Social media doesn’t usually work that well for Connor McGuire. He’s tried. If you look around online, you can find him on the obligatory Facebook and Twitter, and he has a Tumbler website - but there’s not much there. Social media is clearly low on his list of priorities. His focus has been elsewhere.
His friends report that he seems to disappear for large blocks of time, only to emerge sporadically with some new version of himself and his art. They imagine a cave - which is not too far from the mark. They imagine screens glowing in the dark late at night, knobs and buttons, piles of instruments, piles of unwashed dishes and empty bottles. They can hear this in his music.
When they hear it, they can also tell right away why he’s doing it. It’s clear he’s searching for something great but different. Different but not weird. OK, maybe even weird sometimes, but not stupid or abrasive - or weird for weird’s sake. The words sound like thoughts we’ve had, the tunes haunt from a place not easy to reach and the emotions revealed are tempered with a welcome intelligence.
A song is a fragile construction, with each piece dependent on the other and, initially, only supported in the air by the artist's sheer force of will. Some of Connor's songs don't get finished, but I sure love the ones that do ...
Today I'm doing some social media for him, since he's been mostly preoccupied with making music (and, in his spare time, his Boba Fett armour).
Here's a live recording of Connor's new song "Hand it Over":
Twelve long weeks ago my son Connor McGuire began an online experiment to see if he could write and record a new song every week. As an additional challenge, as if the song writing wasn’t enough, he also documented the process on video and posted the combined results on YouTube. There were some hairy weeks along the way. One week in particular (number five, one of my favourites), he totally scrapped the song he’d worked on for six days and wrote an entirely new one on the deadline day. In other weekly episodes, it’s obvious from his appearance that he hasn’t slept - or that the stress of coming up with something good is taking it’s toll. Often though, there’s the unmistakeable hint of pride of accomplishment, and maybe a bit of wonder at how such a good song managed to materialize so quickly under less than ideal circumstances.
Connor knocked the Song-a-Week Project on the head this past week with episode twelve - a complex and emotional song called “Symphony”. You can hear the relief in his voice as he brings the series to a close, but if you’ve been watching from the beginning, you can also see an accomplished songwriter at the top of his game - who has now documented his ability to confidently pull the magic out of his hat week after challenging week, for three months.
For his second from last week of the the 12-week Song a Week Project, Connor puts on his Pack Mentality hat and reveals his musical alter-ego. Week 11 is a full-out dance track featuring the kind of beats he will be performing next Saturday at the Waterstone Lounge in White Rock with The Forn and The Joy of Cooking (and at a show in Vancouver *this* weekend that I can't find a link to!). No lyrics, just a pounding dance groove with great hooks. Connor told his Grandma that she probably wouldn't like it.
Full band arrangement. Beautiful. And some pretty candid thoughts on the process.
Ten weeks!! Ten!
This week was a close call. What he eventually created came from a deep and honest place. I doubt if he'd have written this song if he wasn't so backed against the wall. It's beautiful and true.
I don't think Connor expected his 'Song a Week Project' to develop into the creative journey it's become. The process is taking him places he otherwise never would have ventured. Once again the new song has brain-bombed me and I can't stop singing it ...
Connor's seventh song is a radical departure. It blends his usual writing style with his Pack Mentality mash-up sensibilities. The song, propelled by a beat he played on a floor tom with a tambourine laid on the skin, soars like classic Peter Gabriel, but more likely references Bat for Lashes or Animal Collective. Once again Connor succeeds and surprises.
Six weeks, six new songs! I can't say he makes it look easy - as you've seen, it hasn't been - but I can marvel at the fact that he continues to create a brand new, and amazingly good, new song every week! This week's song is a hard-rockin' full-band-style arrangement, leaving behind the acoustic vibe from weeks four and five.
Connor’s Week 5 song for his ‘Song a Week Project’ could be his best yet, despite the fact that it ended up being a ‘Song a Day Project’. The suspense is killing me!
Every week of Connor’s ‘Song a Week Project’ has had it’s challenges. Week four was no exception. His plan to simplify the process by eliminating a full band arrangement and writing on an acoustic guitar just created a higher expectation for the lyrics - which became a struggle. I'm proud to say that Connor won that battle, and that “Getting Over It” (or whatever the official title will be) is a truly beautiful, thoughtful and damned catchy song. I’ve been singing it all morning!
What Connor is doing with his ‘Song a Week Project’ is brutally difficult work. Making something from nothing - the delicate alchemy of songwriting - can be a gut-wrenching endeavour at the best of times, and doing it on a schedule like this is something I don’t think I could do. I watch his progress with a mixture of fear and loathing … and pride.
Best yet! This was a really good idea.
It was touch-and-go, but Connor has managed to complete his second song in time for week two of his “Song a Week Project”. As a not-uninterested witness to the unfolding events that he chronicles on the making-of video, I can confirm for you that there was a significant amount of dramatic tension and excitement involved. This instalment features guitar by Jim Black, visit to the best studio in Vancouver, Connor’s alter-ego “Pack Mentality” rocking the house and, of course, the finished recording of the song. Honestly though, the best (and funniest) ten-seconds opens the clip, with Connor attempting to remember the date.
Connor decided a week ago that he would try to write a song a week. Then, in a moment of what I would characterize as foolhardy overconfidence, he added a video camera into the mix - recording the emotional peaks and valleys of his pressurized songwriting process.
As most parents probably would, I gritted my teeth, far more concerned about the outcome than he seemed to be. And, although he started out strong he had ground to a halt by the middle of the week.
In the hopes that I’ve built both your interest and suspense, Here's the first two vids. (SPOILER: The resulting song is amazing and more-so after you’ve watched him piece it together)
Connor performed his first Indie/Dance/Mash-Up set last night at a downtown hole-in-the-wall called the Soundlab. It was a guest-list only event featuring three DJs. Unlike the two turntablists, Connor did an Ableton Live set - a seat-of-the-pants high-wire act where all the musical pieces are prepped on the computer and then selected, beat-matched and spat out in real time – the all important groove totally dependant on split second jabs at a bewildering collection of knobs, buttons and faders. He's been creating mash-ups (digital re-mixes wherein one or more popular songs are mashed together) for fun for months, but started working on his set in earnest when he learned there might be an opportunity to try it out live on a room full of drunk and dancing twenty-somethings.
He's posted three early mash-ups and an original electro/club/pop track on his "Pack Mentality" MySpace page - where he has quietly but steadily been building his Nu Disco persona.
This is another musical left turn for Connor - but probably a welcome and rewarding antidote to the frustration of trying to assemble a band of great players and then keep them together for more than one or two cash-challenged shows. His MacBook Pro, Reason, ProTools and Ableton Live allow him to create and perform solo - not with an acoustic guitar like Rev. 1, but with the power and the glory (and the block-rockin' beats) that only an infinite collection of digital samples can deliver. Add to that the undeniable ear-candy of layered iconic pop slices and you can begin to see the appeal - both for him and the dance floor.
And all his gear fits in a backpack.
This was my submission for the 2009 "Cindy & Monty's 3-Minute Film Festival" (discussed earlier, here). We had the best time ever at this year's event – and I showed my film to great critical acclaim – but I withdrew from competition because, despite my best efforts, my 3-Minute film turned out to be 3-Minutes too long! It's a twenty-something travelogue, documenting Connor McGuire's solo month in Europe. Check Connor's website to see *his* 3-Minute film ...
I seem to be coming out of my ... I seem to be coming out of my winter!
Thanks, in part, to Twyla Tharp, who I hopefully will discuss in a later post.
Connor has posted two amazing new demos ("Be the One" - with his amazing new band, and "Brother's and Sisters" - on his own in the studio) here at his MySpace page. He's finishing up a third demo, "Give it a Name", right now. I can hear him mixing it upstairs. I went to see him at the Media Club in Vancouver last night *playing drums!!* with his good buddy Dylan Hossack. Turns out he's a great drummer too!
“i was under the impression it was close to folk, (not sure why), but i think of it as acoustic pop now. lyrically authentic, i’m jealous. the melodies aren’t as bombastic as what i usually listen to, but it’s a very sophisticated album that deepens over time. the performances are skillfully played and beautifully polished. the arrangements are perfectly refined and drive the album forward. i’m particularly fond of Whenever I Talk and Easy (great choice with the mandolin). a very honest and mature collection. i’m very glad to have a copy.”
A review from Connor’s show at the Wired Monk last Saturday:
There’s been so much else to talk about, I haven’t mentioned some of the fine musical adventures I’ve had over the last few weeks. I must start with my dropping in on Connor McGuire at the Wired Monk in Crescent Beach. (By the way, this fully licensed coffee bistro is warm, cozy, intimate, and a perfect spot as an acoustic venue.) As usual when Connor performs, people of all ages were there, on this occasion flowing out the door, and as always, lots of love in the room. Rarely have I known a performer who has such an intimate connection with his audience as he interacts with them between and sometimes during his songs. Each time I’ve seen Connor perform, the audience becomes part of the show, and before the night is done he has everyone singing along. Connor was joined by his friend Kieran Mercer to sing an original song they wrote together called “On my way”. Connor sings both covers that he makes his own and his own songs: “Sweetly Goodnight”, “You Don’t Know” and “Easy” …
For me, the way I know when someone has had a big impact on me is when I can’t get a song out of my head, and this was the case this evening as the lyrics, which he had us all singing along with him “It seems to me that either way, you’re surrounded by the people surrounding you today…” kept playing in my head for days afterwards. A unique sound, strong songs with big hooks and powerful lyrics, the audience in the palm of his hand, and a warmth that invites you in and makes you a part of a night you want to go on and on, it’s always a treat to catch a performance by this fine young singer / songwriter.
~ Doug LaChance