The premise of Connan Mockasin's new album and video series is disturbing. It's about a music teacher falling for his student, who he's mistaken for a girl. The cult-favourite musician speaks to RNZ Music about Jassbusters, and where on earth it came from.
It’s always hard to predict where a conversation with Connan Mockasin will go. Back in 2016 we talked about his concept album based on a race of human-lizards, his stand-up comedy career, and his friend Liam Finn’s new baby.
When I speak to him this time, it’s from his new home in Japan, a week before his own first child is due. Since then he and partner Hiromi Oshima (a Playboy model, by the way) have had a little girl, and Connan has just left for a six-week tour promoting his new album and the film that goes with it.
Bostyn n Dobsyn was conceptualised by Mockasin, his brothers and his childhood next-door neighbour Blake Pryor 20 years ago, in the form of comics and short films. Mockasin finally decided the time was right to revisit it, and has made a five-episode melodrama and a concept album Jassbusters to go with it.
“It’s a fictional story… it’s mostly about a student whose grades are so poor, and he has to do anything to get good grades or he has to go to military school. And he walks into his first music class, and the teacher is attracted to him, and he realises that quickly, but the teacher thinks he’s a girl, so he runs along with that and it goes from there, really.”
Mockasin himself plays the part of the greasy music teacher, and Blake Pryor is in the role of gender-ambiguous high-school student Dobsyn. The clips that have been released are deeply cringe-inducing, not to mention problematic. The awkward script, acting and wardrobe make The Room look like an Oscar-winning blockbuster.
The film was shot on broadcast cameras from the 1990s, giving the whole thing the look of a no-budget film - which was pretty much the case. He and his group of friends rented an empty hair salon in Hollywood, painted sets themselves, and filmed the whole thing in 10 days.
He has theatre screenings and live shows around the U.S. and Europe through October, half of which have sold-out.
How does he think this will go down with the public?
“I feel lucky enough to have a following of people that let me do what I feel like doing. And it’s something I’ve been really wanting to do, so I just had to do it. If no one likes it, that’s just how it goes.”
Mockasin has a cult-leader presence, and his followers will enable him in this, even at a time when the rest of the woke world rages against abuses of power by men. I wonder if any other musician could pull this off?
The album is made by the fictional Mr. Bostyn and his band of music teachers - Jassbusters. Recorded in the Paris studio where Serge Gainsbourg and Frank Zappa made records, it has Mockasin’s trademark woozy guitar lines and sleazy grooves, but with a more easy-listening vibe than previous records. While the concept was it to sound like a band of amateurs, they’re clearly good players. Connan croons ad-libbed lines which roughly follow the themes of the film, except in ‘Momo’s’ where minimalist soul singer James Blake takes the lead.
“I was thinking of having him as the Principal in Bostyn n Dobsyn ‘cause he’s quite an authoritative character. So it kind of worked, he kind of fits as a music teacher.”
I enquire about his own music teachers, in case there’s any kind of truth under his plot-line. He tells me he had some brilliant ones (despite one of them faking her doctorate) but that he wasn’t a good student.
“I failed my music miserably at school. I found school quite hard ... I was probably lazy as well.”
He tells me all of his guitar practice was done between the ages of 10 and 12, when he played obsessively for hours at a time. Then he got bored and didn’t touch it for a few years until starting short-lived band (with Blake Pryor) Grandpa Moff.
“I became so comfortable with doing so many hours in those two years that it feels very natural and nice to express on it - it flows nicely.”
These days Connan is a hot commodity for artists looking for a sprinkling of Mockasin-dust. The list of stars he’s collaborated with is impressive and includes MGMT, Vince Staples, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Fatboy Slim, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Neil Finn and James Blake. Designer Karen Walker used him as a model for a range of men’s eyewear, and a recent tweet suggests some kind of collaboration with Childish Gambino may be happening.
His next collaboration though is closer to home. It’s a record with his dad, Ade Hosford. Ade used to be in bands in the late 60s/early 70s - Autumn Stone and Philharmonic Orange, incase anyone remembers him in the scene then. Father and son, along with Liam Finn and a few of Mockasin’s other musical mates, piled into a studio in Marfa, Texas to see what would happen.
“It was probably the most effortless record [I’ve made].” They got the whole thing down on 8-track cassette tape in three days, with both Hosford men improvising the songs. Playing it by ear seems to be a family trait.
Who knows where Connan’s whims will take him - or his followers - next.