Friday, November 29

Artist Spotlight - Conrad Shiner

This melody-driven debut album from songwriter-singer Conrad Shiner takes listeners on a folk-pop ride through timeless terrain—love lost and found, dreams abandoned and begun—whose rock-and-roll engine powers effortless transitions from words spoken close and tender to laments crowed loud and raw. The Lost Decade is, at heart, American Roots Rock. It’s the story of becoming one’s own man.

Conrad Shiner is a regular guy—who’s aware that most folks don’t spend ten years writing songs at night and working in an office by day. And that tension—between the bare desire to make meaning and the nauseating suspicion that you’re an absurd narcissist—is the brave, delicate devil that makes this album simultaneously unsettling and familiar.

From the opening line of “Present Day,” in which, borrowing a line spoken by the drifter Jake in Carson McCullers’s novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Shiner sings, “I got the Gospel in me, and I need to tell someone,” this regular guy goes out on a limb and dangles his heart off the end. Drawn in by his clean melodies, poppy undercurrents, and roots rock drive, you can’t help but take him up on his dare: go ahead and let yourself be shamelessly wistful, too.

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Describe your sound in one ramble on sentence

The nice thing about my sound is that it doesn’t take a ramble-on to describe – it’s Rock and Roll – but given the implicit permission to elaborate, my sound is emotional, sung-from-the-gut Rock and Roll that you might hear being belted out from a dive bar on a back street in a strange, unfamiliar town on a warm night where it feels like anything is possible.

What inspires you to make music?

There really isn’t a specific inspiration. My desire to make music feels more like simply a part of who I am. It’s very present aspect of my everyday thoughts, like an impulse, or the feeling of being hungry – it’s just innate. At any given moment, there is a song in my head, unfinished, playing over and over with slight changes each time through until perhaps one day it sounds “right”. Creating the music from there feels more like an act of exorcism – like I’ll go crazy if I can’t get the idea out of my head and onto a sheet of paper or a pocket recorder. That said, there are of course moments of inspiration, but they’re mostly related to the bigger picture of my life at this point. I’m a relatively new father with another child on the way. Getting to know my daughter and look at the world through her eyes has been an incredible experience that is exactly like all

of the stereotypical, trite things you hear parents say. So of course this new experience has caused a decent amount of new self-reflection on life, mortality, and finding meaning in it all, which is luckily fertile ground for songwriting.

What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?

It may sound cheesy, but just the fact that the possibilities are endless. The standard that I hold for myself is that I only consider a song good if some part of it, some moment can give me chills. I figure that if I can’t move myself with my music, if I can’t connect with it in an honest way, then it would be impossible to expect that it would be able to move someone else. The tough part is, that’s a tough standard – it’s like trying to make yourself laugh with your own joke. It’s possible, but you lose the element of surprise a bit. The reason that the standard is crucial is that if it’s a good song, you may end up playing it a thousand times or more between the studio and performing and rehearsing. On that thousandth time, it’s certainly forgivable if the magic isn’t there from the first time, and it may become easy to doubt if the song is good at all the more you tire of it. However, if you know for sure that when it was fresh that the spark was definitely there, then that’s something you can rely on to tell yourself “yes, this is something that is good – it’s only my perspective that has changed a bit”. Works for me, anyway. So this is a long way of saying that I’m excited by the chance that any given day might be the day I come up with the next thing that can give me chills, that I want to hear over and over as I hone something new.

Nothing is as exciting as a new idea that you know is good, and all of the possibilities that it brings.

What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?

The toughest part for me is taking a composition once the basic gist is done – say, lyrics, structure, melody etc – and thinking about how to transform that into an actual recording. In my mind, I hear lots of things that sound great, but there are a lot of moving parts, and I don’t have the technical proficiency to play it all myself nor the studio chops to produce it all. For The Lost Decade, I was lucky enough to get to work with some very talented experienced people in bringing my vision to life. But now, I feel like I’m getting overrun with more ideas than finished products, which is a good problem to have, but it can feel a tad overwhelming in the bigger picture when contemplating the how/what/when of the next album.To combat this, I have continued to focus on the quality of the song itself, and not some idea of whatever the finished product will be. If something sounds good completely stripped down, then it’s probably got a chance to be something good. It’s when a song doesn’t sound great on its own but works a bit better only when it’s got all the window dressing that I get suspicious. There’s really only so much you can ask one song to do.

Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?

Last Goodbye, by Jeff Buckley. When he sings “kiss me out of desire, babe, not consolation” it feels like the closest thing to perfection even possible in a song. The man had the voice of an angel. Even writing this now makes my heart beat a little faster.

What's one of your all-time favorite recordings?

Hearts and Bones, by Paul Simon. It’s the title track to a commercial failure of an album that thankfully has not gotten lost to time and has gained some critical respect over the years, and it is one of the best rendered love stories ever committed to song. Listen to the words, the way he sings, the acoustic guitar tempered with a gentle rhythm that rises to a crescendo with “you take two bodies and you twirl them into one / their hearts and their bones / and they won’t come undone”. Simply amazing.

Name three people who have influenced your music, and tell us why- Living or dead.

I’ll start with the two I just mentioned. Though I can’t claim any vocal abilities that are even in the same universe as Jeff Buckley, what I have tried to emulate from him is his soulfulness, his ability to coat every word he sings with raw emotion. I don’t have a great range, vocally, and I have trouble keeping my pitch on track, but what I’ve always relied on is the ability to feel what I am singing. You can’t lean on that crutch at the complete expense of singing in key, but without the right emotion behind the notes, technical  perfection alone falls completely flat. Once in awhile there is a human that seems able to do it all, like Buckley could. Most of the time, though, the rest of us play to our strengths, give it our all, and hope it’s good enough.

And of course Paul Simon is hands down the greatest songwriter of all time. Apologies to all the Dylan and Beatles fans and whoever else may be up in arms, but in my mind it’s not even close. I can’t add anything about the man that probably hasn’t already been said better by someone else. But I can say that his much has meant more to me, personally, than anything else I have ever heard. Listening to Paul Simon as a child taught me to love music, made me understand how music could be something one could love. I don’t feel equipped with the words to even describe what that means.

Over the past ten years, one of the folks I’ve listened to just about as much as anybody else is Ryan Adams. Songwriting-wise, the guy has had his high and low moments, but overall, his highs are better than almost anyone and he has a fearlessness that I love and respect. He loves every kind of music there is, and isn’t afraid to let himself be inspired by it all, isn’t afraid to reinvent himself or challenge external expectations. He’s a creative spitfire to a degree most of us couldn’t ever sustain, but that we try to capture from time to time. Where my songwriting sometimes feels like pulling teeth, his thoughts seem to come in waves from a never-ending spigot.

Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you'd like to share with us? Tell us about it.

Right now, I have a few dozen songs I am working on, all at various stages of completion, and I am happy with my writing and excited to see where it goes. I don’t have any timelines in mind or contracts to honor, so I am trying to let the process run its course – I don’t want to force anything. Ideally, at about this time next year, I will be in a position to start work on recording my second album. In the meantime, I have a lot of writing to do, but like I said, I have more ideas than I ever have had in my life, so the process feels more like fun and less like work. I will probably try to play some shows here and there but for the most part my real-world obligations will keep me pretty close to home.

What do you like the most about Radio Airplay?

I like waking up in the morning and seeing emails telling me I have new listeners and fans from countries all over the world that I’ve never even been to. It’s incredibly surreal to me to think that my music has been heard by people all over the world. I have seen record sales and fans pop up from Spain, France, Sweden, Philippines, Israel, South Korea, Portugal, and a whole bunch of countries in South America and probably some other places I can’t remember, thanks to the wide reaches of Radio Airplay.I’m going to say it again – it’s surreal. To think that music that was in my head is now available for distribution and there are other human beings who live in places I have never even visited are hearing it and enjoying it and sharing it with their friends and now interviewing me about it – it just blows me away. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.