Dallas musician Conner Youngblood on his high-flying falsetto, free music and SXSW
Recently we spotlighted 10 Dallas artists that we suspect will make a substantial impact at this year's SXSW. Although each of those picks is worth a listen, St. Mark's graduate Conner Youngblood is certainly one to keep an eye on well after spring has ended. The young Dallasite possesses more musical talent in one drumstick than most of us do in our entire bodies.
With a blissful falsetto vocal tone and folk-rock arrangements, it's easy to compare Youngblood to Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver). And, in this case, the easy comparison isn't a lazy one. In fact, it's high praise, given the way in which Bon Iver has made falsetto-laden folk incredibly relevant and something the popular masses clamor for.
We recently caught up with Youngblood before the craziness of the next few months begins. He discusses his unique voice, his need to make things sound a certain way, and giving music away for free.
CultureMap: You have beautiful falsetto vocals. How did you discover your knack for it?
Conner Youngblood: I always thought I was a pretty awful singer growing up. I loved playing music, but I avoided singing and writing songs at all costs. It wasn't really until senior year of high school, five or six years ago, where I started messing around with different styles of singing and sort of just created a voice that I was comfortable with through trial and error. It's good to hear that people enjoy it!
CM:Do you purposely seek out other artists who employ falsetto tones, such as Bon Iver?
CY: Bon Iver is certainly a big influence musically, but when it comes to singing, I pretty much had already chosen my tone before I had ever heard any Bon Iver records. Artists I was probably influenced by at the time were people like Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Ray LaMontage and Damien Rice.
CM:The video for "Australia" (see above) shows you playing multiple instruments. Is that how you primarily choose to record? If so, is that due to simply having fun using your talents, or due to a desire to capture the sound exactly as you hear it in your own head?
CY: Yeah, that's how pretty much every single one of my songs is done — one instrument at a time. Since I write all of the songs on my own, I just thought it made sense to record everything on my own. It's sort of like you said, when I have the song in my head, I feel like I'm the only one who knows how to bring it out accurately.
Plus, I love recording and I love playing instruments. I'd rather go buy a trumpet and struggle for hours to record one note at a time than have a friend play the part for me in one take. Maybe I'm just stubborn. Who knows.
It's a pretty awesome process to watch a song develop one track at a time from scratch. I never had anyone show me the right way to record music, so initially I just developed a process I thought made the most sense to me at the time.
CM: You just announced you'll be playing the Firefly Festival with some really big names on the bill (Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avett Brothers). What are the differences from the artist's perspective between a three-day festival like that and the events of SXSW?
CY: I'm so excited for Firefly. I mean, I feel like I'm just as excited to go hang out and see the other shows as I am to play. It's tough for me to comment on the differences of the two festivals since I haven't ever really played in a summer festival like Firefly before.
But I have previously done SXSW. It is one big rush of hustling around, playing three, four or five shows throughout the week and trying to take in and squeeze in as much as you can as strategically and efficiently as you can.
There is literally too much to do, and at times you forget that you have to play later that day. Last year, I literally had to run out of Bruce Springsteen's show early to make sure I got to my sound-check on time. Firefly should be a little bit more relaxing. You get to play your one set and then enjoy yourself the rest of the time. I can't wait.
CM:You seem to be an artist that doesn't subscribe to the traditional methods of releasing music only when a full album is ready. What are your thoughts on the current age of how music is released and distributed to fans?
CY: I'm all about free. I love the platforms of sites like Grooveshark and Spotify. For me, it's about getting as many people as possible the opportunity to hear the music. Listening to music should be convenient.
I also feel like the distribution of music could do without the clutter of 90 percent of albums that come out. The Internet has made it very easy to decide which songs are good and which songs are not very quickly. You aren't really impressing anyone by releasing an annual album when people are only listening to two of the songs.
At this rate, I feel like a lot of artists could benefit from focusing more on individual songs rather than an album. Don't get me wrong. Plenty of artists are still creating incredible albums that are totally worth every minute. But, for the most part, a lot of artists are forcing it. Due to the influence of sites like Spotify and iTunes, I'd say singles will, or have already, become more powerful than albums.
Conner Youngblood takes the SXSW stage March 16, 11 pm, at Creekside at Hilton Garden Inn.