Connor McCoy is no stranger to musical theory. Since childhood, McCoy has been performing and creating music. In his newest single “Problem Children,” he brings an upbeat sound that extends outside the realm of his typical repertoire. He puts a lot of thought and personality into both his songwriting and his interviewing. Check out what he had to say about his new acoustic-electro hybrid, “Problem Children”:
Hi Connor! First of all, nice work on “Problem Children.” I’m excited to dive into this track a bit. So give me a little backstory on you. Who is Connor McCoy? What’s your musical background?
Hey! Thanks so much for liking the track! It really means a lot to me. As for my musical background, I think I owe a lot of it to my time spent as a chorister at The Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City, Utah when I was in elementary/middle school. It was there that I was taught how to sing and read classical music at an advanced level, and it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I love singing. I was so unbelievably lucky to have such an incredible and rigorous musical education at a young age…at the time I took it for granted, but having had so many opportunities to sing professionally with the choir has definitely shaped and forged my own passion for music, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that time in my life.
When I got to high school, I started placing more emphasis on my piano studies, and fell in love with the sounds of some of my favorite bands like Coldplay, Keane, and Vampire Weekend. I couldn’t really do piano lessons…I don’t think I had the attention span for it, so a lot of my proficiency as a pianist comes from this crude combination of the sight reading skills I had from being a chorister and the endless amounts of new-age piano books lying around my childhood home (thanks, Mom!).
My high school was relatively small, so I was fortunate enough to be able to really immerse myself in the music department there and stand out. My friends and I in high school made up most of the music department, and when we weren’t doing something for school, we would usually spend our weekends jamming in my basement or recording little songs. A combination of all of those times and memories definitely helped me build up the confidence to choose music as a career, and I couldn’t be happier for it.
I hope you don’t mind, I did a little digging, and it looks like you studied music in college? How do you feel that has impacted your songwriting and production skills? Was it worth it?
I don’t mind at all! Yeah, in high school, I started to teach myself how to use music production software to record myself and my friends. When college time rolled around, I had heard about the Music Production & Engineering program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, so I applied and was accepted!
Music school was absolutely crazy. I wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of talent that I found at Berklee – it was both motivating and extremely intimidating at the same time. Suddenly, my circle of friends was this wacky collection of aspiring artists and musicians, and having this massive support group there to inspire me, cheer me on, and challenge me is, to this day, one of the only reasons I’m able to do this whole artist thing.
Before attending Berklee, I knew almost nothing about proper mixing and production techniques, and one of the best skills I gained from many of the professors there is the ability to record and produce my own music in my own room at a very professional level. I’m able to do the whole process myself because of it, and that alone made the education worth it.
My songwriting classes were some the most intimidating I have ever taken – having to play my song in front of the entire class and take each and every criticism that both students and professors would deal out always scared the hell out of me. In the end, though, I have no doubt that it helped me refine my songwriting skills and understand exactly what it is that I’m trying to get across with each song.
The connections I made at music school will stay with me throughout my whole life, and I learn more about the music industry and being an artist through my friends’ presences than I ever would have had I not gone to Berklee in the first place.
So you’ve been releasing your own music for a while now. How does your newest release “Problem Children” differ from other releases? How do you feel you have grown musically up until now?
“Problem Children” is definitely the most playful song I think I’ve made to date. It’s also, in my opinion, the most hopeful as well. I’ve always viewed my music as being subtly melancholic and introspective, which I do think “Problem Children” shows, but I had a lot of fun exploring a different color this time.
I feel that my music is definitely growing up with me. A lot of my older releases have a lot of angst and raw emotional energy, and now that I’m a tiny bit “older” (in my early 20s), I feel like my perspective on the world and who I am is changing, if just a little. I thought, hey, maybe it’s time I step back and let my music breathe. I don’t want to feel like I have to put all of my energy or my whole being into one particular song. And it feels good.
I just recently moved to LA, which means I’ve been driving A LOT, listening to more new music in my car than ever before. I think that’s what partly pushed me to write a song that has an easy-listening, upbeat feel. When people think of my music, I want them to appreciate the sometimes solemn sounding lyrics, but be able to blast some of my songs in their cars with their friends. I’m discovering ways in which I can remind true to myself and my vision while also drawing from a myriad of different colors and styles.
Do you prefer to work alone or are you more of a collaborator when it comes to making music?
Traditionally, I always found myself locked away in my room, spending countless hours alone working to craft my songs. Which I know can sound depressing, but it really becomes sort of like a “zen” thing to me. It’s hard to get in the right headspace for lyrics that really mean something to me when other people are in the room. And it helps to record weird vocal stuff when no one is around to hear it!
But ever since going to music school, and in some occasions being forced to co-write or co-produce with other people, I’ve been blown away at the benefits. There are just some things that I won’t think of when I’m by myself, and when several ideas come together to create one project, I found that I can be apart of some pretty awesome sounding pieces of music. And for me personally, I find that writing happier music is a lot easier when other people are in the room.
This one was a solo project! But don’t get me wrong, I have tons of friends and family that I send versions to to get their occasional opinion and feedback from. And when it came to the final mixing process, I asked my roommate to lend his skills and ear to put some finishing touches on it to really make it shine (thanks, Matt!).
So I think I’ll always be open to working with other people! It just depends on what sort of mood or song I’m trying to create. If I need to get something out that’s really personal and heartfelt, I’ll always be more prone to making some tea and locking myself away for those few hours of peace that I get from being alone in my room. But something always clicks when I’m jamming with my friends or other people, telling me that music in its most epic form is meant to be created and enjoyed together.
The first thing that struck me when listening to “Problem Children” was the unique percussion. How did you decide to take that route musically when writing this song?
Problem Children started off with the acoustic guitar line that you hear in the very beginning and throughout the song. I was just messing around with a tuning and that line stuck in my head. So I sat down to record it, and the next thing I knew there was this sort of lo-fi, simple electronic drum beat behind it.
I wish I could just make a completely acoustic song…hopefully one day I’ll be able to explore that more. But I think my background in production and love for electronic synths and beats will always shine through, at least for now. I also can’t play real drums…but I can fake it with technology!
I knew I wanted it to have this grounding, driving beat – but I didn’t want it to clash too much with the beautiful sound of the acoustic guitar. So I found what felt like a good combination of electronic and acoustic percussion sounds, and blended them until it sounded cohesive with the vision that I had in mind. Also, I love bongos.
What was your main objective in writing this song, specifically the lyrics? It seems to be a subtle call to the Millennials and Generation Z, who have a reputation among older generations to be noncommittal. What is your take on that idea?
I feel like I’m finally in the part of my life where some of my friends just graduated college, or going to grad school, or starting a new job, while others are settling down, getting married or having kids. There really aren’t any expectations anymore of what we should be doing – we’re finally “young adults.”
So yeah, there’s this underlying culture among the younger generations to taste freedom for as long you can, to never commit and to leave anything that could tie you down behind you, and I couldn’t help but attach it to the term “problem children.” So while I was writing this song, I told it from the perspective of someone who was begging someone else to quit being so unnecessarily rowdy and reckless – that I’m just waiting on the other side when they finally calm down, grow up, and see the bigger picture. Is it really worth it to face life all on your own? And how often does that work out for people? (“Have you the energy now? To walk home defeated, day in and day out?”) —- How I just need to know if they’re ever going to give up the whole charade, for my own sake as well.
But I couldn’t help notice this tangible amount of hypocrisy in my own lyrics, and suddenly I thought: Is this about myself? And my inability to commit to anything or let anything tie me down? Who am I speaking to then, if not myself? And honestly, that was a weird moment for me. That I might have subconsciously written a song about myself (blah-blah-blah insert Freud quote here).
And maybe this is a byproduct of my generation, or maybe it isn’t. I’m pursuing my dream as a starving musician in Los Angeles, CA. You be the judge. (By the way, I just found out the other day that I’m “technically” Generation Z because I was born in 1996. So there’s that.)
What artists influence you in your songwriting?
My two biggest influences would probably have to be Chris Martin from Coldplay and Tom Chaplin from Keane. The way the lyrics hit feels just direct enough without being too confrontational. And I could go on and on about how absolutely wonderful and heart-wrenching their melodies feel. I’ve been learning and singing their songs on piano for as long as I can remember.
Nowadays though, artists like SOHN, Imogen Heap, Vampire Weekend, and D.D Dumbo inspire me to explore the boundary of what songwriting can and could be.
Do you have a dream venue you would like to play?
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and every summer, there’s something called the Twilight Concert Series. One day, I’d love to play on that stage. I’ll definitely be crying when I do.
Do you have any plans to tour in the near future? What are your next steps as an artist?
No immediate plans as of yet! My next step is to come out with an EP of my own, but I’m still exploring and figuring out exactly what sound I want to call my own. Till then, I’m spending most of my time making as much content as I can.
Where can new listeners find you and receive updates regarding new music and other announcements?
Now my closing question — it’s very important: What is your favorite dipping sauce?
Fry Sauce. The one and only. Look it up. It has its own Wikipedia page. Utah forever.
Moral of the story: Connor McCoy is talented. He thinks he might be a problem child. And I need to visit Utah to get some Fry Sauce.