Bassist Tim Koh (of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) and psych-rocker Connan Mockasin are perhaps two of the last people you’d ever expect to make a surf film. But the friends — and mutual lovers of surf — are about to do just that. Like their respective music projects, it’s sure to be gauzy, experimental and a little weird. Here they speak with fellow musician and surfer Bernard Chadwick (of the California bands Sir Henry and Opus Orange) about random meetings, modern surf music and the benefits of just hanging out.
Bernard Chadwick: So what is your connection to each other?
Tim Koh: We’re friends. We first met in London.
Connan Mockasin: Yeah. Then we kind of bumped into each other a few times around the world: London, New Zealand… Barcelona.
TK: Then I moved to New York like a year and a half ago. Connan was there, too. We kept seeing each other on the street so we’d just hang out a lot. …Like every time I turned the corner he’d be right there.
CM: Sometimes I’d bump into Tim three times a day! So we became friends through that.
BC: Have you guys ever played together?
TK: Our bands haven’t toured together but I play with Connan sometimes for fun. When he’s on tour I’ll just go because I’m a fan.
CM: Sometimes we’ll play at the same festival. But that hasn’t happened for a long time.
TK: But we’re doing this project together now, so we’ll be playing together for that.
BC: Is that the surf film Mexican Summer is producing?
TK: Yeah. Me, Connan and our friend, Andrew [VanWyngarden], we’re doing a movie. Our first location is Nicaragua. We invited a couple of pro surfers and we’re just going to surf and hang out and then score it.
CM: We all surf, or used to. And all three of us play music, so I thought it’d be cool to do something that combined those two things. I’m not very good anymore. As a professional musician I don’t really get the chance to surf very often, so my body’s a wreck. Playing in a band is really not good health-wise, because all you end up doing is socializing and doing what goes with that. I should surf more. It’s healthy.
TK: I used to be really, really into it. I still watch a lot of surf videos though.
CM: We both follow the world tour pretty religiously.
TK: I got more into that because of Connan.
BC: So was this project about traveling but actually being able to surf and be with friends, and still have writing music be a part of that experience?
TK: That’s a big part of it, I think. Spending time with friends, sharing this love for surfing and music. We thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to go do that, and actually try to make a surf film that has really good music.
CM: I think that’s something we all agree on: surf music got so bad for a time. Not to say that we think ours is better, but we’re going to try and make better surf music. We might fail, but let’s give that a go. Music sort of went from college punk in surfing videos to this really poor copy of classic surf music, you know? [Connan sings]. It’s just this nasty modern take on it. What’s the point? It was good back in the day. It’s been made worse. We’ll see how it goes — how everyone works together. We’ll see if everything works or if it’s a disaster.
TK: Mexican Summer has been really supportive about it. They got us a studio there, so we’re also going to try to do the score on set, In real
time. We’ll just kind of go and write stuff on the spot — get inspired by
the surrounding… get influenced
CM: The studio is in the jungle. Tim, Andrew and I have never played together and we don’t really know what we’re going to use or anything.
TK: Everyone plays a bunch of instruments, so we don’t necessarily have to stay on what we usually play…
CM: Yeah, we’ll just swap around instruments.
BC: Who’s on your dream list of pro surfers you want to participate?
CM: I want to see if Dane Reynolds would want to go. That’d be cool. I think he might be up for something like that.
TK: We really wanted Slater.
CM: I’m trying every angle. I [tweeted him], but he didn’t reply. One day
I want to go surfing with him. I’m
from New Zealand; I grew up on the beach — but we never get professional surfers out there. So I thought it’d
be neat to get to surf with some personally. That’s also why I wanted to do this.
TK: John-John would be great too. He seems like a very positive guy.
CM: Yeah, he would be a great guy to ask.
BC: I have lot of questions about both of your practices as musicians and artists. Do you have daily routines in terms of how you go about writing and recording songs?
CM: I’m very undisciplined. I don’t really write music. It happens in bursts, when I’m making something (like a record). Then I’ll have ideas for days, you know? But I’m very lazy when it comes to songwriting. I don’t actually like writing songs. I’m fairly disciplined when I decide I’m going to make a record; I’ll work pretty hard and fast for a month or or two, and then that’s it. Then I’ll stop, go on tour and have fun and then get bored of that.
TK: I’m pretty similar. I used to be better. I went to CalArts and I think that taught me to be more self-disciplined about making stuff; more structured in my process. Now, I’m just so busy. I have to be really inspired. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, whatever. I’d like to just do music when I feel like it. I’d like to paint when it’s painting time. I used to multitask, but now I just do one thing at a time. But I’m pretty lazy, too. I like to just relax.
CM: We do love hanging out.
TK: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s actually inspiring for me. Just feeling good, laughing and exchanging — that helps me. If I’m happy I can make anything. [Laughs]. But I’ve lost my discipline of routine. I think because we travel so much it’s just hard. It’s hard to have a routine. I don’t even have a permanent residence.
BC: Your music seems to be influenced by visual aesthetics. What visual artists you guys are influenced by? Connan, for some reason I was thinking about Mike Kelley a little bit with some of your videos.
CM: Oh! Really?
TK: He’s my biggest influence.
TK: He’s why I went to art school. In high school, I was into art, but I didn’t know much about it. I never saw contemporary art before, really. Then I went to MOCA and I saw, in their permanent collection, this little cat toy sculpture thing of his on the ground. I didn’t even know what it was, but I liked it and thought I would love to do that. Ever since, he’s been one of my biggest influences with music, art…how I wanted to live my life. Art definitely bleeds into the music that I want to make, too. I don’t even listen to so much music anymore. Certain things I look at will give me an idea of a song more than hearing something I like.
BC: What other visual artists do you guys look at or think about?
TK: I like Jim Shaw. I like so many people [laughs]… Ed Ruscha. I’m really good friends with his son, little Ed Ruscha. I love a lot of artists, but my friends really inspire me. Ariel [Pink] is a great artist. Connan is actually a really great painter.
CM: Really? Thanks.
BC: Connan, tell me about your paintings. What do you make? Is there a place to see them?
CM: No, not really. I made and painted my first record cover, Forever Dolphin Love. And I did all the paintings in the booklet for that record. That’s probably the only place to see them. But I was painting before I was doing music.
TK: Your paintings fit your music in a way. They’re kind of outsider-ish or something, you know? Very like… They’re weird. Your paintings are strange [laughs].
BC: [Laughs]. In a good way?
TK: Yeah. There’s a good aesthetic. Connan, your rendering style’s really good.
CM: What is rendering?
TK: The way you kind of… put it down.
[Connan gets a mask/sculpture that he made for his new album cover and puts it on for us to see.]
BC: What’s that?
CM: It’s for my new album cover. I just copied my face with clay and then made a mold out of plaster. It’s supposed to be all ‘caramelly’ — dripping — but once it’s painted it should stick out… Eventually he’ll be all brown and a brown background.
BC: What was it like making your first album compared to what it’s like now?
CM: When I made my first record, I didn’t think it was even going to get released. I didn’t think anyone would hear it. My mum was just telling me I should make a record and I had some bits and pieces around the house to record with, so I was just doing it. I was just being silly, really, and having fun. If I thought it was going to get released and people were going to hear it, I probably would’ve reigned it in a bit.
BC: What do you mean by fun or silliness?
CM: Well, not thinking of it as a business. Not thinking about trying to sell records — just doing what you feel like at the time. And if people like it, that’s a bonus.
TK: Yeah. It’s better not paying attention to what’s going on around us so much. Just living in our your own little bubble — creating your own little universe. We just kind of make these stories or situations in the lyrics or in the music and try to go to this other world for a moment, you know?
BC: Is that how you’ll approach this Mexican Summer film?
CM: I hope so.
TK: Yeah, I hope so too. I don’t know how much of it is in our hands, though.
CM: That’s the thing. We’re not in complete control of it. We’re just going to turn up and play it by ear when we get there, I think.
BC: So you’re not involved in shooting the video?
TK: We could be if we wanted, I’m sure. Initially I think we were trying to figure out what the movie should be. And it got a little stressful so we just kind of said whatever, we’ll just go and see what happens.
BC: This issue is all about secrecy. I was really interested about that in relationship to surfing. It’s really funny because when I first started going to art school I was always hiding the fact that I surfed. I was very embarrassed about it. [Laughs] But it’s very different now.
TK: Well, everyone wants to surf now. It’s like it’s cool.
CM: Yeah, it does seem like it’s getting more popular again.
TK: Especially longboarding…
CM: You know, one of the reasons I got out of surfing in my hometown was because the culture was not such a nice thing to be around. It was pretty aggressive. I don’t know if that’s just my area, but… it feels different these days.
BC: It’s funny because when you listen to either of your bands, you don’t immediately think “surf.” So it’s interesting that you guys want to basically create a whole soundtrack based around surfing or what’s happening in the water.
TK: I mean we have surfing in one of our videos but that’s because the director surfs and he wanted to put that in there. But yeah, I guess people wouldn’t think that we’d be into it. Like the way we look, and what the music is could seem so far from what’s typically associated with surfing. Although when I hear Connan’s music I could see that in a surf video. [Laughs]
CM: Some music is in Lost Atlas. I gave them a couple of songs.
TK: Yeah. I don’t even really know what surf music is anymore — what it would be now. Before you had Dick Dale and the Beach Boys. And they didn’t even really surf.
BC: Right. It is an interesting question, because without doing that poor version of sixties spring reverb surf guitar I think it’s wide open.
CM: Yeah, no, that’s why it’s going to be kind of fun trying to muck around with that idea — to try and make what we think works for surf. We’ll see what happens. It’s kind of exciting.
BC: Do you have thoughts about certain instruments or tones or approaches you plan on taking?
CM: Bongos. Bongos would be great.
BC: Do you think there is a connection between imagination and being in the water?
CM: I think, particularly with good surfers, they’re really going with the moment and they are very imaginative in that moment. It’s actually similar to having a good show. You’re completely in the moment. And time goes by so quickly. I really like those moments when a wave’s coming in and you know it’s yours because you’re the only one in position, and you know it’s your go. It’s really exciting and then — you forget about everything, just as you’re about to take off and…
TK: …you are truly in that moment. You’re tapping into intuition. And that’s similar with music. Somehow you get to a place where you’re not thinking, and everything is just…
CM: …good. When you stop thinking about everything else, that’s a good place to be in. That’s the best place to be in of all.