Two of modern music’s most singular artists discuss their new project together and share a sultry video for ‘Lying Has To Stop’
Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust’s friendship didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. After both were booked to perform at a music industry party in 2007 (sharing a lineup with an up-and-coming Adele, no less), they ended up getting into a fight when they were individually accused of stealing both a set of microphones and a large ornamental pig. But after Mockasin supported Dust’s old band Late of the Pier on tour the next year, they opened up and soon discussed working together, quickly decamping to Dust’s old council house in the St. Ann’s district of Nottingham to begin work on what would become their self-titled album under the name Soft Hair.
Though it’d take a long time for the two to actually finish the album (further recording took place over a five year period in an abandoned factory in Sneinton, an old school hall in Mockasin’s home country New Zealand, and various other locations around the world) and even longer to put it out (it remained on the backburner while Mockasin’s career took off with sublime albums Forever Dolphin Love and Caramel and Dust reintroduced the world to his LA PRIEST alias with last year’s stellar Inji), it’s certainly worth the wait. Soft Hair is the sound of two of the music world’s most singular artists working in sync while pushing each other to their creative limits. It’s an album of unusual but alluring quasi-pop: sometimes strange, sometimes louche, sometimes funky, but always extremely imaginative. “The songs aren’t really a conventional length, and the album itself isn’t a conventional length,” Sam Dust says over the phone, “It just felt really perfect.”
The first taste of Soft Hair is the sultry “Lying Has To Stop”. Its video sees Dust and Mockasin attempting to look suave in a foil-lined studio and filming each other in the shower. “It’s kind of us trying to look good, but not really looking that good,” Dust laughs, “We only look good because they booked us a really expensive camera. It’s like a cinema quality camera, and then some really shit further details. It kind of looks like a hip hop video.”
We hit up Mockasin (currently living in LA) and Dust (based in rural Wales) to discuss the album’s origins, building instruments, and directing soap operas.
When did you first meet?
Connan Mockasin: We met at a birthday party in... February 2007?
LA PRIEST: It was a birthday party for an A&R man that we (Late of the Pier) got invited to play. I don’t think we’d played that many shows yet, so it was just another gig for us.
Connan Mockasin: We’d probably never even been to party. It was this rich kid’s party in a mansion in the countryside somewhere. There was the pig thing...
LA PRIEST: Somebody stole this big fibreglass pig, and we got blamed for it. Actually, it was one of Connan’s old band members. We got in our car in the morning, and then one of our band members got in a fight with him. So it was a really shaky start – basically, our bands were like worst enemies. Then I don’t think we saw each other again for a while.
Connan Mockasin: We didn’t talk much, did we?
LA PRIEST: No, not at all.
“I felt really blown away by Connan’s (first) record, and I remember thinking ‘If he doesn’t realise how good that record is, then this guy must be pretty good’” – LA PRIEST
How did you end up becoming friends if you started out as mortal enemies?
LA PRIEST: We kind of warmed to Connan and his band when we saw him fire his bassist at the next gig we played together. That was like, ‘Maybe he’s alright you know?’
Connan Mockasin: We’d see each other a lot around 2007. Sam and his band asked if I wanted to come on tour with them in 2008.
LA PRIEST: Yeah, it was the start of 2008. One of our first gigs was in Bath. I remember it was freezing cold, and basically out of sympathy we let Connan and his one band member play.
Connan Mockasin: Sam and I didn’t talk to each other for the first few dates – I think we were shy. I didn’t have a band or anything, so it was really hard to play. It was a really tough crowd. So Sam started playing bass, hiding behind the amplifiers, to help make it work. That was really, really lovely. Then we started playing each other music. I started my first record Forever Dolphin Love and Sam listened to that on the bus, and that gave me a lot of confidence.
Sam, a lot of the album was recorded while Connan came to stay with you in Nottingham, right?
LA PRIEST: Straight after that tour – so this was early 2008 – I was living in St Ann’s in Nottingham. Connan had just sent his (debut) album off to mastering. We played around with instruments in my conservatory. I made a few little things while we were drinking wine and smoking a few. I felt really blown away by Connan’s record, and I remember thinking ‘If he doesn’t realise how good that record is, then this guy must be pretty good.’ I hadn’t written music with a 50/50 writer relationship with anybody before. I was totally in awe of this kind of music, and I think the weird thing is that when we started making music together, I was emulating Connan’s style and maybe Connan was sort of emulating a bit of (my style). So we’d kind of play the instruments we wouldn’t usually play.
Connan Mockasin: We were basically stuck inside. St Ann’s was quite dangerous, so we were pretty much confined to your apartment.
LA PRIEST: We were kind of laughing at how shitty our situation was, ‘cause we were living in a very rundown part of the city.
Connan Mockasin: I was just like, ‘Woah, he can rent his own apartment’. I couldn’t rent anywhere. I was blown away that you had your own place.
“I spent all my money that I’d saved up for years for getting a mortgage and my own house. And then the same week, I didn’t bother moving in... I just abandoned all that and met Connan in Wellington” – LA PRIEST
LA PRIEST: Well, it wasn’t much of a place. It was basically the cheapest place that I could find anywhere. But it still felt like a big thing, because I was about 21 or something – I felt like a real grownup. Most of the time I lived there by myself. There was this big, fat bald guy who started stalking me in the neighbourhood, and I’d sometimes look out my back window and see him looking over the fence at my window. I saw him one day in the street, and he was like, ‘I bought some beers for us, do you want to have a drink?’ He followed me all the way to my house. I somehow managed to really carefully, politely say ‘no’, but it made me think again about living in that neighbourhood.
Shortly after that, I moved into a factory, which is where we started recording properly. It was a really rundown, water-damaged old lace factory. It still had the rota sheets; it hadn’t been used since the industrial era. It had holes in the floor and no running water except for the room opposite mine, which had a bathroom. The room was rented out by a heavy metal band, and they had a banner in there that was, like, two sheep-headed men strangling each other with blood everywhere. I used to sneak in there and pray to god they didn’t come in while I was using their bathroom. They were probably actually really nice. The room was huge, so it was great really, ‘cause we could have our own ends of the room and write stuff, and then meet in the middle of the room and put it all together.
And you lived in New Zealand with Connan for a bit too?
LA PRIEST: That’s right. Basically, I spent all my money that I’d saved up for years for getting a mortgage and my own house. And then the same week, I didn’t bother moving in – instead I asked my manager if he’d lend me money to fly to New Zealand. So I just abandoned all that and met Connan in Wellington.
Connan Mockasin: There was a storm…
LA PRIEST: Yeah, there were loads of people crying at the airport. All the families of the people on this ten-seater plane had apparently been watching the plane come in and we narrowly missed the eye of a tornado or something. So that was a fun way to get in. We went and got introduced to all of the local musicians – there was about 30 people from the local music scene in a single room together, and I was jetlagged and my head was in a weird space. I was kind of like, ‘Hello amazing people.’
When did the record properly come together?
LA PRIEST: I think that was in New Zealand, when we went to the converted school. There was a school on a cliff next to a beach, and I think that was where a lot of the ideas started to make sense and sound like a real record. We’d gone from the absolute shittiest place in this rundown factory in Nottingam to a beach hut perched on top of this overwhelmingly beautiful view of the ocean in New Zealand, and that set off a totally weird creative spree. We’d just been introduced to Connan’s friend, this guy Will Ricketts. He’s a percussion extraordinaire, just this super enthusiastic guy who just wanted to lay down percussion on any idea that you had. So we’d play a bit of piano with bongos on. We’ve got all these things recorded out there with this really unusual exotic bongo vibe.
Connan Mockasin: We couldn’t use any of it!
LA PRIEST: We didn’t use much, but it was really inspirational.
Sam, when I interviewed you about a year ago you talked about how you and Connan would design these ideas for instruments.
LA PRIEST: Yeah. We tried to make a couple, didn’t we?
Connan Mockasin: You made a lot of things.
LA PRIEST: We knew that if we played live we were gonna just be telling people what to play. I don’t like having this relationship with musicians where you’re just telling them what to do – if you’re going to work with other musicians, it’s better for them to do their own thing. So we had this idea of building this mechanical drummer, so we didn’t have to worry about that – you could pack it into a flight case and say ‘good night’. We started building this completely mechanical drum robot and we found that the robot itself made more noise than the drums. When it was moving it was just like, clack clack clack clack. It was slightly out of time with the drums as well. You’d just get this awful, awful noise. But it looked good.
“I’m making a soap opera at the moment, we’ve been working ‘til six in the morning each night” – Connan Mockasin
What are you both up to individually right now?
Connan Mockasin: I’m making a soap opera at the moment, we’ve been working ‘til six in the morning each night. My next door neighbour from home when we were young is with me now and a bunch of friends have come over to help me make it.
LA PRIEST: It’s kind of a similar thing (for me) actually. I’m directing a film – it’s not really a film, it’s more like an episode of something. I can’t say that much about it unfortunately, except that I’m building a lot of props made out of polystyrene and plastic, and practicing my camera work. I don’t think it’s that unnatural a move from doing music into doing film stuff at all – it seems like the same kind of job really. It’s more exciting than just going into another record.
Connan Mockasin: It’s a bit boring doing the whole record thing, isn’t it?
LA PRIEST: It’s boring when you ask your label ‘Can I do something a bit different?’ and they go ‘Well, you can, but it doesn’t work as well as this…’ It’s a bit strange really – we feel like we’re definitely getting into some sort of new modern era with every form of technology and media, and people are still making three-minute songs and 40-minute albums. That’s the side that really gets boring.