Who Is Connor Brashier? Interview With Shawn Mendes' Creative Director - Rolling Stone
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Courtesy Connor Brashier

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Being Connor Brashier: Meet the 22-Year-Old Boy Wonder Shaping Shawn Mendes’ New Vibe

In just a few years, Brashier has already worked on some of the biggest projects of Mendes' career, from art directing the single cover for 'Senorita' to serving as creative director for the singer's 'Wonder World Tour'

On the First Monday of May, Shawn Mendes strolled out of New York’s Mark Hotel and into a waiting car for the roughly half-mile drive to the Met. A gala red carpet was awaiting him.

Wearing a custom Tommy Hilfiger jacket and suit, the singer drew comparisons to everyone from Lord Bridgerton to a Disney prince. Whatever the comparison, his regal presence was palpable. And though Mendes stepped onto the Met carpet solo this year, he wasn’t entirely alone. On this night, as on most nights, Mendes was trailed closely by Connor Brashier, the singer’s friend-cum-confidante-turned-creative director. If Mendes’ Met Gala look saw him crowned as fashion royalty, consider the camera-toting Brashier his charming courtier.

At just 22 years old, Brashier has already worked on some of the biggest projects of Mendes’ career, from art directing the single cover and promo materials for Mendes’ “Senorita” collab with Camila Cabello, to serving as creative director for the singer’s upcoming “Wonder World Tour.” The Laguna Beach native is responsible for much of Mendes’ merch too, and advises him on everything from styling to social media.

In the same short years, the self-taught photographer and videographer has also worked on projects with artists ranging from Kygo to Madison Beer, while helming campaigns for brands like Flow Water and Frankies Bikinis (starring Mendes and Sofia Richie respectively, natch). To hear Brashier talk about it though, the lines have always been blurred between work and play.

“I would always be the person in my group of friends who would just go out and get the camera, shoot whatever I shot, capture whatever I captured and then come back and edit it,” he says, hands cupped over an Americano on a recent afternoon back in LA. “But it never crossed my mind that that could lead to a career.”

After tailing Beer on tour — shooting behind-the-scenes videos and photos for the singer’s social media channels — Brashier landed a gig with the DJ Frank Walker, who wanted help with concepts for his tour and album covers. Brashier and Walker worked together for about a year before a chance meeting with Mendes’ manager led to Brashier shooting the singer’s Global Citizen Festival set in 2018. “I did it and kind of like instantly bonded with Shawn and they liked the video and the next thing you know I was on tour,” Brashier recalls. When the tour (the aptly-named “Shawn Mendes: The Tour”) ended in 2019, “[Shawn] kind of approached me and he was like, ‘Hey dude, I want you to have more of a creative director role.’ I was texting my friends to be like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy,'” Brashier says. It was the first time he had been approached for an official “creative director” role. He was 20 years old.

Since then, Brashier has been a constant presence by Mendes’ side, most recently working on the music video for the singer’s new single, “When You’re Gone,” in addition to consulting on Mendes’ Met Gala look (the two were also spotted high-tailing it to Miami recently for the Miami Grand Prix). But Brashier has been a welcome presence for Mendes as well, serving as a sounding board and companion in the midst of music industry madness. It’s something Mendes says he appreciates the most about his teammate, colleague, and now, best friend.

connor brashier kygo shawn mendes

Courtesy Connor Brashier

“Connor is brilliant,” Mendes tells Rolling Stone over text. “I feel he is deeply tapped into what it means to be an artist. Everything he creates is a reflection of his heart and I’m constantly blown away by the beauty he’s able to pull out of things.”

“The thing I admire most about Connor though,” Mendes says, “is his ability to support and inspire the people around him to be the artists we know deep down we truly are.”

Over coffee with Rolling Stone, Brashier — on this day dressed in a faded oversized hoodie and baggy jeans — talks about how he landed his dream job, his connection with Mendes and why you don’t have to know it all to succeed — as long as you know your worth.

Rolling Stone: Congrats on Shawn’s new single. What was the thought process behind the video and the single artwork?

Brashier: “When You’re Gone” is really the first time we have gone into a release without any “world” we wanted to live in. Instead, we aimed to bring back the Shawn that fans and viewers in general don’t get to usually see, or at least hadn’t in a while — just Shawn in his natural element writing, rehearsing, performing.

What about the cover art?

The artwork is an especially interesting story. We actually had a plethora of ideas inspired by old Sixties and Seventies photos and covers of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, etc. and had a design we all thought was strong. About a week later, after announcing the song, our tour photographer, Miranda McDonald, shot this super cool frame of Shawn on stage at SXSW silhouetted by one of the screen visuals. The next day, I saw a fan edit on Instagram of that shot mocked as cover art and Shawn, myself, and the rest of the team instantly knew we had to use it. Shoutout to @distorted.vinyl on Instagram for making my job easier than ever! (laughs)

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Buy: Shawn Mendes 'When You're Gone' at $1.29

It’s pretty incredible that you get to work with one of the biggest artists in the world right now. Did you always want to get into the music and creative industry?

When I younger, I was a big surfer and skater and everything you do in Southern California. I think as soon as I picked up a little GoPro — not even an HD one — I started realizing like, “Hey, my friends are a lot better at surfing than I am and a lot cooler than me, so I’m going to start filming them [instead].” And I think after that, I found a passion specifically for editing videos. But it never crossed my mind that that could lead to a career.

Was there a moment where that thought changed?

It wasn’t until I think I was 17 or 18 that I started connecting the dots. I started to be like, “Okay, like I really love something about movies and something about film.” And so I posted my videos to YouTube and then kind of made an Instagram video account, eventually posting like 15-second clips cause that was the limit back then. I did the whole Vine thing too and I remember I had to hack into Vine to be able to upload a video back then (laughs). And I guess it all started there.

Do you remember what your first “big break” was?

My first real industry opportunity, I would say, came through Madison Beer. We were both kids — I was 17, she was 18. I met her when I was assisting on a photoshoot that one of my best friends Sam Dameshek was doing, and she just loved us and we started hanging out and she took me on her U.S. and European tour. It was the first tour I ever went on. It was also my first time in Europe.

Madison Beer: When I first met Connor, I instantly knew he had a natural and undeniable eye and talent. I was lucky enough to meet him at his very early stages and take him on my first tour with me. His progression through the month-long tour alone was so impressive, let alone the last four years since then. He is also just one of the most kind-hearted and fun-loving people [that] I’m lucky enough to call a friend. Seeing him blossom into such a visionary and impressive talent has been such a gift.

What do you remember about your first time working with Shawn?

He asked me to put together a little deck or mood board for a few of the songs for Wonder. On the second page, I brought back a memory that we had of talking about David Bowie’s big stadium rock anthems, and Shawn just went like, “I don’t know how to describe it but it’s like wonder,” and that became the theme for the album. After that deck it was like, “Here we go, us two — let’s figure it out.”

shawn mendes wonder

Buy: Shawn Mendes 'Wonder' at $8.97

What Bowie reference did you use in the deck?

The iconic album cover with Aladdin Sane. He’s one of the best references anyone could include.

How would you describe your role on Shawn’s team versus other teams you’ve been a part of?

It’s tough because to this day, I don’t think anyone entirely knows what the word “creative director” means. With Frank [Walker] I was able to be like, “Okay, let’s make this a little cooler, a little more like fresh, and you know, more youthful.” It was about establishing a brand and so [the job] felt like it was more of an overall branding opportunity more than anything. And when we started with Shawn, it was about the same process and helping with the same content. But if the pool was four-feet deep with Frank, it was 20-feet deep with Shawn and I was learning how to swim.

What’s the process like when working with Shawn?

When I joined the team, I noticed that we were always on the road. For a full year, Shawn was very focused on touring, but he had a few singles come out and he’s always like hovering over what everyone’s doing or working on, and I’ve never seen him so involved in the creative process in general. So it’s good that I can report directly to him because he’s the one who approves things, not the lawyers, the people at the label, or managers, or whatever you want to call it.

“Connor is brilliant,” Mendes says. “I’m constantly blown away by the beauty he’s able to pull out of things”

Do you think people were skeptical of you at first, like, “Who is this kid and how did he get this job?”

A hundred percent. I think it’s always been that way for me. I’ve always been the youngest kid on set and the youngest kid on tour. And you know, to a certain extent, you have to like step up in the chair. You can be a kid — Shawn and I, we’re the same age, we’re both kids and we love to be kids — but when you’re put in a very professional setting I think you can make up for a lack of experience with just being a good person.  Carry your name with the good reputation, build strong relationships and be kind to everyone in the industry. You know, that goes longer than any form of my opinion.

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Miranda McDonald

Also, all these guys on Shawn’s team don’t treat me as inferior — they treat me as equal. I am very lucky that I can say that, and I think it comes from being friendly and wanting to reach out and also just being honest, like, “Look, I don’t really know what the fuck I’m doing, I want to learn from you and see what you do.”

What’s your day-to-day like?

It depends on what we’re working on. There are two things that really stand out when someone releases a song: cover photo and music video, and so those are the first two things that kind of get in the back of our mind. Everything unravels from there. I try to be very involved with the treatments and work with Shawn and with the director. And then we just start shooting and see what feels right. A lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes that’s hard to describe. Like, my roommates are two of my friends that I grew up with and even they’re like, “Dude what do you even do?”

But there’s lot that goes on behind the scenes, a lot of long-term projects that don’t see the light of day for a year. We’ve been working on Shawn’s tour designs for a year now. So some of these things take a lot more patience than I’ve been used to. You know, so many ideas get thrown out and then we have to start over. Sure, some weeks I’m not doing much, but other weeks I’m working 16 hours.

What is your creative process like?

I believe creativity is not a method nor magic, but a combination of both. I set my intentions to patiently learn the method, while allowing the unpredictable and unexpected (magic) to come.

I try not to approach anything too heady as far as like, you have to offer the craziest, most creative, original idea of all time. Because I don’t think that’s the right way to do it, and I don’t think that serves Shawn’s music. To answer you: Shawn and I will both say it’s all about the vibe, the emotion.

For the “Wonder” video, some of it is based on a TikTok I saw of this guy dancing in a storm. I was like, “Wait, these are two opposite things” — like there’s this dark storm and this guy’s just out there dancing, having a good time, right? It looks so free. And I was like, “That’s pretty cool.” And so that music video is like a parallel, contrasting the rain and storm with freedom and expressing yourself.

A lot has been made about you working with this huge global superstar. Do you feel any pressure to succeed?

As an artist, Shawn’s pressure is different than for me. I don’t feel pressure to deliver anything good ever as an artist. I believe in myself and I feel capable of a lot of things. But I think more than that, it’s just the relationship I have with Shawn. You know, he’s one of my best friends and he’s my boss and the best boss I could ever ask for, and that honest sort of dialogue that we’re able to have is because we’re so close. We trust each other and it’s stripped away all the pressure because it’s not like I’m spending two weeks on a PDF of cover options and sending it to him. We’re talking about it day after day and going back and forth and, you know, before the cover’s even established, we already know what it’s going to be. And if it doesn’t work out we’ll go try it again.

“I believe creativity is not a method nor magic, but a combination of both”

At times we have felt a little bit of pressure on things like “Okay, this has to be marketable,” or like, “Make the text a little bigger.” But as far as pressure to perform, I’ve never felt that and I attribute that all to Shawn; he protects everyone under him really well.

Anything you’ve had to learn quickly?

I think I could be better at my expenses and my payroll (laughs).

connor brashier shawn mendes

Miranda McDonald

You’ve talked about how your vision for a video treatment or photoshoot is usually aligned with Shawn’s. But have there been times where you haven’t seen eye to eye?

There have been times where like, me and Shawn have been on set and we have our opinions, but we’re all so tightly knit, like a family, that we can give each other attitude, and bounce back in ten minutes. I have such an open conversation with Shawn at all times. Once I’m proud of something, it’s easy to be like, “Shawn what do you think?” and he’s like “Love!” or “Hmm, I’m not really feeling this.”

I’m definitely stubborn and I love hearing my opinion, and it took me a while to realize like, “Hey, Shawn knows his fans better than I think any artist [does].” So whatever he says, he must be connecting to them in the right way and in a way that I am not.

What’s a concept or idea you pitched to Shawn that never went through?

At one point I remember he had long hair and I was like, “Let’s do something crazy with your hair: let’s dye it, let’s spike it up, put on some makeup; it’ll become your new look, like the Bowie look!” And he was like, “I think it’s really cool but I love my hair the way it is and I’m not going to change it.”

I think a few of my ideas took a little bit too much commitment. Plus Shawn knows how to do his hair really well.

Aside from the failed Bowie idea, how have you helped to evolve Shawn’s image and branding since you started working with him?

I think I had to mature up to Shawn. Because he started in the industry so young, but he’s also raised so incredibly well and he’s an old soul. And the music also progressed and that helped a lot. A lot of his younger pop hits were written when he was young, and now he’s looking to constantly evolve his sonic landscape and I think that’s always the outline and framework for what we can do – does it match the music?

Considering the music got more mature, it made it easy for us to try more artistic, left-of-center videos and photos. But I think there are two sides of artistry, and I appreciate both. There’s like very honest songwriting about what you’re doing [and] how you feel today. And then there’s the sort-of fantasy world where artists might lie a bit to push [an idea or aesthetic].

Some songwriters can only write what they’re feeling in a honest way and I think that has to be mimicked in an honest visual way. You know, I couldn’t have been like “Okay Shawn, let’s go emo,” right when he got the girlfriend and he was on top of the world. That wouldn’t have made any sense.

But we also change things up. I mean, he wore skinny jeans for like 105 shows straight. He was very excited to go more like, Sixties and Seventies, with a little bit more flair, and go a little bit more baggy, while still maintaining the integrity of who he is and what he likes with the classic tank top that he wears.

I feel like Shawn’s 2021 Met Gala look was a big departure for him.

It was Michael Kors. I remember I went to the fitting and we had some amazing custom fit suits and they all looked great and then they took us to the archive section and there were all these black suits, which is not something Shawn would really wear but something he’s always wanted to wear, to be like the rock star. And then we were like “Shirt? No shirt?” Shawn was like “What do you mean? I want to take my jacket off; I want to go fully shirtless.”

Singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" exhibition on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

You don’t get that edgy side of Shawn too often because that’s not him, but I think he loves to play dress up and push his artistry like, “Here’s my look today, let’s have fun today.” Shawn loves to play around and put on makeup or eye shadow for a shoot or be shirtless or something like that. He knows what people want.

What other creatives are you inspired by?

I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been surrounded by some of my favorite creatives in the world. Like Glen Lutchford shot Shawn’s cover photo and he’s one of my favorite photographers of all time. I’m on set with Matty Peacock who’s a jack-of-all-trades who’s been doing so many things for so long. I really look up to David Fincher, who’s a director that’s really created his own style.

Artist-wise, I like Tame Impala, Playboi Carti, I love what the Dominic Fike team does – I think it’s all very special. I love Olivia [Rodrigo’s] stuff; I think her stuff is amazing.

But I also think there’s a really dangerous trap when you’re uninspired, to look at what other people are doing. I think that’s a really dangerous thing to do, and whenever I’m out of ideas, it sounds weird, but I honestly like to just literally put on my AirPods, get up and move around my room, close my eyes listening to the song [and] just feel it and get into it.

connor brashier shawn mendes

Miranda McDonald

What advice do you have for people who want to do what you’re doing?

Use your youth and inspiration that you get as a kid and that jittery feeling you get. When you produce something that you love, run with that and fucking fly with that, because it runs out and that is when you’ll make the most progression as an artist and as a person. And don’t let one bad experience or a few bad experiences drag you down and pull away that inspiration. Use it to fuel you to do something bigger.

But I would also say to treat every situation with a sense of gratitude and try to learn from everything and don’t come on set thinking you’re the big guy. But come on set with a professional demeanor, a chill demeanor and if you don’t have that yet, go on set and learn it. You’re going to learn it quick.

Can I add something else?

Of course.

I can’t claim anything as my own. It’s all about the big grand operation, you know? All of Shawn’s team is like one big family and they took me in. I’ve been so lucky that I trust the team a lot and there are really really cool young people who work with us.

I’m also lucky that I’m surrounded by people who are so good at what they do to the point that even if I disagree, I can trust that their opinion.

connor brashier shawn mendes

Miranda McDonald

Anything else to add?

You know, I wanted to come to this interview acting like I knew my shit and the truth is, I really still don’t. I’m still figuring it out. But I actually think there is something about that process. And like I said about being thrown in the deep end and learning what it meant to be a creative director, I’m very lucky that I didn’t know what to fear. So that stripped away a sense of pressure and I was just focused on approaching every situation like, “Here I am, I’m giving it my all and I’m not looking back.”

I think that can apply to a lot of young people, if they choose to see it like, “Wow, I lack experience but I balance that with extreme gratitude and inspiration.” That’s priceless.

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