With much support from those closest to him, Jon Conover developed an early enthusiasm for the art of song writing and performing. Playing everywhere from Ireland to California, Jon returned to Nashville to record his latest project, Keep Believing (Nashville Sessions) EP , which was released this past November. Jon kindly took the time to talk with us about his journey, the EP and what's ahead.
You formed your first band in high school, so did you know early on that music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
I took chorus in middle school, which as we know, is basically a way to get out of other classes and have a break during the day. There was a young girl there who heard me singing under my breath and told me ‘hey you have a really nice voice, you should sing out.’ And you know, I’ll never forget that because I didn’t think I could sing. That was the first time I gave it a second thought. Then I started taking the words I’d written and turning them into songs and becoming more interested in the guitar.
I was in my first band in high school. Some friends convinced me to sing in the band for a talent show. However, when the time for the show came around, they had to come and drag me out of my basement to go do it because I didn’t want to show up! I didn’t realize that I had such bad stage fright, but like anything, when it came down to the moment I figured out the truth of the matter. The minute I got on stage and we started the song, the stage fright went away. The show went really well and we were off to the races!
I went off to college and had people telling me what I should be doing, what would be a good career. So I went from computer programmer to attorney and ultimately ended up in restaurant management. Throughout all of that, music was the one thing I never quit on. It was the constant in my life. I was always in a band so I thought ‘why am I not doing this full time?’
So you decided to follow your passion?
You know, the word passion originates from the Latin word for sorrow or suffer and what people don’t realize is that your passion will become something that will take a lot of effort. Anything in life that you want to be successful at will take a lot of effort, so really, why not do something that you love.
Did you start writing at a young age as well?
I started writing when I was eleven years old. However, I didn't take anything too seriously. I worked hard for things, but when things came easily I did not apply much effort to try and master them. I would get good enough and move onto the next thing. Once I was out of college, I realized that I wanted to really master things and do things to the best of my own personal ability. It really wasn't until the last six or seven years that I really have dug in and committed myself to practicing the guitar for hours every day and finding out what it takes to bring it to the next level.
Your musical sound seems to be ever evolving. Who would you site as your influences?
David Gray, Ray LaMontagne, Amos Lee, Paul Simon; going back there is Jim Croce and Bob Dylan. I have always been drawn to songwriters. I like and respect bands, but I just never found myself at the store buying their albums. I always found myself in the songwriter's section. I'm inspired first by what people say and then dive into the melody behind what they're saying. I like to make that distinction of where that comes from. With young songwriters you can tell people were inspired to write things, but they haven’t necessarily lived them. As one gets older songs become your life and come from a different place--and that’s what inspires me about songwriters.
How did your travels and time in Nashville, Ireland and California influence you?
Those were experiences that, I don’t even know how that stuff happened. I look back and it all went so quickly, but still feels like I have lived a couple lifetimes. Those travels taught me that the little space in front of us and around us has very little bearing on the rest of the world. Our way is not the only way. Everyone of us has to go places and meet people to get stretched out, to grow, and to form a sense of empathy and compassion for what other people go through. The only way to do that is to make yourself vulnerable. I read somewhere that if you want to get inspired then you should go do something that makes you feel vulnerable and/or insecure. Travelling has done that for me. If you go on vacation, you more or less take the time for granted to purely enjoy it, but if you live somewhere then you are really at the mercy of the people around you and your surroundings. You can't take them for granted because they have to be utilized. Living in Ireland, I wasn't in my own culture and that taught me to appreciate silence and to be more of a sponge; that has become a part of what I do in life and my craft.
Your third record Keep Believing (Nashville Sessions) was recently released. Talk about making the record.
The first time I went to Nashville, when I was still in school, I learned a lot of lessons. This time was a totally different story. There are a lot of people there now who are ready to collaborate, there is a great vibe and I really fell back in love with the town. After what I felt like was one of the worst shows of my life, I changed my perspective to focus on what I was working towards and keep believing. It's easy to become selfish as a musician, but if you're causing pain to those around you and if it's not coming from a place where it is about everyone and 'I have to be doing this,' then it's gonna cave in on you. I had that enlightening moment and a month later I was in a nice recording studio working on this EP. It was my first experience co-producing and it went really well. Every time we hit a wall I didn't let the negativity break me or affect the camaraderie of the people in the room. Everyone was focused on getting it done and we felt that if the listener heard that we loved what we were doing, they would love it too. The whole thing was an amazing, blessed, magical experience. That's the only way I can describe it.
On this EP you are exploring a country and bluegrass side to your music. What led to that?
That happened on accident. I always wanted to work with Ben Probus [The Band Perry, Mark Chestnut] so when he had some time off of the road, he agreed to come into the studio with us. He came in and asked me what I wanted to do with the song and I told him to play his take on them and we’ll go from there. He came in on Keep Believing and suggested we go a certain way which changed the tone of lyrics and made the songs a little more lighthearted. A lot of my songs can be either fall or winter and it was nice to have some springtime this time. So we went in that direction and I learned so much. It was cool to dip my toe in the water.
You recently released a video for the song "Keep Believing." What is the story behind that song?
All songwriters have their low stories. My Dad had to have three heart surgeries in two years and there was all kinds of stuff falling apart. To have a moment of encouragement and hope was a life changer for me. It’s easy to say keep believing to someone, but I didn’t want it to be a corny song; I wanted it to really mean something different and I think that comes across.
Now that the year is coming to a close, what are your plans for 2015?
I would like to record a few more three song EPs. I want to do them in areas of the country that I have spent time in: LA, NY, and Chicago. This idea has got me full of energy because I can feel it and see it happening. It will be along the same vein of what we did in Nashville which is kind of Americana.
Is Americana the genre you see your music finding a home?
It’s easy to say I am a singer songwriter, but I think Americana is where I fit in. I love elements of country and gospel and southern rock. I think if you put all of those together you come up with Americana, but it also has to do with the layering of sounds and instruments. I like the fiddle and lap steel and would even like to have accordion on the next EP.
Finally, I always like to know, is there one recent record that you cannot stop listening to?
The New Basement Tapes that T Bone Burnett recently put out. He took some really cool artists, like the lead singer of Dawes and Marcus Mumford, whose voice quality I am a big fan of, and just made a cd with a lot of cool stuff going on.
Purchase Keep Believing here
For more information visit his official website
Find him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter
Born and raised in Weleetka, Oklahoma, Amber Hayes grew up influenced by the iconic female entertainers before her. Amber's first foray was in theater, and after landing numerous parts, she was cast in 2008 as Kathy Twitty in the nationally touring Conway Twitty production, Conway Twitty: The Man, The Music, The Legend… The Musical. In 2010, she released a six song EP, C'mon which had two Top 40 singles. She also had her music featured on the television show Hart of Dixie and in the movie Cowgirls N' Angels. This past November, Amber released a new EP, Running Out of Memories. She graciously took the time to talk about the EP, the importance of honoring the past and what's ahead
You are an accomplished singer, songwriter, actress and theater performer. Which one came first?
Actually, music came first. I grew up in Oklahoma and started singing on stage when I was five years old. Even though I did other things, such as acting, country music was always a part of me and ultimately what I knew I wanted to do. When I was 15 asked to come to Nashville to perform on Midnight Jamboree with Jean Shepard. I really fell in love with Nashville then and it became more apparent to me that singing country music was what I was supposed to do.
What in particular drew you to the country genre?
You know, I am big story-song girl and I love country music because of its lyrics and real life stories. A lot of people don’t like their grandma and grandpa’s music, but country music is what I was raised on and I love it! I still enjoy other types of music but I have that soft spot for country [music].
You have said that you admire artists such as Reba, Dolly and Barbara Mandrell. Are those women whom you would like to model your career after?
Absolutely! Growing up in Oklahoma, Reba was all around and I would always go to her shows, both in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I always knew that I wanted to have a show like hers; to be able to perform and put on a show that when people left they would say “what a great entertainer.” It’s the same with Barbara and Dolly. They played a big part in me wanting to do all the things that I’ve done. In addition to those women, I am a huge fan of Conway Twitty, George Strait, Garth, Trisha and Jamey Johnson as well.
In your songs, the listener can definitely hear traditional influences. Is honoring the past in your music important to you?
Yes, that is a big part of who I am and what I want to do as an artist. I love traditional country music and always reflect on the people who came before me. As a young artist, I hope that tradition is something that I can keep a hold of in my music. I want that to be part of my musical story. I know the format is changing, but I think there is room for people who still want to play, and believe it is important to play, traditional country music.
Your EP Running Out of Memories was released in November. Why did you chose that song title as the EP title?
Running Out of Memories was one of the songs that I co-wrote. When I see those words, I think that, good or bad, memories are things that we are never going to run out of, so I thought it made sense to use for the title. It’s a title not only for the listener, but for me as well. It hit home for me because I’m still on a journey and whatever happens, I know that you have to see the good in everything. i am trying to enjoy the ride because the journey is so important.
On the topic then of memories, is there a positive memory from the past year that you can reflect on?
Well, on a personal level, I got to spend a week with family in D.C to see my great uncle receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. As far as my career goes, being able to work with Bobby Terry on this record was a high point for me. I have known him for years and have always loved his production. We saw one another out at a show and got to talking. He was saying how he liked what I was doing and asked if there was anything he could do, to which I said yes, you can produce my record! So that’s how it happened. He also played everything on the first three songs of the EP. He just blows me away!
You co-wrote a few of the tracks on the EP. Do you enjoy songwriting and is it important for you to have a song you wrote on your records?
I love writing. Even when I was younger I loved to write. When I moved to Nashville, I figured out really quickly that writing, especially co-writing, was a huge part of country music. Like anything that is new, writing was hard at first, but I love it now and am very glad people encouraged me to write. I feel like it has enhanced my life by giving me a different outlet.
To be honest with you, it is cool to have one of my songs on my records if it is good enough to make it but, and I learned this from being around Conway Twitty, all that really matters is if you like the song because if you like it and it is a hit song and you pass it up because you didn’t write it, you would feel awful. There are such great songwriters here in Nashville and I think we need to embrace them.
Where can fans catch you perform?
Shoot I’ll go anywhere! (laughing) I have toured internationally and was recently in the south. I performed in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma over the past month, which was kind of crazy busy, but great! I love playing live shows; on stage is where I feel most comfortable. I was really shy at a young age, then Grandma sent me to dance and I started singing. The first time I was on stage I was like a totally different child. People said, “oh my gosh who are you!?” (laughing) I felt, and still fee, very safe onstage, knowing it is where I am supposed to be.
With the year winding down, what are your professional plans for next year?
I hope I can write and record more music to have out maybe by the summer of next year with a single out in the spring. I would love to hop on a tour and one of my personal goals is to play the Opry.
Lastly, I always love to know, is there one recent album that you cannot stop listening to?
Yes, yes, yes, yes!! I love Dierks Bentley’s Riser album and cannot get enough of it! You know it’s one of those albums where it’s just been a permanent fixture in my cd player in my car. The songs are all great, the production is great and he sounds great! All around it’s awesome!
Purchase Running Out of Memories here
For more information visit her official website
Find her on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter
A California girl with a Nashville heart, Sandra Lynn launched her career in April 2014 with her self-titled debut EP. Since then, Sandra has opened for Kenny Chesney, and performed during CMA Fest as well as at local Nashville venues. In addition, her Trey Fanjoy directed video for her debut track, "You Belong," has attracted over 100,000 views on YouTube. Recently, Sandra Lynn released a brand new single, "Afterparty," which can be heard on Sirius XM's The Highway as a Highway Find. Sandra was kind enough to talk about the story behind the song, collaborating with Ross Copperman and more!
You recently released a new single, “Afterparty.” What is the story behind the song?
I went into the studio with Ross Copperman, who recently worked with Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban and Brett Eldredge. We had a batch of songs, mostly with the theme of relationships, that I really loved. "Afterparty" is really a song about going home at the end of the day, every day, for the rest of your life, with that person who is your best friend. It's about that someone who you have that spark with and can have fun with no matter what you are doing together.
Was there anything specific that drew you to the song?
Ross brought the song to me, which he wrote with Nicole Gallyon and Jana Kramer, and the first time I heard it I fell in love with it. Besides really loving the theme around the song, I feel like "Afterparty" gets to show a different side of me from some of the music that I had previously put out. It's edgier, more upbeat, and melodically, I just love it.
This year you have worked with an impressive list of collaborators including Ross, Trey Fanjoy and Jay DeMarcus.
Yes, I am very thankful and feel very blessed to have gotten to work with such amazing people! I had been such a huge fan of their work; so then to be able to talk direction with them and hear their excitement about working with me--it's been amazing. Every single collaboration has been wonderful!
Sirius XM's The Highway started playing "Afterparty" as a Highway Find on November 26th. What does their support mean to you?
It is amazing! I have to tell you, the song started playing on The Highway the day before Thanksgiving and both my husband's and my family were in town. We had the station on and we all got to hear the song at once; it was very special!
Having the song on The Highway is like a dream come true! As a listener, I am a fan of The Highway, so to have my song played as a Highway Find is just incredible! John Marks is an amazing man who loves new artists and is so supportive, not only new artists, but females as well. I am so very thankful and grateful that they're spinning my song.
Your previous lyric videos were really well done. Will you have a lyric video for "Afterparty?"
Yes! I do have a lyric video for the song and we plan to announce the premiere date very soon! The video was directed by Justin Nolan Key who has worked with Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift and is just incredible! When we spoke, I told him my ideas of where I wanted to go and how I saw the lyric video happening. He put all of those ideas into a treatment, bringing specifics to it with awesome ideas. I think he did a fantastic job!
"Afterparty" was not on your recent EP. Will there be a new EP in the new year?
Right now, we are focusing on "Afterparty" as a single. We are encouraging the fans and listeners of The Highway to tune in, request the song and let them know what they think of the song. We're still working on the direction of what is coming next, but as things progress fans will be kept up to date on my website and social media.
Is there one thing you most want to accomplish professionally in 2015?
I would love to be able to hop on a tour! Sara Evans and Rascal Flatts toured together this year and I keep saying I hope they do it again, because they are both artists that I have been a fan of forever! That would be a dream scenario! I also hope to put out new music, a new album and more videos. Those are definitely some of the major goals for next year!
Purchase "Afterparty" here
For more information visit her official website
Follow Sandra on Twitter
Find her on Facebook