Conor Maynard: YouDude
Having decisively emerged as one of the UK’s biggest breakthrough acts of 2012, 20-year-old R&B/pop singer-songwriter Conor Maynard this month drops the fourth single from his chart-topping debut album “Contrast” - the pounding, darkly sexual “Animal”, which also now additionally benefits from a gritty guest-rap courtesy of East London “Godfather of Grime” Wiley.
Indeed, with the bulk of its tracks - including its two bass-driven Top Five singles “Can’t Say No” and “Vegas Girl” - produced by West London-based trio The Invisible Men (of Jessie J/ DJ Fresh fame), the aforementioned “Contrast” also prestigiously boasts big-name US production/songwriting input from the likes of R&B superstar Ne-Yo (the anthemic, Stargate-produced Top 10 single “Turn Around”); The Neptunes’ Pharrell (the sci-fi soul of “Lift Off” and atmospheric “Glass Girl”); plus super-credible modern-day soulster Frank Ocean (the lyrically suggestive slow-jam “Pictures”). A stellar line-up which has in the six months since its initial release impressively resulted in the album’s domestic chart success also being repeated internationally across North America, Mainland Europe and Australasia.
Born Conor Paul Maynard in his hometown of Brighton, England in November 1992, Conor initially started out as a child actor before switching to singing in his early/mid-teens. When, making his name online via his captivating cover-versions of songs by the likes of Usher, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown, he would impressively soon find himself accumulating an incredible million-plus YouTube views! A fact which would eventually, and prestigiously, bring him to the attention of the man he now calls his “mentor” - the aforementioned Ne-Yo. Whose early interest in signing the talented then-teen would in turn go on to spark something of a bidding war amongst the UK major-labels. All of which would ultimately result in Conor signing his current deal with EMI subsidiary Parlophone, with whom he has since in the UK alone gone on to score a Number One album in addition to three Top Ten singles whose accumulated sales already exceed half-a-million
…Which in turn brings us back to today. As now-bona-fide international heartthrob Conor - whose album has been accurately described as “commercial R&B/pop complete with smooth, harmonised vocals and bang-on-trend electro-dance backing” - takes time out of his hectic touring schedule to hook up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a bright’n’breezy introductory chat.
What Conor wanted to achieve musically with his debut LP “Contrast”
“I think I really wanted to come out with a sound that was different and kind of unique. I mean, my motto when I was creating the album was ‘It’s better to fail in originality than it is to succeed in imitation’. You know, I didn’t wanna copy anyone, I didn’t try to rip off anyone… Instead I really wanted to make a record that was uniquely Conor Maynard. And I think for me the way I did that was basically by tying in all the different influences that I’ve had over the years and putting my own spin on them. Like growing up I listened to legends like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, a lot of contemporary R&B artists like Usher, Mario, Justin Timberlake - as well as rock bands like Green Day, Good Charlotte... Plus right now listen to a lot of hip hop like Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye West... So yeah, as I say, me tying all those influences together into one and then kind of putting my own spin on them is what I think ultimately created the musicality of the ALBUM.”
His views on those constant - and careless - comparisons with fellow one-time YouTube teen-sensation Justin Bieber
“For me, when I first stated hearing the comparisons it was flattering in a way because obviously Justin Bieber is so huge around the world right now. And so to be compared to an artist so big so early on in my career was kind of amazing. But then at the same time I also feel, as you just said, the comparisons are only really appropriate in that we both came through YouTube and we’re both YOUNG. Because in terms of my music, I feel it does have a more mature kinda R&B flavour to it than his. Plus I’m obviously older - I’ve just turned 20, he’s only 18 - and I’m from the UK, which means my music has does have British influences in there too... So yeah, overall I guess it’s one of those things where, when people do actually hear my album, they’ll realise that there is - excuse the pun - a definite ‘contrast’ between my record and HIS! It’s like we’re kind of aiming at two different AGE-groups.”
How Conor first came to accumulate a million-plus international fan-base through his early homemade YouTube videos alone
“I’d say it was when I was around 15 that I actually started posting covers up online - basically because I wanted to start seeing the reactions from people who didn’t KNOW me. You know, though I’d already had my friends saying how really good I was, I still wanted to get reactions from people that would have no problem saying exactly what they THOUGHT. And though at first I’d say the reaction was GOOD, it wasn’t GREAT - we were having a like a couple of hundred views, which was nothing really… But then the point where it all suddenly kinda switched was when “OMG” by Usher came out and all my friends started asking me to cover it. And, because this rapper from Virginia had already been messaging me for us to do a song together, I decided to collaborate with him - and “OMG” was the song we WENT with! So we did a video - and then, when I checked it a few weeks later, it had all just randomly shot to about 100,000 VIEWS, which was INSANE!... So from there, because we didn’t want it to be a one-off, we then very quickly went with our NEXT cover - “Beautiful Monster” by Ne-Yo - which ended up becoming our first video to hit a MILLION views! After which we just continued putting videos up online and consecutively hitting a million each TIME! Which is when I first got contacted by Ne-Yo’s manager.”
Conor’s ongoing relationship with the man he calls his “mentor”, chart-topping US R&B superstar Ne-Yo
“Well yeah, Ne-Yo literally was one of the first people to really FIND me. You know, he saw me on the internet when I was first doing my covers and straightaway tried to SIGN me - which is what in turn sparked the interest from the UK labels. Because as soon they caught onto the fact that Ne-Yo was interested in me, they were like ‘Who IS this kid that Ne-Yo’s trying to take off to America and sign? Let’s MEET him’ - which ultimately led to my current record-deal with PARLOPHONE! So in that light the fact that I did get to actually work with him on this album was AMAZING - you know, just one of those moments that felt like a long time COMING. Because, like you say, I do feel Ne-Yo has become like a MENTOR to me - not only musically but as a person as WELL... Because he’s had so much success as an artist in his own right, he’s written for some of the biggest singers in the world - and yet he still seems to have stayed so humble and so down-to-EARTH... So yeah, I think I have learnt a lot FROM him and we’re still extremely close FRIENDS. To where, in addition to us having done “Turn Around” together for this current album, I’ve also since been working with him on some NEW material.”
The single “Animal" Featuring Wiley and album “Contrast” are both out now through Parlophone
Words PETE LEWIS