Connan Mockasin’s new side project Jassbusters is currently touring around the country. Taylor MacGregor talks to the musician about what excites him now, and what fans can expect from his show at Auckland’s Crystal Palace tomorrow night.
In 2016, bright eyed and naive to the glitz and glitches of the showbiz world, I approached Liam Finn about playing a fundraiser gig at the Crystal Palace. I was part of a team that had just finished making a short documentary called Please Open about the 90-yearold cinema/venue. Shortly after, we decided that we should, in fact, take over its management.
Initially Liam was keen to play. Then he wasn’t. Then he was on board and was bringing his mates Connan Mockasin and Lawrence Arabia with him too. And Kirin J Callinan, Bic Runga, Neil Finn, Fazerdaze, and Mick Fleetwood. To be honest the show that resulted was too special and I thought I can’t put on anything this good ever again and should retire from this showbiz thing on a high note.
Almost exactly three years later I got the call that Connan would like to come back to The Crystal Palace.
I’ve seen Connan play many times since then but this time it’s on the back of a new project with the Jassbusters, a band of fictional music teachers playing the soundtrack to his film series of the same name.
Jassbusters promises to be peak eccentric Connan; the new album makes me feel like I’m being escorted through an imaginary seduction by a discrete house band, quietly charming me through the ups and downs of a fictional romance.
Led by Connan’s quintessential warped guitar noodlings, the Jassbusters album offers a world-building backdrop to a film series that, despite hearing whispers and seeing brief clips of, still leaves me guessing as to what it’s all about.
I had a chat with Connan to try and glean some inside goss on what to expect before Jassbusters grace The Crystal Palace this Friday.
This is your first album in five years, since Caramel. How long have you been working on the Jassbusters concept?
I mean, making the record was, you know, maybe four, five days. But the idea of Jassbusters has been floating around for… two decades.
So you’ve been working on this the whole time with your friend Blake [Pryor]?
Yep, Blake [lived] next door to my parents’ house in Te Awanga. But Jassbusters was part of Bostyn n’ Dobsyn was home videos and comics, which we’d been doing for a long time and within that, Bostyn – the teacher – had a band called Jassbusters.
So I’d been wanting to make an album with my touring band, do a live album with them, for a long time. I actually wanted to do Caramel with them, but it didn’t work out. So I thought that that would be the perfect task for them, if they wanted to be Jassbusters.
So you say that, there’s a wider universe to the Jassbusters? If you’ve got comics and films and things you’ve been working on, is there a lore?
No, it’s just hundreds of comics, and a lot of home videos. And then with those comics and videos, while I was living in Los Angeles, Blake and I made the 5-part melodrama series Bostyn n’ Dobsyn. He plays Dobsyn, and I play Bostyn. We used a lot of those original home videos and comics as inspiration for that.
So what are we gonna be seeing at the show? Is it the full feature film, or is it–
Well, it’s a series, so – we started doing the Bostyn n’ Dobsyn/Jassbusters tour late last year, and we haven’t done New Zealand yet. So what we’ll do is we’ll play in a cinema or a theatre and we screen the first episode, and then Jassbusters come and do a performance, play their record, and I as Connan Mockasin will come out after that. So it’s three parts to the evening.
You’ve had a lot of time off since your last full album, and we’ve seen a lot of collaborations with Devonté Hynes, and James Blake, and MGMT, and Sam Dust. Do you have any more in the works, or are you going to be working on more Connan stuff?
I’ll wait and see. I wanna do another quick Jassbusters record, I think that would be nice. And I did an album with my dad [Ade Mockasin] in Marfa, Texas, almost a year ago. That was with Jassbusters and my friend John Carroll Kirby, and that was improvised. We made the album out there over a few days and it went brilliantly. We couldn’t do it again – we didn’t really know what to expect and that was the most effortless record I’ve ever been a part of. So, that will be coming out shortly.
The last few times I’ve seen you play you’ve had special guest appearances, Ade being the most special. Can we expect to see any surprises at these two shows?
I’m not sure, maybe Dobsyn in character sometimes – he’s turned up to some of them. He was in Manchester and the London show at The Barbican. James Blake has made an appearance, as he’s on the Jassbusters record as well. We’ll wait to see closer to the time.
How many of those wigs do you own? And is it hard to keep appearances up when you’re in character like that?
No, no there’s just two – one for each of us. And it’s not hard to keep [it up].
Are you a method actor? Are you permanently in character on tour, or do you drop in and out?
No, I mean the thing with Jassbusters, what we found was that we were essentially a support band for the tour, and we actually ended up slotting into that role, and becoming nervous, and it was actually quite hard. But it was really fun to be nervous, to feel that again, even though we were playing at our own concerts. It was a really strange feeling, and it took a few weeks to get more comfortable with that. We would come offstage sweating sometimes, it could be hard work.
That’s been the most enjoyable, interesting tour that I’ve ever done. I loved having that feeling of excitement and nerves again. I get very bored doing the same sort of stagnant release of a record, and touring the venues that are easiest for an agent to book, having a support band… so it’s made it more fun for us. And the audiences seemed to enjoy it as much as we did, which was great too.
How would you describe this Jassbusters music? When I listen to it, it is quite saucy. But a lot of your music is. What genre does ‘High School Music Teacher’ fit into, do you think?
It’s tricky, because originally when I asked them to play the role of music teachers making a record together, it wasn’t very listenable, and I wanted it to be something that I or we would like to listen to. And I just wanted it to be really simple, and not attention-seeking in any way or trying to compete with anything; just something that would be a nice record to put on.
And to relax you. I wanted it to be relaxing.