Photo Credit: Adam Nantz

When I first heard Conor Lee’s new single “Candyland”, I was honestly confused. Nothing about this song felt familiar to me yet I found myself completely captivated by the track. Instead of shouted vocals like I tend to go for, there were beautiful and lush instrumental sounds swirling around my head as I listened to the track. It was a whole new world for me but, once I got lost in Conor’s world, I never wanted to leave so it was a true honor to be able to ask Conor some questions about “Candyland” and everything else I could think of.

What’s your go-to coffee order?
I’m pretty basic: a medium roast with cream.

What were you voted for in high school?
My senior year another classmate and I were voted most musical.

Out of all of the venues in the Twin Cities, which is your favorite and why?
The Aster Cafe and 331 Club hold special places in my heart. Although both have very different vibes, I like playing in smaller rooms. It creates a special sense of intimacy.

How would you describe your music to your parents?
Honestly I have difficulty describing my music period, let alone to my parents. My elevator pitch is, “if an emo kid went to jazz school.” For my parents, something like, “the sounds you heard coming from my room mixed with the sounds I learned in music school.”

Favorite lyrics of all time?
I’m a big fan of “Expectations” by Katie Pruitt. That song came into my life at an important time. I particularly like, “One day, you know we’ll both be dead. So why don’t we do some living? …Wasn’t getting much out of life at all, was scared to jump so I was scared to fall. I used to think the world was pretty small, from the comfort of my room.”

What’s your favorite menu item at Taco Bell?
Sadly, it’s discontinued: the chipotle chicken loaded griller.

Who has the best pizza delivery in the Twin Cities?
This is an area of Twin Cities living that I need to further explore, but that said, Pizza Luce has never let me down.

If you could compare yourself to an animal, what would it be and why?
I recently saw an excerpt from the BBC’s A Perfect Planet on river otters claiming that they need a “constant supply of food if they’re to keep warm.” With winter on the way and as someone who enjoys eating, that resonated with me haha.

If you could have dinner with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
In high school, I was really starved for Asian American musicians. I was learning guitar and writing songs and thought, “There has to be others like me out there” but they weren’t getting highlighted in the mainstream. I was paging through KoreAm (now defunct Korean American magazine) and saw a blurb about a singer-songwriter called Big Phony (Bobby Choy). I downloaded his album Straight to Bootleg Volume 01 and listened to it on repeat. I loved how honest the music was. He served as a big inspiration and something to strive for. I posted an instrumental chord melody of his song “I Love Lucy” a couple years ago and he commented on it! I’d love to sit down with him and talk about music and life.

If you were to rob a bank, what would be the song playing in the getaway car as you escape?
Ironically, the intro theme to the Powerpuff Girls. I can only imagine that driving away to that iconic drum & bass beat would feel badass!

What’s your most regrettable tattoo? Or, if you don’t have any- what’s a tattoo you would want if you were to get one?
I’m a Korean adoptee and I’ve always wanted a tattoo that said, “Made in Korea” with a barcode.

What’s your favorite method of listening to music?
I’m still a fan of CD’s. I always loved looking through the lyric booklet checking out the artwork and album credits. One could argue you’d get the same experience with vinyl, but I like the portability of CD’s. I brought a Sony Walkman with me everywhere as a kid and my car’s old enough to still be able to play CD’s.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
I’ve been very fortunate to see many incredible touring artists since moving to Minneapolis, but an all time favorite show was seeing Katie Pruitt and her band perform at 7th St Entry. Her album Expectations is great and got a lot of plays from me while in lockdown. William Prince opened for her and he was also incredible. The audience was so quiet during his set that you could have heard a pin drop.

What’s one thing I should know before listening to “Candyland”?
Candyland is the melting pot of a lot of my influences. I went to college to study jazz guitar where I developed the beginnings of a deeper understanding of the guitar and really studied harmony. I thought being a jazz guitarist was going to be my career path but I realized that a lot of other doors were opening and available to me. Since then, I’ve spent most of my time in my professional career playing in a number of original pop, rock, and jazz groups. I learned a ton from those experiences. When it came to writing my own music, I think I felt like I was supposed to create music that reflected my time in music school in terms of the style or level of complexity. But, the kid who played along to Green Day records in his room is still in me and I wanted to let him out to play with the things I’ve picked up along the way. “Candyland” is the result.

“Candyland” is a purely instrumental track but, if there were lyrics, what famous person would you want to sing them?
It’s hard to choose, but Candyland would require a theatrical singer. The first three people who come to mind would be Lady Gaga, Marina (formally Marina and the Diamonds) or Davey Havok (singer from AFI).

I love the spooky Halloween vibe here so let’s talk Halloween– What did you dress up as this year?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t dress up this year. Top favorite 3 costumes from years past though: a Hashtag, Yoko Ono (my friend was John Lennon), and Ke$ha.

What’s your favorite candy?
I’m a sucker for Peanut M&Ms.

There really are a million different vibes that come through in “Candyland”. What was in your head when you were writing this?
Truthfully, I was in a bad headspace. I wasn’t taking care of myself and the lockdown exposed all of it. I couldn’t hide behind being busy anymore and was really burnt out on everything. After spending so many years working towards being a musician, I didn’t want to throw it all away so I was looking for a remedy to fall back in love with music again. I thought back to when I was happiest as a musician and it was long before I ever thought about pursuing it professionally. At that time, I was content as a bedroom guitarist and I didn’t care about being “good.” I started to revisit albums from my past. I compiled a list of songs that I could listen to over and over again and asked myself two things: “What is it that makes me want to listen to these songs on repeat?” and “How much of that shows up in my own music?” There was a clear disconnect. Not to say that I wasn’t passionate about the music I had written previously, but I think I was trying to please this other voice in my head. I started to close the gap with my previous release, “Dusk” and kicked it up a couple notches with “Candyland.”

As a composer, I wanted to focus on writing music that was composition focused rather than having this epic solo in the middle of it. I had put out a jazz fusion record a couple years ago, and although I’m still proud of that record, I just remember stressing so much about the solos. I didn’t want to repeat that again. “Candyland” felt more like I was writing pop music for a guitar instead of a vocalist. Sometimes folks are surprised, but I’m a big defender of pop music. There’s a time and place for listening to music created with a deeper meaning and there’s a time and place to party. I think both are equally valid. With “Candyland,” it was sort of a personal challenge to cram as many of my favorite things from my influences as I could into one song.

Where were you when writing this track?
I was in my girlfriend’s apartment. She’s also a musician/guitarist and I was messing around in Logic while she was teaching a piano lesson in the other room. I found a fun drum loop to write to and the main riff sort of fell out of me. I had never really written anything like this before and I knew I had something special.

Right now, “Candyland” is a standalone single but could we expect a full EP or album sometime soon?
That’s a great question. I’ve dreamt up different EP or album ideas, but right now I think I’m going to focus on releasing singles. I love the idea of albums and EPs, but I’m not so sure about the general public. Although I don’t like contributing to that trend, I think more new people will hear my music through releasing singles rather than an album, but never say, “never!”

How many hours in a week do you practice?
While I was a music student in college, I used to practice for hours a day. For the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing on writing and completing my own music so my practicing is looking a lot like maintaining rather than exploring new areas. I know a lot of musicians like that, we have two modes: writing or shedding. I’d say I get a couple hours a week in though.

Anything else you would like people to know about you and your music?
I’m embarking on uncharted territory. It’s exciting, fun, uncomfortable, and scary all at the same time. I have more music on the way and I truly believe it’s my best work. For the people who are taking the time to listen and support me, thank you. I hope there’s something that I write that you can dance, cry, or study to.

I know that Conor started off this interview by saying the words “pretty basic” but that clearly only applies to his coffee order. Conor is a man full of passion and heart which not only comes through in his music, but also came through loud and clear with all of his answers to my quirky questions. Sure, we may not get a full release from Conor right away but I know that I will be using “Candyland” and any future singles he releases as a soundtrack to my life.

Conor Lee on Instagram

Conor Lee on Spotify

Conor Lee on Bandcamp

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