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Connan Mockasin’s Tokyo Story

The surreal soul singer shares a raucous Tokyo photo album and tales of Japan

Caramel is the soul music of alienation. Connan Mockasin’s second album, it contrasts traditional notions of masculinity, security and devotion with modern ennui. There are lush signifiers of love and unity unsettled by the New Zealander’s alien mewl. Following the mind-bending ‘Forever Dolphin Love’, it’s a rippled odyssey that, at its best, sounds as if J Dilla swiped the skits from Outkast’s the Love Below and looped them into grooved-down bedroom jams.

Where Mockasin’s debut was conceived in an abandoned haunted house, Caramel materialised during a one month stay in a hotel room at the heart of Tokyo, the songwriter enwombed amid metropolitan entropy. To supplement this month’s ‘Tripping’ theme, he steps outside and guides us through his psychological affair with Japan’s “mystical” capital.

"I’ve been to Japan a few times but never stayed long. The first time, I visited my brother, who lives in Osaka. I felt homesick [for Japan] when I left. I love the atmosphere. It seems quite futuristic, but old-futuristic - the buildings look like they’re trying to be futuristic but there’s something dated about them. I feel really alien there - it’s a nice feeling. Anything that I find mysterious, that I don’t quite understand, excites me.

I love the Miyazaki films, and [Tokyo] feels just like those. It’s a mystical world. I remember the first time I saw one was in a school, maybe four in the morning. I was friends with a primary school teacher. He was a strange guy, much older than me; I would’ve been about 20. He was sleeping at the school - a primary school - and he’d invite us round to watch movies after the security people had been through. He had a projector in the school hall, and we sneaked in there and watched it. And I didn’t wanna watch it because it was a cartoon. I was like, ‘Ahhh, I’m not really into cartoons.’ And we watched the movie and it was really neat, and I walked home, people’s lights were just starting to turn on, amongst all this bush and houses and trees. It was all misty and foggy - it makes good memories."

"I recorded Caramel for the whole of March. I liked knowing I could go outside and enter a completely different world. Having friends stay over, having drinks with them, and sleepovers. We had little parties. I got to meet a few new people. Some of them were on the record as well. I mostly recorded the album on my own, but I had some visitors. I had some parties with [manager] Sofia, my friend Matt and some Japanese people, friends of friends - some of them were on tape as well. People laughing, giggling, having a drink. And we had earthquakes, a lot of earthquakes.

It’s a fast place. Very very fast. I’m quite slow, but you don’t realise until you get out. London’s pretty hectic as well; Paris, I find really fast. It’s something that affects you without knowing. When I go back to my parents, they live in a place called Te Awanga, a small beach village with no one around. Everything’s so slow, it takes a week or two to get used to it. There’s probably about 200 people that live there. There’s surfing, fishing, wineries, very good wine. We’ve got vineyards surrounding our property and beach on the other side. There’s a river there that comes out at the point where there’s reef. My parents built a place there in the mid-’70s. I like the contrast, it’s good having a balance of the two.

Saying that, I do find Japanese people... relaxing? It’s generalising, but I find them really thoughtful, calming people to be around. Almost too polite, sometimes. It seems like it’d be hard to annoy them. But there’s something about Tokyo - I always wanna be there. The people are really polite and funny. And really cute as well, of course. They have a complete different look, and everything."