Connan Mockasin is one of the most interesting, creepy, and compelling people of the year: he sings like a baby girl, wears silk dresses, and has the face of a German murderer. He’s Klaus Kinski in a golden kimono, on helium. There’s something about him that’s both bewilderingly androgynous and totally sexually male and predatory. He’s Prince and David Bowie rolled into a crazy mumble-mouthed low-fi New Zealand package.
And now you’re thinking about his package.
See also: The Oral History of Mexican Summer
Connan, a New Zealand native, is about to hit the US in a big way. He just released a fantastic, repulsive record of wonky psychedelic, jammy, Ariel Pink-ish music on Mexican Summer called Caramel, and he’s here in New York for a pair of shows at Mercury Lounge (Thursday) and Glasslands (moved from Rough Trade, on Friday). He was here in the fall as well, playing that label’s anniversary show. I’m pretty sure his set consisted of one song, which he played for 30 minutes. Instead of being unbearable, it was completely engrossing.
Mockasin seems well aware of the effect he has. The video for his song “I’m The Man” is about him stalking a woman. Mockasin is also maybe supposed to be some kind of ghost, following her around a big house, and a public pool (maybe the pool is IN the house? unclear). He whispers in her ear while she looks another direction, consciously unaware but also somehow sensing that a malevolent Teutonic spirit has descended on her life and will never leave. Also when he says “find” in the chorus (it goes “I’m the man who will find you”), it sounds like “fuck” and that makes it even more uncomfortable.
Before he exploded here, Mockasin was a popular member of the music scene in Wellington, back in his native New Zealand. It’s not very big (population 200,000), so basically every young person who lived there in the late ’00s saw him or knew someone who was his friend. How do we know? We rounded up all the Kiwis we know (three) and asked them what Connan’s deal was back then. We found out some fun stuff! Collected for you, below, the mixed-up memories of some New Zealand ex-pats about Connan Mockasin.
Lived in New Zealand 1985 – 2011
First of all, isn’t the name “Connan AND THE Moccasins”? It’s not Connan Mockasin. It’s not. I know it’s not.
[In fact, Connan Mockasin was Connan and the Moccasins from around 2005 – 2010, at which point most of the original band was gone/fired, and he renamed the act Connan Mockasin. His real name is Connan Tant Hosford]
Lived in NZ for high school, then 2003 – 2007, and 2010-2011
A guy I worked with, Zach, was their manager. I remember him being like, “Oh, Connan and the Mockasins.” This is still when they were Connan and the Moccasins. They were playing this cool birthday party at a flat around the corner from where I worked. He was like, “Oh, you should come,” and I was like “Meh, you seem a little bit too cool for me.” So, I didn’t go.
The first time I actually saw them was at this super cool club in Wellington that everyone would go to, Indigo. They were just a really fun, noisey live show. This was like 2006 or 2007, right at the end of university.
Lived in New Zealand 1987 – 2009
I first saw them in 2012 when they opened for Radiohead in Melbourne. I had a vague idea of who they were but didn’t really care.
Concerts in Melbourne are always a bit shit because people in Melbourne are a bit too cool to enjoy themselves. This typically manifests in everyone arriving late (as if they had something more important to do than seeing Radiohead) and then standing dead still once they have arrived (as if not even music can phase them). Connnan Mockasin was no exception. It was awkward, like a high-school formal. In some respects it was probably a really important night for them, but in reality they were playing to a quarter full stadium of statues illuminated by lights slightly too bright. To be fair, no one seemed too excited to see Radiohead either.
And then, God, I think Connan was in this? This awesome band in Wellington, that was all the famous musicians from Wellington [The Eggs]. So like him, Sam Scott who was in Phoenix foundation, I don’t know if Liam Finn ever did it, but I think he did. All these boys from that, and then these cool greasers who I think were in this Smiths cover band? And then one night a month, they’d do this amazing swing night, or play like surf rock, and play this range of awesome music at this bar, which I also can’t remember the name of. And that was like super super fun. And Connan, his voice was great for that. It was always perfect.
Was he in The Eggs? I don’t think he was. Was he? No.
[It doesn’t seem that he was ever in this band, and Alexis is imagining this]
They were definitely outliers in Wellington. The one New Zealand genre that everyone who has huge Kiwi pride really gets behind (and it’s fucking awful), is basically like bad reggae. And it’s awful.
It comes to New Zealand proper and becomes really bastardized and awful. And this band Salmonela Dub was one of the really massive ones. Also The Black Seeds. They’re actually OK. And Bret McKenzie was in that band, actually.
People love it, and it proliferates, and every year there’s some new version of that same sound. It’s like “summer listening,'”you know? This band Fat Freddy’s Drop had a song called “Wandering Eye,” and you could walk down Cuba Street, which was one of the main streets in Wellington where there’s all these outdoor cafes, and basically hear the whole album as you progressed up the street.
So there was that genre, which they definitely don’t fit into, and then there’s kind of more of the rock and roll–I dunno, did they study in Dunedin? Because Dunedin has a really good rock scene. It’s like the college town. I’ve never actually been there, but apparently it’s really fun if you’re a college student. It’s like a party town. Everyone’s drunk the whole time. Apparently it has the health ratings of a third world country. They have all these cases of like scurvy and shit. It’s freezing, it’s really close to the pole. It’s tiny, these houses with just like one piece of wood between you and the outside. Everyone’s miserable and sick, and everyone gets fat.
To me he’s really a throwback to the 1980’s in New Zealand. There was a lot of this sort of psychedelic, punk/pop music created then on record labels like Flying Nun (a period sometimes called the “Dunedin Sound”). Even his music videos look like they were created in the 1980s. So I’d say that historically he fits in, but today he is a bit of an anomaly only because he has reached so far into the past to go forward.
So they were like half outliers, half not. But they were also just like–they weren’t massive, so it was easier to just, like, like them. When they were playing in Wellington, anyway, they were just people everyone knew. It was more like, oh, go see your friends play for four bucks.