Don’t Let the Name Deceive You: Connor Small Does It Big
During the last week I had the pleasure to sit down with Campus Vinyl’s own Connor Small in order to discuss his experiences as a musician and delve into his “schizophrenic” musical mind. After seeing him perform live at Campus Vinyl’s Winter Jam, it was obvious, almost immediately, that not only did Connor foster a fervent passion for music, but he’s nothing short of a true entertainer (If you don’t believe me take a look at the video below). During the course of the performance, Connor rotated between bass, guitar, and drums while contributing to the vocals as HMS Pinafore delivered an engaging and entertaining set. Every time Connor picked up an instrument a symbiotic bond formed between instrumentalist and instrument as Connor fed off the vibes of his fellow performers and complimented their styles with a unique, passionate interpretation of his own. The guitar appeared to simply be an extension of self as Connor impressed the crowd with his ability to manipulate the guitar and produce a melodic yet complex and intricate sound. After being enthralled by his ability to convert emotion and creativity into music, it was rewarding to pick the brain of a contributor to the live music scene at Bucknell. When did you start playing instruments/singing and what role has it played in your life?
Music has always been a centerpiece in my life – I started singing really when I was three or four when my parents had me singing in my church choir, and then I started taking piano lessons at six. Piano didn’t really stick, but it gave me a solid foundation for when I moved on to guitar at eleven, which is really when I became absorbed into the world of music. I think that I would have had a connection to music regardless of whether I started singing and playing it, but being a musician has definitely deepened my engagement with all kinds of music, as well as giving me an expressive outlet. I also relate to people most easily through music, which is why being in a group like CV is so rewarding for me.
As you displayed at Campus Vinyl’s Winter Jam, you could easily be a “one man band”. How many instruments do you play and which is your favorite? Why?
My main instrument, and favorite by far, is the guitar. I find guitar to be the easiest instrument for me to express myself with, and digging into a nice solo is like nothing else for me. You can also just get so many different kinds of sounds from it, and I’ve spent hours playing around with different ways of producing sound from my guitars – I’m kind of a huge nerd about that kind of stuff. Besides that, I play bass, drums, piano and harmonica.
In your development as a musician, where do you draw your inspiration and are there any musical figures you would consider influences on your style?
There are so many artists I could name, but really what it all boils down to for me is the blues. The blues is home for me because it has a common base set of chords, but there is so much open space for individual expression over that base, which fascinates me. My main influences from that are Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer and Jimi Hendrix, but my musical style keeps expanding all the time. I’m very eclectic, I listen to everything from blues, to electropop like Passion Pit, and I love hip-hop, so my random assortment of musical tastes influences my style as well.
Besides being a member of Bucknell’s own Bison Chips, you also perform with recreational groups such as The Log Cabin Band and HMS Pinafore. Do you feel that each one of these groups represents different aspects of your interests as a musician?
Yeah, definitely. Every musical group I’m involved in gives me something unique, and also allows me to do something different. For example, I wouldn’t say that I have a good solo singing voice, but being in Chips allows me to sing on a regular basis. With Log Cabin I get to play a lot of classic/contemporary rock and reggae songs, and with HMS Pinafore I get to play straight blues. I also play in an acoustic duo with Sheridan Gates, which allows me to adapt popular songs to an acoustic format. That is a lot of fun for me because when I’m with a band or a cappella group I can hide behind the support of other members if I make a mistake, but when its just Sheridan and my acoustic guitar I have to be on-point because there’s nothing to cover a mistake. Each group provides its own challenges, and its own rewards.
What’s your favorite part of performing live?
The creative aspect. Music is a unique art form because when we watch or perform music, we are witnessing art being created in real time. Its also fluid – when a piece of art is hung it doesn’t change, but with music you can improvise on the spot and its never 100% perfect, which makes it more authentic for me than most other art forms. I think the improvisational and creative aspects of live music are my favorite parts, as well as the adrenaline rush from being on stage. It’s addicting.
If you could see any artist or group in concert, who would it be and why? Note that they can be dead or alive.
Led Zeppelin, no doubt. I think Zeppelin was one of the best live acts ever and I always wish I could have seen them. They were amazing songwriters, as well as live musicians who took improvisation to new territories when they were touring. They were never afraid to experiment and their music had a lot of life to it.
Follow up question; I know we all have them, so which bands that you listen to would you consider “guilty pleasures”?
I actually love a lot of the alternative/emo bands from when we were in middle school. When I first started discovering music my sister’s boyfriend, now husband, gave me a bunch of his CDs which included Yellowcard, Cartel, and Anberlin, all of whom I still listen to regularly. I also really like early Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance – From Under the Cork Tree and Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge are awesome albums. They’re all guilty pleasures, and I usually turn on the “private session” button on Spotify when I’m listening to them!
How do you feel about the current Bucknell music scene? What, if anything, would you like to change and why?
I have strong feelings about Bucknell’s music scene. On one hand, there is SO much talent here its unbelievable; I never thought that I would find so many talented musicians at a school like Bucknell, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting more and more student musicians each year. That being said, I think there is a large deficit here with the venues in which we can play, which is part of what I’m hoping CV can help change. There really aren’t enough spaces for student performers – 7th Street is nice for coffee shops, but the sound is terrible and it’s a crapshoot for having a good audience. McDonnell Amphitheatre and Smith Quad are seasonal venues, and obviously students really only perform in the recital hall for their student recitals. The Fieldhouse is fun to play, but again the sound quality isn’t great because of the size of the space and its only available to play during special events such as Relay for Life. Uptown is awesome, and I love that Bucknell is now open to serving alcohol there, but I just wish there were more places like it! So if there were one single thing I would change, it would be creating more venues for student performers to showcase their talents.
Regardless of whether or not you have seen Connor perform, I would definitely suggest you keep posted and make some time to watch him demonstrate his musical talents in one of the many groups he performs with on campus. Better yet, as Connor’s passion and talent continue blossom, it’s quite possible his sound could be heard outside the isolated campus of Bucknell.