From skating to couch-surfing, London O’Connor has spent much of his life on the move. Escaping the suburban boredom of his upbringing in Southern California to move to New York, he enrolled at the prestigious Clive Davis Institute and found himself a muse for teen road trip photographer Ryan McGinley, as well as sleeping on the couch of the Sonic Youth and Public Enemy producer Nick Sansano. It was Sansano who recently remastered O’Connor’s self-produced debut O∆, an anthology of lo-fi slacker tunes, recorded on equipment that fit into his couch-surfing backpack.
In its narrative-driven simplicity, O∆ has gained O’Connor a following of similarly disaffected kids from the middle of nowhere, many of whom text and call him on his publicly available number – the same one we used to contact him. Having recently played his debut headline show in his namesake city, O’Connor reflected on the record and life on the road.
Ammar Kalia: What was growing up in the suburbs like?
London O’Connor: I would just skate and the only music I would listen to that was any good was in skate videos. I grew up in a suburb in Southern California and it was pretty boring, there’s nothing to do. No culture reached us there so you’d skate in car parks or break into school on the weekend and skate down stairs, that’s all we’d do with our time to not go crazy.
Ammar: How did you end up in New York in the Clive Davis Institute?
London: I really wanted to get out of where I grew up and New York seemed like the farthest place I could go while still being in the country. Growing up in a small, stifling place, you always feel like there’s more to the world than what you’re seeing and that there’s more in you than what you’re able to express or what’s shown to you. It’s as if you’re one colour, you’re blue, and the place you grew up only had three colours: red, orange, and green, so your whole life you don’t feel right because there’s no one like you around.
“Growing up in a small, stifling place, you always feel like there’s more to the world than what you’re seeing…”
Ammar: Have you been couch surfing since you first moved to New York?
London: The day I released my first single, Oatmeal, was coincidentally the day the lease expired on my last apartment in New York. A lot of people were listening to it online and I started to feel like I was an artist but at the same time I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night. I went on in that state for two years. I do love it, everything I produced I was able to make from a backpack and I enjoyed not living with a lot of possessions and how that made me think. It’s also tough though to not have any privacy and that’s why I make ambient music when I’m travelling, to give myself some space.
Ammar: What’s the symbolism behind O∆?
London: I can’t really explain to you what it means but it has meaning in my life because of the experiences I’ve gone through while I’ve held onto that symbol. It’s become a symbol under which everything that I do is connected. O∆ is a force and I’m the leader of that force. We make utilities, everything I make is meant to be useful. When a kid plays Guts, if it opens up their mind to realise that it’s OK if they want to change their surroundings or get out, then the track becomes a tool. Kids will text me that they’re working on their art and they’ll listen to the record and it becomes a tool to help create that also.
Ammar: Colours seem to have a strong resonance for you, what connection do they have to the music?
London: As a human, all we have is sensory experience, so when I’m making things there’s always a visual part to it. Since I wasn’t trained on any instrument, at first I see sounds as shapes. I see how sound feels, colour is a language and me wearing blue and yellow is how you say London in that language.
“Where I grew up, there was so much hyper-masculine bullshit and all of it is so dishonest it didn’t make any sense to me.”
Ammar: Does the dress on you wear on your album cover fit into that language too?
London: I was just wearing dresses for a while in my life. Where I grew up, there was so much hyper-masculine bullshit and all of it is so dishonest it didn’t make any sense to me. All of us as humans, when we’re balanced, are equally masculine and feminine and masculinity and femininity are energies, they have nothing to do with being male or female. We need to hold that balance within us to be complete. The only way I knew how to express how I felt about it was to start wearing dresses, and also they’re really comfortable to skate in!
Ammar: On Nobody Hangs Out Anymore you talk about the negative effects of social media – what’s your relationship to the digital? Do you still use the number you tweeted out last year?
London: You’re calling me on that number right now – I’m still out here! It feels more honest to me to speak directly to my fans. The reason I put it on my Twitter is because this kid tweeted me and he wanted to speak. He was from Wichita, Kansas which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and I knew it would be so long before I could play shows deep enough to reach him that I replied with my number and said he could text me. That was the beginning of it. Twitter in general feels dishonest because people say things that they think will be immediately popular to others, instead of their own thoughts. It’s not a natural conversation. It makes you create things that people like at that specific moment, rather than being ahead of your time. Twitter’s a trap!
Follow London O’Connor on Soundcloud.