Rex Orange County, real name, Alexander James O’Connor, grew up in a leafy village in rural Surrey, which couldn’t have been any more disparate from Stevie Wonder’s childhood in Detroit. Music has always played a pivotal part in his life ever since he was a chorister as a child. However, an affirming moment came when he discovered Wonder, and it dawned on O’Connor the kind of music he wanted to make.
O’Connor self-released his first album when he was only 17 and still attending Brit School in 2015. Two years later, he released another album independently, Apricot Princess, which sent him into the stratosphere. His blend of old school jazz, contemporary hip-hop production, and a slice of rock thrown in for good measure has made for an infectious cocktail.
The title track from Apricot Princess is a homage to Wonder, who directly played a significant part in O’Connor working out the type of music he wanted to create as Rex Orange County. He even openly admitted that ‘Another Princess’ wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Stevie Wonder song, ‘Another Star’. “It’s jazz and pop going together without it being ‘I love jazz’ or ‘I love pop,'” he explained to Billboard about the influence of the track. “Those songs are undeniably classic.”
“Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones-type chords,” he elaborated in the same interview. “If you can make a song that sounds like that, people who may not know about Quincy Jones are like, ‘It just works.'”
While Rex isn’t gifted with a voice like Stevie Wonder, who is? His music floats in an opulent way that’s reminiscent of Wonder’s work. You could place their work side-by-side, and not instantly the similarities between them, but there’s an undeniable overlap.
In another interview with MTV from 2017, O’Connor talked up Wonder again and said: “A lot of music influences me in other ways than this but, I’ve always taken a lot of influence from Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean and Jeff Rosenstock for the Rex music. They were also the first three artists that released albums where I enjoyed every song.”
Rex is his own artist, and the way that he’s brought his love of these three artists together along with his personality has created something special, which has made him one of the stand-out British artists to emerge over the last few years.
He’s not stuck in the ’70s or attempting to rip off the Motown sound. Yet, Rex’s work is just as blissful. After listening to Stevie Wonder, it’s impossible not to feel like everything is alright in the world, and the same can be said for Rex Orange County.
He’s a modern soul star integrating contemporary stylings into a timeless genre but passing the essence of artists like Stevie Wonder on to a new generation.
Knock yourself out with this gorgeous cover of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’; it won’t disappoint.