Singer-Songwriter Conner Cherland on his new EP ‘Call Waiting’ and Moving to LA

If you’ve ever been to Santa Barbara for a wedding, chances are you’ve witnessed the lovely voice of Conner Cherland. A skilled performer, Conner has played over 1070 shows over the course of his career, a milestone he’s achieved by performing at weddings, house shows, wineries, and more, often in Santa Barbara. Nothing can stop Conner from performing, not even the pandemic that shut down the world in 2020. As restrictions began to lift, Conner continued to bring live music to people from a safe distance via unique rooftop performances.

Conner takes the same committed approach to writing as he does to performing. Having written hundreds of songs, Conner’s fun-loving and creative self is evident through his “quirky” songs such as “Monty the Murder Elf” and “Pickles the Rat.” He is also known for his tender and endearing love songs that take on a folk-indie feel reminiscent of artists such as Hozier and Shakey Graves. Among his past releases are Love Songs, Wanting Man, Tall Tales and The Choices of John Still.

Conner’s newest release, Call Waiting is his first release under Santa Barbara Records. The record also takes a big step away from Conner’s typical light, indie sound. With a darker and more pensive theme, Call Waiting also takes a more alternative direction away from the indie genre and towards rock. Each track is built out with more layers, rich electric guitar riffs, and vocals that take on a new depth in tone. The EP clocks in with a grand total of six new masterpieces, now available on Spotify.

We connected with Conner to learn more about his music and what brought him to Los Angeles.

Firstly, congrats on making the move out to L.A.!
Thank you so much!

How are you adjusting? What are you enjoying, what do you miss? I think I’m adjusting well so far. There’s so much to do for this EP release. I recorded it in the first month of living here, negotiated with the record label, and now I’m working on the promo…all the while trying to make actual friends here and keep in touch with old friends in SB. It feels like I’m living two lives at the same time. Rest has been hard to find, but desperately vital for me. I miss almost everything about Santa Barbara. Life in LA is harder in almost every way (except for meeting people…that’s 100x easier in LA).

What made you decide to make the move? My wife really needed to move out of SB. It wasn’t a place that she wanted to live long term, and I had been putting off moving since 2019. Obviously the move is advantageous for my career, but my wife is the one who really helped me to take that big step forward (I’ve been terrified of LA for the entire 6 years I’ve been a musician).

How is  the music scene different from Santa Barbara? It’s night and day different. Truly exceptional musicians play every night of the week, and so many are down to co-write with random guys like me. There are so many different temperaments of musicians out here so you can really find your tribe and settle in.

How was “What Are Pop Hangs?” So intimidating. A perfect representation of what people envision LA to be. It’s 100 songwriters waiting to share their own music. Everyone is simultaneously excited to listen to and judge each other’s music. It’s not nice to say you’re judging each other because the scene is so friendly, but there’s a palpable sub-text of “I wonder if I’ll vibe with you or not” and “I wonder if you’ll vibe with my art”. It’s scary and exciting and takes a strong sense of self.

Congrats on signing with Santa Barbara Records! How has joining their team affected your creative process so far? Thank you! It hasn’t affected my creative process in terms of writing (I still just write music out of my bedroom mostly), but it’s really made me want to take myself more seriously as an artist. I’ve started taking singing lessons, guitar lessons, and I’m posting nearly every day on social media. When you have a group of grown adults saying they believe in your music, it makes you want to double down and prove to them that they’re backing the right person.

There’s a noticeable shift in your two newest singles ‘Call Waiting’ and ‘Heavy’ away from your last album “Love Songs” both in theme and in production – your latest single ‘Heavy’ feels more rock-leaning than many of your past tracks that fall more into the folk sound – How would you describe this shift and the sound of your upcoming album? Thank you for noticing! Yes, the new album is a lot more full band indie-rock than anything I’ve made previously. The last two songs on the EP are stripped down, and more in line with the previous albums (I ran out of money making the first 4 songs sound so good…and it was 100% worth it. I’m so proud of these songs.)

What inspired you to make this shift? I was honestly tired of performing so many cute songs about the happiness I felt in my life. I’m a very fortunate person with so much love surrounding me. At the same time I’m incredibly lonely at times and deal with a lot of internal anger and disappointment. I want to express that side of myself more in my art, and I want to write songs that are intended for full band arrangements.

Reflecting on these big changes, where do you feel that you are in this stage of your creative journey since the first song you ever wrote? That’s a great question. My first songs I wrote without any thought of drummers/bass players/electric guitarists. I just wrote a song on my acoustic guitar and thought “hey this is nice, let’s try to build something off of this”. Now I’m in a place where I think about drums while I write. My guitar playing is often simpler, but what I’m hearing in my mind is more complex.

Your album artwork is always stunning, this upcoming album included. You talked a bit on your IG about how choosing a moth to personify your internal landscape helps you express yourself in a visual way. You also stated how moths are “kind of like butterflies but they destroy sweaters” and that they represent death in your mind. Could you speak a little more on who the butterflies are and why you identify more with the moth in this framework? Gosh I feel so seen. Thank you for watching that video. I just think we have to show up as happy/positive people in the outside world…you can say all this hippie stuff about how we just need to “show up as our authentic selves” and “everybody is allowed to have a bad day” and I think that’s true to an extent. But, when you’re depressed and angry and full of rage at everything…that’s also authentic and needs some sort of representation. I released so much aggression in the past few years by playing Pickleball (sounds funny…I know), but other than that, my music is one of the few ways I’m allowed to repeatedly express negative emotion in public. So maybe the butterfly would be more synonymous with the facade of happiness? In reality I’m a lot happier embracing my angry/dark moth self.

In the album artwork, the moth is waiting for a phone call – hence the album title “Call Waiting” which is also the name of the first single you recently released. Will he ever receive the phone call? What do you see happening for him as he waits? I don’t know the last time you were on “Call Waiting”…but for me I was recently on hold with Verizon technical support for literally 3.5 hours. It was a brutal day, and I had to go play a lot of pickleball afterwards to blow off steam. Everyone spends their life on hold at some point. It’s a time that no one looks forward to, but in the end it gets you what you wanted. I definitely lose patience when I’m on hold for 3.5 hrs because it’s waaaaay longer than I expected. Similarly, it took me 6 years too get to where I am musically, which is a lot longer than I would have hoped. To continue with the analogy of call waiting/being on hold – you actually NEED to be on hold because the only way out is through their help. I needed the last 6 years, and I’m proud to be where I am today. He’ll receive the phone call when the customer service is ready to help him. It doesn’t define his worth, it’s just a matter of time.

Speaking of visual accompaniments to your music, you worked with your wife Layne for the music video of “Call Waiting.” What was that process like for you? My wife and I have been wanting to work together for a long time. 7 years into our relationship and we’re just now figuring out how to do it. It’s SO SCARY to work with your spouse. Every little comment could have so much subtext and you have to separate your insecurity from what they’re actually saying. It’s being vulnerable in an entirely new way, and building trust is hard even when it’s the person closest to you.

What was your favorite part? Making something with my wife was 100% my favorite part of the video. This was the first thing we made together (apart from a home, life, etc.), and I felt like I saw her in a new way after we finished the process.

What is the oldest song on the record? Call Waiting

How would you compare it with the newest one? The newest song on the album is “You Are What You Take In” and it’s about giving up on yourself! During the past year I’ve learned that you need to accept yourself, wherever you are in life. If you’ve completely given up, you need to be able to come to terms with that fact, mourn it, give it space to breathe, and be curious enough to see what happens next. Call Waiting is about the first time I fell in love and had my heart broken, which has a related theme of letting yourself down.

You’ve performed at 1070 gigs (wow!) by now – What is your favorite part about performing? I think it’s so fun to hear your own voice through a microphone. There are so many parts about your own voice that you miss/can’t hear when you’re normally speaking. I think the connection we have with our own voice is magical and I really do love getting to play with little nuances of my voice while singing.

What about the process keeps you coming back for more shows? Financial need haha….my business is pretty much based off of live performance, and it’s what pays for these albums year after year. Apart from needing to do it, there’s something meditative about performance. You’re trying to make it perfect even though it never will be, but it’s interesting to move the needle .01% close to the goal every time you perform.

As a veteran performer, what tips would you give to someone who’s just starting out? So many tips. Have fun, know the material, and be considerate of others is a good start.

One thing I’ve really admired is that you are always stretching yourself and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations that can be scary and intimidating. From first starting live gigs to now being active on many platforms of the internet, what helps you work through the fear/anxiety? I really want this career to work out for me in the long run. What I’ve done in the past isn’t enough to get me to where I want to go, so I need to constantly stretch myself into areas where I’m afraid to go. Just yesterday I shot the music video for “I Don’t Need California” and I had to dance on a public beach in front of professional dancers and I was scared out of my mind. I did it though! And honestly I felt so proud of myself afterward because I chose to be brave for 12 hours straight and I didn’t die!

Your album drops October 14 – how do you plan to celebrate? Still trying to figure that out honestly haha…I really wish I had a better answer for you, but I’m really not sure for the time being. Hopefully my social media pages will have an answer as we get closer.

What message would you like to give first-time listeners and new fans? I hope you like the new music! I want to make more full band music in the future and tour and dance with you, so give it a listen and follow for more!

The definition of ‘Contrast’ is to be strikingly different. What makes you strikingly different? Moving to LA showed me that I’m strikingly different from a lot of other people. I’m present and when I ask questions I’m really listening to your answer. I try to really understand people. I’m not looking for a way to make money off of you. If I like you, I want to make you dinner and hear about your life and make you my friend for real. I’m becoming wise and caring and I think people will benefit from knowing me whether that be over a meal or through my music.

Learn more about Conner at his website and IG, and stream Call Waiting wherever you listen to music.

Contributing Entertainment Writer, Contrast Magazine.

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