Rock

Rex Orange County Didn't Tour For a Year -- Now He's Selling Out His Biggest Venues Ever

Rex Orange County
Alex Waespi

Rex Orange County

During the last of Tyler, the Creator’s three sold-out September shows at the O2 Academy Brixton in England, the rapper brought London-based Rex Orange County onstage to perform their 2017 collaboration, “Boredom,” in front of nearly 5,000 people. “I live nearby, so I just got an Uber and came onstage,” says the soul-pop artist born Alex O’Connor.

The impromptu invite became Rex Orange County’s first performance at the venue -- and it won’t be his last. During his own headlining tour across North America and the United Kingdom, which formally kicks off Nov. 12, he will return to the O2 Brixton for three nights, two of which are already sold out. His 42-date tour also includes bucket-list gigs at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium and New York’s Radio City Music Hall, which each accommodate 6,000 -- more than 10 times the amount of people who came to see Rex Orange County play his first U.S. show last February at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Rex Orange County, 21, hasn’t played a U.S. show or festival in nearly a year; even so, in October he topped Bandsintown’s Established Artists chart, which tracks worldwide interest in artists’ tours on the platform. Last week, he responded by adding concerts on Oct. 21 and 22 -- at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, and Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre, respectively -- and both sold out within days.

Pumping the brakes on touring was a strategic, though uncommon, move for the artist, who signed a recording contract with RCA Records earlier this year. He released his first two albums independently, and his upcoming third, Pony, out Oct. 25, will be his major-label debut (he stuck with longtime collaborator Ben Baptie to co-produce the album, which contains no features). “I’ve been allowing the demand to grow,” he says. It worked -- a majority of dates for his upcoming tour sold out in under a month. “It’s nice to know that people are waiting -- they’re not going anywhere.”

In planning the tour, Rex Orange County was meticulous about choosing venues that will impress attendees just as much as his performance, saying that any of his shows could be a fan’s first concert ever. “I love really beautiful theaters with a balcony with a big [general admission] floor,” he says, name-checking The Tabernacle in Atlanta, which was formerly a church. “That way, it’s built for [music] rather than just being a club.”

The year-long break from touring wasn’t 100% strategic, though. After the attention that followed his 2017 album, Apricot Princess, Rex Orange County admits that he spent a year feeling uninspired and frustrated with his music. “I was looking at everyone else, trying to figure out my place,” he says. 

He documents that time -- and how he overcame it -- in “10/10,” the motivational, pop-leaning lead single off Pony, about growing up and learning to cope with change. And now that he has, Rex Orange County says, “I [finally] feel like I can be myself.” 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Billboard.