New Music Heaven : Rex Orange County

July 9, 2018
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At just 19, Rex Orange County is already living his dreams. His sweeping alternative pop songs weave together the mundane reality of teenage life and the epic fantasy that is teenage love — he takes his moniker from The O.C., a nod to the hyperreal and melodramatic. But Rex is no ordinary teenager: with the release of his second album Apricot Princess in April, he won acclaim from The FADER, The NME, and Noisey, before appearing on Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, and performing live with Skepta. In between working with his heroes, over the last 12 months the multi-instrumentalist has maintained a steady stream of inventive electronic pop singles, exploring new retro-futuristic sound palettes. “The moment you start thinking about what other people think, and other artists, then you’re going to start writing like other people,” Rex reflects. “As long as you’re being yourself, and putting out what you want to put out, it’ll be the best thing you could do.” It’s that single-minded approach that has seen him crowned second in the prestigious annual BBC Sound of 2018 poll.

Born Alex O’Connor, Rex grew up in the leafy town of Haslemere, in Surrey. It was close enough to London that he could occasionally catch a train to London to skate on the Southbank or visit the theatre, but far enough away that he spent most of his time delving into a private world of music. As well as the theatrics of glam-rock and pop bands like Queen and Abba, he was drawn to both rough-edged punk and American pop-punk like Green Day and Weezer. As a drummer (and occasional self-taught pianist), he pictured himself growing up to play percussion for a rock band, or perhaps a jazz ensemble. It was when he attended the BRIT school, at the age of 16, that he realised he actually wanted to be at the front of the stage.

At 16, Rex also picked up the guitar, and began producing his own music on Logic. While at BRIT, he was falling deeper into the music of contemporary pop experimentalists like Mac Demarco and Frank Ocean, and classic songwriters like Stevie Wonder. Like them, he began building a sonic world of his own: Rex’s was one of lo-fi, scratchy guitar soul, fusing sung-rap observations of teenage life with whistling and wistful melodies. It took shape in the 2015 bedroom-produced, self-released album bcos u will never b free.

Despite its modest beginnings, the album was a turning point for Rex. From it he gained the attention of producer Two Inch Punch, who introduced him to his management, and went on to work with him on three confident new alt-pop songs: ‘UNO,’ ‘Best Friend,’ and ‘Untitled.’ Across the Atlantic, bcos also made a fan of an artist Rex had been following for years as a skate culture obsessive: Tyler, the Creator emailed Rex directly to say he loved the album. After a short back and forth, the Odd Future rapper flew the 17-year-old out to L.A. to work on his acclaimed 2017 album Flower Boy.

That experience fed into the next solo release Rex was working on, Apricot Princess. With a young relationship blossoming and a newfound ability to add live drums, brass, grand piano, and other fleshed-out elements to his sound, Apricot was a bold, optimistic new frontier for Rex. “It was basically the polar opposite of [bcos],” says Rex. He has since appeared on stages across the U.K. and Europe, and released yet more music, including "Loving Is Easy." 

Hear "Loving Is Easy" all week on 94/7, and let us know what you think of the song by texting HOT or NOT to 44624. When you do, you'll be entered into the running for tickets to Jack White on August 11th! And check your Nation email this week for a free download of the song thanks to Burgerville.