Connor Christian and his band Southern Gothic are fast gaining notoriety back home in Atlanta and across the U.S. Early last year, Billboard magazine tagged the group “artists on the verge.” They earned the title slogging it out on the American highway, playing an average of 250 shows a year, all the while slowly but steadily expanding their rabid fan base. And now they’re poised to release a hefty volume of songs called New Hometown.
Notably diverse NYC indie label Rocket Science—home to artists including Mos Def, Yanni and Eagles of Death Metal—is
issuing the album in February. Christian—who handles lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, and is backed by Joe Abramson (bass, vocals), Shawn Thacker (drums, vocals), Jeff Spirko (guitar, fiddle, banjo, piano, mandolin) and Elena Martin (fiddle, keys, mandolin, vocals)—plans to roam the continental U.S. promoting it.
Between business meetings, a workout and packing for yet another road trip, he explains that Billboard’s “On the Verge” tag—while certainly welcome—was a challenge. “Honestly, we didn’t see it coming. It was a lot to live up to, but I feel we’ve donea pretty good job of living up to the billing.”
The bestowing of this honor seemed to set off a series of positive chain reactions for the band. They signed the record deal with Rocket Science, acquired the power of a major booking agency and performed their three biggest shows ever, to audiences of 12,000, 15,000—even 34,000.
The bigger stages are a welcome change from the cramped confines of tiny bars and listening rooms. “I remember when we weren’t even selling out smaller clubs, playing to maybe 50 people … [at] the Somber Reptile or some place like that,” he laughs.“Of course, when we’re playing for a few hundred people, like at Peachtree Tavern, it’s really cool because they know all the lyrics, and they’re there to see you. If I want to tell a story about where a song came from, I’m not gonna lose the crowd.”
But performing for 30,000-plus at a Chicago festival is a different story. “You’ve got 60 minutes, and you’ve got to win them over, maybe sell them a record. If they don’t go home with something, then they’re bound to forget you. So you want to make sure to get a flyer or a sticker or a CD to everyone.”
Getting your music in the hands—and minds—of potential fans is the most critical goal for an emerging band, Christian says. “It’s very important to me that we go and connect with the fans and grow our base. I’ve had people come up to us at the merch table and say, ‘I have a burned copy of your CD but I want to buy one, too.’ That doesn’t bother me at all. I just love to get the songs out to the people.”
The new album from Christian and Southern Gothic is a combination of their last two indie releases. “We’ve been touring with this music for a while,” he says, explaining that a few record companies noticed the band did good business with the releases on the road. “They realized that we have viable music that people dig. They wanted to get it out there, too. That’s great because maybe 3,000 people have heard all of these songs before. But that leaves us with a good seven billion that haven’t yet.”
In today’s single-track mindset, New Hometown stands out as a hefty 18-song set, packaged with a number of bonus cuts. “When someone buys the record, they’ll get those 18 songs and two that we couldn’t fit on the record,” he says proudly. “And then there’s another eight demo versions of stuff we made when we were writing the songs. It’s interesting to hear, and as a music fan myself, I like having all the material right there in one place.”
Though he had a nomadic childhood and still sings about having a “new hometown” every night as a touring musician, the Los Angeles-born Christian has been solidly based in Atlanta for many years now. He ended up in Georgia’s capital back in the mid ’90s, when he relocated to the city to join a band that was looking for a singer. After kicking around between Atlanta and Athens in various band lineups, and even busking on the street for tips with his buddies, he eventually formed a trio called Princess and began the heavy gigging schedule that he continues today with Southern Gothic.
While firmly settled into a full-band approach, Christian still calls the shots. “Historically,” he says, “I write the songs and everybody makes their contributions. [But] I don’t micro-manage solos or leads too much.” He adds that when he was writing the songs that appear on New Hometown, he did write with a few outside collaborators, “Just to try a few things.” But of the 18 compositions, ten of them are credited solely to Christian.
Often labeled a country performer, the energetic and prolific Christian doesn’t trouble himself much with genre categorization. “To me, it’s just trying to take all of my influences and experiences and mix them together in a way that people can relate to them, and is honest and meaningful. Growing up, I had the two of the strangest favorite singers ever to be had. … I wanted to be a cross between Sam Cooke and Ed Kowalczyk of the band Live.”
“I just write songs that I think are good—and I hope other people will think so, too.”