Conner Youngblood on Living Simple and Creating an Organic Sound

Coming off a tour stint in Europe, Conner Youngblood could not be more even-keeled. For someone who released a widely-acclaimed EP almost two years ago, his calm demeanor comes as a pleasant surprise. The Generation of Lift, released October of 2015, is a curated display of Conner’s artistry. He is a one-man-band alongside a loyal engineer, Hal Fitzgerald, whom he’s quick to praise. The Dallas native croons ever so intimately on every track, while also playing each instrument featured on his songs. His aptitude for playing instruments is near-folklore on the internet these days, most critics laud his mastery of around 5 instruments and ability to play up to 30 or 40. Yet, the Yale-educated singer/songwriter/musician continues to explore ways in which to progress where others see a finely-tuned finished product.

At first listen, his instrumentation is lucid, poignant and ethereal, with repeating melodies, stringed instruments and soft synths. He leaves space for the instruments to breathe, which in turn make his vocals much more visceral. He sings of unrequited love and vague, subtle odes to girls, cities, and distant memories. He explores time and change of seasons while hailing nature and wildlife.  His songs, though melancholic at times, offer an overall sense of temporality—the idea that sadness is transient and can be enriching.

Over the phone, Conner speaks softly and lightly. He’s inherently modest and shies away from questions about success. He prefers to stay between Dallas and Nashville, his home and home-away-from-home, respectively. His personal time is plentiful, and by design, there are no big shiny tour buses, no fussy managers, no space between his crooning voice, his instruments, and his listeners. On his latest European tour he rented a car with a close friend and drove from venue-to-venue; his instruments packed in the trunk. This time around, in the U.S., he plans to bring company as well: his dog.

Learn more about Conner Youngblood in our interview below and catch him at San Francisco’s Café du Nord on September 12!

Charlie: Lets dig right into it:

How did you first get your start in music and when did you realize you’d take this on full time?
My basic start was playing in middle school band, playing guitar, and going to southern church growing up. Music as a career started my senior year of high school when I started writing music. In 2010, I released a song called “Monster”, and then a song called “Australia” and “A Summer Song”. These were the first three songs I sent to blogs. When I started seeing people’s reactions who seemed to enjoy it is when I realized that it was way better than playing for myself and my parents. It became more real and I started trying harder and taking it seriously. It all started from there.

Were you self-producing most of these songs during that time or had you found likeminded people to work with?
I produced them on my own, and worked with an engineer who I’ve been working with ever since. His name is Hal Fitzgerald.

Are you still traveling back and forth from your hometown of Dallas to Nashville to record your music?
Yeah, I was in Dallas last week and Nashville right now, and back to Dallas in a few days.

Any plans to move to L.A or New York any time soon like the vast majority of up-and-coming musicians?
Literally never even considered it. I’ve never given any thought to living in L.A. or New York. One weekend trip is enough *laughs*.

Who did you listen to while growing up?
Well, my parents force-fed me Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Then on my own, the first albums I bought were Gorillaz and Linkin Park. I used to go to bed listening to Hybrid Theory, as weird as that sounds.

Not your typical soothing music…

It’s literally what I went to bed to for a solid year!

Gorillaz was a big favorite too. It was one of those bands that I would follow every detail on, from artwork to every EP. I’d find EPs in different countries that they released singles in and buy it all.

Once Kazaa and Limewire picked up, I was downloading entire discographies of every artist who’s single I liked. From there I started exploring older music like Bob Dylan, etc.

I know that people try to nail you down in terms of genre and influence, but how would you describe your sound?
It’s even hard for me to nail it down. I would describe it as peaceful music, melancholic yet uplifting.

With so much music going on these days and minutiae on the internet, have you found it difficult to pave your own lane and carve a nook for yourself in a unique way?
Not really. Starting off with vocals alone, everyone is always going to sound differently when they sing. I also never got into producing any rap or trap beats, so that’s positive I guess in the sense of being in my own lane.

What’s does your creative process look like, from the songwriting to the instrumentation?
I don’t have a formula, really. I used to be more formulaic in the past. I used to use my loop pedal at the beginning of pretty much all my songs, write, come up with strange rhythms, and then go to studio and expand on that idea. Now I’ve been trying to be less monotonous. I’ll play tracks all the way through, giving them more live drums, and doing days’ worth of guitar takes to get it right. It’s small things like that, which go a long way.

Let’s talk about your latest release – The Generation of Lift. How has your life changed since it came out?
Zero. There’s more pressure on trying to write better songs, posting up, and sitting in a room locked up more. In terms of fame, zero, just more head games but in a good way. I’m pushing myself in different directions than I would’ve been comfortable a year ago. And I’m trying to find new sounds and take it a step past that last EP.

Your lyrics, specifically on your latest EP often reference seasons and nature versus, more arguably popular themes such as girls and partying. Why do you choose to explore these themes?
I guess I don’t party that often and don’t hang out with enough girls *laughs*. I haven’t had a girlfriend in like five years and don’t go out ever so I don’t really have a lot to write about on those two subjects. Actually, my new music does talk about girls, but in a reminiscent way, about girls that I’ve known in my life, etc. They’re not love songs per se. It’s been a pleasant change of pace.

You’re no rookie to the tour life, and you’re about to embark on yet another tour across the US. How do you balance your life on stage with your personal time?
Well, I’m usually driving by myself, so I get a lot of alone time in my car and at hotels. In terms of my stage life and music, that’s honestly the best part. Getting to interact with people from across the country who enjoy my music is always nice to see.

So, just to clarify, you drive to all these shows by yourself?
Yeah, I think I’m going to bring my dog on this tour, too.

Post-tour, what can we expect from you in the next coming months?
I’m working on an album. I’m a few songs away from finishing the album, which I’ll release as soon as it’s finished, whenever that may be. Hopefully by the end of this year! There’s a music video too in the works for an older song, and my work with Nylo.

Finally, what’s something most people wouldn’t know about you?
Czech was the language I took in college. In high school, we all had to take Japanese up until junior year. It was actually required from first grade on, so I decided to learn Czech in college.

I’ll try and say the two or three sentences I know whenever I meet someone from the Czech Republic to impress them. It’s worked a couple times.


Connect with Conner Youngblood: Instagram | Twitter | Soundcloud

Purchase tickets to Conner’s tour here.

Charlie Ranahan

Charlie Ranahan is an Oakland-based writer and aux-cord connoisseur who spends his free time trying to make Ecko Unlimited cool again.