- July 17, 2012
Local boy and next big musical thing – rapidly becoming this big thing – Conor Maynard talks with Jeff Hemmings about Preston Park youth group, being a YouTube sensation, and working with Pharrell Williams
Effortlessly combining urban stylings with commercial appeal, Brighton’s Conor Maynard is becoming a national and international star. “I was born and bred in Hove (and went to Cardinal Newman school), and it’s definitely home for me. But I live in London now – but for me my family still live in Brighton. I try and go back as much as possible, see my family and my friends.”
But it was the world of theatre that first brought Maynard onto the stage, “I went to a drama school on Saturdays part-time, K-Biz, by Preston Park. I was really into acting, it was my main passion until I was 15, and then as things progressed singing started taking over…”
How it happened is a dream come true for aspiring musicians, “When I was still at school, I was walking along the road, and I was singing to one of my friends and this girl overheard me singing, and had this big reaction to it, and after that she made me sing to each and every person in my school, and that reaction pushed me into doing stuff…”
Beavering away in his bedroom, the young Maynard began singing covers of tracks he liked. “I used to sellotape two microphones together and then sellotape them to my bedpost. When I first started it was very unknown tracks, random songs off people’s albums, like a track off Mario’s album, an Usher track, songs that people didn’t really know and then I did ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered…’ by Stevie Wonder… and some other older songs… I started getting millions of hits on YouTube. It was just a track and a picture… after a while I put up videos with me performing the song, and that’s when it really started to kick off.” That and the fact he started to add his own lyrics as well as stripping back songs to the bare bones before adding his own style, which caught the imagination of web-watchers.
Nowadays, the internet is proving to be instrumental in discovering new talent and in the case of Maynard, it brought him to the attention of the likes of Pharrell Williams and Ne-yo, who both feature on his debut album, Contrast. Ne-yo came across Maynard’s version of ‘Beautiful Monster’ and invited him to a meeting, with a view to signing him up.
“Ne-yo reached out, and we talked on Skype”
“Both Pharrell and Ne-yo found me on the web and followed my stuff… Ne-yo reached out, and we talked on Skype….and then Ne-yo told me he wanted to sign me, which started a buzz around the UK, like ‘who is this young kid that Ne-yo wants to sign’ and then later down the line Pharrell got in contact (after I was signed) saying he’d love to work with me, and so I went to Miami for a week to work in his studio.
“I saw more famous people then than I have in my whole life… Ludacris was in the studio. Tyler the Creator, Lil Wayne… it was an incredible time and I can’t believe I got to work with Pharrell. He said he thinks I’m going to change the future of pop music. That was a big line from the Pharrell-meister!”
As well as Pharrell Williams and Ne-yo, the album features the production and writing prowess of Midi Mafia, Stargate and Frank Ocean. But it’s the production work of British trio The Invisible Men who have been largely responsible for shaping the super-sharp, almost futuristic sounds of Contrast.
“They are part of the same management as me, and they’ve produced many of the tracks on the album. I’m really comfortable working with them; they’ve produced ‘Can’t Say No’ and ‘Vegas Girl’ (both recently released singles) and before that they did ‘Do it Like A Dude’ by Jessie J – they are really killing it at the moment!”
Musically, there is plenty of soul, urban R’n’B, pop, flashes of house, and darker textures, such as ‘Mary Go Round’, with its Looney Tunes opening and other left field ad-libs and production twists.
But he’s also got a big hand in the writing, “I really enjoy being able to write my own music,
I wrote eight of the 12 tracks on the album… It is one of the things you can never be forced to do, you have to have an idea; it just comes naturally without any warning! For me… I have to believe what I am singing about and to know exactly what I’m singing about… some of it is about past experiences, past relationships. I’m a 19-year-old guy – I like to party and have fun, and so when I write I am my own audience.”
It’s all a far cry from his time at school, thinking about the prospect of university, “I was in the middle of college, doing A levels, when it really kicked off… I would probably be at university if I wasnt doing this… it would have been really fun to go to uni – I look at my friends at uni and think it would have been really fun to go to uni, but they are looking back at me and thinking the same thing!”
Although he’s only done a few gigs, including his first mini-tour earlier in the year, already he’s become a ‘face’, and not just here in the UK. “It got very manic in Canada with people ringing up the hotels asking if I was staying there, and so we changed hotels a few times… In the UK it’s got a
bit more crazy – to go around the corner to get a pint of milk isn’t so easy anymore! I’ve actually got to move house because some fans found out where I live… Mostly girls, young screaming girls and the odd boy…”
It’s very early days of course, but a lot of money and marketing might is being thrown his way, with big things predicted for the 19-year-old. Will he be able to hold it together? “My family and friends still treat me as the same idiot I was before, so they’ll help me keep my feet on the ground. It’s all exciting and I’m looking forward to it all. I’m definitely ready to take it and run with it…”
Conor Maynard, Concorde 2, Wednesday 1 August, 7.30pm, £13.50