by Jenny Kratz
It's a rainy day in Kansas City, and Andrew Connor is at work, sending back defective guitars to vendors for Musician's Friend. It's hard to imagine Connor having anything to do with defective gear; the longtime local musician has had his hand in some of the area's most loved bands over the past decade. Fellow musicians quote him as one of the best songwriters the city has to offer. And yet, the down-to-earth, laid-back guitarist has only one thing to say about why he writes music: "I can't help it. It's the thing I love."
Connor originally relocated to Lawrence from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas. "It was between KU and Evergreen in Olympia, Washington, where my brother went. I don't have a particularly good reason for why I chose KU, but I just really liked Lawrence."
In the six years that Connor lived in Lawrence, he founded one of the most popular and promising groups the area had seen in a while -- the poptastic indie-rock band Ghosty. After a successful EP and the release of their album Grow Up or Sleep In, Conner and his bandmates found themselves in a pivotal moment. And the thing the guitarist remembers most? A packed CD-release party at The Granada, celebrating and playing onstage with some of his closest friends. It's a seemingly strange favorite memory for someone whose debut full-length album had a brush with indie fame.
While recording the album at Bell Labs in Norman, Oklahoma, the Flaming Lips' frontman, Wayne Coyne, stopped by, requesting his own studio time. Instead of kicking the Lawrence nobodies out, though, Coyne and producer Trent Bell decided to let Ghosty finish their session. The resulting aftermath included Coyne's support of the up-and-coming indie band, and the Ghosty kids lent their vocals to Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell's "A Change at Christmas."
What happened next might have seemed lackluster to avid fans hoping that a Flaming Lips stamp of approval would propel the band to stardom. What happened next was nothing.
But that's not how Connor, a soft-spoken guy who takes his time to consider his thoughts, thinks of that period in the band's history. "If you're asking me, do I have any regrets, then yes. But no. I don't know. I wouldn't change anything about that experience. Just because Wayne was there, it wasn't necessarily our agent to fame. It was an incredibly cool experience, but it really was pure chance. It felt really special, and that's how you want to feel."
These days, Ghosty is mostly a shell -- a band that exists, as its former self, in name only. Connor has been spending the past couple of years in Kansas City writing new music. He admits that his sound has matured and changed. He has enlisted the help of longtime Ghosty pal Mike Nolte and drummer Bill Belzer, and together the trio have taken Ghosty back to the live-show circuit. But the driving, thriving force behind it all is really Connor, and it's a testament to his staying power in the ever-changing local scene.
For Connor, to write songs is to consider the human-interest narrative. His songs evoke life and love, as seen through the eyes of others. It's a compassionate way to write; an Andrew Connpr ballad is ripe with visual cues and heart-wrenching punch lines.
Currently, you can catch Connor -- and likely his favorite 1967 Epiphone Granada guitar -- as the newest addition in the orchestral, kaleidoscopic pop band the ACBs. He also plays bass in the multi-genre band Mary Fortune, a group fronted by married couple Jori Sackin and Laura Frank. The band, which runs the gamut from punk rock to love ballads to cinematic, Hitchcockian theme music, is an outlet for Connor's interest in music outside of the pop realm. Connor's wife, Liz, also supplies violin for the project.
Hardcore fans of Connor's music probably also remember the short-lived Fleetwood Mac cover band, Everywhere, which Connor cites as one of the most fun projects he's been involved with. This brought to mind the recent successes (and subsequent critiques) of tribute shows in Kansas City. Connor weighs in, "It's really enjoyable to have fun playing music and have people really enjoy what you're doing onstage. You're paying tribute, and you're getting to play all these songs that you've heard over and over growing up -- I think that feeds in to your creative process. It seems so impractical to put in all this work and time for one night of music that's not even original. Why bother at all? But then I think, the only reason to bother at all is that music is just so fun. I constantly ask myself, 'Why?' But you know, I think the answer is that, like I said before, I can't help it. I love it."
But all of his talent and passion for his own music making aside, on this rainy day Connor is most interested in talking about his fellow local musicians. It's a testament to how in-touch with the scene Connor is, and how much he cares about its future. When I ask him what local bands he's currently digging, he takes a long pause and thinks hard. "I think that Lazy is really great. The key thing there is that it's not boring, and they're not afraid to be not boring. Toby Terrence is the pseudonym used by Nathan Readey when he makes melodic and thoughtful electronic music, and I think his work is really great. Also, recently the band Minden has really sparked my interest. Casey Burge is a really talented dude who is not afraid to use wild ideas in his pop songs."
There may not be any big changes on the horizon for Connor, but he seems just fine with that. After all, what needs changing? With three solid local acts under his arm and an influential writing style that continues to draw critical interest and large crowds, he just may be one of the supporting beams in the musical house that Kansas City built. And it's a burden he seems happy to support.
You can catch a double feature of Connor tonight at the Brick with Ghosty, Mary Fortune, and the Sleazebeats. The show starts at 9 p.m. Check the Facebook event page here.