It isn’t every day you come across a musician like Connor Leimer. The Nashville-based singer and songwriter had rather ordinary beginnings writing music and practicing his guitar in the suburbs of Kansas City. But in just a few short years he was traveling across the country playing sold-out shows at colleges – a D.I.Y. dorm-room tour he organized at the age of eighteen. At six feet-two inches, Connor’s waify figure complements the lines of his prized possession: an original 1966 Gibson acoustic guitar as photographed for the album art of his new single, “Brooklyn.” Like the soothing notes and chords Connor plays, his lyrics and soulful vocals carry you deep into his music – experiences that often tie into love and memories Connor has written alongside his collaborator, Grammy Award winning musician, Matt Rollings. With a vision for rhythm and deeper lyrics, Connor sets out against the backdrop of pop, and delivers a new single, “Brooklyn,” debuted here. The single is directed by Warren Elgort, starring Victoria Lee and Connor Leimer, and styled by John Tan.
The editor of RAIN, Mark Benjamin, speaks with Connor here about his beginnings with music and his inspirations behind for this new sound.
Mark Benjamin: How was your time in Kansas City? Is there a community of creatives that you fell into or have you always just struck it out on your own?
Connor Leimer: I spent the summer of 2017 in Kansas City writing songs in my childhood bedroom and working as a barista at a local coffee shop. Being home is a catch 22 for me because I always feel like I should be elsewhere out in the world experiencing life, new people and places. Yet, it’s nice to get back home to where it all started; where I first wrote songs, where I first recorded in studios, etc. I’ve always loved working with musicians in Kansas City because they’re often classically trained or love jazz or listen to distinct music that you don’t hear on the radio or major labels. As a writer, being home offers a unique perspective to dream and imagine what’s to come next given that it all started in this house, this room.
MB: What do you set out to accomplish with the visual part of your work i.e. music videos and photography that maybe can’t be communicated with a recorded song?
CL: I try to create moments. I want to create a visual image in the listener’s mind that expands their imagination, taking them beyond what they could’ve imagined on their own. When I write music or listen to music I see images, the sort of images one gets while reading a book or hearing a story. Music has always given me those mental images, sudden flashes of scenes, moments, etc. which are the most valuable currency I can have as an artist. The visuals for “Brooklyn” are the best example I can give you of a moment of my life that’s forever carved into a piece of art. The music video was directed by Warren Elgort who I told upon wrapping the filming process that we had just created a timeless film, art that could outlive us both. Specific scenes speak to me like where I’m singing to Victoria Lee on the tram as she’s about to leave me behind figuratively and literally. There’s something in that moment I’ll never quite grasp the meaning of, the emotion is beyond my imagination.
Creating the album cover with Alexei Hay was also a moment I can’t shake. The spark of creativity, incorporating the human body with my primary instrument, the acoustic guitar, bending my spine to form a curve, Alexei directing the tip of my shoe to be pointed up and of course the balancing act of sitting on my tiny 1966 Gibson acoustic guitar case was something I couldn’t have imagined on my own. My dear friend and stylist John Tan was there to coordinate these teams and it wouldn’t have been possible without his extraordinary vision.
MB: Prince once said “technology is cool but you’ve got to use it as opposed to it using you.” Do you agree?
CL: Absolutely. I can’t disagree with Prince.
My thoughts on technology are summed up best by the Urban Sophistication phone case that says “Social Media seriously harms your mental health”… it’s important to utilize technology for its benefits while remembering it’s not always an accurate representation of the world. It’s hard to realize that sometimes. Instagram has become the next generation’s television.
MB: If you had to write a song about a celebrity who would that be?
CL: I’d write one for Emma Watson. She’s an avid reader and I love how she spends her afternoons sometimes hiding books in urban areas like parks and under statues, etc. The idea of hiding books for people to discover excites me and Jens Lekman already wrote a song for Kirsten Dunst so…
MB: Have you written songs for other artists? If so how was that experience?
CL: No – this sort of thing has to be organic for me. I write with Matt Rollings here in Nashville. When I write with Matt, I feel it’s as close as I’ll ever come to writing with the greats, like sitting in a room with Paul Simon. Matt produced “Brooklyn” and is the only co-writer I’ve worked extensively with.
MB: How do you think your music will be different in 10 years, how will it be the same?
CL: Songs songs songs. I want to paint a picture. Tell a story. I start most songs on an acoustic guitar. Something about feeling the vibration of the wood on my skin, there’s magic there. In 10 years, production could change, but the songs will always be very “Connor” sounding.
MB: It’s really interesting you specifically mentioned Blink 182 as an influence. Everyone cites The Cure and Queen but I think Blink182 and the emo genre was that same force for the 90s generation. I think musicians are afraid to cite them as serious artists and influences. What about their work stuck with you?
CL: There’s a certain charm about 90’s music. The songs had stories in them, the lyrics had depth. Maybe today’s musicians are afraid of being vulnerable in their work or embarrassed to cite emo/punk rock bands that spoke to them at one time in their life. I grew up skateboarding to it. Maybe what’s missing in the music you hear coming out in 2018 is that sheer honesty of lyrics and story. If you listen to the self-titled Blink 182 album, that’s still one of my all time favorite records. Songs like “I Miss You” and “Always” and “Stockholm Syndrome” are as fresh and interesting as they were when I was a kid in the suburbs listening to them. Recently I discovered how much I love PJ Harvey, another 90’s darling, and her record “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.” There’s a charm in her darkness and brash confidence that you can just feel in the recordings. Blink 182 used to call themselves “crappy punk rock” and there’s a part of me that still wants to be that punk rock kid.
MB: Why does pop love love songs? What does the ultimate love song sound like?
CL: This is an interesting topic I’ve tried to solve as a writer. All I know is that love is the one thing we all have in common as humans. So the appeal is universal. The question I ask as a writer is, “how can I tie a love song into a song with a more defined meaning?” or “How can I write a love song but also add in extra content about culture, life, struggles, habits, etc.”
Pop loves love songs because it just feels right. The listener is provided with an effortless escape.
The ultimate love song sounds a lot like… Chasing Pavements by Adele or anything Norah Jones touches
MB: I’m sure you saw some crazy stuff on the college tour, what was the craziest thing that happened on your college campus tour ?
CL: Drove through Baltimore in a heavy rainstorm on a major highway…
Slept in a tiny nook above a kitchen in D.C. that was meant for storage…
Played at a frat house on a kitchen table at North Carolina Chapel Hill…
Filmed an acoustic performance in front of the bean in Chicago and dodged security…
and I wish I could tell you about New York.
Directed by Warren Elgort. Filmed in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Southampton, NY. Starring Victoria Lee and Connor Leimer. Styled by John Tan. Connor wears Billy Reid, Agnes B., Scotch & Soda, and Etro. Colored by Aline Sinquin. Cinematography by Derek Mckane. Edited by Garrett Tezanos. Hair and make up by Alicia Campbell with SEE Management. Special thanks to Savannah Yarborough at Ateliersavas. Assistant director Dexter Zimet. Unit Production mgmt by Will Ehrehreich. Drone operation by Stefan Michaelcheck. First camera assisting by Clinton Tuccio. Catering by James Brenner.