Rex Orange County

Fed up of school and at a loss, Alex O’Connor started Rex Orange County in the middle of his teens. At the time, this self-taught drummer was only just beginning to realise he could do more than just play sessions or bit-part band roles. In truth, he “wasn’t that into drums,” not enough to make it a life pursuit. So for the first time, he applied keys, vocals and anything he could find to loose-footed, fluid, personable songs about being bored and disillusioned. Self-produced debut bedroom album ‘bcos u will never b free’ became a blueprint for Rex’s sound, where jazz-nodding keys, sugar-soaked vocals and no-fucks-given lyricism share the same space in a dazzling combination.

 

Aged 18, he grew up on the outskirts of London in Haslemere, Surrey. Today his hometown acts as a retreat for when life in the capital gets too overwhelming. But while growing up, he wasn’t exactly surrounded by cultural hotspots. “Thank god for the Internet,” he sums up. As he grew older, music gradually took over his life. He always knew he’d shun the academic route (“the moment education becomes optional, I’m gonna take that different path”) and he only liked the teachers “who allowed me to be myself.” Being in a picturesque but culturally void town didn’t stop him from admiring fellow do-it-yourself producers Thundercat and Toro Y Moi, or falling in love with Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel ORANGE’. “If I could do anything close to that musically, then that’s it,” he beams.

 

Rex’s ‘bcos u will never b free’ captures a very specific time, songs penned when he “just needed to leave school” and “needed to get away from people and situations I was bored of.” ‘Apricot Princess’ takes a different path. Honing in on “general positivity”, it focuses on how he met his girlfriend, discovered London and broke free from boredom. “Lyrically it’s moved on,” he says. “It’s levelled up. But I’m not showing everything yet.” He’s playing things down. New single ‘UNO’ sticks to the no-bullshit mantra of his early songs (“I live with a voice that tends to tell me that I’m shit in my head,” he raps), adding jolts of sax, disjointed chords and pitch-shifting vocal for good measure. Talk about a level up.

 

It hasn’t taken long for Rex to find like-minded spirits. Through uploading ‘bcos u will never b free’ came connections to producers like Two Inch Punch and BadBadNotGood who got in touch after stumbling across Rex’s Bandcamp page. And none so perfect a collaborator came to the table than Tyler, the Creator who sent “the most illiterate email” to help reach out. “I couldn’t tell if it was definitely him. Was someone fucking with me? I was just not convinced.” After giving all his work to the internet it seemed to be returning the favour.

 

Pendulum-swinging between loved-up verses and rap refrains, Rex’s music refuses to be pigeonholed. “You don’t have to be perfectionist about stuff,” he claims. “Nothing has to be perfect. Why take it so seriously when anyone in the fucking world can make music? Make it obvious you did it.” If there’s one thing that defines his early material, it’s a personal stamp O’Connor applies at every opportunity. This is his personality epitomised, spilled out in multicolour. 

Agent
Tom Schroeder
Assisted by: Claire Bewers claire@codaagency.com