Santa Barbara, CA based indie-Americana singer-songwriter Conner Cherland journeys down to Caffe Luxxe‘s Brentwood, CA location to discuss with us his recently released EP Toad Boy, the fast paces that musicians need to keep up with in the modern era, and the importance of making time for those who will stand by you on your musical journey.
You recently released your EP Toad Boy! Congratulations! Would you like to give us a little insight as to what inspired some of the lyrical themes and instrumental elements that you chose to include in the songs?
Conner Cherland: Of course! So Toad Boy in and of itself is just a silly title for an EP name, especially for a man in their late twenties. *laughs* It’s kind of a weird thing to name something.
It’s for the young at heart!
Conner: For the young at heart! Yes! *laughs* I see it as a coming out of who I am, and trying to understand who that is exactly. The whole “Toad Boy” song starts off with a boy and a walrus, and the boy takes off because he wants to be a toad. That’s sort of what I’ve been doing the past few years with becoming a full time musician. There’s a lot of people who look down on musicians, literally, because we make less money, so in turn it makes us culturally ‘less cool.’ We also have a reverse nine to five because we stay out late and sleep more during the daytime, so that’s another cultural taboo. And then there’s also this misconception where if you’re artistic, it automatically means that you’re a promiscuous and drug abusing person. So culturally, there’s very little grace for someone like me who likes to please people, and it takes a lot of inside strength to combat that kind of energy. That’s kind of the thread that goes throughout the album – me going against things.
And I’m sure a lot of creative people, whether they’re a musician or in another art form, will be able to relate to the stories that you’re singing about.
Conner: I hope so. Creative people need to know that they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing.
Absolutely! And which song was your favorite to write and record, if they’re two separate songs?
Conner: I think the song that was the easiest to write was “If You Want It.” The chorus came to me in a dream one night, and when I woke up I sang it into my recorder.
Isn’t it funny how the universe pulls that kind of stuff out from your subconscious?
Conner: It’s nice, yeah! It happens once in a while for me. Most of the time they’re really bad melodies, or I’ll be using the bathroom in the middle of the night while I’m trying to record something that popped in my head. *laughs* So that one was the most fun to write, and the then the most fun to record was “Sides.” I felt a bit insecure about it at first because I wasn’t sure how it was going to come across initially. Luckily the band that I had backing for this album came in on the day we were going to record, and they were like, ‘What if we change these elements?’ It ended up working out better than I thought it would be because I had that extra insight.
Sometimes an extra set of opinions is all we need to push something to be better!
So a fun little question for you, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Conner: *laughs* It might as well be my favorite artists, and those would be Hozier, Coheed and Cambria, and Lights. I’d call it the ‘Nobody Likes All Of This’ Tour because it’s a pretty eclectic music spread.
There’s so many different types of music nowadays, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to find people that happen to like all of those artists, or at least a majority of them.
Conner: I would hope so! I would just love to tour with them because all of them have really thoughtful lyrics and live thoughtful lives. I hope to be among those ranks in my adulthood.
Absolutely. So going into a little bit about why you chose to do an EP as opposed to a full-length album, modern music listening has been focused more on the streaming aspect as well as a singles based or shorter EP style market. Why do you think modern music consumers are kind of in that state of mind now when listening to music?
Conner: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot because with the release of the singles for Toad Boy, I had released them all in increments. For about three or four months I had music consistently coming out, so I was able to tell people, ‘Look! I have this thing coming out!’ I think what it does to us though is that it starts to make us put our worth in what we have going on in our lives, almost as if someone had a gun to our head saying, ‘You have to have something going on that’s big and exciting in order to matter and for us to care about you.’ That’s a really bad way to live your life, because if that’s the case, then you can never rest, you know?
You’ll rest when you’re dead.
Conner: I’ve definitely heard that phrase a lot, but then you have a lot of doctors saying that if you don’t rest, you’ll die. *laughs*
The never-ending circle of messiness there. *laughs*
Conner: Oh definitely. I feel like as consumers, we want to feel connected, but I don’t think it’s the job of the artist to put out work in a predictable, consistent time-frame. They could though, and you’re lucky if you have fans that stick around waiting for new stuff. But yeah, our job is to put out good art, period. If you can do that on a consistent basis, go for it! But if not, wait and rest and get what you need to get your art to the place it should be.
You should never rush art, and when it is, you can definitely tell.
Conner: Yeah. And when you get an album that’s not as good as you hoped, there’s always a part of you that’s like, ‘I would have waited longer to make it better,’ you know? There’s not really a do-over once you release something.
It’s out there in the universe! You can’t take it back!
Conner: Definitely not.
So with social media being the most prominent form of marketing right now, do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for artists to make a name for themselves?
Conner: I tend to think about this as an analogy. Back in the sixties and seventies, you were basically a needle in a haystack, and every once in a while people will find these needles and get really excited about them. Now, it’s more of a slightly heavier needle in a giant pile of needles, and it’s like, ‘How do you distinguish yourself as being slightly heavier when there’s so many other needles around?’ I think it requires more refined tools in order to find them now. But with social media in general, I think it’s kind of a hassle most of the time. I would prefer not to use it, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of people who feel the same way as me. In fact, there are some where they’d almost prefer to interact solely through those platforms than interacting in person! Social is not really about people per se, but more about commodities and facades, and interacting with those facades. That’s fine, like, I’m not looking down on it because it’s fun to be able to have the chance to engage with people through these platforms, but no one reaches out to me on social media to hear about my problems. My friends in conversation will ask me about my problems. I think it’s almost bad to think about yourself in terms of how successful you are on social media, but it’s still a fine tool to have.
It’s definitely a tricky tool for anybody that has to use it because it’s always changing.
Conner: Yeah, that’s software in general. But I can see what you mean by social media changing all the time.
It’s like, once you learn something then some article comes out saying this new way to do it works better. I guess that’s just life in general. *laughs*
Conner: *laughs* Yeah.
Do you feel that social media puts a pressure on artists to constantly have something going on in their life to share with their audience?
Conner: Oh yeah, definitely. The Instagram story I think is the hardest thing to keep up because every twenty-four hours you need one new piece of content or else, statistically, your page will be ‘less attractive.’ Without that red ring around your profile picture, the likelihood of someone clicking on your page goes down, so you have a built-in business pressure to continually make content. That’s a hard pressure to have placed on you, but if you’re looking to stand out, you have to do that stuff and you have to learn those skills. I have a few friends that are really good at it, and it just blows my mind how they can just naturally talk into a camera all the time.
It takes a very special person to be able to keep up with that.
Conner: Absolutely! I’ve noticed on social media that it’s either someone extremely inauthentic or extremely authentic, and it just blows my mind on how people are able to do that. That’s just something that I’m not comfortable with, but I admire people that can.
How do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Conner: So I’ve been happily married for three years now, and that’s a giant part of my personal life. I also have my friends and my family that I keep in touch with regularly, but the important thing is to always make time for my wife because she is by far my closest friend and confidant. Whenever I’m trying to quit music, she’s always there to go to those emotional places with me. If I were to burn out that relationship, I feel like everything would burn out. We always make sure to have date nights, and you’d pretty much schedule it as you would with any other important meeting. But how do I balance everything? I balance because it’s a necessity. I balance because I only have a few people who really care about me and my well-being. If I were to give them up, I feel like I’d also be giving myself up because I’d be losing touch with who I am.
They’re the people that are going to support you through the tough times and the good times, so you’ve got to keep them happy.
Conner: Absolutely. And to other musicians, it would be a stupid decision if you gave those important people up.
And your hardcore fans!
Conner: *laughs* That’s true! Very different relationships, but yes.
If they were that close we might need to be concerned. *laughs* It’s like, ‘How do you know where I live?’
Conner: *laughs* Those are things I try to keep as secret as possible.
If you could give your younger self any advice in regards to what you’ve experienced with music or with life in general, what advice would you give him?
Conner: I started journaling when I was seventeen, and I would want to tell myself to journal sooner. I would probably ask myself to start journaling around age nine, because that’s when everything relationally started to develop in my life. Like, when we were growing up and going into the fourth grade or so, there were also a bunch of really awesome shows about kids in the fourth grade, and I feel like that’s when so many things were happening in my life. Journaling has played such a huge part in my life transformation, and it happened because I wasn’t self-aware. I almost used it as a punishment against myself because of that. If I started that at, like, age nine with my crappy handwriting, I mean, it would be the most boring thing to look back on now, but it would’ve helped me develop discipline and self-knowledge of feeling rejected. I probably wouldn’t go that deep into it, like, I probably would’ve just been like, ‘Aw man, I’m so sad,’ but it probably would’ve given me a lot more to work off of in how to deal with my sadness in later years.
What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Conner: I’m trying to live in a way that’s filled with integrity. For me, I’m trying to think critically on my own life experiences and emotions, and then create from there in the most sound way possible. I hope that other people feel that and I hope that they feel comforted. I write a lot of songs about wanting things that you shouldn’t want, and I know a lot of men begin to develop some kind of internal anger or internal strife because of things like that, which I think can be the source of a lot of problems, even for myself. I think that music has been a really helpful way for me to work those emotions out because I’m confessing in public what I’m struggling with. I hope that people resonate with what I’m singing about, and I hope that if they see me putting myself out there that it’ll inspire them to put themselves out there.
And to end us off, apart from riding the highs of Toad Boy, what other big plans should we be expecting from you in the near future?
Conner: There’s a few things on my calendar, but for the most part since Toad Boy is done, I want to make sure that I’m taking the time to rest. I downloaded Headspace, so I’ve been meditating a few times a day everyday. The thing that actually started this whole process for me was doing a songwriting challenge where I wrote forty songs in six months, and that’s how I got my first album. Since I want to continue to develop my sound, I think writing a ton of songs is going to help me do that.
About Caffe Luxxe Brentwood:
L.A. based small batch coffee roaster Caffe Luxxe is wonderful example of what can grow from the powerful bond of friendship, specifically one that spans decades like that of owners Mark Wain and Gary Chau. Taking the chance to quit their corporate jobs in 2006, they’ve been able to fuel their business from their personal relationship and their love for European luxury caffe culture.
A fun fact, Caffe Luxxe is the first of its kind in L.A. for artisan coffee preparation, and boy golly, it is not one to miss at any of its So Cal locations. The coffee world is your oyster when picking your beverage of choice from their delectable menu of drips, pour overs, and a unique variety of Bevande Di Caffe (including a chocolate-y shaken Caffe Shakerato, a sparkling espresso Caffe Frizzante, and a spiced citrus Caffe Nico). If seasonal specials are your thing, have no fear, because they’ve got those covered too! What more could you ask for?