When we got in touch with New York-based artist London O'Connor earlier this year, it was for a potential contribution to our piece about so-called bedroom pop and the emerging wave of DIY-minded young artists on the rise. He emailed back with answers, but added, "All I ask is that if you run any of the answers that you run all of them unedited."
Here are London's answers to the initial questions we asked:
What do you think of the term "bedroom pop"? Is it accurate? Is it restrictive or misleading?
I think I have an emotional connection to every kid who uses that term to describe what they do. Even if I've never met them, I feel like there’s a generational shift we are a part of. I think a lot of kids in that shift feel like “all I have is a bedroom... but I aspire to be pop” and I feel it's more like We. Are. Pop—and of all of the people who are also pop we were raised to do something more honest and intimate... the bedroom is what makes us better. It's not what holds us back.
A thing that we're seeing right now is that a lot of young indie DIY artists are connecting. How important is it for like-minded artists to talk, collaborate, and support each other?
Bedroom pop isn’t a sound—it's a willingness to let your guard down and make something in your most intimate space using what you have. And then share it with people.
Support. Yes. It's valuable but my perspective on that is a little weird because I am a hermit. People know this about me— maybe it's because of the 2 years with no home or bedroom but since building Alpha (my home) I don't get out much. I listen to a lot of music our generation makes, but also to a lot that was made before I was born. I take in a lot of different mediums to figure out what I relate to. I think it's important for people to do that and not associate only w the people immediately around them. The people making art that you're most related to emotionally, they actually might be gone or not born yet. The internet may connect you to them but they may not be around you IRL or online rn. And the main thing is look—you’re free of this structure so you can truly get what's in You out. Don't give that up to start trying to sound like the people you hang with. Or you all don't realize What you have yet.
Can something be bedroom pop if it's not made in a bedroom? Is that label more about achieving a sound, or the means by which that sound is achieved?
Alpha (my home) is my response to that. I just recorded all the vocals for my friend Quiet Luke’s next album in Alpha. He’s not signed but he just sang into a 12K vocal chain in my bedroom. And he didn’t have to appeal to any large company to get access to that chain. When I finished the vocals for utility 002 I just started texting kids I knew who had something to say but didn’t have those resources. Alpha is what I was fighting for when I was sleeping on floors. When I signed and basically dropped off the internet, I went and built a bedroom that would allow me to never need to make an album in a studio in order to sound like them (the pop artists that came before us). That's what I mean by we are Pop but the bedroom is our strength. The way you feel at the end of the day when you get home and let your guard down. That's where we capture our music. Every record is made somehow—that's how our generation is making our records. They can still be clean and beautiful. And they can all be different. Bedroom pop isn’t a sound—it's a willingness to let your guard down and make something in your most intimate space using what you have. And then share it with people.
After seeing London's response, we decided to wait to see what he does next before publishing his answers. In May, he released "Anxiety," the first song off an upcoming project called Utility 002: I Love You. He said the album is already finished, added that he made it in his bedroom, and explained that once he played it for the label, they set him free. "This record is just spreading from kids sharing it," he said. "This record is the beginning of what I have been working in my mind to release since the day you met me. On that day I already knew what this album was called."
Since then, other artists like Willow Smith, James Blake, Jameela Jamil, Maggie Rogers, Muna, India Menuez, and Liz Harlan have all shared the song. So what about the label situation, and what happens next? O'Connor offered the following explanation:
Some things that had nothing to do with me happened while I was in my bedroom working on my album. Contractually, they meant I would have to be upstreamed to Matador. I love Matador, they are wonderful people and they have a lot of integrity in my eyes. I have a deep respect for them that will not fade. I had maybe four conversations with them since signing though (because they weren't my label, they were a parent label). They represent iconic independent rock music. But now suddenly a month from my album being done they were my main label and I was going to be handing them an album of mostly piano ballads. I make vulnerable pop music. I didn't change what I wanted to express I just made what I knew I needed to make. They heard it before it was mixed, said, 'Thank you for sharing I Love You with us... this is not really a Matador album. But we want to resolve this amicably'. And they did. They set me free.
No matter what happens in this life you have to be true to yourself and make the things you want to make and the things you need to make. Nobody's affirmation is going to replace the feeling of getting to experience what you wanted to while you were here, living and breathing with the choices right in front of you. I always see myself like a protagonist in my own life—like how you think of a film. When shit goes sideways in our personal life sometimes we think life is bad. But when it goes sideways in a film we think the film is good and engaging and powerful.
In the film of my life, I effectively was given near 6 figures to build my perfect studio in my bedroom—Alpha. I gave up my freedom for this—not to have studio time for one album like most people ask for, but to get the best equipment in the world and put it in a bedroom where I could make every album. I made the vulnerable album I've always wanted to make, and some how on the other side was given the masters for that album, my freedom, I don't have to pay back any of my advance, and I am free to put out the album however I want. I feel eternally grateful.
If you asked any company for that situation up front they would never give it to you. And yet, that’s effectively what happened from me being a hermit and making my album while things shifted around me. It's vulnerable to be putting out music without a machine behind me, but people sharing it is everything. "Anxiety" is the first utility we put up on the AWL site, and we just tweeted it out. The first song on the album with no marketing budget or any team really—I just tweeted it. That was the whole roll-out. It's reached more people than any song of mine has thus far. Just from kids sharing it on their phones and that person knowing somebody. They are humanizing "Anxiety" through sharing it. The fight for mental growth is a non-zero sum game and the more people who fight it we all win.
I'm hosting it on the AWL site for now because it's important for people understanding what utilities are. Apple couldn't really express exactly what it was doing with computers by putting their computers in Best Buy and Fry's (although their computers are there now too). They had to create the Apple store, so they could express a new idea fully.
AWL is a utilities provider. We provide utilities for the emotional endurance of people in all fields. And it's being started by a kid in a bedroom. I mean technically, I started this from a backpack, and the bedroom is the upgrade. We are going to destroy pop music from a bedroom. "Pop music" delivers an edited perfect version of a person so that you believe they are capable of things you are not, you check out of your own life, and you live vicariously through watching them. And that's kind of the 'store'—the Best Buy, so to speak. And it sells entertainment. Utilities are equipment. I am here to show a very full view of human experience, all of my flaws, beauty, mistakes and triumph—so that it's useful as raw data to every person choosing to live out their own life.
If everybody does what they love here, and lives through that life fully, it's exponentially more impactful to humanity than what a pop star does by being the best in that old paradigm. The focus of AWL for the first 10 years is sound. Because I love sound. That's me doing what I love. And some of that is pop music like "Anxiety." But on the AWL site there is also an AWL Radio for focus—it's a stream of ambient music for people to use when they study, calm down at the end of their day, or need to focus on something. It's up there to be useful. James Blake tweeted that he was playing through that on repeat too. I want the music to live on the site with the other utilities so people understand with time exactly what we are doing. We are equipping You.
We have been given a gift that we can really do what we came to do from a bedroom. From Alpha With Love. "Anxiety" is just the first song from Utility 002: I Love You. More will come.