Today’s Feature, February 25-26: Stuart O’Connor

February 26, 2008 at 1:30 pm (Today's Feature)

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It isn’t a surprise to hear many of our readers are unfamiliar with the work of Stuart O’Connor. He’s a secreted revelation from London, England, a master of the modern folk movement that helps to prove a saying of one of his good friends: “There’s more talent within 10 miles of your front door than there is in the top 10.” While this may or may not be true, O’Connor is a fine example of an immensely gifted artist simply busting at the seams with unreal potential to take over audiences across the globe.

The first time I heard songs such as “Note that Says” and the instrumental, “Ask All” I was hooked. These songs so simple yet so refined evoked images across my mind from the first note to the last – something just about every artist strives for and something O’Connor achieves with seemingly relative ease.

O’Connor’s debut record, “Autonomous Debut” which was released with the label “Late Bus Records” was a different kind of experience for the folk artist. “I’d never considered working with different musicians and instruments. Suddenly I had all these new options for the songs and I took to them with massive enthusiasm. I called on the talents of many great players and friends to make a body of work I could be proud of.”

The new album set for release next month carries a lot more experience behind it. Playing over 400 shows across the planet since his debut collection, there are so many stories to tell through these new pieces. Stories that O’Connor hopes will give audiences “a realization of ones personal strength when backed into a corner.”

If you go to a live Stuart O’Connor performance, you’ll notice he always plays bare foot (for reasons surprising – you’ll have to read further to learn why). Swing by his site to check out the multitude of videos he has posted of past performances and look into his other efforts that include the progressive rock trio “My Pet Junkie” as well as the collective called “Midnight Moth.” The new record will be launched in North Hertfordshire on Easter Sunday, March 23rd. Learn more in the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Stuart O’Connor

PensEyeView. com (PEV): Was getting involved in music something that you always wanted to do?

Stuart O’Connor (So): No never. I knew I liked music but assumed that being so academically bad my music skills were just as bad. So I never pursued it. I always found it so regimented and boring. It was only when I was 17 that I decided to try guitar because I liked so much guitar music.

PEV: Hailing from London, England, what kind of music were you listening to growing up?

SO: I was defiantly a late developer as far as taste was concerned. I grew up listening to anything my older Brothers were listening to which stemmed from NWA to Dream Warriors to really poor music I’d never openly want to confess to, Despite still having a soft spot for (nostalgia reasons only of course).

Funnily enough the brother who listened to NWA became a policeman. If you can’t ‘F–k em’ then I guess you might as well join em.

PEV: Tell us about the music scene in the UK and what is your take on it?

SO: The UK music scene is shrouded in sub-scene’s which is dominated by the major music press. There’s the general metal, punk & Rock scene which is written about by Kerraang! Magazine. Then there’s the Trendy hair and fashion indie scene which is written about by NME. Then there’s the rest. The rest is usually where the good stuff is. A good friend of mine who used to be a journalist had a saying “There’s more talent within 10 miles of your front door than there is in the top 10.” I honestly believe that to be true.

I guess I might sound overtly cynical about it. I’m not. Being independent has opened my eyes to the masses of great people and bands there are out there. You’ve just got to find them.

PEV: On your site you offer a lot of videos for fans to see your shows. Do you find the videos have helped move your career forward?

SO: I think they have. People have spoken of them at gigs which is a good sign. I need to get some proper videos together though. Some of them are very rough.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Stuart O’Connor performance?

SO: It’s always different. That’s one thing for sure. Because I play over 200 times a year I’ve stopped writing a set list. I let my mood run things. I recently did a show on the south coast of England where I didn’t play a single song on my record. I also linked every song together with loops and ambience so it all merged into one 45 min set.

Also the line up for my gigs changes fairly regularly. Sometimes it’ll be solo or with Riad (Double Bass). Then other times it’ll be with keys or percussion or even with Didgeridoo.

PEV: Tell us about your debut, “Autonomous Debut”. SO: I wanted to go full time and so having a record to sell was essential. So I spent 6 months recording and re-recording all these songs that had just been sitting there waiting for a home.

Until then I had only really recorded with ‘My Pet Junkie’ (A Prog Rock Power Trio I’m in) and so I’d never considered working with different musicians and instruments. Suddenly I had all these new options for the songs and I took to them with massive enthusiasm. I called on the talents of many great players and friends to make a body of work I could be proud of. The songs themselves are very emotive and making the record very much helped me deal with a lot that was going on at the time (an old cliche` I know but true none the less).

PEV: How is this release different than your previous works?

SO: Like I said until then I’d only really recorded with MPJ. So to go from making prog rock with a very democratic 3 person system in place to introverted folk tunes was very different. It was daunting but refreshing at the same time to know that every decision is yours and yours only.

To be honest it was perfect for that time in my life.

PEV: What can fans expect from the new album?

SO: It’s quite simply a progression. Since ÒAutonomous” came out I’ve been played 400 plus shows on both sides of the world. I’ve gained a lot of confidence from this and also had some very turbulent times. All the songs are results of this.

One song is about a run in with the police I had whilst on tour in England. Another is a reaction to gigging in Auckland and to feel as though it could still be London (Due to the same shops and restaurants being owned) despite its geographic distance. Generally it’s a sense of realization of ones personal strength when backed into a corner.

PEV: In all your travels, what has been the favorite city to play and why?

SO: I would have to say Sydney. Even the nothing gigs have amounted to a big something in Sydney. They really took to me well there so I guess I can only reciprocate that.

PEV: Is there a certain “up and coming” band right now you think we should all be looking out for?

SO: Well I have to rate North Herts band Frog Stupid. They always put on a good show. Also West Herts Trio Ocelot. But on a non local front I have oodles of time for The Todd Sickafoose Group, Special Benny, The cinematic Orchestra & Youthmovies.

A lot of people in the UK don’t seem to have heard of the Mars Volta yet. But they’ve very much up and come by now I reckon. Also on a singer songwriter front I’d recommend Lianne Hall.

PEV: How would you describe your sound?

SO: Modern Folk

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

SO: I wouldn’t say I’m that successful. But I’m surviving and that’s enough. My friends and family both have mixed reactions. My family worries for me but seem to support me. I think my friends have generally supported me but some have turned their back. I worry that ambition makes me look ugly from time to time. But I know I’d be far uglier living a life I didn’t like.

PEV: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

SO: I honestly can’t answer that. My life is so open right now it could go anywhere. I’m only on album number two. I’m just gonna let circumstance lead. Come back to me in 5 years. I might have a better Idea then.

PEV: When you aren’t performing or traveling, what can we find you doing in their spare time?

SO: Usually being really lazy. The touring really does knock me for six. So that involves listening to music (Thelonious Monk Especially); playing guitar and watching films.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Stuart O’Connor?

SO: I love Horror films. Especially Japanese ones. If they get the mood right I’m hooked. The original of the ‘Ring’ still scares me to think about the mood it creates. Oh and I broke three guitars in three gigs with my over energetic playing style.

PEV: What is a normal day of a show for you like? Any pre-show rituals?

SO: I usually put off thinking about the show till I’m on my way to it. Then whilst I’m driving there I like to consider a set list. I always play bare foot. I guess that’s my gimmick now. But it honestly makes me feel more relaxed on stage. I learnt it as a technique from the intro scene of ÒDie Hard” when Bruce Willis gets jittery about flying.

PEV: In one word, describe Stuart O’Connor.

SO: Understated (I hope Ð That’s three words, Doh!)

PEV: If you could have your “dream collaboration” with any artist, who would it be and why?

SO: Although I’d relish working with heroes such as Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, Thelonious Monk, Tom Morello, Cedric Bixlar or Miles Davis. I think the only one that would feasibly work would be with Bjork. I think she’d be a joy to work with and really get the best out of me.

PEV: What has been the best part of your career so far?

SO: Playing Support to Ocean Color Scene. They were one of those bands that were a part of my adolescence.

PEV: What is next for Stuart O’Connor?

SO: Get the new album out there. It’s getting launched at a gig in North Hertfordshire on Easter Sunday, March 23rd. I can’t wait.

For more information on Stuart O’Connor, check out www.myspace.com/stuartoconnor

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