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Interview: Connan Mockasin Talks Movies, Melodrama and 'Jassbusters'

Interview: Connan Mockasin Talks Movies, Melodrama and 'Jassbusters'

Chris Cudby / Wednesday 31st October, 2018 11:54AM

Listening to Connan Mockasin's new record Jassbusters is like exploring a daytime TV twilight zone of hypnagogic guitar pop, where everything feels familiar yet one step removed from conventional reality. The internationally celebrated Te Awanga artist's third studio album is his first recorded with full band, with one song (Momo's) featuring the vocal tones of UK songwriter James Blake. The eight track collection was created in tandem with Mockasin's directorial debut Bostyn 'n Dobsyn, a five part melodrama about a band of music teachers starring the songwriter and his childhood friend Blake Pryor, originally conceived as DIY comic books more than two decades ago. The film is yet to be released in full, the first part is currently being toured throughout Europe and the US along with with live performances by Mockasin and band, video teasers from Jassbusters hint at a vividly fleshed out world of tender moments and stylish wigs. Chris Cudby caught up with the artist as he was gearing up for his album's launch and tour, for a chat about the ideas and circumstances orbiting Jassbusters and Bostyn 'n Dobsyn...

I read that Jassbusters is designed to be listened to after watching your movie Bostyn 'n Dobsyn?

That's right... the record is a concept record following the film. But it doesn't have to be, it was just intended. The band Jassbusters is in the film, it's a band of music teachers that make a record together. That's the very simple concept of that record.

How are you planning on having the film shown?

I've made it as a film, but also [as] a five part melodrama series. I'm playing the first part, or episode if you like, in movie theatres around the world, with Jassbusters playing after as the band, then I'll play another set after that. One film and two concerts.

Hopefully we'll get to New Zealand, it won't be this year but it'll be next year. If it's already out on something, the first part, then maybe we'll play the second part in New Zealand. I'm not sure yet. I do six weeks coming up, doing movie theatres. I love movie theatres, so it's nice to get to play in them as well.

Is it true you've been planning Bostyn 'n Dobsyn for 20 years?

Yeah over 20 years, it was Bostyn 'n Dobsyn is something my next door neighbour from home - Te Awanga - Blake Pryor, he and I and both my brothers have been doing short films of Bostyn 'n Dobsyn. And comics, a lot of comics. Over 100 comics.

Since back then, we've always been doing them. I didn't want to make another record alone, I always wanted to do this for the last five years, a Bostyn 'n Dobsyn Jassbusters record. Twenty years ago that's what the band was called as well, Jassbusters, so that all made sense to do that.

Have you kept in contact with Blake the entire time?

We filmed in Los Angeles two years ago. I rented a disused hair salon in Los Angeles and built sets and painted them and bought better version cameras of the time we were making the short film, broadcast cameras. Blake came over, and a bunch of friends from England as well and we made it. Blake's playing Bostyn as he was 20 years ago.

I would absolutely love to see the comics that you've made. Is there going to be any supplemental material available?

Possibly yeah. We'll have to see if it's PG... we'll have to see if it's okay [laughs]. I haven't been through them for a little while.

Was the video for 'Con Con Was Impatient' an excerpt or collage of scenes from the film?

Collage of scenes. It's sort of a half trailer, half music video. Here's the thing - the record, as soon as I finished filming, I went to Paris, because I wanted to make a record with my touring band who I've grown to love a lot and I've always wanted to make a record with them. I thought it was perfect timing to do that. I wanted to make the Caramel record with them but it didn't work out, timing wise, so I had to make it on my own. I was getting tired of making records on my own, only two but I felt like making a record with a band. So we met up in Paris and recorded a live record, so everything was live, the lyrics were made up on the spot and left as [is]. I wanted to do that, and capture something that was like that.

But then the next week, we recorded live but filmed it. These are video recordings of the band live again, so there's almost two records in a way, it's a little complicated... then you've got the soundtrack music, which was seperate again.

The video for 'Con Con Was Impatient' has a very relaxed and kind of tender tone to it. I was wondering what kind of relationship Bostyn 'n Dobsyn have with each other?

Yeah that's probably about right - tender. The concept was for it to be a record made by a group of music teachers, and I wanted it to sound relaxing, and something that's not trying to compete with any... just something relaxing that you'd want to play and listen to. Nothing attention-seeking or anything like that.

Bostyn is Dobsyn's student?

Yes that's right.

Does their relationship change over the course of the five part film?

Watching the short clip the mood changes pretty quick.

Why would the film be split into segments?

I didn't want to make music videos. I trying to think of making something that could be having the band play live without it being a musical as such. That seemed like the best thing, to finish each episode off with a live performance of the band that he talks a lot about. I would love to make a full film without breaking it into five pieces, next time I'd love to try that.

When I was watching it, I caught little glimpses of the sets. The DIY quality reminded me of some of the art videos I used to watch... like Mike Kelley or something. I was wondering if you were drawing on any cinematic influences for your film.

Just time and low budget really [laughs], whatever I could do with such a small amount of time. I had the space for four weeks, but two of that was putting it together plus we were trying to write from all the old comics and I was making a storyboard at the same time and trying to figure out how to put it... y'know, making and painting all those sets. So it was lack of time and budget really.

Working with older material, do you find you were re-inventing it? Or did you stay true to the spirit?

Very very similar to what we'd been making as teenagers.

With Bostyn's band, were there any groups you were thinking about as reference points?

No not really, I just wanted to see what would happen with Nick (Harsant), Rory (McCarthy) and Matt (Eccles). We've been playing together for quite a few years now... I brought in some some music that I'd pre-written but I wanted to see what would happen if we had a short period of time to make a record. The main thing was to pretend you're a teacher [laughs] but without being stupid about it as well. You want to be able to listened to it, you don't want it to be an ironic joke, the whole thing. Something that I want to hear.

They're my touring band... I went through so many different changes years ago, and then somehow we all met up in different ways. It felt like a band together so I've been really enjoying over the years playing with those three guys... this time when I was making a record I wanted to make sure it would be together with them.

It was quite different... I think the main thing was you could hear when something was going to work or not work within a minute, so if you didn't like the feel you could just stop. Everything was very quick and easy.

The songs you're singing on the album, would those songs relate directly to the narrative of the film?

No not really... the lyrics were made up on the spot and I didn't overdub anything. That was what it was, but also, within the story, they'd not really met before he made that music, so it didn't really matter. It didn't have to be about the story, it's kind of a seperate thing really.

Had you had much involvement with being a filmmaker before, were there any surprise challenges?

That's the other thing. I wanted to jump in without knowing anything because when I made my first record Forever Dolphin Love, I didn't have a clue of how to record or I had primitive equipment. I really enjoyed knowing what I wanted it to look like and sound like and everything, but no idea how to get there or achieve it.

I spotted one of your paintings in the first clip. Do your paintings have much of a role in the movie?

All the sets are painted. You would have seen Bostyn's family portrait above his bed.

What was your contribution to Neil and Liam Finn's recent record?

Oh it was very small. They'd already made most of the record, I was staying with them one summer and played some guitar and did some singing over some bits. I can't really remember exactly how much. I don't even know what they used in the end. They've made the guts of everything.

I talked to you just before your epic run of shows around New Zealand earlier this year. How did that end up going?

That was really fun. I'd love to bring the film and Jassbusters to New Zealand. We're planning a run at the moment, hopefully early next year. Yeah, that was really great.

'Jassbusters' is out now via via Mexican Summer.

Connan Mockasin and his Family Band is playing at Nest Fest in Havelock North on Saturday 12th January with Soaked Oats, The Babe Rainbow, Marlins Dreaming and more.


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