Artist to Watch: Connis’ Honest, Homegrown Hustle

A trip through the things that made and changed Connis, broke him and put him back together: Moving out, moving on, catching vibes, thinking realistically, friends, friends, more friends, travels, new perspectives, history, home, and more.

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Connis, the stage name for Cambridge, Massachusetts rapper Connor Donovan, released his debut album, Conn(is), on his birthday, March 24th. The date of his birth might not define him in the astrological sense — Who the f are you, don’t try to tell me who I am. Told you I’m an Aries, and you tell me who I am” — but it most certainly defines the day he dropped an organic, vibrant, soul-baring album for his own sake (and for us too).

F*** horoscopes; Connis presents his story, in his words, in his own way. His storytelling is vivid and wildly personal, yet it resonates with anyone through its honest approach.

Conn(is) - Connis cover art

Conn(is) – Connis

The 13 tracks take you on a trip through the things that made him, changed him, broke him and put him back together: moving out, moving on, catching vibes, living emotionally, thinking realistically, friends, friends, more friends, travels, new perspectives, history, home and a whole lot more. Recorded and produced in a night or created over the span of months, each one of the 13 tracks are unique in where it was recorded, the friends and fellow artists who collaborated on it, and it’s over all vibe. As he said himself, “I’ve had people tell me I make music they can cry to and mosh to.” It’s goofy and it’s heavy hitting – it’s human.

Atwood sat down with Connis to talk about his perspective on the Greater Boston Area music scene, what it’s like being an independent artist, his goals for the future, the inspiration for the album, and what it took to create it. A must read for forever fans, soon to be fans, and especially anyone looking for insight on the truth of the hustle.

Connis © Marika Belamarich

Connis © Marika Belamarich

:: MEET CONNIS ::

What does the greater Boston area music scene look like from your perspective?

Connis: I’ve been performing and making music since I was 16. Back then, all you could really do as a local rapper is open up for artists on their tours at the Middle East and other places. When I was younger I opened up for Asher Roth, Pac Div and Moosh & Twist and other artists. Boston is funny because 90% of the people who are in the Boston scene aren’t from Boston. I’m not from Boston. I’m literally right next to Boston but when you grow up right outside of a city where things are happening you identify with it and you want to be a part of it. So there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s interesting calling someone a Boston artist. I think it’s better to say a Boston-based artist, but then again most people aren’t even living in Boston.

Who’s making the best hip hop music in the greater Boston area?

Connis: Brockton is making the best Hip Hop music in Massachusetts easily. They’re pumping out the most sh*t. My friend Packy is from Brockton.

Can you tell me a little about what it looks like to release a debut album as an independent artist?

Connis: Well, being signed means that you have a team you have people who are putting in work for you so that you can make the music. It’s easier if you have money, but I don’t want to reduce it down to that because there are so many incredibly talented people that do this all on their own with absolutely no backing.

As an independent artist, for me, it’s a blessing and a curse because I have creative control over everything and I do everything on my own but… I do everything on my own. I have a manager who’s my best friend that I grew up with. I’m still responding to my emails, I’m still making press kits, I’m still doing all this sh*t on my own so, it’s nice to be able to be like— there’s no fat in this, it’s really me— but it’s also exhausting.

Do you see it being sustainable?

Connis: I think the goal for me personally is to start my own label and get backing from more of a bigger label so I have more resources. I think it is sustainable though, DIY artists do it forever, it’s just a different kind of hustle. I had to take a break from making music in the process of putting out my album because I had so much other shit to do. I didn’t have time to sit down and work on something new. Hopefully in five years from now I’m not doing it in this exact same way and I have more of a team and more backing.

Connis © Adam Gourabou

Connis © Adam Gourabou

What’s your process like for writing? Do you carry around a notebook? Are you constantly thinking of/writing lyrics?

Connis: That’s like the scariest question because it is literally always different. For me I hit and miss so much. I’m constantly working on things. Some of those songs were written in a day made and recorded in a couple days, some of them were made over the span of a year. I think the music itself and the process coincides with the content because it was all over the place. There’s never one way for me. Sometimes I lock in and I can get it all done and other times I just don’t feel it.

When you say get it all done what does that mean?

Connis: Growing up and making rap music, for years and years, I would write down verses physically or type them in my phone. I don’t think I wrote down any lyrics for this album. All of them were just compiled over time. You can still write things without writing them down. They just kind of exist in your head. And then they can drive you crazy a little bit. My process starts with the sound, the melody, then I’m like okay what does that make me feel, what are the first lines that come to mind, what are the first feelings that I get and then I go from there. It’s always changing and that’s the only way I can stay inspired. I have to keep pushing myself.

What is it about your music that resonates with people?

Connis: There are rap critics who have always followed me, I’ve been low-key doing it out here for 8 years, but a lot of people are just now hearing me because it’s my debut. Some people say “New Orleans” (the last track on the album) is their favorite song and I just would not have guessed that because it’s so personal and emotional but it just goes to say that people just resonate with honesty. Especially with the state of rap music today where people are just talking about a bunch of bullshit (and that’s fine because I listen to that bullshit too) but I just knew that with this first album I want people to see me clearly. I can get creative and weirder from here. I wanted to be straightforward and transparent. That’s why it’s just called Conn(is).

I think what people like most about me as an artist, is that I’m not afraid of opening up. Everybody has their thing, but discovering it within yourself and then not being f***ing scared to just do it. Anything that you do, that is done by your own terms, comes from your mind, is art. Especially in this crazy time there needs to be more room to talk and open up a dialogue about things and I think I just reached a point where I stopped giving a f*** about like what people think.

The best music comes from when its just the artist telling their perspective and not trying to tell a story that caters to a listener. At the end of the day, I’m so happy that people are enjoying this album but I made it for myself –  I made it because I had to, for my own sanity, my way to cope. So it’s dope to me that people can relate to it and resonate with it.

Can you talk a little bit about “I’m Home” and “New Orleans”? They seem like the two pillars of the album, why have you ordered them first and last?

Connis: “I’m Home” was the last song to get finished, but it existed in my head for two years. I had such a specific idea for how that song was going to come out that I was nervous to record it. “New Orleans” is a story that was writing itself for years and years. Those two tracks are the last two songs to get recorded for similar reasons— How do I paint this the exact way I see it in my head? When you sit on something for so long you really envision it in a way. To me, I played around with so many different orders of songs but all of them started with “I’m Home” and ended with “New Orleans.”

If I played my whole album for someone and they are like okay you just showed me 13 songs write everything you need to say in one song—that’s “I’m Home”. It’s me putting my best foot forward. It’s the album’s thesis statement.

In terms of “New Orleans,” it’s hard to talk about the stuff I talk about on the album, let alone write a song, make it rhyme and then put it out there for everyone to hear. My good friend Grant was like: “New Orleans” has to be on the album and it has to be on the outro because like you just said it all. That was just a song I had to write for myself and it became clear to me it had to be on my album when is started finishing it up and im putting every piece of me in here to this date. It’s the last piece. This song is storytelling of a love that’s existed for years and years but it took me one more interaction to really tell this whole story in one song.

Connis © Adam Gourabou

Connis © Adam Gourabou

Who are the features on your album? Who did you collaborate with and why?

I just have my friends on there. For my debut album I just want to get my friends on it. Originally it was just going to be kids from Cambridge: Soap.Wav, Max, Rothstein, and Gogo. But so many more contributed to the album production wise: bby._j, Amir Rivera, DOC, Ricky Sour, Shepard, Yang., Elijah Fox. I did some type of production on every song besides “Change Me.” That was produced by Ricky Sour. He’s from Cambridge.

This was definitely an in-house, family type thing— all these people are my friends.

How does it feel now that this huge project is now out there in the world?

Connis: The reception has been dope. First and foremost, before anything else, the most rewarding thing about releasing an album is when you just have a random person hit you up and say some really deep shit to you and it makes you say wow I really just made something that had a profound effect on somebody’s day or somebody’s life. That is the most special part. It’s such a relief to have it out.

Watch: Thank U For Flying – Connis

You released a short film with the album, Thank U For Flying, was the short film influenced by the album or vice-versa?

Connis: The album influenced the short film. I shot all of it except for the clips I’m in… obviously. I wanted to give some kind of visual representation to the album. It opens up with the shot of the sun, and that was shot in Barcelona, Spain. My goal was to make it so that it feels like you’re on this journey with me. I incorporate a part of every song on the album in it.

I just liked the idea that the first time someone hears of me, they click on this video about the places the people and the sounds that inspired the album. That’s why it’s called thank u for flying — it’s like we are taking off together and thank you for being on this journey with me. It’s a thank you to the people who have shown me all this love. It’s the visual reel that plays at my shows now.

What’s the story behind the album cover?

Connis: We shot the album cover photo in Abiquiú, New Mexico. It’s this place called Plaza Blanca which is a recurring place in a lot of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art. She lived there and her museum is there. There’s also a Muslim organization there like within the mountains (Dar al-Islam). It’s a very spiritual place.

If the album sounds like anything it sounds like I made it to the top of a mountain and I need to f***in’ lie down. So that’s what I’m doing on the cover. What’s sad is that I had a sick idea for the back cover: I thought I’ll take all my clothes off and put them exactly where I’m lying on the front cover and I’ll take the same picture. The idea is that on the back it will look like I ascended and my clothes are still there. But when you have a disposable camera sometimes the counter is off and so it didn’t come out.

It’s just a very special place out there. You can feel it in the air.

What’s next?

Connis: I still have videos that I’m gonna roll out that I’ve been working to get premieres on but like on shit what do I do from here. I can kinda do anything but that’s kinda scary like what my next move, when do I release my next song you know?

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Conn(is) - Connis cover art

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📸 © Marika Belamarich

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Coco Rich

Coco Rich is a 22-year-old goof who recently graduated from Muhlenberg College where she studied English and Music. Originally from Seattle, WA, she is currently living just outside of Boston eating, writing and wandering.