses, his music was described by style bible Vogue as “surreal, serene, oddly sexual”. Walker hyperbolised him as a “modern icon”. He also collaborated on new albums by artists as varied as Charlotte Gainsbourg, MGMT and James Blake, filmed a TV series and was invited to take part in John Cale’s 75th-birthday concerts, which also doubled as a 50th-anniversary celebration of the ground-breaking album The Velvet Underground & Nico.

For a Kiwi musician, that sort of action-packed year would usually result in serious media coverage back home. But Mockasin is a strangely overlooked artist, which is odd, because his psychedelic take on R&B and glorious technicolour videos and performances give him plenty of visibility.

For example, check out the YouTube video of him and Cale performing Lady Godiva’s Operation at the Brooklyn celebration in November … yes, that’s Mockasin in the nurse’s outfit.

“That was a fun week,” he says. “A lot of friends were saying it was a real honour and I should do it. It’s not like he’s a friend – I’d never met him before – but people say you’ve got to do this and I find it hard to say no … that’s my problem.

“Velvet Underground is not part of my background, and I didn’t even know the tracks that we did. I said that to him at the first rehearsal – I told him I’m not really aware of this stuff. I don’t think it went down too well, because he’s quite grumpy. And I did get told off a bit – like the bad boy of the group.”

Connan Mockasin. Photo/J Pilkington

Mockasin shifted to Los Angeles to be with his girlfriend, Japanese-born Playboy playmate Hiromi Oshima. It wasn’t intended as a launch into the big time, but the move allowed him to concentrate on a film project that had been 20 years in the making.

He and Te Awanga neighbour Blake Pryor rented space and cameras to shoot a story called Jassbusters, about a music teacher (Mockasin plays Mr Dobson) who falls for a male student, thinking he’s a girl. It was conceived as a five-part mini-series, and Mockasin says he’d like to see it on HBO or Netflix.

“I’ve never edited or made a film in my life, so all this is new to me,” he says. “It’s like making a first record again without knowing how to record and being rough and loose, but it’s as good as I can make it.”

And if learning to become a film-maker on the fly wasn’t enough of a grand project, he also recorded an album in Paris and New York to accompany the series. It’s due for release in February.

Some of the new material will appear on the set lists for Mockasin’s upcoming New Zealand tour and appearance at the Laneway Festival – gigs that he promises will include “a few surprises and new people”. And for this musician who just can’t stop saying no to collaborations, he has even sourced his own wine from Rod McDonald of Te Awanga Estate to serve to concertgoers.

“I’m just trying the wine now,” he says. “I like curating and working with all sorts of people. It’s good to spice things up a bit.”

Connan Mockasin, Laneway Festival, Auckland, January 29, then touring nationally from January 31.

This article was first published in the January 27, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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