Rex Orange County has become a staple in the alt/indie scene since 2017, when he guested on Tyler, the Creator’s Grammy-nominated album Flower Boy and broke out with his own single “Loving Is Easy,” alongside Benny Sings. Since then, he’s released two studio albums, and a live album recorded at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Now the UK artist born Alexander James O’Connor is back with his anticipated third album Who Cares?, out this Friday (March 11). Written and recorded on a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, the British singer/songwriter once again teamed up with Benny Sings — and after 10 days an album was complete.
In the latest edition of Billboard’s 20 Questions, Rex Orange County reveals what it felt like to work at such a fast pace, and how it inspired his new album’s lyrics — plus, his surprising karaoke go-to (hint: it’s a power ballad).
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
T.I.’s Paper Trail on CD. I was like nine years old.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
I saw a lot of classical music concerts when I was really young… but I remember seeing Motörhead at a festival. Again, I was probably like nine.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?
My dad was always a photographer and my mother did a lot of different things… She actually worked at the music school where I first sang in a choir and learnt piano and drums.
4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
Skepta. In 2015, I was watching this interview he did — and the way he was explaining things, the amount he believed in himself and said he could achieve anything, made me believe I could do it too. I actually wrote the date on my wall that day, because it felt like such an important moment.
5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
I would love to headline Glastonbury one day.
6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
I think it taught me to have patience and to be grateful for what I have.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
Ruthven’s “Have You Decided?”
8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
9. What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
I’m not sure what the wildest thing would be… once someone was holding up their phone and they were on FaceTime with a baby.
10. How has the pandemic affected your creative process?
It didn’t really affect the process much, I think I just made different music — music I wouldn’t have made if life had carried on as normal… [it’s] fair to say I was pretty uninspired at times, avoiding even getting into the process. I learned a lot though!
11. What’s one song from the album that you think will surprise fans?
Maybe “If You Want It”… it’s kind of a dance song… the hard synths and drums isn’t something I’ve touched on much before.
12. This album came together rather quickly, over a 10 day trip to Amsterdam. How did it feel to work at that pace?
Honestly, it felt really freeing, because I had travelled to Amsterdam and was gonna be leaving after a certain number of days. It forced me into having a bit of a deadline and not overthink it… which I think was key.
13. How did spontaneity impact the album’s music and lyrics?
To me the whole thing sounds and feels a bit looser, not as tightened to perfection… I guess it’s somewhat more authentic — I would often run with the first thought and execute the idea there and then and not question what it was or what it meant.
14. How much, if at all, did the process of making this album inspire its title?
The title actually came before even going to Amsterdam. I had the title stored in my mind , then after making a few songs with Benny I realized it had to be Who Cares?… it really sounded like it spoke for itself and like I really didn’t need to explain myself.
15. You collaborated again with songwriter-producer Benny Sings, what’s your favorite part about working with him?
Honestly, he’s one of my biggest influences. Not sure there would be a Rex Orange County without Benny Sings. My favorite thing about him and I is that we’re so different, yet so similar in other ways. We love the same chords, a lot of the same music, but have different approaches to the process. We’re at different stages in our lives and I think we bring out interesting ideas from each other that we probably wouldn’t find elsewhere. Big shout out to Benny, his albums At Home and ART shaped a lot of my taste.
16. What’s your best or funniest memory from making this album?
I can’t pinpoint one moment to be the funniest honestly, but my best friend Joe came out and played bass on most of the album. We would hang out in the evenings and listen to what we had made with Benny. He’s worked on a lot of my music and we spent a lot of time laughing together. Big shout out to Joe, that’s my brother.
17. What’s your karaoke go-to?
“Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
18. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
“When She Loved Me” by Sarah MacLachlan.
19. Which TV show do you recommend binge-watching?
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Be authentic to who you are and be honest — especially when it feels the most difficult to be.