The Rumpus Interview with Geoffrey O’Connor
Aussie Geoffrey O’Connor, has been the lead of the band Crayon Fields, a Melbourne-based indie dream pop act since 2001. He recently released his solo debut Vanity Is Forever, which is decadent in infectious dreamy synth lounge hooks. This is over-the-top dreamsynth romance and lust done just right. The Rumpus caught up with him via email to discuss synthesizers, deciding to do a solo release and atmosphere.
The Rumpus: This the first release under your own name. Why did you decide to do this?
Geoffrey O’Connor: The change was mostly for the sake of longevity. I want to continue writing, releasing and performing my songs when I’m 80—and a corny band name doesn’t really suit the geriatric crooner vibe. Also, I have only recently started to like my birth name. I used to think it sounded a bit like a butler’s name, but now I quite like it. I figured I should put it to good use.
Rumpus: How do you work differently in solo vs. with your band Crayon Fields?
O’Connor: With Crayon Fields I write specifically for the instrumentation of the band, which is a limitation I enjoy. When writing for my solo project I am more inclined to branch out into drum machines, synthesisers and string sections. Having both options keeps songwriting exciting for me.
Rumpus: You just toured with Jens Lekman. What was that like? What is your favorite story from the tour?
O’Connor: It was wonderful! We performed at some incredible places such as the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (a robust death palace that will definitely withstand a nuclear holocaust) in LA and a Synagogue in DC. The small crew we toured with were a lot of fun. Watching the Australian coming-of-age classic ‘The Year My Voice Broke’ in the tour van whilst speeding along a wide open highway was a highlight. In DC I accidentally put my hand in an audience member’s mouth during a song, which was an unforgettable experience for me.
Rumpus: How many synthesizers do you own? What is the first one you purchased and when/why?
O’Connor: Five. The first one I purchased was a Solina String Ensemble (I’ve been told it was a favourite of Burt Bacharach’s) and there is a story behind it. When I was 15 I briefly worked at a rehearsal studio owned by a strange man who always scared me, and a few years after I left he was on the front page of all the local papers. I learnt from these articles that he was the leader of a group called the ‘Black Shirts’, a gang of divorced men with megaphones who would bully and torment women who’d left their husbands and believed adultery should be punishable by death. There is an article about them here.
Anyway, before I knew all this, he sold me his old Solina String Ensemble for $150—which is roughly a tenth of what it is worth. It was beautiful.
Rumpus: Do you have a favorite synthesizer? If so, what is it and why?
O’Connor: Probably my Roland Juno. They have a timeless and unique sound that will always excite people. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 200 years the invention of the Juno is considered as important as the invention of the violin.
Rumpus: What drew you in to the synthesizer sound?
O’Connor: I love how malleable the sound of a good synthesizer can be. I guess the main thing that draws me to them is their potential to generate unique sounds. I also like the contrast between synthetic instrumentation and the human voice.
Rumpus: Let’s talk specifically about the synth in “Whatever Leads Me to You.” What are you playing in that song? Why did you choose that synthesizer for that melody?
O’Connor: There are two synthesizers in that song. A Juno and a Roland SH01. I couldn’t decide whether the melody was more suited to a higher or lower register, so I played the line an octave apart on both synths and they complimented each other well. It’s always nice when you can marry two of your favourite belongings like that.
Rumpus: How did you come up with that really catchy dreamy synth line? What were the circumstances?
O’Connor: I was meditating, rather unsuccessfully I guess.
Rumpus: Let’s talk about the video for the song. How did that happen? What’s the story behind it?
O’Connor: I have just completed a masters in filmmaking, and this was a film I made as part of my major project. It is part of a series of three video clips in which the image of my face inspires people to torment, humiliate and murder their spouse. I’m currently finishing the final chapter—a video for my next single ‘Proud’—which is going to wrap things up nicely.
Rumpus: How do you know when a song is finished?
O’Connor: When you are on the cusp of hating a song, you simply decide to commit to what you have and celebrate. It’s like marriage really.
Rumpus: Vanity Is Forever is so so so atmospheric and dreamy. Did you set out knowing/having a vision for what you wanted it to sound like? What was the creative process like?
O’Connor: Very much so. I wanted all the songs to relate to each other instrumentally and lyrically, and to sound as if they are from the same time and place. I like albums to be cohesive in this way, and it’s always been something I set out to achieve with my own records. The creative process involved a lot of recording and re-recording, and I tried many different approaches—including one that was very orchestral. I’m not quite sure how the next record will sound, but I’ve started to work with some newer instruments and approaches and I think it will be quite a drastic shift.