premiere: conner youngblood talks teaming up with nylo for ‘everyday’
As the Texas-born multi-instrumentalist shares his first new music of 2017, we discover why he wants to hang out in South Korea and make horror film scores.
It's a little funny to think that in 2017, the most exciting thing happening in contemporary music is the use of real instruments. Of course, many radio hits still boast minimal trap beats, or infectiously simple electronic arrangements. Yet, across genres, artists are pursuing fuller sounds. Drake, Future, Migos, and Kodak Black have all recently released bangers incorporating flutes. Devonté Hynes and Kelsey Lu are leading the charge for the cello. Innovative Leisure labelmates The Buttertones and BadBadNotGood take jazzy horns in bold new directions (the former infuses sax in surf riffs; the latter has made collaborators of Earl Sweatshirt and Kaytranada). Long Island brothers The Lemon Twigs are energizing rock with ornate 60s melodies, while rapper Mac Miller tapped an entire ensemble of Juilliard students for his most recent record, The Divine Feminine.
Singer, songwriter, and prodigious multi-instrumentalist Conner Youngblood isn't one for trends, nor for outside influences in general. But, having mastered some 30 different instruments since first trying the clarinet in his school band, Youngblood's richly layered sound feels at home in this dynamic landscape. The first piece of music he's releasing this year — brand new single "Everyday" — is no exception. In L.A. without his gear, Youngblood hit up Guitar Center to build the track's full-bodied sound. "I bought a four-string instrument called a quatro, which is kind of like a bass ukulele, and a little six-string mini guitar," he explains. "I also got a charango, which I use a lot in my music; it's a 10-string little instrument from Peru, and is what I wrote the song on."
Typically, Youngblood begins by playing with a loop pedal, often trying different vocal effects to develop an initial sound that inspires him. "If I get a good 15-second loop that I think sounds cool, I'll write a song to that, then drop it into a program and start really flushing it out." Recently, he's been doing things a little differently — kind of working backwards. "I've been start on the program itself, Pro Tools, and using bits from a bunch of older songs, previous works — like a second of something I've done before that I thought sounded cool, but in the background of another song. I'll build a brand new track from a click of a snare head or metal jingle," Youngblood explains. "I've done that for the past three or four songs continuously, and it's kind of been fun. Changing the keys, changing the tempos. The sound itself ends up being unrecognizable by the end."
The six tracks that form The Generation of Lift — the EP Youngblood self-released in late 2015, re-released last year by Counter Records — enshrine these elastic vocals. Like Moses Sumney and Bon Iver, Youngblood manipulates his voice as if it were another instrument, sometimes inflecting it with saturated electronics, at other moments laying it bare. Vocally, "Everyday" is a little more straightforward, but punches up the energy with sunny, shimmering strings that move into a swelling rush of drum hits. Youngblood's evocative yet experimental approach is what attracted its vocal collaborator — the Nas-endorsed Nylo — to working with him.
"I actually met Conner by hearing his music echoing out of an office in Epic Records. I ran in, overwhelmed by joy that there was music without a dance, four-on-the-floor style kick pattern for once," she tells us. During this initial meeting, Youngblood discovered Nylo is also from the Lone Star State, and grew up in Dallas as well. "Over the next year, whenever it would be holiday weekends — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter — and we were both in town, we'd get together and write something, usually just at my house," says Youngblood. "After we came up with the melody, we'd both sit on opposite sides of the room, have quiet time for an hour or two, then read each other what we wrote."
Youngblood is presently based in the historic hub of American singer-songwriters, Nashville. He spent some time in the Northeast while attending Yale for wrestling and architecture (though he ended up with a degree in American Studies — another story entirely). Youngblood's body is often in the South, but his mind is always elsewhere. His music tends to deal with places and spaces — more often, the locations he hasn't physically visited. "I will literally get on Wikipedia and Google Images and just be fascinated for hours, and then end up writing something based solely off my imagination, or a picture that I saw," he explains.
After trekking to South Dakota's ruggedly breathtaking Badlands to make an epic music video for his song of the same name, Youngblood spent last year touring around Northern Europe with Aurora. The rising Norwegian singer-songwriter's ethereal yet piercing vocals nearly made Frankie, i-D's Assistant Music Editor, cry. The pair traveled through Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, where Youngblood spent a week and a half during a break in shows. "Mostly I just like touring to see the places. Even if you only have a day or two break, you have to take advantage." Where would he most like to visit? "South Korea. I like all the movies from there, the food...I like pretty much everything I know about it!"
Speaking of movies, Youngblood says he's presently developing a film score. He's got an album in the pipeline, but isn't putting too much pressure on himself to set a date. "The creative writing gods inside my head move pretty slowly." Film scoring, he's found, keeps his many talents engaged in a fresh, new way. "People in the movie industry are like, 'Okay, show us what you can do as an example to a script or film of your choice, and do like a mock score to it.' So I've been doing this horror movie score," says Youngblood (in keeping with excellent South Korean exports). "I don't know if it'll be used for anything but it's fun, and kind of going well, and something I've been enjoying a lot." If no one wants to use it for their film? "I'll just make one up."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Train Doolittle courtesy Conner Youngblood