A decade after discovering his talent for music when he picked up an ukulele and taught himself to play, Maui singer-songwriter Conner Snow has proven himself a dynamic and brilliant musician. With the release of his debut album, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” Snow showcases his passion for musical diversity with a an innovative pop sound that is a unique and refreshing addition to the local music scene. Get to know this wonderful as we celebrate the launch of her first project!
First of all, mahalo nui for sharing your story with us, we are so excited to feature you on Pikake Pursuit! Let’s set some groundwork for our followers and give them a bit of insight into your story. Tell us a bit about your background with music and your journey to get where you are today.
Thank you! Well, interestingly enough I didn’t grow up in a musical family, music happened to me in a very unorthodox and organic way. I picked up the ukulele when I was about 14, mostly from taking ukulele class in middle school. It wasn’t too long after that I discovered Jake Shimabukuro, the ukulele master, by watching a YouTube video of him playing his rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park.
I decided right then and there I was gonna learn that song no matter how long it took me. If you know what video I’m talking about, then you know I’m not kidding when I say I find my younger self absolutely insane for deciding to learn that song with less than a year’s worth of ukulele practice under my belt!
But I did, and about 3 months later I had it down pat. 2 years later, my parents bought me my first guitar and I discovered John Mayer, which led to a very similar process: this time though, I devoured every song of his I could find, and when I was done with that I moved on to local artists we’d grown up listening to like Justin Young and The Green, and reggae artists like Gentleman and SOJA. This was when I really started performing, and for the next 2 years I played at restaurants, school assemblies, events, block parties, grad parties, weddings. Anywhere I could.
WOW, you are a tried and true self-taught musician! when and how did you eventually decide to make music your career?
When I left for college, I thought that was sort of it for music and put it on the back burner. I studied music for a semester but it took the fun out of it, so I changed track. 3 years of college went by, and at the end of it I was nearly depressed. I had continued performing here and there, wrote songs pretty often in my dorm room (when I should’ve been studying), but the idea of a music career still hadn’t taken hold. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibility because I was still thinking in terms of school, and the school system that was supposed to give me answers as to where my path should lead had only left me with more questions.
Time turned those questions into frustration and self-deprecation. My vocal coach convinced me to go to this music camp in LA, where I ended up meeting my friends Elliott and Jake, who would eventually become my manager and songwriting partner respectively. They got me asking myself “Well...what about music?”. When I finally asked that question, it was like everything finally clicked. I realized I’d had this… THING inside me that was trying so hard to find the light of day, but my own preconceptions about life and profession were keeping it down.
Once it broke the surface, I knew what I wanted: I wanted to move to L.A. to pursue music. It was almost like I’d known the whole time. It took awhile, both to make the plans and then convince my family that I was serious about this admittedly risky venture, but eventually I up and left to San Jose, California and moved in with my brother Erik. About a year and a half later, I finally made it to L.A., and I’ve been here ever since.
You just returned to LA after recording your debut album, If I Knew Then What I Know Now, in Honolulu at Sea Major Seven Studio. What kind of music would you describe it as and why did you title it as such?
This is always a pickle of a question for me. The truth is that there isn’t a single genre that wholly encompasses what this album has to offer. I call it a pop album because that’s the brand I want to build, but it contains the different flavors of music that comprise my interests and background as a musician: funk, R&B, singer-songwriter, power ballad, reggae, soft rock. I know that seems counterproductive to a lot of people; How do you market something that can’t be put into a neat little package? But to me, that’s exactly the point. This album is a glimpse at who I am as a person, and I’m not something that can be codified into tidy categories. I’m human.
As for the title, I wanted the name of this album to be something that intimates growth and progression. This project has been an insane journey for me, from its conception to its upcoming release, and I wanted that sense of progress to be very clear in the title. What I love most about “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” is that it invokes a different meaning to every person who reads it. Everybody has their own unique journey, and simply saying that phrases causes you to look back at your own life and go “Wow, I can’t believe I did that” or “Damn if I only knew that would lead here”. That introspection is super important to me, not only because I think it’s essential as people to learn from our past, but also because it gets people to bring their own experiences to the table when they listen to the album.
What was it like returning home to Hawaiʻi to dedicate yourself to recording your first album?
It was equally exciting and scary, to be honest. Hawai’i is in my bones, the same as it is with anyone who was born and raised there. It will always be my sanctuary, but I’ve known for awhile now that it’s not where I need to be at this moment in time. That’s why I left in the first place, because I was determined to launch myself out of my comfort zone in order to grow. So coming back for an indefinite period brought an unexpected series of anxieties.
I worried that I’d feel a little trapped, that it would be hard for me to separate the boy I was when I left from the man I’ve become since. Turns out, my fears were mostly unfounded. I realized that just because I was coming home didn’t mean I was taking a step back. I came home as someone new, with a different perspective and appreciation for Hawai’i that bolstered my creativity instead of hindering it.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced throughout the recording process?
Personally, one of the toughest things I had to learn to do was decide when something is finished. I’ve always known that I’m a consummate perfectionist but gawdDAMN, it’s never given me the trouble it did during this process. I mean as an artist, you’re 1000% invested in your work emotionally, physically, financially. It is quite literally an extension of you, so you want to make sure every part of it is precisely how you envision it. Having the confidence to step back, listen to what you’ve done and say “Yup. Thats correct, lets move on” is really difficult, and in the beginning of the process I had a hard time with that.
A give a ton of credit to my producer Calvin Canha in this respect, he really was amazing at giving me the space to experiment while knowing when to step in and say “I think that’s really strong” or “Hey, let’s give it a rest and come back to it”. He really helped me gain confidence in my own musical sensibilities and not look so much for validation from outside.
What was it like recording at Sea Major Seven Studio?
Amazing. Really amazing. The space itself is incredible, the studio just feels like the type of creative space that helps foster creativity. A lot of studios go for this very spartan, minimalistic atmosphere and I understand that as well. But Sea Major has real vibes. Beyond that, the Sea Major crew are just awesome people. All talented musicians with great ears, they’re the type of guys that you can bring an idea to and they’re first reaction is to say “Dope, lets it figure out”. That’s exactly the kind of energy you want around you when you’re in the creative process.
You recently released your first single, Going Down, along with itʻs accompanying music video. How has it been received?
The reception for the Going Down video has been absolutely overwhelming. The day it went up was the happiest moment of my music career so far, not only because people had such positive things to say but also because it felt like they really identified with what I was trying to communicate. It was the first time that I had something to show people that I had really put blood, sweat and tears in to, so to have it be so well received was a dream come true.
Who did you partner with to create the vision for your video?
I partnered with my friend Sebastian Sayegh, who I’ve known since I was like 10. He’s an NYU film grad and an absolute WIZARD. It was such an honor to work with someone like him, not only because of his immense talent but because he was so great at working with me throughout the whole process. I kept wanting to just completely take my hands off the wheel and let him do his thing but he was adamant about hearing my creative input, even if my thoughts weren’t exactly precise. Plus, we’ve been friends for years so we had an awesome time running around our home and doing all the things we like to do as Maui boys.
Where was it shot and how did you decided upon the locations for the video?
The whole video was shot on Maui, and the locations were comprised of all my favorite spots on the island: the crater, Makawao forest, two of my favorite beaches which will remain unnamed (lest I get reamed by my Maui community for giving up the gems). I went with these locations because they’re the places on Maui that I feel most connected to, the most at home when I’m back on the island. They’re also sort of unusual in that they don’t portray the stereotypical perspective of what Maui is, the “white beaches and palm trees” aesthetic. I really liked that because I wanted to show a more honest side of Maui, the side I identify with and that someone from the mainland wouldn’t expect to see.
Your single has been receiving major Maui love from HI 92.5 playing in rotation on their local station. As a new artist how does it feel to have your first single receive so much support at home?
Oh man, that’s been totally surreal. First off, I really didn’t expect it to make it to a radio station, ANY radio station on Maui. I figured it was just too different from what people there are used to. Then 92.5 picked it up out of the blue and all of a sudden, I’m getting texts and DMs from family, friends, even people I haven’t spoken to in years. They’re jamming it in the car, at work, even out on the boat!! It’s so wild to me. Going into it with sort of meek expectations definitely made that response even more overwhelming, i’ve gotten emotional because of it on several different occasions. But that’s par for the course with me, I’m a sap.
One of our favorite songs in the album is a track titled Queen, which has a clear message of female empowerment. What was the inspiration for the lyrics and message of the song?
So when I wrote this song, the hashtag #MeToo movement had just started to go viral on social media. I was reading all of these stories about women and the struggles they’ve endured, from sexual harassment to the gender pay gap. It got me thinking about my manager Elliott’s little girl, Elouise, who is now 4. With so much disheartening information coming to light, I asked myself: “What do you say to a young daughter as a father nowadays? How do you prepare them for a world that has been seemingly so skewed against their favor?”.
I thought about my own experiences growing up in a very matriarchal immigrant family, being raised by a mother, sister, aunties, and cousins who are all fierce, intelligent, ambitious women. The whole idea of female empowerment was almost alien to me because in MY family, the women are the dominant force. I mean shit, anyone who’s ever had the misfortune to cross a Filipino woman will understand the biblical wrath they can inflict upon you. That’s not to say that my father or my uncles were brow-beaten sidekicks by any means; to the contrary, the men in my family are equally strong, intelligent, and ambitious. They’re just proud of the women, proud of their strength, savvy, and courage. Not once in my life have the men ever treated them as anything less than equals, and took every opportunity to encourage, enable, and empower them.
After pondering all of this, I realized that I was really lucky to come from a background where feminism as an ideal was obsolete, and I had this urge to say to all women “I believe in you. I’ve seen your power, I believe in that power, and there are many others like me who feel the same”. That’s how I landed on the idea of “You are a queen”. It encompassed all the traits I would encourage a daughter to strive for: compassion, grace, intelligence, wisdom, strength, courage (I’ll admit that I was thinking of Queen Daenerys from Game of Thrones while compiling those traits) . Once that idea materialized, the song took me under an hour to complete, start to finish.
Your sound is unique to Hawaiʻi as it is often described as being more “mainstream.” Has growing up in Hawaiʻi influenced your music, and if so, how?
Absolutely. The main thing that growing up in Hawai’i instilled in me as a musician is that all songs should draw real connections and inspire honest emotions. I grew up listening to a ton of reggae and a ton of Hawaiian music, both of which are very honest types of music. In reggae, it’s pretty rare to hear what I call a “throwaway song”, which is a song that is fun but doesn’t really doesn’t contain much substance lyrically or emotionally. In Hawaiian music, I think that type of song is actually impossible to create because the language itself is inherently poetic and draws so much meaning from context. So both of these genres had a big impact on my early development as an artist and songwriter because they impressed upon me the importance of vulnerability in music. If you’re not trying to connect to people, to say something they can identify with and FEEL, then what’s the point?
One of your strengths as an artist is your talent as a songwriter. Have you always been interested in writing how did you develop your skills as a songwriter?
You know what’s funny is that I never took writing as something I really enjoyed growing up. I just thought I liked it because I was good at it. Getting assigned a paper in school was always a relief for me because I was confident that I could pump out an A paper with my hands tied. In retrospect, however, it’s the other way around: I was good at writing BECAUSE I liked it.
I’ve always enjoyed words, having grown up a voracious reader as a kid, but never really had a medium to employ that interest. I loved stories, but writing them was just too involved. I didn’t have the attention span for it. I think that’s why I took to songwriting so readily. It was a way for me to tell a story without actually writing a whole story. To that end, I loved the critical thinking aspect of it, because you’ve only got a few dozen syllables at any point to take an idea and distill it down to its most fundamental parts. I found that to be a really inspiring challenge. I still do.
As far as developing my songwriting, there’s only one foolproof way to get good at it: write and write and write. Find whatever system or motivation that works for you, that gets you behind the guitar or piano and puts a pen in your hand. It can be the same song for 2 weeks or a different song every day, as long as you are putting in time developing a song. If it’s not exactly the same way other people do it, that’s okay.
What artists are you currently listening to and inspired by?
Hmmm Maroon 5, John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, JB Cooper, Allen Stone, Alessia Cara, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Shawn Mendes, Neyo, Usher, Mac Ayres, The 1975, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder…I could go on!
Do you have any fellow local artists that have mentored and inspired you?
Izik has been a big inspiration of mine. He sort of took me under his wing when we first got a chance to hang at the ASCAP Expo last year. He’s really helped show me what it means to be fiercely and unapologetically yourself (if you know him, you know what i mean) and I love him for it. I’m also really inspired by Evan Khay and Keilana, those two are really freaking talented musicians and they’re creating some unique stuff. I can’t wait for them to put out their projects!
As a proud Maui boy, coming home must always be a highlight. What are some of your Maui “musts” when you are home—places to go, activities to do, places to eat etc.
Lets see. Always have to hit the beach (obviously), usually either at Baldwin or down in Kihei/Wailea. I try to hike the crater at least once a year because that’s my favorite place of ever. I also try to get out to Hana to hike or camp and go to my favorite black sand beach. I go hiking upcountry too, up in Olinda or Kula. I definitely always hit Tamuras for poke, Komodas for stick doughnuts, Pukalani Superette for chili chicken, Ululani’s for shave ice, Tin Roof for a mochiko chicken bento and Nuka for sushi.
You enjoy being outdoors, hiking and going to the beach. Where do you go to unwind at home and what grinds do you bring with you?
I can’t tell you, otherwise my friends will murder me for revealing our spots. But we always have poke, pipikaula, chips, and beer on us pretty much everywhere we go.
What is your go-to shave ice order?
It changes every time honestly, I like trying new flavors. But whatever the flavors, it always has to have haupia cream or condensed milk at the very least.
Lastly, where can we find you and keep up with you as you prepare for the release of your
You can find me on my website, www.connersnow/com, and can download my album on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify!