Rex Orange County interview with Mac Wilson

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Alex O'Connor, known professionally as Rex Orange County, speaks with The Current's Mac Wilson. (Evan Clark; Helen Teague | MPR)

On a recent visit to the Twin Cities, Alex O'Connor, known professionally as Rex Orange County, spoke with The Current's Mac Wilson about being on tour, about mental health in the music industry, and about the new album, Pony.

Watch their full conversation above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript


MAC WILSON: Hey, I'm Mac Wilson from The Current, and I have a very special guest in The Current studio today. I'm joined by Rex Orange County. Alex, thanks for stopping in today.

REX ORANGE COUNTY: Thanks for having me, man. How are you?

You are playing a show at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul.

I am.

And in your travels right now, you've said that this is the first that you've really gotten into the cold weather, as we see by the coat, so far. So, where were you a couple days ago?

Um, we came from — we went to Salt Lake City, and then to Denver, and then we stopped in Omaha, Nebraska, yesterday, and then we got here today, and today and yesterday in Omaha was just really, really — I mean it was just the first time I realized it was gonna get cold, and I realized we were coming up from the West, down where it wasn't very cold. And now it's — I can really tell it's getting cold.

We'll chat in a few minutes about playing in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago as well. So, did you have this coat stashed away, or did you have to go out on the road and, "Okay, we gotta pack up and get something good now"?

I went to San Fran and got it in San Fran, so — and it was kinda cold there, but I knew it was about to get quite considerably colder, so I got it there.

A meteoric rise over the last couple of years, to the point where, a couple of nights ago, Coldplay dedicated a song to you onstage. Chris Martin said something very nice to you from the stage, and what did he say?

He was just — they were playing directly after me, and he — I think he dedicated it a song, or like was just saying that his son was a fan of me and what I was doing, so I think he just mentioned it because we were on the same bill. It was really nice. I was watching from off stage, so it was cool. I love Chris.

So, one of the things that you've emphasized is that Rex Orange County, it is you. It's not necessarily a band. It is you. It is your project. As these songs are coming together in the studio, what percentage of it is you? Is it really 100 percent every sound, every instrument is you, or do you draw in other people to assist with that?

I draw in a couple of other people, definitely. There's a — my sort of like, working partner is a guy called Ben Baptie. He's a producer, and him and I worked on a lot of the production of it together, but I would still play the majority of the instruments, and I would still write all the lyrics and sing all the parts, but there was a couple of occasions where we would get someone really great to play bass, or someone — my band — I have someone who plays saxophone and trumpet, and they would come in and play all the brass parts, and the flute, and the clarinet and things. And the strings — I've never played the violin or anything. Actually, I did play the violin at one point, but I mean I can't play the violin, so the strings — I just bring in people who are speciality at their thing, and mainly just me and Ben, and I was just playing a lot of instruments, but it was mainly just Ben and I.

So this isn't like a Todd Rundgren thing, where he's literally by himself in the studio, you're running back and forth to hit the click track, then running back into the studio to cut each instrumental part; not quite that.

Not quite. I love him, though. I love Todd.

One of the folks that you've collaborated with — I gotta ask about this because I have kids — is Randy Newman, when you did the cover of "You've Got A Friend In Me." So, were you together when you cut that?

I'm afraid we were not together to break the magic —

That's a shame!

… but I have met him, and I did speak to him on the phone, and we did perform it together at The Fonda in L.A. when I was playing my own show there. Sorry — I was playing my own show there, and he came and played it with me onstage.

Now, if I'm remembering it right, you do the Randy Newman part in the song, and then he does the Lyle Lovett part.

Pretty much. Yeah, we just go back and forth. He's — he kinda just said — I think he just asked me to just sing all of it, and then he would cut out the lines that he wanted to sing, and then just did. And then he just —

You've been very open talking about your mental health and how that has progressed over the course of the album's cycle and beyond, and it got me thinking there's not a lot of more stressful jobs, really, than fairly up-and-coming musician starting out. And then I got to thinking, it doesn't always have to be like this in terms of being stressful for mental health, so what things do you think the music industry can do to support young musicians such as yourself, and sort of end this stigma of mental health?

I think — firstly, I mean, I think the mental health issues — anyone with mental health issues — I think that's kind of more of a universal thing of this gen — of my generation and people who are of this age at the moment. It's kind of — we're becoming quite a lot more open and more honest about how we feel, which I think is really, really good, I think. And it's obvious — like our parents — and you hear your own parents all the time being like, "We didn't — if you said that at our age when I was your age, the parents would say, 'You're crazy!' and they wouldn't care!" And now it's like, "No, it's just a name for it, and we just have a name for it."

And I think when the music industry does not — I mean it would be cool if people didn't — you know, kids didn't have to like — young people making music didn't have to feel as if they were getting taken advantage of by, like, people in companies, and just, like, people brainwashing them into doing certain things, and then making mistakes, and then hating videos that they put out because they were told it was a good idea by some like older person.

But I can't — that didn't happen to me, so I don't know if — the industry didn't necessarily torment me. I just think by the nature of what is, you give away a lot of yourself, and so if that's what you want, then you're gonna have to be willing to sacrifice that thing that — and it doesn't make it easy, if that makes any sense. You kind of like — you're giving away something, so it hurts, because it's like you're physically losing something, but you're also gaining whatever it was you were looking for in the first place. So, for me, I think it's a big topic, and I think it's more than just music, and I think it's more than just — it's not even just being a young person. I think anyone and everyone should be speaking to some kind of therapist just to be talking about what they want to — what's on their mind. And yeah, I don't know if it's down to the industry or what, but it's — for me, it was just kind of just overwhelming amounts of just learning so much so quickly, and having so much to think about, kind of just got me spinning. That was what it was like for me, if that answers your question.

I want to ask a question about the new record, "Pony," as well. It's a very tight, very concise piece of work, about half an hour or so, and it's — like I said, it's very concise. Did you feel like it was a — did you feel like you really needed to labor to get it in that piece, or did it come fairly easily?

I felt like I had to labor to get it to where — myself and Ben had to labor to get it to where it was. And our choice — like very much so, our choice. We wanted it to sound exactly how it does. And if — you know, there was a lot of conversation about the line between it being a sort of like perfect production product, or like just like being like considered — like you said — tight, and like all the songs sounding, like, correct, and then it being — having like feeling and soul and things being like slightly wrong with it, and like mistakes being made in it, and not being perfect on purpose as well, and just like the balance between the two, if that makes sense. But yeah, it was definitely meant to sound like that.

Well, it's one of those records, it sounds very correct, like from the very first time you listen to it, and I was curious whether it seemed as effortlessly as it sounds, or whether it took the effort that went into it.

It was definitely effort, yeah.

Congratulations on that.

Thanks.

We are in The Current studio with Rex Orange County. Thank you again for stopping by today, and best of luck in your future endeavors.

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Thanks a bunch.

Cheers.

Thanks.

External Link

Rex Orange County - official site

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3 Photos

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    Rex Orange County, aka Alex O'Connor, in conversation with Mac Wilson at The Current. (Evan Clark | MPR)
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    Rex Orange County, 'Pony' (Sony Music)
  • Rex Orange County 2019 press photo
    Alexander O'Connor, better known by his stage name Rex Orange County, is an English recording artist and songwriter. (courtesy We Care A Lot PR)