Fascinator: “This music is meant to be pure joy and pure art, pure anything I want it to be”

We’ve been beside ourselves waiting for Fascinator’s set at STFD. With the sold-out gig all set for tomorrow night (October 16th), we caught up for a chat with Johnny himself.

We can’t get enough of Johnny Mackay. Seriously, we’re inviting him back into the office at every chance to hear another of his incredible stories. Although we’ve come to know and love his work in Children Collide, his latest musical venture Fascinator might be his most exciting project yet. Electronic psychedelia laced with chameleonic creativity, Fascinator serves up cashmere bass grooves and a sweltering tempo that can make you boogie all night long.

Prepped and ready to blow the roof off the Marlborough Hotel during tomorrow night’s sold-out STFD gig (October 16), we sat down for a chat with Johnny about his on-stage antics, spirituality, and the future of Fascinator.


HAPPY: Children Collide was put on ice when you moved to New York and the Fascinator alter ego was born. Can you fill us in a little on the journey to New York and who you become when you slip under your Fascinator mask? Hat, fluffy suit, or whatever it may be on that particular night?

JOHNNY: Fascinator started while I was doing Children Collide, in a way because we had been in the band so much, it just started being chats about farts. I just wanted to be productive, so I started putting on my headphones and making tunes. Then I got my mate Darren to help me sort through those tunes and make an album. Anyway, I moved to New York and started focusing on that. Fascinator is meant to be pure joy and pure art, pure anything I want it to be. So, I did have masks for ages and the idea of the masks was, I noticed, a kind of cult personality, where the personality and the image were more important than the music. I wanted to create an anonymous persona. Of course, that is very nice in theory and, if it had blown up like Daft Punk or something, I probably would have been able to maintain that. However, it pretty soon just turned into this weird “crafternoon” thing where I made these bad masks and put them on all the audience and made these little monsters in the audience. And then when Jodie started managing me.   

HAPPY: So this is Jodie from Spinning Top?   

JOHNNY: Jodie from Spinning Top. She pulled me aside one night and said, you might try connecting the audience a bit more without the masks, and I was like “yeah, whatever!” Then, eventually, I tried that and it was much better. It really changed things for me. I started taking it a little more seriously, thinking about how it sounded. I was sort of rebelling against myself for a while, but I started doing that and now it’s sort of an ever-evolving thing. For all I know, next year, I could be in a fluffy suit or it could be black latex. For now, it’s more this spiritual, culty thing and it probably will stay that way for a while because I have been working on other aspects of it. I have been working on this spiritual aspect of Fascinator, called Fascintology.

HAPPY: Fasintology? 

JOHNNY: Fansintology. 

HAPPY: I love that. You were saying earlier, depending on what city you are playing in, the band may be completely different. You have been known for making friends at the pub and then, in the evening, they will be joining you on stage. Tell me what is the through-line for you on this project because it is quite fluid otherwise. 

JOHNNY: The through-line is what it’s become, making whatever music I feel like listening to. I think, in a project, you can get stuck on what the project is. Fascinator is definitely genre-fluid and whatever I feel like making. If I wanted to join everything together with dance beats or do an acoustic set, it would be that as well. The idea that everyone can be in it is something I love too. I have met people on the street, I have met them for the first time and they are on stage with me an hour later. I have also had old friends that have never been on stage before and I have worked out something for them to do. That is the through-line, just joy and art. It has turned into this project as well. I created a hotel room in New York, as a physical manifestation of my subconscious and all that kind of stuff falls under the banner of Fascinator. When I made that, I also lived in the hotel and created this original, 24-hour soundtrack. That’s when I started making spiritual music as well, and I made some ambient music. I tried to make music for every time of the day. 


HAPPY: Is there a spiritual side to Fascinator? Or the new stuff you are about to release? 

JOHNNY: I am not about to release anything Fascinator actually. There are some remixes coming out and then I have one song that I did at the start of the quarantine with a bunch of people from around the world. Lauren (producer), Jesse (a.k.a. Lord Decorator) who plays the Fascinator, that track will come out later in the year. But new Fascinator music?… I kind of need to do more Children Collide, but next year I will be putting out an album of love songs about ex-girlfriends that sounds really ‘60s, with strings, acoustic guitars, and so on. Then I will do Fascinator 3 and that’s going to be, I think, DJ Shadow crossed with Pink Floyd metal. 

HAPPY: That would be amazing. My two favourite records. You once likened being a professional musician to playing Russian Roulette. Can you expand on that theory? 

JOHNNY: God. I feel like that quote has come back to haunt me a little bit. I think what I was getting at is that there are ways to live life that are very secure and routined and you know what the result is going to be. I do not find those ways of living very interesting or very exciting. But to live another way is quite risky because I have had times when I was on TV, on the radio, and had money, and then two years later, I was homeless and penniless in New York City. So, I guess in that way, that’s what I meant in gambling. If you throw your entire self into art, I don’t see a point any other way. If you’re half-assed about it, what’s the point? If you throw your entire self into it, then you could very well be completely destitute, and so that has to not be any issue. 

HAPPY: So, back to the air guitars and playing with Pond

JOHNNY: I knew them through Children Collide, years ago. They were always just really nice. It’s funny there are a bunch of people who helped out with Children Collide, then when I had Fascinator and I hit them up for shows or whatever, they didn’t give me the time of day. You don’t do stuff for people expecting something back, but I remember thinking at the time “little s**ts.” But, I have to say, all the team at Pond are very supportive of me and gave support when they really didn’t need to, and probably shouldn’t have. And Jagwar Ma, it’s so funny the people that come out to support you are the people you don’t expect. They were very supportive and I will be forever grateful for that whole group.   

HAPPY: And in terms of what’s next for Fascinator?

JOHNNY: I have a million projects and albums ready to go but I will just have to wait my turn. If COVID hadn’t happened, I probably would have been further into the Children Collide and I could have done more and be able to move onto Fascinator. But, I would say what will come out after Children Collide is this love song record, which sounds sort of like The Beach Boys, if you can imagine Fascinator doing Beach Boys. Then after that, it will go back to more true pop. 


Grab your tickets to Happy Mag’s second STFD event on November 13th

Photos by Nic McKenzie