Saturday 24 March 2018

Conor Maynard: Expecting to fly

Performing for his many fans
Performing for his many fans

Ailbhe Malone

Conor Maynard talks quickly. And not just by popstar standards, where the norm is to pull out sentences clearly, lest there be a misunderstanding. No. Conor Maynard talks so fast he may as well be from, well, Cork. But from Cork he is not. The 19 -year-old Brighton boy drops his 't's as quickly as he can say them, and is as banter-filled as a transition year student.

It's been a heck of a ride for the British Justin -- but whether it's Timberlake or Bieber, time will tell. As we speak, Conor is looking out the window of his suite in the Dylan hotel in Dublin.

His crew of fans, the Mayniacs, are waiting not-so-patiently outside. "It's been a kind of weird day," he explains.

"I got a very warm welcome, all my fans were there to greet me. They were screaming and stuff, so that's always what you want. They're currently waiting outside the hotel, I can literally see them.

"It's so funny. When they get a chance to talk to me, they're just so quiet. We do a picture, and then away they go.

"I'm like 'OK, that was really pointless', but it's all good. I think their nerves hit them when they finally get to say something.

"But it's all good."

From the off, it's hard not to notice the verbals ticks. From 'literally' to 'all good', to 'nah, just joking, mate', Maynard speaks exactly like the 19-year-old he is.

The only time he slips into music industry-speak is when he's talking about his work. And for that, we need the back story.

As it goes, Maynard was spotted by his YouTube covers of famous hits. So far, so Bieber. Except, with Maynard, people began to come to him. People like NeYo. And Pharrell Williams.

"Pharrell said he'd been watching my videos for the past two years, watching the progress and all that. And when he finally reached out, it was to sign me; he didn't realise I'd already been signed."

"But I got to work with him anyway.

"It was quite funny, he told me exactly how he'd found me.

"His girlfriend was playing with his son on the tour bus, and she was playing around with the laptop. And she saw me, and showed me to him, and that's what sparked his interest in me."

Things seem to work out for Maynard. Despite his clumsiness in his first major label meeting, he got signed almost as soon as he'd finished explaining his origins.

Funnily enough, during the meeting I had with the label that actually signed me, I spilled hot chocolate all down myself. I was trying to explain all my covers, and I realised that as I was talking all my hot chocolate was slowly dribbling down my trousers. They were like mustard chinos, so it looked like I'd wee'd myself brown. Urgh."

He continues with the joke until its logical conclusion, then brushes it quickly off with 'nah just joking' -- it's testament to the amount of foreign press he's done that he needs to clarify each comment.

After Pharrell realised he couldn't have him, they settled on the next best thing. Pharrell produces and guests on Maynard's debut album, Contrast.

In order for this to happen, Maynard travelled to Pharrell's Miami studio.

Parties ahoy, right? Well, not quite. At 19, Maynard was two years shy of legal drinking age in the US.

"Bad times, real bad times. It wasn't the coolest look -- I had to have a glass of lemonade in Miami because I couldn't drink. Which was weird. When I'm 21, I'll make up for that. But I'm 19, I'm a young guy. I'll have the fun with my mates that I want to have."

His mates are slightly at odds with his life at the moment, he mulls. "My friends are all off to uni, so it's hard for me to see them as much as I used to.

"It's kind of strange, they're like talking about biology and I'm like 'yeah I was in Miami with Pharrell'. They're like 'Oh, OK that's great'. They're fully on my side though. They love to hear about the things that I've been doing, they're always asking."

It can't be easy though, to have to play a clean-cut character all the time, I mention.

He instantly agrees. His fanbase is young, and "you do have to have it in the back of your mind that there are younger fans who look up to you almost as a role model.

"When you look up to an artist when you're young, you don't want to see them in a bad light. You want to think that they're your heroes almost. So I've got to keep that in my mind. The bigger things get, the more I'm put in the public eye."

"But," he adds, "at the same time, I still have fun, and do what I want to do, don't worry.

"I went to a festival on Saturday, and had rehearsal on Sunday, and I turned up to rehearsal with no voice. So that was great. It was really pointless of me to do that, but I wanted to have fun that night, and I did, so that's what happened. It's all good."

It's easy to balance a social life, but what about a love life? Does he feel he has to be available for his fans? He blusters for a moment, all his chat and banter gone. And then he picks it back up smoothly.

"I dunno really. It's not even something I think about. I'm too focused on music and where I want to be.

"So yeah, I don't have a girlfriend right now, because I wouldn't be able to give a girl the time she would deserve in a relationship anyway. But yeah, further down the line."

But perhaps, more tellingly, when it comes to fans' preferences, he admits that he doesn't even know if he can grow a beard. "I've never tried. I always shave. I've never allowed myself to do it -- I just shave everyday. Maybe I should try out a Santa Claus look, that'd be funnier."

Facial hair is a no-no, it seems.

And what about the fans? Surely he didn't grant them their own title?

He laughs. "I actually allowed the fans to name themselves. It was between two choices, and I think the Mayniacs was definitely better than the other one." He pauses. What was the other option? "One was based on my first name, so they were going with 'Condoms'. And I was like, no. I can't stand out on a stage and go 'Hello Condoms!

"It would have been a bit weird. I didn't want to get arrested during an arena tour!"

With debut album Contrast's combination of stripped beats, soulful vocals and catchy hooks, the obvious comparison to draw is with Justin Timberlake.

Would Timberlake's transition from teen idol into superstar appeal? He reflects.

"I think as an artist, most artists want to be as successful as possible. I've finished this album, and I'm in the mindframe where I'm ready to do something else.

"I want to start recording the second album, but at the same time I'm ready for people to hear the first album.

"As long as people are listening to the music I'm making, it's all good."

"As far as comparisons, I think for me, I want to be the first Conor Maynard.

"When I was making the album, my motto was 'It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation'.

"I tried to do it my own way."

Contrast is out now on EMI, see review on page 18

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