Writing in international fashion bible Vogue, Steff Yotka describes him thus: “Kiwi-born, he’s a groovy, lively musician who started his career in London before touring with Charlotte Gainsbourg and then Radiohead in 2012, and settling in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Hiromi Oshima. But the facts don’t really do justice to the surreal, serene, oddly sexual music he creates.”
“The first impression I had was of this guy who was a bit like Brian Jones singing like a nine-year-old girl,” remembers Erol Alkan, the British DJ who released Connan’s first UK album.
“He was clearly someone special,” Neil Finn observed. “Looking the audience in the eye with an infectious grin, tearing off slippery licks and singing very strange songs in the voice of a child. It was very compelling and just a little unsettling.”
“I think it’s really brave,” said Mica Levia, soundtrack composer and leader of Micachu and The Shapes. “It’s just completely honest. It’s kind of bananas, but honest.”
Connan Tant Hosford grew up in the small beachside town of Te Awanga, Hawke’s Bay, in a household where creativity was encouraged. His father Adrian, an immigrant from Ireland, had sung in bands before turning his hand to architectural drafting. The young Connan would draw, built his own miniature amusement park rides with his two brothers, draw comics, and play music.
By the age of five he was writing and recording his own songs. At intermediate school he sang and played guitar in a band. On his father’s suggestion they named themselves The Four Skins. An early inspiration was Michael Jackson, whose falsetto vocals remain an audible influence on his singing, but by the age of ten he had immersed himself in the blues, particularly the guitar styles of B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix. Emulating the latter, he even taught himself to play the instrument with his teeth. “I played so much that I was probably a better guitarist then than I am now,” he told Martyn Pepperell a decade later.
But by the time he reached secondary school, adolescent self-consciousness had kicked in and Connan temporarily put music aside. After he left school he picked fruit around Hawkes Bay and acted in local theatre productions before moving to Wellington, where he began playing again.
There was a short-lived trio called Grampa Moff with bass player Blake Pryor and drummer Christopher Chalmers, followed by a brief spell of performing solo. In 2004 he formed Connan and the Mockasins (he was making his own moccasin shoes out of dirt-bike tyres and sheepskin) with jazz school graduates Ross Walker on double bass and Seamus Ebbs on drums. In 2004 they released the first of two EPs, Naughty Holidays: five Hosford originals that combined fierce Hendrix-inspired guitar with guileless lyrics about beaches and roller skates, which he delivered in a high, child-like voice. “You don’t have to try to be original”, he told Pavement’s India Whitehead-Lopez at the time.
Connan and the Mockasins second EP, Uuu It’s Teasy, came out in 2005 and featured more of his spectacular guitar playing and his ever more idiosyncratic songwriting. A standout track was ‘Sneaky Sneaky Dogfriend’, an infectiously funky ode to an unpredictable pet.
Later that year the group left for London. With little money and no gigs, their first months in the city were challenging. At times they were reduced to sleeping in tunnels, on park benches and, on one occasion, a night bus. Eventually the trio found accommodation in a two-bedroom flat above a café in Shoreditch.
“The flat was tiny,” Connan told Vicki Anderson. “There were six of us living there and there were only two bedrooms. There were massive railway lines on one side and below us was this café-sandwich shop owned by this guy, Jason. I think he was quite mad. He was a young guy but he was real scary. He’d appear in the doorway naked and swinging a samurai sword. We never touched his sandwiches.”
Before long they had secured a residency playing at the Water Rats Theatre in Kings Cross and begun to be reviewed in the London media. ‘A sound unto their own, these New Zealanders are the most exciting live act we’ve seen in a long time’ opined Music Week. Jude Law came to one of their shows. Regal-Parlophone released a 7-inch 45 of ‘Sneaky Sneaky Dogfriend’.
Meanwhile, an aunt of Connan’s who was working as a nanny for Fatboy Slim – alias Norman Cook, formerly of the Housemartins – had given the celebrated DJ/producer a copy of Uuu It’s Teasy. Cook liked it, went to hear the band live, sang with them on stage, and volunteeredhis services as a producer.
In late 2006 the Mockasins returned to New Zealand for a summer tour. On their return to Britain they made some preliminary recordings with Norman Cook, but ultimately decided they would rather produce themselves.
Before the end of 2007 Ross Walker left the band, replaced by James Milne who was simultaneously pursuing his own career as Lawrence Arabia. With this new line-up the group played the CMJ music festival in New York, but broke up soon after.
Under the solo moniker Connan Mockasin, Connan guested on Fatboy Slim’s next project, The Brighton Port Authority. Released in early 2009, Brighton Port Authority’s I Think We’re Going To Need A Bigger Boat features Connan on the track ‘Jumps The Fence’ alongside contributions from David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal, among others.
Over the next couple of years Connan would travel back and forth between Britain and New Zealand. In Britain he consolidated his musical connections, playing solo support slots for Crowded House, Late Of The Pier, Warpaint and Micachu and The Shapes among others, while in New Zealand he spent time with the Finn family, becoming part of the BARB project with Liam Finn, James Milne, Eliza Jane Barnes, Seamus Ebbs, Jol Mulholland and Will Rickets. BARB toured New Zealand in 2009 and recorded a self-titled album at Roundhead Studios, which would be released late the following year.
Early 2010 saw the release of Connan’s solo debut. Largely self-recorded during a stay at his parents’ place in Te Awanga, it was initially released as Please Turn Me Into The Snat. The ten songs varied in length from 25 seconds to 10 minutes-plus. Hendrix-like riffs had given way to something more melodic and impressionistic – the lyrical, mystical Hendrix rather than the fiery bluesman – while the lyrics seemed to come from some storybook universe filled with Suess-ian characters from the Mockasin imagination: Megumi, the Quadropuss, the Unicorn in Uniform and, of course, The Snat.
In New Zealand Please Turn Me Into The Snat was released independently and distributed by Rhythmethod. In Britain it was released on Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label. However after a misunderstanding about the cover (a picture of Connan’s face fainted out in brown) the whole thing was repackaged and reissued the following year as Forever Dolphin Love. To promote the album in Europe, Connan put together the first version of his current live band with Matt Eccles (drums), Nicholas Harsant (bass), Sam Eastgate (keyboards) and Rory McCarthy (percussion). This band (including Connan) would also as backing group for singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, who would record Connan’s song ‘Out Of Touch’ for her 2011 album Stage Whisper, with Connan on guitar. The same year he played bass on Lawrence Arabia’s album The Sparrow.
In 2012 Radiohead chose Connan to open their shows in Australia and New Zealand. “They’re easy to get along with,” he told Gareth Shute. “I tend not to do support slots these days but I couldn’t really say no to Radiohead.”
Connan recorded his second album over a month in a Tokyo hotel room. It was released in late 2013. He titled it Caramel, explaining to New Zealand Herald’s Lydia Jenkin that he had deliberately set out to create music that sounded like the word caramel. “A little bit flirty and as slick as I could make it.”
Sensual, psychedelic and soulful, Connan conceived Caramel as a thematic sequel to Forever Dolphin Love. As he explained to The Guardian: “It starts with a guy I call the Boss, and he's got this deep voice, and he's in love with the dolphin, the one from the last record. And then he introduces the dolphin into the new record."
Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon and host of Talk Show, described it as “kinda like what you’d hope Donald Trump would be playing if he released a sex tape.”
In 2014 Connan and his band appeared at the Glastonbury Festival, and returned to New Zealand to play Laneway the following summer. 2015 saw one of several collaborative projects come to fruition. The EP Myths 001 was written and recorded in Marfa, Texas, during the Marfa Myths festival and was a collaboration between Connan and British artist Devonte Hynes. It was followed in 2016 by the LP Soft Hair, which combined Connan’s talents with those of Sam Eastgate, now known as Sam Dust. ‘Delightfully weird and yet unmistakably icky’, said The Guardian’s Kate Hutchinson.
Further collaborations took place at Mockasin’s Wet Dream, an informal series of concerts, curated by Connan, at a variety of locations. At London’s Moth Club he was joined on stage by James Blake, along with Liam Finn and Connan’s father. At the Marfa Festival his set included a guest appearance by Ariel Pink. In Auckland he was joined on stage at the Crystal Palace in Mount Eden by Mick Fleetwood for a version of the early Fleetwood Mac hit ‘Need Your Love So Bad’.
In 2017 he took part in a concert in New York to celebrate the 75th birthday of Velvet Underground founder John Cale. His performance included appearing in a nurse’s uniform for ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’. Discussing it with the Listener’s James Belfield, Connan was typically nonchalant. “It’s not like he’s a friend – I’d never met him before – but people say you’ve got to do this and I find it hard to say no…
“Velvet Underground is not part of my background and I didn’t even know the tracks that we did. I said that to him at the first rehearsal – I told him I’m not really aware of this stuff. I don’t think it went down too well, because he’s quite grumpy. And I did get told off a bit – like the bad boy of the group.”
He also collaborated with New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker to launch Walker’s first eyewear collection for men, titled Monumental. “We liked the idea of creating a monument as you’d see on the streets of Paris or London, and the idea of taking an interesting man and turning him into a monument,” Walker told Vogue. “When we thought of the men we would turn into monuments, Connan was at the top of the list ... What I like about Connan’s style – his music, his ideas, his concepts, his own look – is that he doesn’t just run with the pack and run with the trends. He’s a modern icon, and he’s actually better than an icon.”
Connan currently lives in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. He moved there in 2015 to be with his Japanese-born girlfriend, Hiromi Oshima. But he was back in New Zealand for the summer of 2018, exploring some of New Zealand’s small towns as a guest on Neil and Liam Finn’s Where’s My Room? tour, and fronting his own shows in major cities, including a set at Laneway.
Famous musicians continue to seek him out, hoping to add some of his singular magic to their projects. He has recently been working on undisclosed recordings with James Blake and Vince Staples.
But for Connan, the motive is solely to have fun. “I will only continue if I am excited by something and it's something I want to do, as opposed to just being a musician who makes records and then tours,” he told The Quietus. “I would stop even if it means that I would be broke, but I'm used to being broke anyway. It's a good thing that my 'career' has been a gradual thing, from having absolutely nothing and sleeping in parks. I'd hate to have sudden success and gotten used to a certain lifestyle.”
For now there is enough to keep him excited. He has created a five-part mini-series, Bostyn ‘n’ Dobson about a school music teacher who falls in love with a male student he mistakes for a girl. And there’s a related album, Jassbusters, to be released concurrently with the series. He’s been trying his hand at stand-up comedy, which he says he’s like to do more of. And he’d like to make a record with his dad.
Hosford may or may not have played and recorded his own Michael Jackson covers at age five.
He spent a stint working in vineyards and acting in theatre in Hawke's Bay before relocating to Wellington.
When he was a small child, his parents let him build his own carnival rides in the backyard.
Contrary to popular belief, Hosford is not a classically or jazz-trained musician, and no, he did not attend jazz school in Wellington.