Maz O’Connor made her long awaited return earlier this year with her fourth full length album, What I Wanted. Naturally, we were bowled over by the album – it is a fabulous piece of work that sees Maz really branch out her sound and experiment with her already fine formula.
What I Wanted is a departure for Maz O’Connor in it’s stylings but it is always great to see brilliant artists take risks and push themselves without settling for the same old. Maz O’Connor pulls off the shift with aplomb. In Will Gardner she has a brilliant musical partner as his input and production alongside Maz help make What I Wanted a vital album of 2022.
We are lucky to be able to welcome Maz O’Connor to our pages once again (Maz previously wrote about Nina Simone here), as she tells us more about the inspirations and places that helped form What I Wanted.
The overall themes of the album are the stories of the narrator (me/vulpes) walking London streets, mostly at night, experiencing anxiety and isolation and searching for connection through love, friends, spirituality, drugs and alcohol.
What I Wanted also makes reference to the gentrification of London, the disappearance of independent places and especially music venues. This runs throughout as a kind of background to the narrator’s personal experiences. It’s a sort of external manifestation of the interior void of meaning in late capitalist life.
In addition to the themes and references, What I Wanted features various characters: Jessica; the Kerouac cliché; Lily; the weirdos of Jamboree; the lover or lovers who are missed in Soho.
I’ve lived in London for about seven years, and with each passing year it seems that a great independent place closes down and is replaced by a corporate chain place. For this song, I was thinking specifically of The Coach and Horses, an amazing, independently run pub at the bottom of Greek St. with live music, vegetarian food and fundraisers for refugees. It’s been taken over by a Fuller’s now.
Soho is about how the changes in a place can remind you of the people who’ve left it. It’s about missing that absent friend or lover, and missing the place that Soho used to be. It is a melancholic hymn to London’s iconic West End and mourns its transformation from a place of eccentricity and independent spirit to a corporate void:
They bought up all the old streets / And they priced out all the old queens / Tore the party down / And put up a burger joint
Soho was one of the first songs that Will and I wrote together, and it provided the theme for the rest of the album.
‘Jessica’ tells a nostalgic story of growing up, with all of its pleasures, pains and confusions. It captures a longing for a simpler time, when you were still trying to figure out who you might be, and anything was possible.
It was mine and Will’s first session making music together for the album and I was not in the mood to make anything sad after the shitshow of 2020. I remember I kept saying things like: ‘Let’s make something that’s like… JOY!’
Inspired by Efterklang and Sigur Ros, we began with a rhythm on the violin, distorted it, added a tinkling piano riff, soaring clarinet lines, then layers of stamps, claps and paper scrunches. (We had a lot of fun running around Will’s flat trying to find things we could hit and scrunch and scrape for our percussive sounds.)
While cycling home through Victoria Park, East London, I listened back to what we’d made. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the joyful, uplifting feeling of the music reminded me of being 17, hanging out with my best mate, watching River Phoenix movies and drinking stolen wine.
It also references the homophobia of the Catholic Church. I was brought up Catholic, and the shaming of sexuality affects me still. I wrote about this in this blog post, here.
When It Comes For You
This song is about consumerism, really. About how I feel like my generation is searching for something to fill the void that religion used to fill.
I’m a millennial, and most of my friends don’t have a spiritual practice (neither do I, really, I pick and choose…)
‘When it comes for you’ is about the commodification of ‘self-care’ or self-realisation; ayahuasca trips, therapy, crystals, meditation, cosmetic surgery… but the chorus keeps coming back to this idea of dread and anxiety. That’s what the ‘it’ to me means.
It’s also about two people who can’t connect, and a chance for me to have a dig at all those guys who like to educate women about books and music.
‘Another Kerouac cliché…’
Can’t get enough of what I don’t need
This a story about walking South London at night, thinking of an old lover.
Similarly to the last song, it’s a reflection on consumerism. The title and the chorus relate to addiction, too. How hard it is to do the things that are good for you, and how easy it is to go to your phone, to drinking, to any kind of junk. How it’s all superfluous, but I can’t get enough of it. And it doesn’t fill the hole…
What I wanted
What I Wanted is the title track and is set in the city at night.
This is about looking back on a choice and wondering if it was the right one. In my head it’s connected to Jessica, in that there’s nostalgia in there about people from a previous time in my life.
This song explicitly explores the album’s theme of a spiritual quest, as inspired by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
The narrator is looking for something, anything to feel connected to.
She walks central London, offered leaflets by evangelising Christians and books by dancing Hare Krishna’s. With the latter, I was thinking of Govinder’s in Soho Square, where I often go for lunch.
At a party, she feels isolated, and some sort of fire ritual is alluded to, which also doesn’t help.
Lily and Lemonade Wine
Lily is a friend or lover who is more free than the narrator. She inspires me to do whatever I want; travel, go see the world, not care about making a mess. She’s based on lots of people I know who use travel as one of the ways to transcend the monotony and anxiety of the corporate/ capitalist machine.
This is an ode to ‘Jamboree’ in Limehouse which, at the time I wrote it, was under threat of closure. It’s now being relocated to a bigger venue in Kings Cross which is great news.
When I lived in East London, I went there all the time. It was a real community for artists and musicians. I saw some wacky things there, which I love.
One night, I went with some friends for my birthday, and there was a sort of Halloween circus-cabaret act on. We ended up being evacuated at about 10 because the fire-eater set the fire alarm off…
I also went the night that one of my family members died, and there was a great band playing, and a lovely older man sketching them next to my table. At the end of the evening he gave me the sketch. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, because it reminds me of the comfort live music brought me that night.
That’s the main feeling of the song: how live music makes you feel less alone. Also how these wacky independent places go against the grain of corporate London.
Obviously Cable St is famous for the anti-fascist protest and I like having that allusion in there, too.
This came from a loop of piano chords that Will recorded for me. I found myself singing quite spiritual lyrics to it, about wanting to believe, about grace, forgiveness, redemption.
I was brought up Catholic, so those images get in there. But they’re repurposed to describe how love and true connection is possible, and is healing on a soul level.
I suppose it’s the culmination of all these wonderings earlier in the album, about how to connect. This is a moment of communion, after lots of isolation, loneliness and failures to connect.
What I Wanted is physically available exclusively through Maz O’Connor’s Bandcamp page, here.
Listen to a live version of Soho from Maz O’Connor below.