Savannah Conley On Making Feelings Her Full-Time Job

Surprise, Surprise is Savannah Conley’s new EP that, without a doubt, will soon become the backbone to her robust, growing music career.

At first glance, you will find that introspective narratives and musical elegance shape all of who the superbly talented Savannah Conley is. In reality (and through purposefully diving deeper into the 23-year-old), you’ll be humbled to find that she’s just as perfectly imperfect as the rest of us, with moments of immature dramatics and equally necessary and unnecessary word vomit.

The folksy pop singer-songwriter whose Nashville roots were the building blocks to her career finds truth in her own experiences. Whether or not being authentic is her goal – in both her personal and professional life – or if it’s just in her blood to be so vulnerable and reflective, Conley is true to herself. Every ounce of her talent that the world is slowly, but surely being blessed to come to know is based in genuine personality and intoxicating musicality. Chatting with the rising star is light, airy, and easy – because she is, at her core, real.

Nashville is quite the music city, so for you, how has Nashville shaped your approach to crafting your music and storytelling?

I think any place that you grew up shaped you, and obviously Nashville is a very specific microcosm of artists. I grew up 30 minutes west of Nashville, so it’s pretty, pretty rural, but it’s also close to a pretty metropolitan area. I spent a lot of time going back and forth and I think in that aspect, I got to experience a lot of different stories of other people. I went to public high school and it was filled with a lot of farmers, a lot of farmer’s kids, a lot of just blue collar workers – and that was really great. Then my family, we’re artists and musicians. There was a lot of juxtaposition. Obviously, in the South and the area that I grew up in, I think I missed out on some diversity that I could have gotten in other places… but I think that’s slowly happening in these places, finally. When I was growing up, there was little to no diversity and that’s definitely something I feel like I was missing. But as far as getting to experience juxtapositions of two seemingly similar cultures, the rural country world versus a metropolitan area – regardless of if it’s in the South or not a metropolitan area – is very different. It was good to be able to experience both of those things. It definitely informed my writing – and at the time where I was growing up there, the new indie rock scene was just coming and artists like Jack White and The White Stripes, they all moved to Nashville. I was like 10 and 11 when that was happening, just discovering that I was a person, and all of a sudden there are these like rock Lords moving into town and I’m like, “This is the best thing to ever happen to me!” I think that that era of time was really cool to be able to grow up in and see that change or shift from being a one trick pony town to including a lot of different things.

Just from listening to your music and really throwing myself into these stories that you have crafted from your own experiences, I found layers of emotion that were immense and immaculate. How important is it, to you, to impart such evocative and truthful messages through your art?

On a scale, probably most important. I think that for me, I have friends that have artist names or artist personas and that works for them and it is authentic to them in a way, but that’s something that I’ve never been able to see for myself. I think it’s probably just because I’m a bad faker. I’m a horrible liar. I am horrible, I have zero poker face. Really if you’re going to go all into something, you have to be real, at least in my experience. If you’re going to go all in, at least go all in being truthful and being yourself, because then, at least you fail doing exactly what is true to you. There’s nothing that you could be like, “Well, I should’ve done this, or I should’ve done that,” because you were just doing what is in your part to do. It sounds overused, but it’s true. It’s pretty important to me to tell stories that apply to me because it’s my experience, so I can sing it the most truthfully. That’s a connection point for songs. I remember being like 14 or 15 and hearing artists like Feist sing about their adult problems, but being able to apply it to my own life like, “I’m so adult, my problems are real, what do they mean?” That’s really important and informative. If a song of mine can apply to cross-generational problems and if it can make someone feel seen, then absolutely that’s going to be the most important to me.

You’re so right. I think that you used a good word to describe that, which is connection. I think connecting to your art is just as important as the fans connecting to your art.

Sure. It’s kind of like anything else, if you’re doing it for you only, what’s the point? It’s like you’re just going to go home and live by yourself in your own mind. No, there are other people in your life. Your life is going to revolve around others and others are going to revolve around your life, so it’s all just as ecosystems feeding off of each other. It’s then pointless to live just for yourself.

Going off of that, Your EP, Surprise, Surprise, is less than 10 days away from being released into the world. What do you hope your ever-growing amount of fans take away from it as compared to your first EP?

I don’t know [Laughs]. I try not to have expectations just because once it’s out of your hands, it’s out of your hands. It’s kind of similar to what we were just talking about: things are going to mean something entirely different to other people and who am I to say, “No, no, no, this means this in my experience. It means ABC,” but it might not be that in your life. Most of these songs were written now, and I’m in my early twenties, which is a weird time of life where you’re like a baby adult – that is basically the best I can put it. You’re not a real adult, but you’re not a kid. You’re not like a teenager, but you have some debt. You’re making adult decisions for yourself, but you still don’t know what the hell is going on. I think that aspect of not having it all figured out and things still mattering – like relationships and in my experience, dumb boy problems, – it’s like that kind of stuff is still important, even though you’re making adult decisions. I’ve always kind of been embarrassed of how much those things affect my life and how that’s what I write about. I’m like, “God, there’s so many things happening in the world. So much stuff I could write about, but here I am writing about a stupid person,” you what I mean? So, I think giving credence to your dumb thoughts and your relational thoughts are still important. I write kind of tongue in cheek a lot of the time because it feels so stupid to be so dramatic about relational issues. If I could have people take something away from this, I guess it would be that your problems are valid. I see you in your dumb relationship issues and it’s all kind of silly and it’s all still hopeful, but it’s okay to be sad for the time being as long as it’s going to get better.

Photo by: Sophia Matin Azad

Yes, absolutely. That’s what makes your music resonate: the music needed, modern relatability. There’s an evident sweetness, too, in your sound, but also rawness and vulnerability that is deeply rooted in your entire collection of songs. What is your process in getting a song, so powerful and real, record-ready, and off the ground?

I wish I had more of a system. It kind of depends if I’m writing alone or with other people. If I’m writing alone, it is definitely just when inspiration strikes. I’m a word vomit person in general. If I’m writing by myself, chances are I’m just now processing something that has happened. I feel like it takes me a while to process things, but I know I’m slowly getting over it if I’m writing about it. That’s usually my alone process; just sitting and painfully going through words in my mind. It’s a lot of word vomit with that system or a way of writing, but then if I’m writing with someone else, usually it’ll just come from conversation – whatever is on anybody’s mind, whether it’s something that applies to both of us just by chance or something that happened to the other in the past that we can both resonate with. I’m lucky to get to write with badass writers and producers that just really are incredible at what they do. It’s a lot to make feelings your job. It’s weird, but it’s fun at the same time. Often, it’s mainly me just focusing on the lyrics and then moving on with building out the instrumental movement or whatever. Sometimes, if it’s a total collaboration on lyrics, melody, whatever, I’m a player. I don’t contribute a whole lot in that instrumental way, because I would rather hear anyone else play. 

Collaborating with people who are genuine and creative, like yourself, is always a wonderful experience, but I do think that word vomit can be very reflective and cathartic, too. So I’m all for that, as well.

Yeah. Well I’m glad, because that’s something I’ve always been privy to.

I do want to talk to you a little bit about streaming services, which might sound weird, but I truly think that your budding and well-deserved stardom has a lot to do with the traction you’ve had on places like Spotify. People all over the globe are discovering you through a variety of really intriguing and wonderfully curated playlists. So because of the way things grow these days, do you have more of a focus on single and EP releases or is there a full-length LP still on the table? Because as much as I personally wish we live in an album oriented world, I don’t think that’s exactly where we’re at.

Fortunately, in and out of these opinions, my mind changes every day. I think with records, to me, it has everything to do with time and where we are generationally, but I also like to think that to write a whole record, you need to have cohesiveness and it would be a story in my mind. The outside listener might never know, which is awesome, but for me, I think until I have a full story that I feel like needs told from top to bottom I’m not sure that I’ll have an LP. At the same time, if it’s a sonic landscape where you listen to all the songs and sounds like all of them need to be a record, then it should be. I think it’s just an intuition thing really. These days, if you want to release a record, you can do that in so many different ways. You can do three EPS that build up to a record, release that record, and then you sell the vinyl of that. Or you can do two EPS at six songs a piece and it’s a 12 song record. Or even a slower release of all 12. There are no rules. I’m kind of in the mindset of, “I’m not married to the idea of records only. I’m not married to the idea of bowing to the streaming model.” It’s different for everybody because there’s no right way to do things anymore in music, which is both terrifying and liberating.

Surprise, Surprise is out NOW on all streaming platforms! Keep up with everything Savannah Conley by following her on Instagram and keeping tabs on her stellar Spotify.