Returns home with debut album and tour around the corner
There may be people out there who hear the name Conner Snow and still draw a blank. After this summer, guaranteed that’s going to change.
Conner’s current singles, “Runaway” and “Going Down,” are getting a lot of airplay from local and California radio stations, and his debut album, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” was just nominated for a 2019 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for “Contemporary Album of the Year.”
Want to see what the excitement is about? Take a few minutes to view the exquisitely shot video of “Going Down,” available on YouTube at www.youtube.com /watch?v=rltYXzpucH0. Filmed entirely on Maui with the aid of high-school friend, videographer Sebastian Sayegh, a graduate of New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Conner chose his favorite Maui locations for the shoot — but don’t ask him where the places are, he’s keeping them secret.
Currently residing in Los Angeles, Conner returns to showcase the album for his hometown fans at 7:30 p.m., Thursday in McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
Accompanying him will be fellow Mauians drummer Calvin Canha and bassist Kamana’o Kane, guitarist Evan Khay from Oahu, and songwriting partner and keyboardist Jake Smith from San Diego. Pat Simmons Jr. will be opening that night.
“Pat Simmon Jr. is one of my brother’s oldest friends. I grew up going over to his house as a toddler,” shared Conner. “He’s always been a talented musician from a music family.
“To now have a guy like him opening for me at the McCoy? It’s still kind of hard to believe.”
The youngest of dentist Norman and homemaker Sonia Snow’s three children — along with brother Erik and sister Jade — Conner explained he was an avid reader, video gamer and sports fan, in that order.
“I had an amazing childhood, thanks to my wonderful parents,” remarked Conner. “If it wasn’t for the fact that my brother was such an avid athlete, I probably would have spent all my time reading and playing video games.
“I consumed books at an extraordinary pace, something that I believe contributed to my love for storytelling and songwriting later in my life.”
Like many Maui youth, Conner’s first experience with playing music came during middle school. It’s common for ukulele to be part of the elementary and intermediate school curriculum in Hawaii.
“I wouldn’t even characterize it as ‘studying music,’ “ mused Conner. “We were just playing simple songs for fun, really. It wasn’t until age 14 that I discovered Jake Shimabukuro on YouTube, and really threw myself into music for the first time.”
Blown away by Shimabukuro’s cover of the George Harrison classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Conner admits he became obsessed with learning how to play that song. He spent nearly three months watching the video over and over before he was ready to play it in front of his mom.
“I still remember the look on my mom’s face when I played it for her for the first time, the mix of awe and confusion because no one in my family even knew I was working on it,” recalled Conner.
He proceeded to learn all of Shimabukuro’s music, and at age 16 his parents bought him a guitar. Not long after, he started singing and writing his own songs.
“It was easy to see the budding talent that Conner had as a singer and musician when he was a student, and it was exciting to see him discover that for himself,” noted Seabury Hall Hawaiian Ensemble and Ukulele Teacher Jon Toda.
After graduating in 2011 from Seabury Hall in Makawao, he started down the dutiful path of college-bound studying. An opportunity to play varsity soccer at California Lutheran University in Simi Valley led him to the West Coast. Erik was living in California at the time and offered a family connection to the Mainland.
“Music had always been a dream for me, but I felt compelled to focus on school,” Conner explained.
After freshman year, he returned to Hawaii to be closer to family and enrolled at University of Hawaii at Manoa but the lure of California grew too strong, and he returned and tried to enroll at Santa Monica City College.
Fortunately, fate intervened. On the first day of his second semester there were issues with his registration, and he couldn’t register for the classes he needed.
“We recall getting a phone call from Conner after he showed up at Santa Monica City College for what would have been his second semester,” remembered Norman. “He had just decided to go back to school, and to our knowledge had given up music.”
“My response to him was, ‘Maybe you are meant to be doing something else. Take some time to think things through,’ “ added Sonia. “Within hours, he called back and said, ‘Mom, what I really love in my heart is music.’ “
She and Norman had always told all three children to discover something that they were passionate about and figure out a way to make a living doing it. It was clear by then that music was that passion for Conner.
“There’s your answer,” Sonia recalled telling him, and Norman agreed wholeheartedly. “Jump in with both feet and give it your all.”
Conner admits by his second year of college he had changed his major three times. Not feeling any closer in terms of knowing what he wanted to do with his life and becoming frustrated by his apathy towards school, he attended an artist intensive for singers in Los Angeles that summer that was recommended by his vocal coach, Joy Fields.
“That experience was eye-opening and formative for me,” remembered Conner. “It made me realize that there were plenty of people out there just like me, incapable of reconciling their passion with society’s expectations.”
Suddenly, the thought of a career in music became feasible with a lot of time, effort and a bit of luck. He readily acknowledges, however, that getting a start in the music business has been brutal.
Up to that point he had a clear cut path to success– if he wanted to go to college, he needed to get good grades, do extracurriculars, get good ACT and SAT scores and stay out of trouble; if he wanted to pursue a professional sports career, he needed to train hard, attend camps and stand out in a tournament.
“Music was this whole other beast, this shadowy trophy in the middle of a shrouded hedge maze,” he observed.
Conner actually quit music for about six months and went back to Santa Monica City College, but quickly remembered why he went after music in the first place and commited himself to it fully.
Conner wrote all nine of the songs on “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” Each song is an easy listening, pop exploration of love and loss.
From the opening track, “Fame,” about the well-worn tale of the costs that come with celebrity, to the reggae-tinged “Runaway,” his observations of life around him are backed by pleasing melodies. Other selections deal with breaking up and living through the loss of a relationship. Those lyrics feel deeply personal and yet are welcoming, affording a sense of empathy with the listener.
The track “Queen” is one that shows much understanding of what women deal with in our society. His mom deserves thanks for instilling such respect in her son.
Romantic imaginings and flirty admissions of attraction weave through “Eyes Closed” and “Change My Life,” while the 1970s rhythm and blues and ’80s funk-inspired final tracks, “Can’t Get Enough” and “Diamond,” pick up the album’s pace and reflect the wide-ranging mark of Conner’s musical influences.
When it came time to record his first album, Conner chose Sea Major Seven Studios on Oahu. Already planning on a return visit home with family, he was offered an opportunity to record at the Oahu studio by Canha, who is his sister’s significant other. Canha also agreed to co-produce the album.
Kawika Veeka at HI92 FM gave Conner the break he needed on the radio last August when he started playing “Going Down.” As people began to realize it was his song, he started getting innundated by Instagram messages.
“People were just like, ‘WHAT?!? YOU’RE ON THE RADIO?!?’ marveled Conner. “It was a pretty incredible feeling. It felt like a breath of fresh air, a taste of validation that let me know, ‘OK, people are seeing it and hearing it and responding positively. Let’s keep going.’
“Those little victories are super important mentally as an artist; they keep you motivated to move forward.”
Conner remembers watching Bruno Mars perform at the MACC in 2010. It was the first time he felt deep down he’d be performing his own music up on stage one day.
Growing up on Maui has bestowed Conner with a kindness that is unique for someone who wants to have a career in the music industry. Extending aloha to people he deals with is a rarity in an industry filled with individuals who just want to take and use others.
“Moving away made me realize how strong the sense of community and family really is, how the idea of ohana extends the borders of your ‘loved ones’ far beyond your immediate kin,” he recognized. “I grew up telling my friends and family that I loved them all the time, and it wasn’t until I left Maui that I truly realized how uncommon that is.”
That unguardedness shines clearly in his music and writing, and makes him stand out from the typical 20-something male.
“I’ve prided myself in being someone who simply wants to treat as many people as I can with respect and love,” noted Conner. “That alone has gotten me pretty far, and I attribute that to my upbringing on Maui.”
For anyone who believes in “overnight success,” trust that the overnight is plural and encompasses perseverance and many rejections and restarts. Conner readily admits when he was 19 years old and dreamed of being a musician, he had no concept of what it actually entailed.
Now as an adult, he more fully appreciates the experience and growth it has taught him. Grateful for the people who have stuck by him and their faith in him and his abilities, Conner maintains a humility fostered by his loving family and friends.
“He was able to take his passion for making music and channel it impressively in many directions,” noted Seabury instructor Toda. “He also has a lot of creativity, so it’s not surprising to me how far he has come musically. I predict he has a bright future ahead as an artist.”
“No matter what your goal is in life, no matter what career you choose or what field you study, remember to aim for greatness but practice goodness. Often times we forget that greatness describes the scope of our skill, not the content of our character,” concluded Conner in introspection.
“Remember that at the end of the day, getting ahead at the expense of your character isn’t getting ahead at all, because people you burn will probably get an opportunity to return the favor eventually.
“Treating people with respect, recognizing those who go to bat for you, expressing your gratitude to those who don’t often receive it, leaving every room brighter than you found it — those qualities are what will make people want to see you succeed . . . because nobody gets to the top without some help, and nobody wants to help someone who only wants to help themselves. So aim for greatness, but practice goodness.”
* Catherine Kenar can be reached at email@example.com.
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Conner Snow performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in
McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Pat Simmon Jr. opens. Tickets are $25 (plus applicable fees) and may be purchased by calling 242-7469, visiting the box office or going online to www .mauiarts.org. The album, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” is available on all digital platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon music and Google Play.