Artist Interview- Chris Conly

I’ve had the chance to listen to and review Chicken Barn Heroes, and after that, Chris Conly got a hold of me wanting to share his newest solo album, “Love and Protest.”  With the sound of Chicken Barn Heroes and a name like “Love and Protest,” I just had to ask a few questions.  Here are the answers (and not one of them is 42).
I first heard of you as a part of Chicken Barn Heroes, but you also have a solo career.  Do you have any other projects or groups that you’re a part of?  Would I be correct in assuming that you like to stay busy?

Ha! Busy is an understatement. The only cure for my wandering mind and unjustified work ethic is relentless creative endeavor.

I’ve worked for years as a sideman in other people’s projects, and as a supporting studio musician. This was my chance to step out.

Brooklyn is a great place to keep yourself busy as a musician and all around creative person, and when I moved here in 2007 (right before the financial crash) I’d take any gig I could get! I’ve worked Off-Broadway (Baby Wants Candy), backed up singer/songwriters on tour (Audrey Ryan, Alex Nackman) taught at band camp in the woods of Maine with NYC jazz luminaries (Gary Smulyan, Kevin Norton), co-written & produced upcoming artists (Emily Stern), led an avant-garde funk band (The Bromantics).

Currently I’m focusing on writing new songs, and refining the sound of the Chicken Barn Heroes (CBH), which developed as a vehicle for us to play through some older, less discovered tunes, as you’ll find on our latest release – “The Green EP”.

 Tell us a little about the story behind “Love and Protest”?.  Where did you record it?  What was that like?

“Love and Protest” is the result of writing and performing with some of my closest collaborators over a 2 year period, when I was working up my ability to sing and lead a band – which I wasn’t very comfortable with before this record. But I believe the best way to learn to swim is to jump in the river – so I did, and ended up making a record to document it.

I began producing demos out of my home studio in Brooklyn in 2011, while being influenced by the history and culture of the blues – from Africa, to New Orleans and the delta, up to Chicago and eventually to England. The emotional storytelling connected with me on a level that great American country music does – a conversation about a feeling or a situation we’ve all found ourselves in, be it love, loss or looking for trouble. And so I sought to blend these everyman colloquialisms with an updated message of “modern” times, reflecting everything from #Occupy Wall Street, and rising inequality in America (Meter Man), to self-inflicted creative pursuit (Satisfied) to hard-partying courtship and life on the road (Bourbon & the Bed).

We recorded all the rhythm section live, in one day at the Institute for Audio Research, in Greenwich Village. I worked with Rich Blakin, who has recorded Paul Simon, Chicago & James Taylor. We added grand piano, and Hammond Organ as well. I tracked vocals with Mike Flannery at Bass Hit Studios in Chelsea, and we worked together on mixing the record. I sent to out to Rob Calhoun in Los Angeles, one of my close colleagues from Berklee College of Music, for a 3rd set of ears to master the recording and add the finishing touches.

 How do you describe your sound overall?

The sound of “Love & Protest” blends my songwriting influences of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, JJ Cale, and Leadbelly, with the musical stylings of Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Keith Richards, and Bo Diddley.

 NYC has a history of music and art of all kinds, and being a place friendly to musicians.  How does it feel to be making folk music in Brooklyn?  Is your musical community close to you geographically, or more spread out?

Sometimes I feel a bit out of place playing older styles of music in such a fast-moving environment. But I honestly think that the warmth and intimacy of American roots music fills a void in an urban environment like New York City. It’s truly a niche, and there is an unspoken demand for it. It fascinating at times to see the reaction from the audience – utter amazement and pleasure mixed with confusion at such an exotic and natural sound. There is a space in all of our psyches for an honest musical tradition that presents a timeless sage perspective. We are a pretty tight musical community here in NYC, but I love traveling to play for new audiences, and I’m always looking for new spots to perform!

 What were the musical inspirations for the album?

Musically I was trying to fit the poetry in my head into well-known musical forms. In “Bourbon And The Bed” for example – a true story about life on the road in Appalachia – I used a familiar rhythm Bo Diddley borrowed from Latin music and introduced to the blues. A 3 pulse question, followed by a 2 pulse answer. Upon which I layered bottleneck slide guitar. “Hollywood On My Doorstep” is a simple 12-bar blues painting the picture of my walk down 5th Avenue in Brooklyn at sunset, finding a film shoot, a mariachi band, homeless beggars and a patriotic perspective of the statue of liberty along the way.

 What were the lyrical inspirations for the album?

There are 5 songs on this EP (and one bonus track if you purchase it from my website: The topic matter ranges from meeting strangers in strange town at a juke joint (Bourbon And The Bed), to the story of retired Upper East Side widow, who routinely visits her favorite bohemian saloon to catch up with her companions of a different class (Top Shelf Tina). I cover the universal frustration of never reaching our true potential (Satisfied), and make light of the inherit struggle to overcome the rigged poker game of America’s economic and judicial system. There is truly something for everyone on “Love and Protest”!

 Are you promoting any singles off of “Love and Protest”?  Do you view your albums as collections of songs, or more like a complete album, meant to be played from start to finish?

That’s an interesting question – and it’s one that the music industry at large seems to be struggling with. I write songs. I want to share them with fans. I perform them live, but then when I want to record them I feel the need to weave a thread through them, and present them with a common motive or feeling. I love albums. Some of my greatest musical memories are listening to complete albums on long drives, nothing but the open road to compete with my attention span. But the attention span of the world we live in today is only getting shorter, and I understand the need to present material in it’s most essential form. One song. One idea. I think my next batch of projects will be released individually. It makes more economic sense for an independent artist to focus on one song, than on completing an entire album. Without the support of a record label, it could take months or years to complete a project of that scope, as I found with this body of work.

 What are your plans in the immediate future?  Will you be touring alone, in a band, or both? 

I’m currently promoting “Love and Protest” live around NYC with the band from the record. We had a CD release party at Rockwood Music Hall in New York in July, and I invited everyone who played on the record to perform the EP in it’s entirety, top to bottom. Physical copies and downloads are available right from my website, as well as on, iTunes, Amazon, and everywhere else music is sold.

 Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about you?

I want your readers to know how awesome they are, and how much and independent artist like myself value their feedback. Without audiences like yours, seeking out new and emerging music, there would be no scene for new independent music. It’s essential now more than ever that artists connect directly with their fans, and Ear To The Ground Music is a vital part of that exchange. Thanks for reading – and please stream the album for free, and buy it if you love it!

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