Connor Hickey lays himself bare about life, bereavement and getting things done.
“I’ll be a six years cancer survivor this year and the band started shortly after the death of my father. I started playing music shortly after the death of my sister.” We’re only three questions deep into the interview and Connor Hickey, the Jacksonville, Florida based frontman and primary songwriter of the self described “doom folk” outfit Fjord Explorer, has already surprised me with his willingness to share details of his private life. There’s a pause on the phone line as he finishes speaking and I’m not quite sure how to continue. Quickly, I have to regroup and plough forth. Meekly, I tell him that High Fidelity is a great movie, as he has just described his own music as “sad bastard music”, a nod to Jack Black’s character Barry’s description of Belle And Sebastien in the film. He agrees. Phew. Hickey possesses the candidness of a musician who has yet to endure endless junkets and countless repetitive interviews, which is unsurprising as this is his first proper interview. It’s refreshing, but also slightly unnerving. It makes for a fascinating conversation about death, life and inspiration with a young man who possesses an old head on his shoulders.
Hickey may be just 24 but he possesses a clarity of vision and drive that belies his years. At an age where many of his peers would be happy to live for the weekend, Hickey understands his own mortality and the finite nature of life in a way that is impossible for most people in their mid twenties who enjoy the delusion of immortality. Hickey wants to get things done, and he wants to get them done now. “I was seven when my sister died so from a young age I had a ridiculously existential outlook for a boy my age. I was a freshman in college when the most recent of the two things occurred. Specifically the loss of my father definitely made me realise that everything is ephemeral and so it’s time to do something with yourself or just become another thing that happens to die and fall off.” You get the sense that Hickey is all too aware that there’s no point in putting things off until tomorrow because tomorrow might never arrive.
Unsurprisingly, Hickey’s music also possesses this sense of purpose, but additionally carries the chaos and unpredictability of everyday life. Take “Rain” for instance. The debut single from Fjord Explorer’s upcoming debut album I Know I’m Awake begins typically enough. A purposful acoustic guitar ala Bob Dylan‘s “Masters of War” sets proceedings in motion before Hickey’s sombre baritone croon enters depicting a tale of love. So far, so folk. About halfway through, a wall of shoegaze influenced noise washes over the song, nearly drowning Hickey’s vocals completely. The effect is spellbinding. It brings surprise to predicatability and that’s precisely what Hickey wants. “The whole Phil Spector wall of sound thing is what I’m attempting there. I like the idea of making people realise that music itself does not come from a very straightforward place. You don’t sit down and produce it in one go. It’s generally one big convoluted mess and so that’s where the sound kind of comes from. (In the song) You have the idea, “I’m falling in love and it’s all so simple and beautiful, but it’s also a crazy rainstorm of a cluster fuck of confusion.”
Despite the clear ambition in his music, Hickey is surprisingly humble when discussing his music. There’s no Kasabian size arrogance here, in fact he readily admits to his fear of releasing his debut album. “I’m kind of nervous to be perfectly frank, I’ve never put this much money, effort or emotional investment into anything that I’ve created. The new album is a giant leap of faith, a terrifying… I’ve tied my rope and now I’m hoping I’ve tied it just short enough so that I won’t reach the bottom when I jump off the bridge.” Again, I’m taken aback by his willingness to discuss what could be construed as weakness and the vulnerability Hickey shows. “It’s definitely a daunting fear to hear what someone else will think about this music because it comes from such a personal place. Quite literally, some of the lyrics are written as letters to the deceased.” He concludes that if someone doesn’t like his music it’s like they’re saying, “I don’t like anything that goes on inside of your heart.” Affecting stuff, it’s easy to imagine how listeners could empathise and grow attached to this kind of honesty and humility.
When pushed, Hickey can be coaxed into discussing the nascent band’s achievements. “In Jacksonville there’s a festival that’s actually gaining a little bit of international attention. It’s called One Spark and basically you apply and there’s hundreds and hundreds of bands who go out and people vote. There’s two categories: the popular vote and the Jury Prize. We came second place (for the Jury Prize) but we came very close to winning $10,000. Being on a big stage and nearly having 10 grand given to you is pretty cool.” Yep, that is definitely pretty cool. Some might suggest a little bit more than pretty cool but that’s not Hickey’s style.
As the conversation draws to a close, Hickey feels he has perhaps talked too much and in too much detail. By way of apology he declares he is “long-winded”. I get the impression that his listeners won’t mind too much though. Especially if he continues to contribute music that is as upfront and earnest as his conversation. Fjord Explorer and Connor Hickey have barely arrived but are definitely here to stay.
Main photograph courtesy of Andy Welsh.
Fjord Explorer’s debut album I Know I’m Awake will be self released by the band in July.