Interview: Conor Maynard

"With a new album released, two singles under his belt, several million YouTube views and nearly half a million Twitter followers under his belt, you’d expect 19-year-old Conor Maynard to be a typical young superstar, razzed on coke and drunk every hour of the day. But maybe he’s not quite there yet.

Sitting in the forecourt of Edinburgh’s Liquid Room club on the rarest of sunny Scottish evenings - “maybe it’s a sign, that today is the day for the show, and that it’s gonna go well,” he grins - Maynard is the picture-perfect image of squeaky-clean pop princeliness. He’s a little hazy upon closer inspection - the tour’s first date the night before had ended with an after-party - but ultimately perky, packing the energetic youth that some of his stablemates could only dream of.

“I was happy with my seven views a month and my nan commenting ‘yeah I like this one!’” he says of his first days on YouTube, drumming on the table like a keyboard. “In the back of my mind [I wondered], ‘what if it blows up’, but I wasn’t crying myself to sleep [over it]. I was balancing college work and doing covers and, yeah, one cover I did of Usher’s O.M.G just blew up and hit 100,000 views.”

“I had people adding me on Facebook, and they were like ‘I just saw you on YouTube,’ and I’m like ‘Ohhhh. Delete.’.” He mimes pressing a giant button of doom in the air, and bursts out laughing.

Maynard is a laugher, a smiler, a general Haver of Good Times. His voice squeaks whenever he gets overexcited, like his head is going to pop. But that self-confidence was, as it should be in the life of any teenage boy, brought on by a girl. “I sang in front of a few of my mates,” he says of his pre-YouTube days, “but the best reaction you’re gonna get from your boy mates is…’yeah you’re alright’.” He shrugs and rolls his eyes downwards. “When I was about 15 I remember I was walking down the road after school one day and this girl overheard me singing with one of my mates, just messing about, and she came up to me and went ‘do that again.’ So I sang again, and she was like” - his voice squeaks - “‘Oh you’re amazing!’ and she went crazy.”

From there, Maynard took the hint and went on to upload more than 30 songs on his YouTube channel, covering the likes of Jessie J, Drake, Justin Timberlake, Amy Winehouse and Ne-Yo, the latter getting in touch to arrange a meeting and a record deal. After winning the MTV Brand New for 2012 award, he found himself catapulted into the public eye, which helped jettison his debut single Can’t Say No to number 2 in the UK charts in its first week, something Maynard called “crazy”: “I thought you’d release a song, and then after a few weeks…it gets in the top 20 and your mum pats you on the back and says ‘Yeah, well done!’”

His influences, and their legacies, would continue to hang around as he worked on debut album Contrast. Over two years, Maynard worked with the likes of Pharrel Williams, Ne-Yo, Frank Ocean and Rita Ora - “I thought maybe, fourth album down the line, I’d get to have people like that on it” - but he insists there was no pressure, despite being a teenager from Brighton.

“Sometimes, you never know if a label has pretty much forced a producer, paid him a lot of money to go into the studio with their artist, and they turn up a bit like ‘yeah, cool, let’s do it…’”, he drawls, pretending to play with a mixing desk. As it turns out, Pharrel was more excited to meet him, having watched him for two years on YouTube after his girlfriend spotted the cover of Pharrel-produced Justin Timberlake track, Senorita.

“I think being given two years [to work on Contrast] definitely gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted in terms of my sound,” says Maynard. “It gave me a lot of time to build, progress in terms of my voice and grow older. My interest in music changed - a lot of things changed, and I think that time allowed different people to hear of me and get involved.”

However, no change in sound will remove the spectre which still hangs over him - the inevitable comparisons to that other discovered-on-YouTube megastar, Justin Bieber. But he isn’t worried, or bothered by the comparisons - he doesn’t even take the time to dislike them. “It gets people listening. ’Let’s hear if he is the next Justin Bieber’…then they make their decision. I think I’d much rather people just listened to it and made their [own] opinion.”

He’s done a good job of maintaining that squeaky clean image too. Having punched precisely zero paparrazi, Maynard’s got a headstart - and the video, and meaning, of latest single Vegas Girl warped around keeping things suitable for his largely tweenage audience.

“It was kind of funny,” he says, retelling the train of thought in the run-up to the video shoot. “‘Yeah, we have a song called Vegas Girl, we’re gonna shoot the video in Vegas, we’re gonna be surrounded by girls, popping bottles, it’s gonna be great!’ Then we realised…’Oh, s**t, I’m actually legally too young to go out in Vegas!’ We didn’t want the video to be me outside with the bouncers, like: ‘Yeah! Can’t get in! S’great! Mum, pick me up!’”

“We went with this idea that maybe it’s better to say that you can be anywhere in the world and you can still party like you’re in Vegas,” pounding the point home with his fist in his hand. “I’m doing a show in Edinburgh tonight but it’s still gonna kick off like it’s still some club in Vegas. I still want it to have this massive vibe that everyone knows Vegas has, like it’s party central of the world.”

Shaking off every loose association, Maynard is proudly independent of the media’s other favourite poster child, Justin Bieber. His sound is different, the names behind him from a different scene, and his manner utterly normal rather than Turtle-Wax-shiny. As he recalls reading the first review of Contrast, he accidentally cooks up a soundbite. “The first sentence said, 'Oh yeah! We were actually really surprised, we were expecting a Bieber album and it really wasn’t that’…and I was like, ‘I tried to tell you ages ago!’”

“For me,” he says, shuffling a little, “I’m not trying to be the next Justin Bieber. I’m trying to be the first Conor Maynard.”

And honestly, in the company of this laughing, humbled, talented cherub, that’s fine by us.