Sunday Sessions 8 - Connor Leimer
By: Emma Corcoran
At just nineteen years old, Connor Leimer is already on the fast track to fame.
Connor released his debut album Postcard in the fall of 2015, which features an eclectic combination of musical styles and genres, from pop and rock to reggae and folk. After finishing up his 'Dorm Room Tour', performing at different U.S. college campuses along the East Coast, Connor now lives in Nashville, TN where he's currently recording an album with acclaimed producer Matt Rollings, who has worked with legendary artists such as Billy Joel, Keith Urban and Willie Nelson, to name a few. With a new record underway, its release set for later this year, and several tour dates lined up, the world should expect great things from Connor Leimer: this singer-songwriter is most definitely a talented on-the-rise artist to look out for.
Read on to learn more about the making of his upcoming album and most recent tours, as well as how he plans to establish his unique style and sound as his music career further develops.
An Interview with Connor Leimer:
ST.ART: Can you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself?
CL: Yeah for sure, so I’m nineteen years old, and I’m from Kansas originally, but I moved to Nashville this year to work with the producer Matt Rollings, so I’m here recording a record with him. I took a gap year from college to focus on music and to tour and to build up my music as much as I could before school. So that’s what I’m doing now: right now, I’m currently in my gap year. This last fall, I independently booked a college tour that we call ‘The Dorm Room Tour’, and I went around to about seventeen different college campuses on the East Coast. It was crazy cool, so much fun. It was behind the release of my full-length record Postcard, which I put out in October. So yeah, I’m currently in Nashville recording, and I just have a bunch of stuff coming up; I have a couple shows in LA, I’ve got the ‘Hotel Café’ soon, and then I’m doing a sort of like a ‘part two’ of ‘The Dorm Room Tour’ that’s gonna be in Colorado in April. I’ve got some good tours coming up, and hopefully a new record will be coming out next fall.
ST.ART: So how did you get picked up by Matt Rollings? That’s pretty huge.
CL: Yeah, so I met him through a mutual friend, John Regan, who’s a piano player in New York City. He introduced me to him and said I should reach out, make a record him, because he takes artists and really helps them reach their full potential, musically, with their songs. So I flew to Nashville and got coffee with him, and we really hit it off, we just became really good friends. He’s a pretty acclaimed producer; he did a record for Keith Urban, and his most recent work was a Willie Nelson album. He’s worked with some pretty cool people.
ST.ART: That’s incredible. When did you first begin playing and performing?
CL: I grew up as a drummer, so I started that around when I was seven, as a kid, you know? And then I started picking up the guitar in the seventh grade, when I was about twelve, and then, I don’t know, I just started writing, and it just evolved; I totally fell into it.
ST.ART: Where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics?
CL: That’s a good question. I’m a really big fan of music, so obviously I’m inspired by a lot of different bands and artists that I see. For instance, I really like James Bay right now, so kind of that vibe; I’d really like to be like that. But I listen to so much stuff; I like old stuff, like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and then I listen to stuff like The Head and the Heart, you know? I mean, I get inspiration from so much different stuff, and I have experience playing all different types of music; I was in reggae bands and a jazz band growing up, so I’ve done all sorts of things. But for right now, I’m really focused on singer-songwriter stuff right now, like a James Bay or a Sara Bareilles, kind of like in that genre. I’m actually working with the engineer who tracked Sara Bareilles’s ‘Love Song’, which is cool.
ST.ART: So you write all of your own lyrics then?
ST.ART: Do you ever do covers as well?
CL: Mmm not too much really. I’ve never really felt comfortable singing other people’s songs because I feel like my style is so ‘me’ that I don’t have the capacity to cover it. I really like this guy named Josh Rouse, he’s really good; he lived in Nashville for a while and now he lives in Spain. He’s really cool, his lyrics are just incredible.
ST.ART: Have you done any recent shows or are you mostly just working on producing the record?
CL: Yeah, so my last show was in New York City at Rockwood Music Hall, and that was February 5th. That was my most recent show, but yeah, I’m basically here recording the record, so that’s taken up a lot of time. But I have a show in Nashville next week, and then I’m playing in LA in April, and then I’m playing for three days in Colorado in late April as well.
ST.ART: So all these different places – that’s really exciting. You’re kind of all over the place.
CL: Yeah, all these different places, and that was the idea: to sort of spread out and take my music to new areas. I’m giving like a little clinic at the Grammy Museum in LA, so I’m really excited for that. They do this thing called ‘Behind the Music’, so I’ll come in and talk about my last record and how I recorded it, talk about the production of it.
ST.ART: So after you talk a bit about the production process, will you then give a live performance? Is that how that works?
CL: So the clinic will be me talking about my last record Postcard and how I recorded it, and then I’ll probably play a few songs, so it’ll be both; it’ll be like a little performance and a clinic, I guess.
ST.ART: That’s awesome.
CL: Yeah, I’m really excited for that, it’s gonna be great.
ST.ART: For your first album, how did you put together the songs? How did that songwriting process go?
CL: So those are all songs that I grew up writing and that I grew up having in my pocket, though they’re very diverse; there’s reggae, there’s folk and then there’s more dance stuff.
ST.ART: Yeah, I took a listen to it, and it think it’s cool how you’ve combined these eclectic tastes into one album, so that each track is like a different listening experience.
CL: Right, yeah. I think growing up, that’s kind of how it was with music for me; I was inspired by all different styles and genres of music, so it was easy for me to write in different genres. People ask me what my genre is, and right now, I’m in the process of defining what my sound really is, because my record Postcard isn’t really definitive, if that makes any sense, because it’s just all over. So this record I’m making in Nashville is definitely more focused and more centred on the sound. It will be a definite growth, I think, from my first record.
ST.ART: Is there one type of sound that you’re particularly drawn to?
CL: Yeah, I’m really into witty lyrics, you know? And cool rhymes. I’ve always been a big fan of really clean guitar, electric or acoustic, because everything I write is from the guitar, so that’s obviously a main component of the sound. I’m just really excited to have a record that’s produced at this level, because the production on this record is something I’ve never had before: we have a full band, with an organ and a horn section, layered guitars and background vocals…
ST.ART: Yeah, that’s really amazing, and it’s such an incredible opportunity, too, as an aspiring musician, to be able to have someone like Matt Rollings by your side.
CL: Yeah, it’s been huge. He’s a huge influence on me, and it’s amazing how much progress you make when you surround yourself with someone who can teach you so much. I learn so much just by being around him. He’s helping me arrange the songs, like I’ll bring him a tune, and if he doesn’t like the lyrics, he’ll help me edit them. He’s very involved, and he’s very supportive.
ST.ART: So as you define your style of singing and your sound, have you thought about how you would maybe convey that through the physical album itself, like the cover art? How is that creative process going?
CL: Yeah definitely, so the design of everything is hugely important. I’m still working on a name for the record, so I don’t have a name yet, like a concept, but I’m working on it. But obviously, yeah, like the artwork will probably be… my friend Max Mikulecky lives in New York City, so I’ll probably use his photography again, because he did the art for Postcard. I’m just really in love with his work, so I’ll probably use his photography on the next record, and I’ll have some buddies do the graphic design. I like to incorporate all my friends who are artists to do the artwork, you know? It really works out.
ST.ART: That’s a really cool way of helping people explore their creative talents, you know?
CL: Yeah, and I think a lot of people who are on labels, like a label has a creative team that does the artwork, so by being an independent artist, I have the ability to choose and to be more hands-on with the artwork and with the design.
ST.ART: What else have you been doing lately?
CL: Well I’ve been really involved with New York fashion recently. I was on the cover of a magazine called Visual Tales, and the photographer who took those photos, his name is Arthur Elgort, and he’s a famous Vogue photographer, his son is Ansel Elgort, who was in the film The Fault in Our Stars. I got to work with him and do a photoshoot, and then I also got to go to New York a few weeks ago and meet the designer Billy Reid and attend his fashion show.
ST.ART: Wow, how was that?
CL: It was just incredible, like the coolest thing ever. There were a bunch of celebrities who attended, so I got to kind of hang out with those people a bit, like Neil Patrick Harris and Jessie Tyler Ferguson. So yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of that kind of stuff. I have a stylist in New York City who’s been dressing me for photoshoots and appearances. I’m really trying to bring in a fashion angle with my music as well, because I think being an artist, you try to inspire other people and be a leader, not only in music, but in how you look and how you dress. I think that’s really important.
ST.ART: It’s almost like you have a kind of brand image, you know? You have a certain style that people associate with you, not only in terms of music, but also in terms of image and the way that you choose to present yourself. Certain artists just have certain distinctive styles of dressing themselves that sort of plays into their identities as musicians.
From listening to you, it seems like working on your style and sound has been this process of defining yourself as a musician. Has that been difficult? How has your identity as a musician evolved?
CL: This year, during my gap year, I didn’t expect any of this to happen as well as it happened. I think I’ve had a lot of luck meeting the right people and doing things that are noteworthy enough to bring some attention to my music. I think the coolest thing about being an artist is that I can do a bunch of different things, but it all comes back to my music; I can go do some modelling or do fashion, but it’s all about to my music, because it’s is the foundation of everything. So yeah, I would definitely say that I’ve had some really good luck meeting the right people and establishing my brand, my name and my image. I’ve always tried to be very classy and look nice; I want to be successful and I want to be an inspiration for people as a solo artist. Like I just bought a guitar that was made in the 1960s, it’s like the old-school kind you would buy at a department store for, like, twenty-five bucks. I like to incorporate vintage, antique, kind of like throw-back stuff as well. Part of my image is trying to incorporate some really old-school stuff into something new.
ST.ART: Vintage gives off a certain vibe, kind of like nostalgia, you know? And that triggers feeling of just being happy and comfortable, and when you listen to your music, it seems like those are feelings that you’re trying to evoke. It puts you in a good mood. It’s not deep and dark heavy metal, but it’s also not something mainstream you would hear on the radio, you know?
CL: Right, I think my goal with music is to… every song I write, I’m trying to tell anecdotes about life, you know? And things I’ve learned. I think my goal with music is to let people get to know me. I’m not just a band that’s trying to make a catchy song; I’m trying to let my listeners feel like they know me and that they’re a friend of mine. I feel like my music is very personal, so that’s kind of what I go for: I want my fans to feel like they know me and that they would want to get a coffee with me.
ST.ART: That’s so nice, though. When musicians are intimidating or unapproachable, it makes their lyrics seem less relatable, but because you give off a vibe that makes other people feel comfortable, it makes your lyrics more engaging and your songs more relaxing to listen to, I think.
So you deferred for a year – do you think that will have an effect on your music?
CL: I just took one year off of school and I’ll probably be going back to school in the fall, so I’m just gearing up for going back to class. I’ve never had any college experience so far, so it’s kind of weird. I think the goal with my gap year was to really be focusing on my music and to finish the record, get it on a good footing, so that I can go to school and get that out of the way and continue to build my music. I think I’ve definitely accomplished that.
ST.ART: Yeah, for sure. Do you think you’ll be able to take a few breaks from school to record more, maybe go on a few tours? Do you think you’ll be able to balance school with your music career?
CL: I think so, yeah. I mean, obviously my music comes first, so if a huge opportunity comes up, I would take some time off of school, and then I’ll probably do school with music on the side.
ST.ART: That’s good. It’s great to have a clear goal. You obviously have a passion, and that translates into your music but also your career goals.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anything I missed?
CL: I guess I’d just like to add that I put out a record called Postcard in October, and it’s up online – ITunes, Spotify – so you should check it out. I should have new music coming out in the fall, hopefully, and I have a lot of exciting things coming up, like a music video shoot and a bunch of shows in April.
ST.ART: Awesome, we will keep you on our radar!