By Katie Van Lew
“Performing as an act is my favorite thing to do in the world.”
The camera cuts to Alexander O’Connor, or as most alternative fans know him as, Rex Orange County, on stage at his Pony tour. As the beginning guitar strum of “Corduroy Dreams” hums throughout the concert hall, O’Connor says, “This is the first song I’ve ever written in my whole life.”
Once a small, independent performing artist, O’Connor relied on his own skills to cultivate the performer that the alternative scene has grown to love. He is self-taught in multiple instruments including guitar and piano, and has relied heavily on his own passion for music to make a platform for his artistry. His first album Bcos U Will Never B Free (2015) was self-released to the streaming platform SoundCloud. At this time, O’Connor was not signed to a record label and did not have any management; therefore, he solely relied on his drive, passion, and dream to fulfill his vision.
After his debut album, O’Connor went on to release Apricot Princess (2017) and finally Pony (2019). With every album, O’Connor has achieved even greater success both in his craft and his sold-out shows. His albums capture very different moments in his growth as an artist, with each tour acting as a visual complement for his album.
During his Pony tour, O’Connor split his set into three parts. The set design of his concert began with blue skies and clouds, and over the course of his concert the stage transformed from the morning, to midday, and then last night. He envisioned a sort of “visual evolution” that takes the audience through the course of his day via his songs. By his last performance, the music hall becomes a huge party for his guests, with confetti exploding and colorful lights undulating throughout.
“I wanted it to feel inclusive and familiar and I wanted it to just feel like something universal,” O’Connor said. “I’ve always done that same splitting into three sections but never have I ever been able to enhance that visually.”
O’Connor began his Pony tour in November, in the UK playing in Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin, and Glasgow. He finished his UK tour in London, where O’Connor was born and raised, playing three sold-out shows at the Brixton Academy.
In January, O’Connor embarked to North America, where he would spend two months performing alongside his band.
In a trailer on tour with his band, the camera captures O’Connor, his hoodie pulled up over his head, and his hand covering his face, as he plays the original version of “Corduroy Dreams,” his first demo from 2015.
“It’s me being so unsure of myself and probably staring at the guitar and like not knowing how to play it,” O’Connor said. “It’s just funny how things go from one thing to another.”
His first gig was on October 4, 2015, at the Camden Barfly. At eighteen years old, O’Connor took the stage for the first time with his highschool friends Jim, his drummer, and Darryl, his bassist, who would later become permanent members of his band. His band, which was composed of three people originally expanded, as he added a Joe, his guitarist, Michael, on the saxophone and keys, and Johnny, on the trumpet.
“Getting to play at Radio City Music Hall felt like a dream come true,” O’Connor said. It’s just one of the most amazing buildings to me and has so much history with who’s played there and we did two nights and I felt very honored that they let me on that stage.”
His band, adorned in suits, played at one of the most historical venues in the United States, with an enthusiasm that reverberated throughout the hall. O’Connor covered “New York State of Mind.” Post-concert, O’Connor confessed that it was the pinnacle of his music career; a true dream come true for an artist that was so unsure of himself five years ago.
O’Connor continued to dazzle crowds across Europe, before COVID-19 interrupted his tour on March 11, 2020. The next day in Berlin, O’Connor briefly visited his pop-up store where he was selling his merchandise before the upcoming show. Back in his hotel room, O’Connor’s manager announced that continuing the tour would be hazardous for all those involved, potentially jeopardizing the safety of his band and fans. The same day as his Astra, Berlin concert, O’Connor was forced to announce the cancellation of his tour, in total canceling forty-three concerts that were supposed to be held between March and August.
Although there was an immeasurable disappointment with canceling his tour, he expressed that the Pony tour was his favorite tour to date, and feels as though his new project was reflective of his growth as an artist. As the camera fades to black, the documentary concludes with O’Connor singing, “It’s not the same anymore, it’s better now.”