Wonderland.

CONAN GRAY

He is the internet’s favourite dreamer and with his highly anticipated debut album Kid Krow on the way we delve in deep with Mr Gray.

Conan Gray

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Conan Gray
Full look (shirt, suit jacket, pants) SIES MARJAN, Shoes COS, Necklace DALMATA, Rings CARTIER and DALMA

Taken from the Spring 2020 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

With his debut album, Kid Krow, it seems the internet’s favourite dreamer might be on the cusp of world domination. Ahead of its release this spring, Conan Gray speaks to us about trading dreamy idylls for soul-baring truths.

Before he was creating his own brand of sweet and synthetic American nostalgia, regularly texting his teen idols and supplying the world with pure, unadulterated sonic joy, Conan Gray was just a boy with a camera. Assuming the role of America’s sweetest singer-songwriter, Gray is currently talking me through the insanity of his past year, letting slip that after completing five (yes, five!) tours over the duration of the last 12 months, his first time performing on stage was no longer than a year and a half ago. At first I’m guffawed, shocked to the core. But that’s on me; Gray caught me slipping, winning me over with his infectious spirit and boundless creative ambitions. Coming up through YouTube just like many of his musical contemporaries, he found a fateful ally in the video sharing platform when he was just twelve years old, naming his channel ‘ConanxCanon’, you know, like the camera. Having moved around for most of his adolescence, splitting his time between sunny California, Hiroshima and suburban Texas, Gray was always the new kid; I’m sure he wouldn’t even mind me saying a bit of a loner. Once he found the internet however, things changed dramatically. “I guess it is kind of weird for a 12-year-old to be writing songs,” he admits of his musical eureka moment, at least partially aware of how precocious he already was, “but I didn’t know it at the time. I was just living my life.” A scroll through Gray’s retro-tinged channel offers a far-reaching range of content — carefully curated thumbnails illustrate Japanese stationery hauls, a series of cooking tutorials affectionately named ‘Babble & Bake’, and even videos referencing Gray’s art and schooling. “I was putting all this stuff online and slowly kind of grew this little following,” he tells me, but a few years later, this “little following” would amass to over 1.7 million, and that’s just on YouTube alone.

Conan Gray
Conan Gray

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Conan Gray
Full look ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, Shoes COS, Necklace and ring DALMATA. Shirt and vest OUR LEGACY, ring CARTIER.
Conan Gray

After countless zeitgeisty covers of the last decade’s indie classics, it was the release of the singer’s own stripped-back debut single, “Idle Town”, that really put Gray on the map a few months into 2017. “I literally recorded it on my bed with a $25 portable microphone that I bought on Amazon taped on to a broken lamp,” he admits, ever championing the spirit of bedroom pop. The catchy tune’s accompanying video is something of a DIY marvel in itself, following the baby- faced singer through the retirement community of his sleepy Texan hometown, lip-syncing his heart out into a water-bottle-turned-microphone. Before long, the dreamy tune went viral, and as he remembers, things “just blew up” from there. Within a year Gray had relocated to California, where he attended UCLA for three months before signing a major deal with Republic. “Sunset Season”, his first EP, came out the following year, establishing a serene soundscape to explore his coming of age. Written all about Gray’s senior year of high school, the five-track project acts as a bookend for the finale of his ultimate teen dream. Songs like “Generation Why” act as a gentle call to arms for his fellow millennial outsiders, while “Crush Culture” sneers in the face of rejection and unrequited romance — all while championing blissful choir-like harmonies and twinkling pianos that formed his own irresistible brand of peaceful synth-pop.

Conan Gray
Conan Gray

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Conan Gray
Full look (shirt, suit jacket, pants) SIES MARJAN, Shoes COS, Necklace DALMATA, Rings CARTIER and DALMATA Jumper RAG & BONE, Pullover jacket COS, Watch CARTIER, Rings CARTIER and DALMATA
Conan Gray

Gray knows that the dreamy idyll his work dazes in won’t last forever, though, encouraging him to take fans on a journey that’s ultimately rawer, realistic and sometimes painful on his upcoming album, Kid Krow, due mid-March. “I’ma be real,” Gray begins, countering this air of severity with a nervous chuckle. “The past year and a half has been real, fucking, hard. So much of my life just completely changed in a second.” Coming to terms with this, and of course living through it, was no easy burden, but the singer felt it more important not to shy away from it all — “just ‘cause I’m not a very good liar,” he relents. “We all owe it to society right now to be a little more genuine, because everything in the world is so fucking fake.” This new direction all became clear to Gray on the very night he completed Kid Krow. Sat in a featureless hotel room on tour, he had just reached the album’s final track when, out of nowhere, an epiphany struck. “Wow!” he exclaimed, “I just made a really depressing album.” It’s actually quite funny when you think about it, and together we joke that a lot of these songs could actually be considered ‘depressing bops’ that, despite the obvious paradox, actually put you in a great mood.

Still, baring your soul is never easy, and it’s a lesson Gray has learned the hard way. “I made my EP in a bubble, I was like whatever, no one cared that I existed. Now, with everyone anticipating and speculating, it was really confusing, because I had to make this album with the knowledge that people would be listening to it.” Although fully aware of the pressure this brings, Gray hopes that following his gut will be worth it in the long run. “I’m scared to see what people will say, but also, fuck it. Whatever! Plenty of people hate me so we can add a few more, who cares?” As far as inspirations go, Gray cites an intrinsic love of Taylor Swift’s straight-up pop discography, the grungy allure of Nirvana and a fleeting Radiohead phase as influences in the album’s formative stage. “It’s pretty all over the place,” he admits, maybe too harshly, “but overall it’s very me, because I am a weird mixture of so many of my favourite artists and my own insecurities.”

Conan Gray
Conan Gray

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Conan Gray
Tank and shirt MSGM, Jacket LOUIS VUITTON, Necklace DALMATA, Ring CARTIER. Full look (suit jacket, shirt, trousers and shoes) DIOR, Necklace DALMATA, Rings (right middle and left index fingers) CARTIER.
Conan Gray

I’m curious to know if all of Gray’s writing is personal, or whether he enjoys telling stories through experiences that are imagined. “I think, like with any writer, there’s just a small bit of narcissism,” he jokes. “Like ‘yeah, people care what I’m going through!’” But of course there’s so much more to it than that. “Songwriting, for me, is how I live and breathe, and so any thoughts that I have in my head I can usually write a song about,” he continues. That sounds a little stressful, right? “It’s pretty fun for me,” Gray insists. “It’s also the way that I process information, so you could literally do anything to me and I’d probably write a song about it.” My fingers (and toes) are all crossed for a shout-out on his next album…

Gray kicked off the new era with “Checkmate”, the artist’s first foray into a truly rock sound, balanced by a core made up of twinkly Nintendo DSpop verses and eruptive guitar-driven choruses, stealing your breath and a few heartbeats in the melee. “Comfort Crowd” takes this speedy hysteria and dials it down a peg, recalibrating this mania and turning it into something almost melancholy — too happy for a ballad, too moody for a hot girl summer anthem — seeing Gray maturing those elements of pop he was previously known for. “Maniac” has a touch of Carly Rae Jepsen, and by that I mean it’s utter perfection. Shimmery synths and vocal distortion spill out of an ass shaking beat, with production oscillating back and forth like passing streetlights on a night drive down an empty highway. Finding passion and positivity in the serious, the track sweats with euphoria, a psycho love song that’s way cheerier than its subject would have you believe — a testament to Gray’s backhand knowledge of how good pop just works. The project’s most recent single, “The Story”, rounds off these efforts, taking the emotional cake for its poignant and heart-wrenching lyrics about regretting missed chances and mourning love unrequited. “I’m afraid that’s just the way the world works,” Gray croons over soft acoustics, “but I think that it could work for you and me…” Optimism lurks within this sadness, perhaps of a lesson learnt, or a burden being released. It shows that while Gray may have gone through the toughest time of his life making this record, maybe it was all for a greater purpose, and at the very least, he has something incredible to show for it.

Conan Gray

Full look (shirt, vest, jeans) OUR LEGACY, Shoes SIES MARJAN, Necklaces DALMATA, Rings CARTIER and DALMATA.

Conan Gray
Full look (shirt, vest, jeans) OUR LEGACY, Shoes SIES MARJAN, Necklaces DALMATA, Rings CARTIER and DALMATA.
Photography
Aiden Cullen
Fashion
Bin Nguyen
Words
Bailey Slater
Grooming
Anna Bernabe
Production
Federica Barletta
CONAN GRAY
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