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“You could give me back my innocence and I wouldn’t give a shit. I could stay the same or make the change... Sucks I have to choose” - “The Rose” One listen to Connor McLaren’s debut album, the aptly named INNOCENCE, and it’s as if you’ve known this 21-year-old heartland kid your whole life. “Bob Dylan doing a line of Oasis with a shot of Sublime,” is how young McLaren describes his multi-colored singalong story-songs. He fuses ‘60s and ‘90s beats with classic-rock tropes and keening post-Beatles harmonies. All of it sprinkled with a breezy island ska-reggae vibe thanks to his family’s annual pilgrimages to Jamaica. His origin tale is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend. Growing up north of Indianapolis, the baby-faced troubadour/storyteller with a halo of blond curls was 14 when he first heard Ben Kweller’s “Lizzy.” The stripped-down love song inspired McLaren to pick up a guitar and write songs of his own. “I had a full-on, goosebumps, out-of-body experience when I heard “Lizzy” for the first time,” he says. “I went back and listened to every Ben Kweller song I could find.” Cut to seven years later, and Connor McLaren’s debut album is being released on Kweller’s indie label, The Noise Company. McLaren’s childhood idol not only performed and co-wrote many of the songs, but he also produced them at NoiseCo Studios located in Dripping Springs, TX. It was a long and circuitous journey that started with the two connecting over Instagram, followed by years of McLaren pestering Kweller until it evolved into a full-fledged mentorship and collaboration. “It was such an amazing experience just learning how to write songs from him,” says McLaren. “I can’t tell you how valuable that has been for me. He makes it so much fun in the studio. It’s like fun chaos!” “Working with Connor brought me right back to my first days in a professional studio,” Kweller reminisces. “He had that wide-eyed enthusiasm and wanted to learn everything. We wrote song after song, and the process put a smile on our faces every day. One of the most satisfying things as a writer is when you find that perfect melody and lyric, and we did that over and over again just sitting together in the barn. That dude truly has his finger on the pulse of his generation – he knows what his peers are going through, and his songs reflect that aesthetic more than most artists his age.” McLaren’s come a long way from busking outside his favorite rock clubs, hoping to get generous contributions to his “Weed Fund” tip box. Now he’s headlining those same clubs, selling hundreds of tickets throughout the Midwest. INNOCENCE is McLaren’s path from adolescence to adulthood, knowing that you must leave the former for the bittersweet losses of the latter. The album opens with, “Cliché” – which from the get-go sounds like an unknown White Album outtake and subverts its title with the clever opening lyric “looking through stacks of needles for hay” with the chorus disclaimer (“It’s me/it ain’t you”). “Lemonberry” is a break-up song that Noel Gallagher would’ve killed to have written, named after a hard-to-find cannabis brand. The acid-rock blues of “Candy Rain” combines the dizzying rush of “Helter Skelter” with a dab of Mike Posner – while the psych-folk “In My Eyes,” is a heroes ode written specifically for the late great Kobe Bryant, that sounds like an old damaged cassette tape and occupies the spiritual ground between The Band’s “The Weight” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Rivers of Babylon.” The centerpiece of the album is a yearning acoustic ballad called “The Rose.” It was this song that grabbed Kweller’s attention in the first place and ultimately led to their collaboration. “Just My Mind” summons the glam und doom of Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” or Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” with its metaphysical musings about anxiety and neuroses, while the wide-screen orchestral climax of “Victim of Your Crime” proves the ultimate apocalyptic vision of Donny T’s short vulgarian finger on the nuclear button. In the end, INNOCENCE leaves us on a redemptive note with the quasi-spiritual “Miracle” and the healing title track “INNOCENCE,” a word that McLaren had been kicking around as a creative emblem since he was 15. “If I could talk to a 14-year-old me and tell him what was going on, he’d lose his mind,” laughs McLaren about everything that’s happened to him on his way to INNOCENCE. “I used to dream about being in this position. It’s magical, but it took five years and lots of hard work to get here.” Fellow singer/songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan is another fervent supporter. “Connor McLaren has delivered one helluva debut album, and I believe every word he sings. He’s one of the best new artists going, and I’d shout that at the top of my lungs standing on Liam Gallagher's dining room table!" Finally, Connor McLaren has earned his INNOCENCE. Time for us to take it from him as he sets out to play “anywhere and everywhere.”



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