Conner Youngblood carries a sense of home with him wherever he goes. It’s blazoned plainly in the form of paraphernalia all over his set – there’s a “Don’t Mess with Texas” sticker on the back of his synthesizer and one that boasts Yale Wrestling plastered on the keyboard. When he plays, even with all the lights dimmed except for one illuminating only him, it still feels less like a performance and more like loitering in a living room.
Even though that warm familiarity follows Youngblood, defining “home” is something he’s still not quite sure how to navigate. “Right now, home has been in my car,” he said. “That’s where I’ve been spending the most time.”
Youngblood is currently on his first U.S. headlining tour. He has been driving all around the country, kicking off in his birthplace, Dallas, and hitting almost every major city. The shows have been mostly unfettered by any sort of structural rigidity, according to the musician. “They feel real,” he said, as we sat and talked on a bench near midnight after his show in New York City.
And “real” is probably the best word to describe Youngblood’s essence. Onstage, he tinkers with a slew of instruments, piecing together the production of each song right in front of the audience. He loops layer upon layer until the venue is reverberating with a wall of sound, and then it suddenly drops into just a muted backbeat that sounds like it’s coming from the other room.
Between songs, Youngblood conversationally divulges the stories behind them or discusses logistics with the sound technician. The informality of it all makes the room feel like we’re being let in on a behind-the-scenes, voyeuristic even, glimpse at the artist’s process. For these few moments, we are invited into his world, all the way down to the minutiae: his pet dog, Juneau, weaves his way freely through the crowd during the set, then positions himself comfortably on the dog bed wedged between the jungle of instruments behind Youngblood.
Though his stage presence is low-key at most, Youngblood has no shortage of brag-worthy accomplishments racked up. He is proficient in over 15 instruments, holds a degree from Yale University, and, to my bewilderment, whipped out his flip phone during our conversation. In 2017.
But that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most curious and self-effacing rising names in music. While many lyricists stick to writing what they know, he takes a different approach and instead delves into obscure topics he has little to no previous experience with.
“I go down rabbit holes pretty deep,” Youngblood explained. “I’ve written entire songs based off of things I’ve read on Wikipedia. I did the Badlands video because I liked what it looked like based on Google images.” He tends to travel to these sites after completing the writing and recording processes – on his list are places like Poland, Louisiana, and a soon-to-be-released music video for The Birds of Finland that he shot in Norway and Sweden with a friend.
In a way, it’s a catalyst for maintaining the spirit that makes this whole thing worth doing. He winces when I mention the word “content”, as it’s probably the most overrun and hollow term that runs through creative industries today.
“That’s what happens,” he said about the tendency to diminish art to mere content. “Like everyday I get a new email that’s like, ‘We need content,’ and I’m like, ‘Fuck off.’ I’ll let you know when I have something.” Though Youngblood signed to a record label last year, he still meticulously devises his own modus operandi, from the artwork, to the videos, to the production of every song.
Youngblood’s musical career up until this point has been consistently DIY. And he plans on keeping it that way in the album set to drop early next year, the first since his 2012 record Sketches, while continuing to focus on and tighten his musicality. “It still sounds like me because I’m producing it, but the new songs are different,” he said. “I like hearing my voice more in songs. I’m trying to sing clearer with less reverb. I used to just stack layers of stuff and it was cool, but that was mostly a defense mechanism. And now I’ll just spend all day, even longer, just getting one take I like and really focusing on the timbre of my voice.”
In the last five years, Youngblood has gathered a wealth of new experiences, relationships, and influences behind him. He’s been sharing snapshots of his life on Instagram, where almost all of his photos are taken with a 35mm disposable camera. But sometimes the moment is too pressing, the memory too compelling, that it calls for a swift iPad capture. Most of those ones end up as selfies that break up his fluid film-only feed – “it throws off the aesthetic,” he said – but it keeps his online presence feeling personal and true. And as for what to expect from Youngblood in the future, we can rest assured that his approach to art is the same as his response when I suggested that he just edit his iPad selfies to blend in with everything else: “Nope. I’m all ‘no filter.’”