by Robert Wilder
Here’s the way the internet works for me: My seventeen-year-old daughter Poppy, who lives in Seattle, sees a Bill Murray reference on her Tumblr feed, follows it to Contron, a twenty-year-old, low-fi bedroom singer-songwriter living in Pensacola, Florida. Poppy becomes obsessed with Contron’s music, so she turns me onto it as is the custom in our relationship. At first, I disbelieve the quality of her recommendation based on overly long and rambling titles like “i guess i’m a pretty good person sometimes when i really think that hell might exist (thought i heard you screamin’ i was dancing with my demons they’re the bad things that i like too much).” Poppy is usually right about music, so after much pleading, I surrender. In my 1920s adobe house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I repeatedly listen to Contron’s moving (and deeply sad) songs about breakups, drugs, trailer parks, and going to the moon and get so moved that I send the link to my friend Drew in Brooklyn. Drew, a music and tech aficionado, enthusiastically tweets Contron’s Bandcamp page (“This will restore your faith in humanity”) to his 16,700 followers. People who never would have found Contron’s (real name: Connor Parker) music, check out both his Bandcamp and Tumblr pages. Meanwhile, Contron records more songs in a room in his mother’s house where he lives. And I call him to hear his speaking voice (a charming mixture of Southern twang and urban slang) and to ask him the following questions:
When did you start playing music?
I started messing around, fumbling on the guitar, when I was like seventeen, but I wasn’t seriously writing songs until I was eighteen or nineteen. Midway through I was eighteen or something like that all my friends got a Tumblr. I was really just putting the songs up there to show my friends I knew on there because I didn’t want to put them on Facebook, have everyone hating, you know?
Have you always written short songs with long titles?
Yeah, I mean, that was basically it. It was, I don’t know, it’s kind of like stream of consciousness. I get the idea for the song, and I’ll just do it. I don’t want to draw it out too much, you feel me?
I totally get it. I think that’s what’s great about the music, like the song “Bill Murray’s Special Friend” is only one line repeated over and over.
Yeah, yeah, just like straight to the point like that, and I couldn’t think of anything else to say over it.
What does your Mom think about your music?
I mean like they’re pretty supportive, I don’t really show it to them that much. It’s kinda like, I don’t know, some of the stuff I’m saying, I don’t really want them to hear all of it. They’re pretty cool with it in general, you know?
From your Tumblr, it seems you have lots of musical influences. What are the major ones?
Like a lot of stuff. Modest Mouse, Elliot Smith, then actually a lot of rap music. The lyrical type of stylings of it, and the internal rhyme schemes, the multi-syllable type stuff, all came from a lot of the rap I was listening to.
What’s weird for me is that you’re featured on a British music website, you seem to have a lot of people on Tumblr and Bandcamp listening to your music, yet on Tumblr you often say you don’t have money for gas. How does that work?
(long pause) I don’t know. It’s probably a weird thing. I guess I have a mild cult following but definitely haven’t seen that much money from it yet. I mean I still get money on Bandcamp every now and then, straight, but it’s definitely still I’d say a pretty small time thing. Some of the blogs are showing me love, and that’s cool, but it’s definitely not enough to go on tour. I’ve got to wait a little while for that. It’s crazy. I don’t even believe you called me up for an interview, man. (laughs)
The Tumblr thing is interesting to me. It seems like you have a lot of different personas on Tumblr. There’s the angry Contron, the really crude Contron, the super smart Contron. I mean what do you think about that whole Tumblr thing and all the ways you portray yourself?
I don’t know, I mean it all depends on how I feel really, you know what I mean? Sometimes I just want to be the smartass and joke around, sometimes I get real on people, sometimes I’m just acting the fool. It just depends on when you catch me.
Sometimes your followers on Tumblr feel the need to give you advice, how to live your life, and sometimes they feel the need to ask your advice like you’re an advice columnist.
People just ask me weird stuff. Some people think I need help or something, and some people think I can give them answers to their problems. I’m just doing me, you know? I don’t have any answers, man. I’m just trying to deal with my own shit right now.
Well, can I ask you about all the drug references? There’s so much talk about opium and Molly and Xanax. Is that true or just part of the persona?
Oh yeah, it’s true. I mean I’ll exaggerate it but yeah, it’s all from personal experience. I guess you can say it’s an influence on my music, but I wouldn’t say it’s as big as some people make it out to be, any more than if I was smoking cigarettes or drinking some coffee. It’s what I do normally anyway, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference on it, if that makes sense.
Do you ever worry that, I mean you’re only twenty years old, but you doing drugs like that and talking about them, writing songs about them, is glorifying them for people? That someone might say, “I really connect with his music. This guy’s really cool, and he’s making great art on drugs, maybe I could make good art on drugs?”
I don’t really think about it that much. I feel like if somebody is impressionable like that, regardless of what I say, will probably end up in a bad situation anyways. I can’t really put the blame on that on myself if somebody’s gonna do something dumb. They’ll find a reason to do it regardless.
A lot of your lyrics are really sad and really dark which is moving to a lot of people, including me. Have you been in some pretty bad places in your life to write that kind of stuff?
Yeah, I was dealing with some stuff when I wrote most of it. It was catharsis, a way to get it off my chest, feel better about it when it was going on. A lot of different stuff really, regular stuff you get sad about in life: girls, of course, like always, some stuff with my family, financial situations, drug problems, my friend Terrence, he got murdered last year, rest in peace to him, being bummed about stuff you let out through music. I’m glad it speaks to people. I didn’t think people would ever be interested in it at all.
Now they are. So what’s your plan?
I’ll just see where it goes from here. If it becomes something where it could be financially possible for me to travel around and play shows, I’d be totally down for that, bro, but I’m not tripping too hard about it. If it happens, it happens.
You can check out Contron’s music here: http://contron.bandcamp.com/album/contron
You can check out more Contron here: http://contron.tumblr.com/
Robert Wilder is the author of two critically acclaimed books of essays: Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs a Drink. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, Working Mother and numerous anthologies. He has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition, the Madeleine Brand Show, On Point and other national and regional radio programs including the Daddy Needs a Drink Minute which aired weekly on KBAC FM. Wilder’s column, also titled “Daddy Needs A Drink,” was printed monthly in the Santa Fe Reporter for close to a decade. He was awarded the inaugural 2009 Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. Wilder lives and teaches in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit his website at www.robertwilder.com.