Chances are, you've never met an artist quite like London O'Connor. The San Diego-born, NYC-based musician makes music that is deeply dippy, often sung out of tune and impressively difficult to pigeonhole. He only ever performs that music while perched on top of a light cube he had custom made. Housewives inspire his personal style, and so if the day calls for an embroidered vintage frock, that's what he'll put on. And he isn't afraid to get candid about his masturbation stories. Two years ago he dropped his first album, O∆ (pronounced "Circle Triangle"), on Soundcloud as a free download and it immediately caught fire. He was bombarded with offers but ended up signing with True Panther Sounds, which is reissuing the album on February 17 in the remastered form O'Connor originally intended for it to be heard.
Exclaim! recently spoke to the delightfully charming O'Connor while he was just hanging at his friend's place; here are six things we learned.
1. He gave his phone number to a fan who asked for it, then tweeted it out to the rest of the world in case any other fans wanted to talk.
"It started because a kid hit me up on Twitter and he said it would be cool to talk," he says, like it's no big deal. "He wanted to talk to me about the kind of stuff that's on the first album and what our lives are like. I thought it would be cool, so I asked him where he's from and he said Wichita, KS. For the United States, that is pretty deep in the sticks. It's pretty hard to reach Wichita, KS. You have to be a huge pop artist to reach Wichita. So I just replied to him with my cell phone number because that was the easiest way I was gonna get to talk to that kid. A couple of minutes after that I just tweeted out, 'If you're from nowhere I'm here till my phone explodes...'"
He adds: "I've deleted most of my tweets since and just kept my number up there because it just felt like a more personal way to interact with people. It just made more sense to me."
2. The circle and triangle of the title are more meaningful than you might expect — the two shapes represent everything.
"The symbols mean more to me than just one album title," he explains. "Its meaning to me is why that first album is titled that. It's a uniform that I wear every day. It's on the sweater that I wear, and it's more of a symbol for everything that I do, every utility that I make. And this album is just the first one. I think it will always be the symbol for whatever I do.
"I can show someone what they mean but I can't tell them what it means," he says. "Any meaning that it has for me has grown from the experiences that I've had. I just saw that symbol in my mind and it just resonated with me. I picked it up and I've kept it with me."
3. He wrote, performed, produced and released O∆ by himself to ensure that it ended up exactly as he intended.
"I think, for a long time, I've had a really stubborn belief in myself," he says. "I think maybe where I grew up forced that out of me, because it can make you so timid. I know with the first album, as I was making it, I really wanted to complete it myself and put it out myself. I wanted to just put it on the internet so they could have it. I know that a lot of albums released historically, especially before the internet, there was a lot of filtering that happens before you get to hear a song. Because this studio or the equipment used is so expensive, and so you get all of this money and with that comes this fear of how much they will allow someone to express themselves or be different before they'll put that money behind it. And it filters just how vulnerable that artist can be. I remember when I was working on this album I just wanted it to be how I saw my environment as I was growing up. I wanted it to be exactly that, so I had to produce it myself.
4. He could have gone straight to his next album, but he had unfinished business to settle with O∆.
Originally, O'Connor wanted to get Vlado Meller — who's mastered Oasis's (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love, Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, and most of Kanye West's albums — to master his album mastering, but he had a light cube to pay for. By reissuing the album, he was able to hire Meller and have him fine-tune O∆ for the masses.
"Basically I wanted to make sure as many people as possible could get the first volume before I put out the second," he explains. "To me [the remastered version] feels pretty different because I'm so close to the album. A lot of the nuances of it are things that specifically affect me. I always wanted Vlado Meller to master it. I wanted him to have that final colour correction, that final touch on this movie. At the time with the resources I had, I also had this idea of a 101 light cube I wanted to perform on, but I just had limited resources. I had some money I saved up from a job I hated and I couldn't do both. So either I got it mastered the way I wanted to or I got this light cube to play shows on, and I went with the cube. But now, when I hear the album, it is exactly the way I wanted to hear it. I'm very grateful for the version that exists now.
"Vlado was interested in doing it the first time," he says. "But then when I was sitting down with True Panther, and we were talking about how we wanted to bring people to this record, they asked if I'd be interested in having it remastered. I was so excited and asked if Vlad Meller could do it. He's amazing and a wonderful human being. Stuff like that gets me hyped. He mastered My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy and Channel Orange and Yeezus. He mastered these things I grew up with that are so special to me. And the idea that he even touched or listened to my album freaks me out a little bit."
5. President Trump has affected not just his songwriting, but also his eating.
"There are things about the music I'm working on now that are really expressive about what you experience once you leave that place that you've been dying to leave. Like what happens when you get out and what life is like then. The next album is about more than that, but definitely deals with how that happened in my life. The two albums are very, very different. I think the only connection is that I lived through both of them."
About Trump taking office, he says, "It affects more than my songwriting. It affects the way I eat food. It affects the way I get out of bed in the morning. I've just been crashing on different spots for the last two years, and I've mostly been based in New York. People are very active out here in New York, so it's very much a part of our daily experience right now. Just the absurdity of everything."
6. Although he's almost always labelled a rapper, O'Connor doesn't consider what he does as so cut and dry.
"I'm a self-produced American songwriter," he admits. "A lot of the artists that I relate to don't even always do music. I relate to Brian Eno a lot. Just in the way that he approaches things. It's so multi-faceted and continuously innovative. His approach to the different forms of art he engages in is not tied down to one iteration. I relate to that a lot. I also relate to Yayoi Kusama a lot. It's hard to describe why, but there is something about the consistency in how she expresses herself and how it always comes from a very personal place. People would try to put her into different art movements or scenes, and she would do things that never quite fit. The consistency of her work is just her being herself. I relate to that even just as a human being.
"When I express myself I just want to be as clear as possible and develop the widest toolset I can," he adds. "Rap is definitely a tool. Sometimes the most honest way to convey something in a musical arrangement is to rap it. And sometimes the most honest way is to not speak at all."