Monday, January 05, 2009
Crayon Fields’ GEOFF O’CONNOR explores social awkwardness, catching up with school friends and worldly pleasures while ANDY HAZEL admires his work ethic.
Crayon Field Geoff O’Connor may seem shy, quiet, genuinely polite, and physically fragile and write from such a perspective, but any sense of weakness is all a ruse. There is a lot more going on. With creative forces currently spread across a multitude of projects (recent creative collaborators include Angie Hart, Muscles, Jessica Says, Guy Blackman and Mark Monnone), O’Connor explains that his energies are not split equally. “The two main things I focus on are Crayon Fields and Sly Hats, I don’t have much of a life I guess. I work as a live mixer, which is a good job; well it’s a good way of getting free alcohol and I’m looking forward to getting back into that lifestyle, but I miss out on a lot of DVDs and books and things.” Despite a Trojan work ethic, O’Connor doesn’t feel other musicians are comparatively unproductive. “I figure most people put a lot of work into their music - you’ll never see how much they put into it - and there are a lot of people out there who work four times as hard as I do. It’s such a luxury to have that much time; we’re all so lucky here. The song Living So Well from Animal Bells is partly about that.”
“At the moment I’m really fascinated by growing old gracelessly,” he continues. “I’m interested in people who haven’t lost a lust for life in their fifties and sixties. There’s something beautiful about life in Melbourne and I can’t stand it when people are over being creative when they’re in their thirties and treat creativity as if it’s only something to do in adolescence. Sometimes, when I bump into some old school friends they’ll look at me like ‘oh...you’re still doing the band thing’, and I think ‘Oh my god, they’re probably breeding.”
Forthcoming Crayon Fields album All The Pleasures of the World sees O’Connor’s songs take on a fresh drive and move away from the sensual preoccupation of debut album Animal Bells. First single Mirror Ball details O’Connor’s dwindling confidence at the sight of beauty: “I look at you and suddenly I’m a virgin in a dance hall.” “There’s a lot of writing that comes from me feeling dwarfed by feelings, usually love. When I sing about love it’s always about people, though a lot of the songs are about being uneasy too. They are all songs of praise I suppose, lots of big compliments. I never make anything up, it’s all love songs I guess. I spend a lot of time on lyrics. I like to make them fairly simple within the limits of my fairly limited vocabulary; I know what ‘virgin’ means,” he jokes.
The album certainly sees the band move away from a small sound/small feeling mentality. Despite this there is an unmistakable confessional quality to many of O’Connors’ songs. “A song like Graceless is about the transition between 15 to 22 and being infatuated with all sorts of things. It’s about trying to ingratiate yourself to people and thinking you know everything. I’m still like that,” he deadpans. “I’m a walking social faux pas, but everyone is a social faux pas, everyone is a bit awkward. That’s the reason I hate most comedians because they go on and on about their own awkwardness. That time is a pleasurable and nice experience and I like that people can bond through faux pas.”
It seems that it’s personal experiences far more than musical influences determine a Crayon Fields song like Mirror Ball. “I’m not very musically aware,” O’Connor admits. “I listen to a lot of music but then I get obsessed with one album for a few weeks. There are so many bands that tour that I’d probably love but I never get around to hearing, which is a shame.”
Though debuting some songs from All The Pleasures of the World (such as the heavenly You Could Wind Up Anywhere) live in January, O’Connor explains that the band were in no hurry to record the album. “It was difficult having [drummer] Neil [Erenstrom] away and Chris [Hung, guitarist] go away and we kept changing bits, we’re perfectionists I guess, we were constantly rethinking things. We didn’t want there to be any songs that were less than quality. We’re not really keen on being a prolific band.” They are, however, quite keen on being a well-recorded band. “This album is definitely more hi-fidelity than Animal Bells. We took time to put a lot more work into it. I’m much more happy with it than Animal Bells - I still love that record of course, but this is more fun and ambitious.” A quality that the album title refers to it seems. “The album covers a lot of ground,” he agrees. “We tried to make it fairly varied but still very cohesive; the instrumentation is very consistent. I guess we wanted to do less overdubs but make the parts more thought out, we put more effort into string parts and arrangements.” Orchestration is something that those familiar with the Crayon Fields’ work will notice is a strong part of the album. “A friend of mine Esther Edquist has a really great operatic voice and she’s very slick, very professional. We used twenty overdubs of her beautiful voice to make a choir, which worked really well. With the hi-fi sound the instruments were brought out really well and that was really important. The songs are supposed to be fairly bright and cover everything that I find pleasurable.”
Though a record label is yet to take them on for an American release, there has been much love from online ‘institution’ Pitchfork. “Yeah, that was pretty funny,” muses O’Connor. “Someone bought our Animal Bells CD in Japan and sent it to someone there who reviewed it. Since then they mention us every now and then. I’d love to get a release there, we’re all really keen to tour. Recently we’ve been touring with a string section, some stage props and some projections for the seven-inch launch which I made using photographs from the album artwork.” Clearly people coming to their launches shouldn’t expect a band just running through the tracks.
With tour plans over summer and an appearance at the Laneway Festival, O’Connor’s characteristically hesitant optimism extends to the future of the album. “The launches are going to be fun,” he ventures. “For the album launch we’ll find something else to do again. We’re going to Europe in April, maybe we’ll hit Jens Lekman up for a show,” he says laughing, “we don’t really want to hassle him though.”