Dessert with Mr. Bostyn: An Interview of Connan Mockasin

Interview printed in Autre Magazine issue 8.
Photographs by Jamie Parkhurst
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Born in New Zealand, Connan Mockasin now lives in Tokyo. I met with the nomadic chanteur as he stopped through Los Angeles on the occasion of his international tour. There was only one show scheduled, but the tickets sold so quickly they decided to add two more. The last one felt like a bouquet final, a two-hour victory lap among friends, including John Carrol Kirby, with whom he performed a cover of Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.” We were introduced at The Lodge Room in Highland Park where he invited us to join for dessert. Mockasin is quite noticeable with his long, platinum hair, big bucket hat and his quintessential John Waters-esque mustache. We talk about the venue where he had been playing the past two nights. He spots my French accent. I tell him that I’m from Bordeaux and we discuss the Southwest of France, mainly the best surf spots. We mention Biarritz and how he would love to live a little south of it, in a very small fishing village called Guethary located in Basque country. It’s a secluded haven also chosen by many French artists, including writer, Frédéric Beigbeder and actor, Vincent Cassel. 

It had been five years since Connan Mockasin last released an album. His two previous ones, Forever Dolphin Love (2010) and Caramel (2013) were best described by writer, Daiana Feuer as “sensuous love letters from an alien.” This year’s Jassbusters is Mockasin’s first full-band album. It was recorded live over the course of a week at the legendary Studios Ferber in Paris, best known for hosting France’s most notorious singers like Serge Gainsbourg and Alain Bashung, as well as international enigmas like Nick Cave and Black Sabbath. The album is accompanied by a five-part melodrama film called Bostyn ’n Dobsyn, based on comics and short films imagined by the artist as a teenager. Although very different in nature from the past two albums, Jassbusters remains faithful to Mockasin’s essential recipe: a blend of eccentricity and sensuality. The record starts with a sultry track called “Charlotte’s Thong, a perfect gateway to an updated sound that is peppered with humorously creepy, yet oddly arousing narratives—a combination that could only be extracted from a vintage porno or a Connan Mockasin song.

AGATHE PINARD: I was supposed to interview you a couple months ago at Desert Daze, but it didn’t happen due to the awful weather conditions and the huge line to get in.

CONNAN MOCKASIN: We almost didn’t get in.

AP: What were you doing when the storm hit and festival security asked everyone to go back to their vehicles?

CM: I’m scared of lightning, so I went to the trailer. It was really nice actually. We opened the curtains and watched the storm.

AP: Yeah, they had to shut down Tame Impala while they were playing.

CM: Some of them kept coming into our room and I kept saying, “Close the door!” because I was scared of the lightning. They were feeling so bad about the fans, so we had a game where you had to have a sip of whiskey every lightning flash. It was really fun.

AP: Your new album is called Jassbusters. Can you explain what a jassbuster is? 

CM: It’s a band of schoolteachers who make a record together. I did these home videos when I was a teenager—twenty years ago now. We used to have this thing, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. Mr. Bostyn, the teacher, had a band called Jassbusters. It’s basically a band record, because I’ve not done any band records. This is the first. Basically, every band recording is a Jassbuster recording.

AP: What was it like recording with a band for the first time ?

CM: There were four of us recording and it was easy. The thing with a band is that if you’re recording live, you can feel if it’s not working, or if it’s working straight away. It’s a lot quicker. You feel like you can take your time when you’re on your own, but it’s not the same when you’re working with a group of people. Overall, it’s a lot easier. You have other people playing and putting their touch, which is very different from being on your own.

AP: I was curious if “Charlotte’s Thong” was about Charlotte Gainsbourg, since you produced a song for her and toured together?

CM: I did invite her. I told her that she could play on “Charlotte’s Thong,” but that’s about it. That’s just a name, like Jassbuster. We just came up with a name.

AP: You released a five-part series based on comics and short films you made in high school. Can you talk a bit about the concept behind the movie and why you’re doing this now?

CM: I don’t know why now. I just wanted to do it. It’s always been something I enjoy, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. I wanted to make a series, but I didn’t even know how to do it. I wanted to make something new again. When I made my first album, Forever Dolphin Love, I didn’t know how to record. So, it was all new. Making an album by yourself you just make a lot of mistakes. I tried to make a series in the same way:  without really knowing what I was doing. Sometimes mistakes turn out to be good. When you do it while not being particularly good at it, you do it in your own way.

AP: The story is about a music teacher and his student. Where did that idea come from?

CM: I don’t even remember. We just thought it was great—Mr. Bostyn, thinking his student, Dobsyn is a girl, and calling him Josie. It starts a whole world of deceit.

AP: Is it in any way autobiographical?

CM: I hope not. I play Mr. Bostyn, so I hope not. Although he is not necessarily bad. Dobsyn is pretty bad later on.

AP: Matt Correia from Allah-Las asked me to ask you about your favorite color.

CM: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I don’t have a favorite color really.

AP: Can you talk about dolphin love? What is it and what makes it forever?

CM: I was making music at my parent’s in New Zealand. I was just driving around and I went to my friend Brim Dog’s house. He lives further south on the beach. We were around an outdoor fire, quite drunk from red wine, and I remember singing “Forever Dolphin Love.” That’s just how it happened. Maybe it was because the ocean was right there by Brim Dog’s. I don’t know.

AP: You’ve been working on the score of a surf movie called, Self Discovery for Social Survival. What was the experience of working on that project like?

CM: I basically just wanted to go surfing with my friend Andrew. 

AP: It was filmed in several locations. Mexico, the Maldives…

CM: He and I went to Nicaragua. It was a filmed trip with all the directors and stuff. I thought that was gonna be the end of it. So, I talked to my record label, and they got really into it, and ended up taking Andrew and I to Iceland. We went surfing there with some of our favorite surfers. The whole idea was to mix surfers and musicians.

AP: Yeah, I’ve heard that Stephanie Gilmore, who’s the seven-time world champion, was on the trip.

CM: She’s so great, and she’s winning at the moment, so she could win an eighth! We became friends and she takes me surfing sometimes. It’s so great to watch her surf in real life. We came back from the trip and made the music in New York, just for the Iceland segment. 

AP: How was the trip to Iceland?  The water must have been freezing.

CM: Yeah, it was late October as well, so it was getting cold. They put you in these wetsuits that cover most of your face, but I’m really claustrophobic and I couldn’t get out of it by myself. They had to help. You feel it on your face if you go under water. It stings like acid water.

AP: You tend to blur the lines between humor and beauty in your music videos. Can you talk about how you conceptualize a video, like “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” for example?

CM: I haven’t done a music video in quite a long time. I didn’t direct those videos. I had friends direct them. I do have a little bit of say, of course. With “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” my only input was rolling down those stairs. The rest of it was directed.

AP: So, you normally just ask a friend with a sense of taste you can trust?

CM: Yes, but I would love to do it myself now. Back then, I would get friends to do it. I did one with my friends Fleur & Manu in the forest just outside of Paris for that song called “Faking Jazz Together.”

AP: Tonight, just like the past two nights, you will play ‘in the round,’ on a stage in the middle of the audience. Can you talk about how this format has been working out so far?

CM: It’s been great. I’ve done this before when I was playing with a band and there weren’t so many people. We’d move instruments on the floor and play in the middle of the audience. I’ve always loved it. It’s nice for people to see, and there is a good atmosphere. I’d love to do it more, but most venues don’t really allow it. But these past nights in LA have been so good. I’ve really enjoyed it.