Conor Maynard has, over the last few years, become England’s latest addition to the teen pop kingdom. Since 2012, five of his singles have broken into the Top 10 of the UK charts, and his first full-length album, Contrast, reached number one. And while he now records for EMI subsidiary Parlophone, his is not the typical major label discovery story. Maynard’s fame spread internationally prior to their involvement, thanks largely to the personal PR machine that is the Internet. “YouTube was starting to grow and I had seen a lot of videos of people singing and I thought it was a good idea.”
Conor will be performing at OsFest, which will be held from August 9-11, 2014 in England, and recently performed for over 10,000 students at the Rock Assembly – a concert put on by The Transformation Trust in London. Conor has recently released new clips of himself in the studio – making it clear that new music is on its way!
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started in music? What was your inspiration from the early days when you were just getting going?
Conor Maynard: It started for me from when I was younger, my parents listened to a lot of types of music – my dad was quite a big fan of Michael Jackson and I think from a young age I was exposed to music that influenced me from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder, everything that my parents listened to and I would sit there as a baby and… I’m not sure really what I was doing but I guess I was enjoying it. So, I think I was definitely exposed to a lot of music and when I got older that’s when my voice broke and people said ‘oh you can sing’ and I remember the first time I ever really had someone say it to me was – well with your guy friends they’re not going to have that screaming girl reaction – one of my mates was like ‘oh yeah you’re good’ but I remember I was walking down the road one day and this girl heard me singing and she had this really weird look on her face and she went ‘wow you can actually sing’ so that gave me confidence. I didn’t really know what to do with that and YouTube was starting to grow and I had seen a lot of videos of people singing and I thought it was a good idea so I started recording myself in my room and I started off using a webcam – I didn’t even have a microphone and then as time went by I started to figure out how people recorded with higher quality and birthdays and Christmases came along and I asked for a microphone and I kind of just built – I didn’t know anyone in Brighton or anyone who had a studio – so I kind of just built it from scratch and the more and more I did it the better that I got. My covers started coming in high quality and people started listening and, for me, that’s when it all changed… I started having people add me on my personal Facebook saying ‘I’m a fan!’ I didn’t really understand it… I didn’t really know what to say when people were adding me on Facebook because they were a fan. At first it was a bit odd… but I carried on doing the covers and people would start writing on my Facebook wall saying ‘I loved your cover’ – random fans from around the world – I suppose the big change was when other artists were noticing… Chris Brown tweeted one of my covers which was really crazy and Ne-Yo saw one of them and his people sent me an email saying ‘we would love to work with you’ … I kind of asked I said ‘look, I really appreciate all of the attention that you’re giving me but can you give me proof that Ne-Yo is involved and that you’re not just some random people…’ so yeah, they sent out this phone call and one day my light went on and my Skype started ringing and Ne-Yo was sitting on the other side of the screen. It was a weird moment for me, I was wearing an old t-shirt and a hoodie… and it ended up being Ne-Yo and it was embarrassing.
IC: That must’ve been such an amazing moment. How many videos were you uploading in the early days?
CM: It was all just covers – I made one about every few weeks. Any time that I heard a song that I really liked I would make a video… I’d come back from college… it was just my hobby. It was never something that I thought I’d become famous by doing, it was just a hobby.
IC: That’s so cool. How do you think that the YouTube videos impacted and changed the way that people perceived your work? Do you think that all of a sudden that the quality of your videos got better that it allowed more of an audience to relate to it?
CM: Definitely I feel like as I’ve improved… I remember it was when I started actually doing videos and what I would first start doing was uploading songs it was really cool and people could hear it, but when I would add those personal touches, like seeing me performing it is when it started drawing people in. When you put something on YouTube with a song playing in the background and text it’s not really interesting to watch… why would anyone sit there on YouTube and not watch a video? So I started doing videos for people to have something to watch and listen to at the same time it was kind of that mix that made people much more interested and start to share it. I definitely could tell that once I started doing those videos that it really started to change.
IC: Were there any particular ones that really stood out that got a lot of attention? I heard that ‘Beautiful Monster’ was a really big turning point for you when you did a cover of that…
CM: That was the one that Ne-Yo saw and so I think for me that was one of the most important ones.
IC: How does that transition into you writing your own music?
CM: Well I mean, after the whole Ne-Yo thing happened I think that my mom approached this music lawyer because we were getting sent recording contracts and it was all getting a bit much for us, we didn’t really understand a lot of the contracts, so we sought help from this lawyer and she kind of used the whole Ne-Yo thing to reel in other labels that hadn’t heard of me before and she would show them my video and be like ‘oh Ne-Yo is trying to sign him’ and they would be like ‘what?’ so they all jumped on. So, I met all these labels and I eventually signed with Parlophone in the UK and yeah so I was making my album and coming out with original material so I got in the studio and started writing. It took a while to get used to, I would get into the studio and I was nervous and didn’t really know what I was doing but as time went by it got a lot easier.
IC: And so you feel that moment that Ne-Yo contacted you was a breakthrough moment?
CM: Yeah that was the game changer where I was like okay this isn’t just me in my room recording in Brighton this is me entering the music industry. So that was a very big moment, yeah.
IC: I could imagine. So Ne-Yo was obviously mentoring your work… what sort of guidance did he give you?
CM: Well I feel like for me it was an awkward moment because he was the first to approach me but I didn’t actually sign with his label… the reason behind that was I was only 17 and they wanted me to move out to America and I didn’t think I was ready for that – to be by myself at 17. So I searched for labels in the UK… I didn’t want to burn any bridges though and for them to think that I was using their name to meet with other people. I wrote to Ne-Yo’s people saying ‘I really want to let you know that I 100% want to work with you guys on the album and I’d love to get into the studio with Ne-Yo’, they were really cool about it they were like ‘definitely we still think you have amazing talent’ so me and Ne-Yo did go to the studio and we did a feature kind of thing. He was there from the beginning and we got to shoot a video in LA… we had come full circle, that was the coolest thing. He had been there from the beginning and then we released a song together.
IC: How would you describe your sound?
CM: I don’t know really, I feel like it’s always hard to describe a sound. I feel like… I remember when I used to do my little showcases when I would perform in front of labels and I would always say ‘rather than me standing here telling you what I sound like I would rather just show you’ and I think for me it’s got so many different genres and so many different things have gone into it, whether it’s Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder or Usher or Mario or Justin Timberlake… so it’s got a lot of different things that went into it. For me it was always about trying to get as many genres as I can into it to give people a whole experience to listen to it.
IC: What about your songwriting? Where do you draw your inspiration for your songwriting?
CM: Anything really it kind of comes from… maybe I’ll see a random word that’ll catch my eye and I’ll want to write about that or even an experience that I’ve been through… I feel like its divided between real experiences and imagining what something would be like. As far as exaggerating and building up a character… for my first single we were walking through the street and had girls jumping me and it’s kind of unrealistic but it has that catchy hook so it works. I think that one of the problems that I’ve found is that people take things too seriously when really it’s fun, it’s a bit tongue in cheek kind of thing.
IC: Well it’s also one thing to be able to do covers of other peoples music and another to take that and do your own songwriting and make those hits. It’s a completely different process, isn’t it?
CM: Yes, definitely.
IC: So you’ve been collaborating with a lot of amazing artists… can you tell me about any other collaborations that you’ve been doing that really stand out?
CM: I’ve been working with a lot of different people… my first album, I worked with Pharell on two of my tracks and Frank Ocean worked on the first album as well and people like Rita Ora were all there but I’ve recently been working with Labrinth who is huge in the UK and he’ll be doing big things in America as well, we recorded a song… Timbaland… yeah, I feel like I’ve worked with amazing people so I have no excuse about releasing good music.
IC: And how did you feel when you won the MTV 2012 award? How did that feel to get that at only 19?
CM: That was amazing. That was one of the first times that my brother ever hugged me. He was so excited about it… so for me… MTV is a massive program and then they recognize you and give you an award. That was a mental thing to me I feel like that was really cool.
IC: Sometimes you feel like it’s all really surreal… like you’re living in a dream? It’s only been a couple of years and it’s all been sort of really fast…
CM: Definitely I feel like it happened really quickly. Now I feel like let’s not make this the end lets keep going and make it last for a long time.
IC: You’re often compared a bit to Justin Bieber… how do you feel about that?
CM: Right…. Well… for me it was one of those things where it came up at first and I understood it because I was young and came from YouTube but once the music came out that question popped up less and less. The more that people started to hear the music is when people could see the differences. I never wanted to follow anyone… I never wanted to try and be anyone else. I always wanted to do my own thing. Basically like, I wanted to put my own stamp on the industry. I think for me I never thought about it. I was always like well this is what I want to do and this is the music that I want to do and I never really walked around saying ‘who’s this Justin Bieber that I sound like?’ I think it’s better to fail with originality than to succeed with imitation.
IC: So you have written a book or have had a book take off which was released this past October… can you tell me about that?
CM: Yeah that was kind of an idea we had where basically the story was quite phenomenal. I think my idea behind it was about inspiring other artists and young artists by saying this can happen to you – I was this normal kid in Brighton and this happened to me so it can happen to you too. I think for me it was about inspiring other people.
IC: So it’s highly inspirationally focused by what happened to you in your personal experiences and getting your career going on a global front.
CM: Yeah, definitely.
IC: It’s pretty impressive I have to say, your bloody career. What you’ve done in the past four years definitely deserves a book. So what was the process of writing the book? Did you have people assist you with writing it?
CM: Yeah it was kind of… it kind of all came from my own words in terms of nobody can really tell the story better than I can – it’s not like I died and somebody had to write it… I could tell it from my perspective and that’s what I wanted, I wanted everyone to hear it from my perspective. I wanted to literally let people know exactly how I felt – exactly what I was thinking and feeling in those moments. So it all came from my own words, definitely.
IC: So what advice would you give to an aspiring musician as far as how to get their career going?
CM: It takes time. I’d say that you know, I was doing covers at fifteen and no one noticed until I was about eighteen. I feel like just be patient… I bumped into this young kid who came up to me and was like I would love to sing and I was like build a YouTube channel and build a fan base and he was like no, no how about I just come into the studio with you? And I was like no that’s not how it works. I didn’t have anyone do it that easy for me, I had to put the work in and he was like ‘I’m not really good with computers’ and I was like ‘learn then!’ I wasn’t born knowing how to work a microphone I went online and figured out how to do it. Be patient and put the effort and time in. A lot of people think it’ll come easy and that’s why people are going for the wrong thing – I can almost always tell when somebody wants to just be famous rather than being a musician or like a lot of people you can tell straight away when they’re like ‘I don’t want to work I just want to be really famous and have loads of people love me’ and I’m like ‘that’s not the way to look at it – you should be focusing on making music and if people love it then that’s great’ but yeah, I’d say take your time and don’t get pushed down by people who don’t believe in you. I had a lot of people around me when I first started that didn’t believe in me and thought that I was throwing my life away. So, yeah…
IC: Obviously you do a lot of touring… are there any particular performances that stand out to you thus far?
CM: Definitely. I feel like when I first did festivals in The UK that was like amazing, it was an amazing feeling. I’d actually never even been to a festival before I performed at one so that was a really cool experience for me and I’ve never actually experienced the other side of it. So, when I got to go out there and do it, it was a really weird feeling. Last year I opened up for a festival that Justin Timberlake headlined and that was an amazing show to perform at. Also I did a tour in Europe and one of the shows was in Rome and it was one of the biggest headlining shows that I’d done and I didn’t even realize… that was another amazing experience.
IC: That’s so cool. Have you ever had a difficult performance?
CM: Corporate events in some ways are horrific. Corporate events are always very hard… you can get asked to perform by companies that get together and people aren’t there to see you perform they’re there for the company… so when you perform you can be in the position where absolutely no one cares. But normally I’ve been alright – nothing has been thrown at me and I haven’t been told to get off stage but sometimes you have to fight for attention. It’s pretty difficult. In terms of that, it’s not really what we look forward to.
IC: Do you have any words of wisdom or a motto to keep yourself going day to day?
CM: Not really. I feel like for me something that I kind of notice is that people tend to drag you down and I’m kind of like why can’t we all just enjoy everything up here? Why can’t I take people up here with me and my fans… it’s like why are you trying to bring us all down? I think for me it’s just trying to change people – rather than letting them affect you, why not affect them?
IC: You were mentioning before that the people you went to college with didn’t believe that you could make it… so definitely you have to believe in yourself. So, this is our legendary issue, when you hear the word legendary what does that mean to you? What do you think when you hear those words?
CM: Legendary? I think it’s really, for me, pointing towards a more positive feeling. I think my parents are legendary for me for the way that they brought me up and the way that they rooted for me when I was doing the whole music thing, so they’ll always be legendary for me. Michael Jackson is legendary to everyone. I feel like a legend can be anyone who has made a positive effect on someone’s life.
IC: I think you’re the only person so far who has said that their parents are legendary, I think that’s great. So, can you tell me aside from your parents and Michael Jackson who else you would consider to be legendary?
CM: I think just people that really stand out… right now I would say Beyonce is going down as legendary – I think she’s so talented and it’s kind of mind-boggling like how could one person have all that talent? So I think Beyonce is definitely up there – people like Pharell, to my perspective it’s mostly musicians that I look up to. I love film and acting as well… Leonardo DiCaprio is this incredible actor.
IC: I hear that you’re working on your second album and that it’s going to have a new sound. Can you tell me a bit about that?
CM: Yeah, I mean, for me I think that I was 19 when I released the first album and I’ll be nearly 22 when the second one is released and I think for me it’s kind of… I’ve grown up as a person as well as musically and I think that I’m going for something a bit more grown up and at the same time I don’t want to alienate the fans from before so it’s going to be a continued kind of experience.
IC: Do you know what the album is called or any sort of collaborations we can look forward to?
CM: I have no idea yet! I’m still working on it in terms of trying to get things finished and songs finished…
IC: So a work in progress…
CM: Yeah, definitely. It’s getting there, if I could release it today I would but I want to make sure it’s perfect.
IC: So what other projects can we look out for from you this year?
CM: At the end of March I’m going to be supporting Jason Derulo in the UK portion of his tour, which should be really fun. Hopefully after the album I’ll be doing my own tour so definitely it will be a fun year.
IC: When is the album expected to drop?
CM: Sometime this year. When, I have no idea but definitely this year.
IC: Last question… where do you see yourself ten years from now?
CM: Ten years from now? I don’t know – hopefully still doing what I’m doing. A lot of artists come and go so quickly so for me I want to keep going. I love acting and film as well so hopefully in ten years I’ll get into that as well.
IC: So you want to cross over more into acting?
CM: Yeah that was my first passion before music so I would love to get into that.
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by PIP for The Untitled Magazine
Stylist: Sabina Emrit
Photographed at Leo Studio
Conor wears a jumper by Religion
Conor wears a shirt by Alex Christopher