The beginning of an interview is always a little bit awkward. To avoid that, before we started chatting at a pizzeria in the East Village, London O’ Connor specifically asked if we could start our conversation by exchanging embarrassing stories about ourselves. And so, when I met with the young NYC artist, I opened by admitting my horrible sense of coordination and being prone to tripping over my own feet.
London had me beat, though. When he was still a kid learning how to skate, he recounted, he was practicing a trick one night, messed it up, and face-planted. One of his friends not only recorded the only thing, but then proceeded to upload it to one of the biggest skating sites at the time. Kids at his school and across the web were laughing incessantly at his expense.
That kid who ate concrete after a nasty fall was nowhere to be seen when I saw him perform his first live show as London O’ Connor a week later. London performed songs from his just released project, O∆, with carefully-crafted charisma. Still performing songs that sound like bedroom jams, London invited the entire crowd at Rough Trade Records into his world.
Surrounding that show and the new record, we talked about what constitutes “normal” in this world, skateboarding, his love of film scores and occasionally his fantastical music.
When did you first want to do music?
The first thing I wanted to do was skateboarding when I was six. Around the time I was ten, before I turned eleven, I started getting into music. Then it was just rapping. I just wanted to express myself through words. I was always in my head a lot as a kid, so it made sense to write that shit down. I got older, and it got more musical, and I started thinking about sounds. Then someone showed me Radiohead, and then I started producing.
What do you mean you were in your head a lot as a kid?
I would think about so much shit. I feel when I was younger other kids were just able to do things, but I was always thinking about what the results were going to be. I was thinking about space and what adults feel. I had all these thoughts and kids weren’t talking about that shit, so I would just skate and think.
Did you ever—I don’t know, this is something I did—watch shows with superheroes and imagine what it’s like to have those powers and stuff?
Oh yeah, fucking all the time. I would think really critically about it, as if I was going to turn seventeen and someone was going to ask, “What’s your decision? What power are you going to have?” And I was really deliberating to make sure I would have the best one.
What kind of early rap stuff were you listening too?
I was really into was A Tribe Called Quest. I found out about them from the Thrasher: Skate and Destroy video game. I used to play that and the soundtrack was so good. A lot of the music I heard and identified with came from skate videos.
What attracted you to Radiohead when you first heard them? At least attracted you enough to want to make music?
There was so much harmony happening at once. After growing up rapping, I used to really love choirs and getting to hear all these colors at once, expanding and enveloping. It was like seeing new colors for the first time. The harmony was so rich and it would swallow you and it felt like the songs had trap doors in them and they would grab you and take you somewhere.
You come out of that and you know, no disrespect, if someone wants to make you a beat and it’s a drum loop… [laughter]… I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to learn whatever the fuck that was.
Growing up, I was never trained in classical music or anything. I was taught English so I could rap, but no one taught me harmonies. No one taught me any of this shit, so none of us were using that to express ourselves. This shit sounds way better than words. This shit definitely beats words.
Is that why you have your last project was all self-produced? Or one of the reasons?
I kind of went down a rabbit hole after that, learning how to produce. Then I started playing piano more and I started meditating around the same time. I started feeling that words weren’t the best way to communicate how you were feeling. I went through a period where I was only playing the piano and expressing myself through sounds. I realized that you can say something with where the drums come into a song, or where you pull them out. You can say something by the colors you make. I don’t know; saying something with words is kind of the smallest way to say some things. I have to produce because all of that is me speaking. I have to do all of it or I’m not getting all of my thoughts out.
Do you enjoy working with other collaborators?
It’s fun to have conversations with people. That’s what it feels like. It’s weird though, man. I’ll send [music] to my friend Jesse, who plays guitar, and we’ll both sing, and it’ll feel like a conversation, and it’ll feel real because we’ll have a conversation. And it’s real because we’ll do that, and have a conversation doing that.
It’s weird the way that people make music now. It can feel really athletic. A bunch of people will be in a room and they’re all trying to come up with the catchiest thing and no one is speaking with each other. And I can’t really do that. Even if I could contribute, I don’t even want to. It feels like feels weird.
Saying something with words is the smallest way to say some things. I have to produce because all of that is me speaking. I have to do all of it or I’m not getting all of my thoughts out.
So I know that you went to NYU. What were you studying there?
I studied recorded music.
What did that entail?
They taught us how to look at things. No one at that school tells you what to do. When I look at music now I see it differently. I think about all these things about the art of making records. I see all these different sides to it now. So when I got to express myself I’m trying to express all of that instead of one two-dimensional thing.
All of us that went to that school, love a lot of music. We have less barriers now. We listened to a century of recorded music so we heard a lot of shit. That was really helpful to experience, after growing up and being in a culture of rap, which felt like was very closed. It felt like Hogwarts. It felt like I was learning some magic shit.
Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in San Marcos, California.
Did it feel like a big adjustment when you moved to NYC?
I always knew I wasn’t supposed to stay in San Marcos, so it felt natural. I moved here at 18. I’d never been here, I just came for school. I’d be here half the year and I’d be back in San Marcos for half, being like, “Shit… this is the trap.” It just pushed me to make sure I never stayed there. It was weird at first, but then it was always interesting to see the back and forth and see how bold people are here versus where I grew up, and letting that teach you.
What drew you to skating? You mentioned skating was the first thing you had a passion for.
My friends Big Sean and Little Sean found a skateboard in a bush and gave it to me when I was six and I started skating. I don’t know why but it was really helpful to me. I was in my head so much as a kid and it was something I could do on my own and do all the time and practice and really understand. It was something I could do by myself.
One of the things on your project is that you always start things with “Captain’s Log” and I wonder about that?
I’ve been doing that even before I started working on the album. In the world we are doing all of this weird shit all of the time, but no one here takes a step back to realize it’s weird so much the shit that we do that’s normal is so strange. And once I started noticing that, I just started documenting shit that we’re doing. The first captain’s log that I did was a house party not knowing what to do with myself and just seeing how kids change their behaviors at a party. It seemed like foreign shit, like I was on a foreign planet, and I just started documenting like that. It reminds me to stay honest in regards to what I’m seeing regardless of if what I’m seeing is normal.
What is a normal thing that is kind of strange that you think we take for granted?
We’re in this restaurant right now—and I think about this a lot —I don’t know why people don’t sit on the tables. It’s easy to sit on as a surface actually it’s similar to a chair, it’s flat. But no one ever does it. There are all these invisible boundaries. No one will ever sit on this, or no one will ever sit up here, and I can’t think about why people wouldn’t except for that they just won’t.
Or you’ll meet a person and there is just shit you won’t talk about when you first meet them. Even if this stuff is deeply important to you or even if it’s stuff you think about every day. There is shit you’re stressed out about and you thinking about eighty percent of the time, but you meet someone new and you never say any of it. Why do we do that? I don’t know, but all humans do it so it fascinates me.
Maybe when you first meet someone, if you don’t know them, you’re kind of a bit unsure if you want to open yourself up to them…
Yeah, cause they might vaporize you.
What do the circle and triangle? What do those symbols mean?
They’re the symbols for explorations that I’ve forever interacted with it.
Is that kind of why the tape is like someone landed on a Martian planet and they were like, “What is this new strange world I’m now experiencing?” That’s what I liked when I first heard it. I liked your songs but listening to the tape in context it’s like a kid flew and crash landed and was like, “People! These people are weird—not bad—but weird.”
Dude I feel like you’re inside my head right now. A lot of it make me feel like that too. A lot of that stuff is like, when I’m making sounds that feel like spaces, and I’m exploring them, that’s how I feel here. So it’s cool that you picked up on it like that. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s cool that you go it.
What kind of music have you been listening to recently?
Still listening to a lot of film scores — Michael Giacchino, Leonard Rosenman. Listening to a lot of Girlpool. A lot of C418, who made the Minecraft soundtrack. Still listening to a lot of the Earthbound soundtrack.
Kicking it old school. What draws you towards film scores?
When people make pop music, sometimes they’re just choosing sounds that will be catchiest and stick in someone’s ear the most. But when people are scoring films they’re taking a particular emotion and expressing it in music, saying, “this musical part is the best representation of this feeling.” Also, I feel like everyone’s lives are more epic than they give them credit for. We look at movies like “that’s epic” … But there are people that are going to die for their dreams. That are going to experience the most extreme emotions that humans can. It happens to all us. So I walk around and listen to film scores.