Conor Maynard is a 19-year-old British pop singer with a great YouTube discovery story. "I did a cover of Ne-Yo's 'Beautiful Monster,'" Maynard told MTV News. "[Ne-Yo] told a story where one of his friends called him [like] 'Yo man, isn't this kid singing 'Beautiful Monster' better than you singing it?' He was a bit like, 'Ah, no, I'll check that out.' And he was like, 'This kid does sing better than me!'"
Now, with his debut album, Contrast, already out abroad and the U.S. release coming in October, people are of course comparing him to Justin Bieber. I've heard 2 singles from the album so far, (OK, I admit to obsessively watching the videos for "Vegas Girl" and "Can't Say No" like a hundred times a day.) and I think he is more like Justin Timberlake. Sometimes he even reminds me of Michael Jackson. Either way, this guy's got massive talent!
Q: What is the meaning of your album title Contrast?
Conor: Obviously a small reason is basically that it’s a little play on my first name: Conor, Contrast. After that, there’s quite a few meanings. It might be quite a contrast from what people are expecting. It’s kind of got quite mature elements to it and it’s a quite urban sound as well. I remember my first ever album review and the first thing they said was, “Oh yea, we were really expecting a very Justin Bieber kind of pop-y album, and it really wasn’t that,” and I was like, “Well, I tried to tell you.” Also, it’s a contrast on what’s already out there. It’s quite a different sound. Not many artists or albums really sound like it right now. And finally is the contrast within the album. You know, it’s kind of a big, upbeat dance track all the way down to the slow, stripped-back piano track. So, yea, Contrast kind of fits the album I think.
Q: How would you describe your music?
Conor: I always tried to make quite a unique sound. I never wanted to copy. My motto creating the album was, “It’s better to fail in originality than it is to succeed in imitation.” So I was always trying to make it very different, very original, and I suppose I’ve definitely had influences growing up. There’s people like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and as I got a bit older, I went through quite a rock kind of period. I used to listen to Good Charlotte, Green Day, and then I went very R&B, people like Usher, Mario, Ne-Yo, Justin Timberlake, and now I listen to a lot of rap, people like Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye West. So there’s loads of different influences that have all come into one, and I think that’s really shaped my sound. I think it’s, you know, quite urban, R&B vocals kind of thing, obviously, pop elements to it as well, and yea, there’s a lot different elements gone into it.
Q: How much of the album did you write?
Conor: I wrote 8 of the 12 tracks. I definitely wanted to get involved in the writing side of it. I really wanted to have my own stamp on the album. So there are a few tracks about experiences I’ve been through and a few tracks I’ve just written because I know me and my friends would love. At first, people didn’t really know I could write. I was my covers, so that didn’t really mean I had to write anything. But when I was going to the studio, I’d definitely get involved in the writing. I’d learned from different writers, different producers, and my writing just slowly improved. And then, as it got closer to the album, I started writing more tracks with different producers, and the label would hear them, the management would hear them, and be really impressed.
Q: How do you write your songs?
Conor: It’s completely random for me. Things just pop into my head. It’s just one of those things where sometimes you have a moment where you’re suddenly inspired by something, or you have a sudden idea and it just flows out of you. Other times, you really don’t know what to write about and it doesn’t go too smoothly. But either way, I think it’s just random. When I was writing “Can’t Say No”, the only idea I had in my head to start with was the whole, “Houston, I think we got a problem.” So we put that before the chorus, and then we thought, “Ok, how are we going to link this into an actual song? What can we say for the rest of it?” And I was thinking of how people are always saying, “Oh, you must have a lot of girls now,” and it was like, “Ok, I’m going to play on that. Oh, there’s just so many girls I just can’t say no."
Q: What was it like when Ne-Yo said he wanted to work with you?
Conor: It was crazy. He was the one that noticed me on YouTube. When I first heard from his management that he wanted to work with me, I wanted to believe it, but at the same time I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t want to get all the way out to America to have my friends back in my hometown be like, “We got you. It’s just us.” So I asked, “Is there any proof? Is Ne-Yo definitely involved here?” A few days later, I was sitting on Skype with Ne-Yo talking about music and him telling me he wanted to sign me. It was kind of crazy.
Q: What is the most surprising thing since you entered this whole forum?
Conor: It’s probably having a chance to meet some of my idols and realizing how like normal human beings they are. I got to work with people like Pharrell Williams, and I got to meet Ne-Yo, these people I’d been listening to growing up. So they were kind of my idols, and then I got to meet them, and they were just really normal, humble people that made me feel very comfortable very quickly. They’re just really cool. Sometimes you look up to an artist and think he's like some superhuman kind of person. I think when you meet them you realize they’re just really down-to-earth people, really cool. Just being considered an equal among them was definitely a cool feeling that I didn’t really expect.
Q: Did either of them give you any specific advice about the music industry?
Conor: A lot of artists that I meet definitely have had advice and it’s normally the same thing. It’s all about enjoying yourself. They always ask me, “Are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying yourself?” because a lot of people look at the music industry and think it’s all glitz and glamour, and really it isn’t. There are a lot of hardships. You have to go through a lot of difficult situations. So make sure you’re enjoying yourself. Make sure, you know, when you’re performing and in the studio you’re having as much fun as possible because, you know, if you’re not enjoying yourself, then it’s going to become a struggle. It’s going to become a bit of a massive drag.
Q: Do you feel like added pressure that you have to prove yourself compared to Justin Bieber?
Conor: Comparisons just naturally come early in a musician’s career. People are trying to guess who you’re trying to be like, what your sound is trying to be. I’d much rather people just listen to the music and make their own opinions, make their own comparisons for themselves. You know, I’m not trying to be the next anyone. I’m trying to be the first Conor Maynard. I’m just doing me and I know that that is different. I suppose sometimes it makes you think, “Well, it’s kind of difficult because if people out there don’t like Justin Bieber, they’re not going to listen to me because they think it’s the same thing when really it isn’t.” So I think that’s the only kind of downside of it, but at the same time, he’s one of the biggest artists in the world right now, and being compared to him isn’t I suppose probably a bad thing. [Laughter]
Q: Do you like to read?
Conor: I always used to get really into a lot of different books growing up. Obviously I read all the Harry Potters. I remember I used to get really tied into the whole story when I was reading it. It’s almost the same as music where you can interpret it in your own way. Like when you read a book, you can imagine the characters in your own way, what they look like, what their personalities are, and you can interpret it in your own way. It’s like a song. When you’re listening to music, one song can have a million different meanings to all different people. You can fit your own situations into it. That was also my favorite part about books, that you could interpret it in your own way. You could fill out your part of the story in your own imagination.
Q: What book would you recommend?
Conor: I used to love A Series of Unfortunate Events, those books. I used to absolutely love those books. I remember I read all 13 of them twice. Yea, I was a big fan of those books when I was growing up, so I would definitely recommend them. They’re very clever.
Q: Is there any food that you absolutely could not live without?
Conor: There is a food chain in the U.K. called Nando’s, and it is my absolute favorite. I actually have the Black Card they hand out and there’s only 100 that exist in the entire world and I have one, and it means that you get it for free. Yea, that was literally like my pinnacle success so far. That was like a massive moment for me. I also like Chipotle over in the U.S.
Q: Have you always loved music, even when you were a little kid?
Conor: I used to say “zic”, and I remember there’s a funny story behind that because my mom used to know what I meant when I said that. I’d go, “Zic on. Zic on,” and I meant I wanted to hear music. And then once my auntie was looking after me, and I was going, “Zic on. Zic on,” and she thought I was going to be sick. So she called my mom to come pick me up because she thought I was going to be sick. Then my mom got there and she was like, “No, he just wants to listen to music.”
AWWWW! “Mayniacs” out there, leave a Comment!
Interview by Marie Morreale
Photo courtesy of Capitol Records