A miracle. A rebirth. Khonnor is no more, but Connor Long is back, reborn as CCLCNG. On the brink of death, shattered by a car accident and other accidents in life, the American artist is about to release his second album, 15 years after his first one. A moving encounter with a young man as touching as he is honest.
Be kind, rewind.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Khonnor’s only album, Handwriting, composed in 2004 by a lonely seventeen-year-old from Vermont. Handwriting was immediately considered a masterpiece by the Anglo-Saxon press: secretly recorded in the basement of the family home, using a computer and a microphone from a Japanese language learning kit, Connor Kirby Long’s music was inimitable. A new voice was born…but the eagerly anticipated follow-up never came.
Here I am, fifteen years on from the album’s release, and Handwriting has never left me. Neither, though, has the obvious, troubling question. Connor seemed to vanish without a trace – why? For years I have searched the Net for some trace of this enigmatic kid. The regular searches have become a habit, motivated first by curiosity, then by nostalgia…by now, my quest has become an end unto itself. I remain hopeful, but I no longer really expect to find an answer.
It is November 2019, and I finally pick up Connor Kirby Long’s trail in an article from an American local newspaper, dated July 11, 2019. Joy becomes shock: a young man has been hit by a car. A hit-and-run. The victim, named Connor Long, is in a coma.
I immediately contact his old label, Type. I also get onto his Facebook fan group, as well as the website This Is Our Music, which produced a documentary about the young artist in 2004. And then, another shock: after a few days, Connor writes to me. Yes, he has indeed been the victim of an accident, and yes, he spent the summer in a coma. He agrees to a meeting on Skype. On D-Day, he cancels it. The physiotherapy sessions take up a lot of his time. Waiting to connect in real time, I writhe with impatience.
Tea, drugs & cranioplasty.
We meet, finally, via our respective computer screens. Naturally enough, I don’t recognize the present‑day Connor; at thirty-two, a bushy beard hides the youthful face. He reclines on a sofa in his pyjamas. Like his clear gaze, his laughter is frank and gentle. He spends most of his time recovering in his room. Despite this confinement, the young man who so often has hidden behind animal masks and a multitude of personae (Grandma, I,Cactus, Gaza Faggot, Clown Connecktion, Jimmy Buffer), is jovial, open, and generous.
He tells me, firstly, about recent months. The accident. The coma. The foot saved, against the odds, by incredulous surgeons. The extraction of 30% of his skull and storage of the bone in a freezer during his coma. Cranioplasty. The death of his father. His drug problems. “I feel like what’s happened to me in the last two years is just a twisted joke played by a bad genius.”
But the horizon is brightening. Connor knows that he is miraculous; he feels resurrected. He has applied to a video game development program, intending to start classes next semester. The main part of this rebirth, though, will be the upcoming release of his long-awaited sophomore album, CCLCNG, on the Quantum Natives label.
Why CCLCNG? “The first two Cs are the initials of my two first names, Connor and Christian…but it’s mainly a typographical trick: replace the Cs by the Os and you get “oolong”. It’s a kind of tea. I drank a lot of it with my father when we lived together in the last years of his life. He died a year ago.”
This is a story as much about tragedy as about miracles. Among the latter is Connor’s own music: the four titles that he sends me are worth the fifteen years of waiting. Connor has had time, over that period, to absorb the brilliant lights that have changed the face of electronic music in recent years: those which doubtless have likewise inspired the vaporwave puzzles of Oneohtrix Point Never and the theoretical mazes of Holly Herndon.
The music on CCLCNG is the more ample and abstract for this; “Tell Me”, a downtempo song haunted by spectral voices and futuristic sounds, is a striking example. Then there is the splendid “Birds Of A Feather”: all silences and echoes, a beautiful song to cry to. The stuttering of a dysfunctional robot emerges here through seraphic keyboard strings and a slomo rap beat, gradually blending into the next track, the haunting ballad “Can You See”.
For all his influences, however, Connor’s own musical identity remains intact. In these four pieces, we find his familiar predilection for complex beats, and the parasitic aesthetic that made Handwriting‘s texture so unique. The voice, always hidden behind distortion effects, is as present as before. Here, camouflaged by the effects and sounds of other worlds and as sensitive as ever, are the kind of melancholic, and sometimes naïve, melodies that made Handwriting shine. Once again, CCLCNG showcases Khonnor Kirby Long’s desire to write beautiful songs…and to do so from the heart.
Nothing but tragedy
What happened to you between Handwriting and now ?
I lived in Austin Texas for 13 years. But I have really bad anxiety. I fucked up. I fell into drugs. Basically I was living in traphouses and I was homeless for six months, two years ago. I got into trouble with cartel people. I had people hacking into my Facebook, stealing my stuff. If I were to step out and look at what I thought the next couple of years of my life were gonna be, three years ago, there is no way my fucked up brain could have come up with this kind of shit. I’m in recovery now. I’ll probably dedicate this album to my dad.
Why is that ?
While I was in the hospital, I had a really vivid dream where I went to my dad’s house in Texas because the day after the accident, that’s where I was supposed to go. He died last November, in 2018. He had developed a crack / cocaine habit. It took him down within a year. It’s so crazy. When he picked up the habit I was living with him. He was acting really strange so one day I was so worried that I looked into his car and I found a crack pipe in the pocket of his car door. Then I realised that he was driving around smoking crack so that I wouldn’t know about it. I tried to take care of him. It was like a role reversal thing : he was the child. I think the LP is going to be dedicated to him because he’s such a tragic figure. And a lot of the LP was created in his house. But it’s so complicated. The past two years have been nothing but tragedy. This LP is gonna be such a great cathartic relief for me.
And during these last two tragic years you kept making music ?
Yes. I was supposed to do a release on Halcyon Veil a while ago but that fell through. I’d still like to put something together with them. I have this ridiculous back catalogue of thousands of tracks. I have a lot of ideas and it all comes quite easily to me. I started to make electronic music when I was 12 years old. And since then I haven’t really stopped. I mean every day, pretty much, I stick my head into Ableton.
You shared a lot of music under many different names. But why didn’t you release official albums or EPs ?
I don’t feel the need to release it under that form. I could post a new track on my Soundcloud every hour on the hour for four days and not be done. That’s also a problem. I’m very prolific but I don’t want to bother people. I have to be careful not to overshare. The thing is that I get so excited when people like my music. To me music is a form of communication. Making music is somehow as cathartic as talking to another human being. I think that this desire to create came from sensing, from an early age, the dangers of vocalization or verbal communication. And I think creating is a deeper form of communication that allows me to deliver a higher amount of information at a faster rate, because it’s really hard to describe how I feel sometimes.
There is no trace of what you’ve been posting on your Soundcloud during all these years.
It’s a new Soundcloud. Everything got wiped off from the former one because of some copyright violation. I had this one track, a remix of “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs, but it was a hateful remix. Most of the stuff that I put up was a defenestration of what I was remixing. It was a “fuck you” to corporate music. I’m angry at the post capitalism surveillance society that I’ve been forced to live in. But a lot of my music has a sense of humour and it’s hard to see that.
Are you referring to your Anus Morissette moniker ?
(He laughs). I came up with that name while I was on mushrooms, so… Anus Morissette was a live art performance kind of stuff. I had a juice maker, and I made juice for the audience, but I had my juice maker plugged in so that the sound ran though granulator effects. Quite experimental, noisy music. I actually had a show with David Lieber-Hart from the Tim & Eric Show. He’s the weirdest guy. I met him while I lived in Texas.
What about your Gaza Faggot moniker ?
Well I’m not proud of that name… I’m gay by the way (he laughs).
I can’t help wondering why, after Handwriting’s success, and except from the “Burning Palace” EP (2006), you never used the Khonnor moniker.
Everybody’s like : “Why don’t you reboot Khonnor ? You have so many fans, blah blah blah”. Well that’s why I won’t do it. I’m not the kind of person who thrives on exposure. I never wanted to make a brand out of Khonnor, or pat myself on the back too hard. I didn’t want participate in this consumer post capitalism I so disdain. Of course, I would like to have enough money to buy more software or instruments but not this way. After I made Handwriting I had a bunch of people barking up my tree. People from big labels offered me a lot of money for Handwriting II, and I turned it down. I feel that by taking this money I would not have been free to make the kind of music that I knew I would be able to make. Even though it’s sort of selfish, I’m into that ontological pursuit of recreating these things that hide in my head. It’s like an exercise for me. Everytime I do that translation from the ether into music, it’s almost like magic. The neurological pathways that you use are strengthened everytime you do that. So even if I don’t release things, and even if I don’t get this exposure that people are seeking, I am still essentially practicing to be a better artist.
Why did you choose Quantum Natives to release your forthcoming LP ?
I like them a lot. I wanted to work with them because I like their transgressive audiovisual aesthetic. I’m on a discord with most of the artists who work with the label, like Yearning Kru, White Goblin, Terribilis, Emamouse or 09/12/17. I talk to them every day. It’s like my family, you know? It feels awesome to have them as a sounding board.
15 years after Handwriting, you are about to release your second LP. Why now ?
Just because I feel like it’s good enough material, and I think I’m ready to handle releasing something again. I’ve had enough practice to get closer to what I have in my mind. Music is hard to describe with words. It’s better to just listen to it. It speaks for itself. I finished it before the accident (silence). It’s crazy. I can’t believe it’s my life sometimes. It’s taken a while but now I’m trying to take this as a challenge to become a stronger person as opposed to something to ruminate over, to dwell on in a negative way. I find myself counting my lucky stars more and more often. Because the guy that was admitted to the ICU next to me didn’t wake up. It was a motorcycle accident. And if not for the grace of God, there go I. But I’m alive and life can be pretty cool actually. I’m alive !