Feature Livy Conner(lead)

Published on June 13th, 2013 | by Jared Booth


What’s Real is Real: Livy Conner on Her Promising Debut Album

Livy Conner has known for years that she was going to record an album of original material, but the patient and soft-spoken local also knew she didn’t want to rush it. “The time wasn’t exactly right until it really was,” she explains in the roundabout style in which she tends to speak. “And I’m really glad about that, because I wouldn’t change a damn thing about how I did it and the people that I met and collaborated with on it.”

The more Conner talks about her debut album, Mind of Your Own, the clearer it becomes that it is a solo record in name only. She’s performed with local Americana/folk acts the Brillers and Moonlight Ale in recent years, but this is her first major effort as a songwriter.

Conner’s 12-song collection will be released at a CD release party downtown at Gage Hall on Sat, June 15 with a roster of 11 notable local musicians on hand, including Will McKay – Conner’s former Brillers bandmate, who is everywhere on the record, playing drums, guitar, ukulele, and guitjo. Bandi Tomaschek coproduced it with Conner and also added bass on a few tracks.

Conner’s face lights up when she describes the collaborative process. “I have such a huge appreciation for the people on this album,” she says. “Because everybody was really creative, inspiring, really talented, and really nice, so I was really open to just trying a bunch of stuff and seeing what sticks.”

Also featured on the record are bassist Brad Edwardson, trumpeter Kevin Hackler, cellist Lonnie Root, pedal steel man Charlie Thompson, vocalists Lindsay Holler and Danielle Hershon, and fiddle player Bob Culver. Conner’s father, Billy Lempesis, even plays dobro on one song. The wrinkle in having such an ensemble cast is that recording together is nearly impossible. In fact, the CD release party will be the first time the entire bunch will be in the same room together.

Livy Conner - Mind of Your Own art-1

Conner is especially grateful for Tomaschek’s production. “The thing that’s wonderful about him was that he cared as much about this thing as I did,” she says. “He became like my partner: he recorded it, mixed it, and was there every step of the way. We kind of had opposite work schedules, so whenever we both had the same time off, we would track stuff. Will [McKay] also did tons of instrumentation on it, and then we asked friends to come add all the other stuff.”

This last step was often where the recording process really took off, Conner says.

“Oh my god, Kevin Hackler, the trumpet player, he is amazing,” she beams. “On one song, ‘Bloodline,’ I had not pictured trumpet on it really at all, but I said, ‘Let’s go through the song a few times, and if you’re not feeling it, we’ll just skip it.’ But he just made it so much more beautiful, and then suddenly it’s like, ‘Yes, that song needs trumpet!’”

While Conner knew that several songs would make the album, including the gorgeous title track, but two of the best tracks, “Will Be Okay” and the fabulous closer “Hope!,” were afterthoughts until the last minute when the addition of new elements molded them into new and dynamic shapes.

“I wrote ‘Hope!’ in my bedroom on my piano,” Conner recalls. “I never played it live. I thought it was too quirky, not something anyone would want to hear.” With the album nearly finished, Conner played her quiet first version of “Hope!” for Tomaschek, and he knew they had to add it.

“He had moved to Atlanta by then, so we recorded it entirely separately, first with just me on piano,” Conner says. “When he sent his bass track to me, I was listening to it on headphones and was like, ‘Aaaah!’ Then Will did this almost reggae electric guitar thing on there, so it was all these unexpected little pieces. When you add one thing, it takes the energy to a new level, and you start saying, ‘Oh let’s put some ‘Ooohs’ on the chorus’ or whatever. When I was writing out all the credits for the lyric booklet, I said, ‘Really, there’s only three people on that song?’”

“Hope” feels like the work of at least five musicians, with the catchy-as-hell chorus building to a roar and Conner’s strong, high voice bringing to mind the power of Florence and the Machine.

While Conner’s lithe voice can knock you out when it needs to, her songwriting is equally deserving of praise. Her lyrics are reflective, emotional, and, in a word, real.

“My songs are all pretty personal,” she says, tilting her head thoughtfully to the side as if waiting for a deeper point to drop out. And as she starts and stops, speaking impulsively and then pulling herself back, she begins to show the slow morphing that must carry her from that roundabout speaking style to her careful, deliberate lyrics. “They all start with …” she begins, before interrupting herself with a definitive head nod, now firmly on the trail of that deeper point.

“Every song is an expression of my thought process,” she says confidently. “Some people are more storytellers, and they will create a character, the seed for the song. I definitely would not categorize myself as a storyteller; I think the lyrics always speak to what I was going through at that certain time in my life. I don’t think I can control the type of song that I write, because if you try to do that, if you try to formulate that, that song’s going to die, or you’re going to play it and feel fake when you’re playing it. Anything that’s real, it’s just real.”

Livy Conner and friends will perform a CD release show at Gage Hall (4 Archdale Street) at 8 p.m. on Sat. June 15. Conner will also play at the Sippin’ Saturdays event at Irvin-House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island on June 29 at 1 p.m. Visit reverbnation.com/oliviaconner for more.



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About the Author

Jared Booth

is a Charleston-based freelance writer focusing on the local music scene. He is sometimes funny, often serious, rarely objective, and always honest. When he's not at a show or at the beach, the Virginia native can usually be found on a lawn chair in someone's backyard, sipping on a cold Tecate and belting his heart out to George Jones.

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