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Connor Christian & Southern Gothic at Blue Rooster: interview

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Connor Christian PR

Connor Christian, lead singer of Connor Christian & Southern Gothic, which performs Friday at Blue Rooster in Sarasota. COURTESY PHOTO / JASON POWELL

Connor Christian & Southern Gothic have spent the past three years headlining clubs and playing to seas of thousands as the opener for the biggest acts in country and rock. On Friday, CCSG will make its Sarasota debut at The Blue Rooster. The band is touring in support of its sonically diverse and lyrically rewarding third full-length “New Hometown.” It reached No. 17 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart earlier this year despite coming out on a rather small independent label that mostly only promotes throughout the South.

“That was a surprise for everybody,” says Connor Christian while enjoying a rare day off at home in Atlanta. “Billboard comes up on the screen and we start looking in the 60s and go to 100 and didn’t see it. We were hoping to crack the top 60. I couldn’t believe to see it at 17."

The 32 year-old Christian adds, “Now we want to see if we can get a real major label to put out the next album and get it in the hands of people across the country. I’m proud of this album but the next record may be even better. I’m excited to make that jump from a self-released first album to indie to major label.”

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Connor Christian & Southern Gothic, which performs Friday at Blue Rooster in Sarasota. COURTESY PHOTO / JASON POWELL

CCSG’s journey dates back a decade. Christian sings, does the majority of the songwriting, plays guitar, piano and mandolin. He met drummer Shawn Thacker in 2004. Bass player Joe Abramson then finalized what initially began as a power trio. Classically trained violinist Elena Martin joined the band next. The fiddler, as she’s now identified, also plays piano and accordion. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Spirko completed the current lineup, joining in 2010. Spirko plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and piano. He’s also a songwriter.

“The songwriting process has changed a lot recently,” Christian says. “For the first seven years of this band, I wrote all the songs. Then Jeff joined the band and he’s like, ‘Here’s this thing.’” Spirko and Christian started collaborating, leading Christian to start working with several other outside songwriters. “That opened the flood gates,” Christian says.

“New Hometown” features an eclectic collection of originals that teem with rustic swagger and speak honestly about everything from hotel bars to finding salvation in a woman’s arms. The covers on the 18-track CD range from a faithful, back-porch rendition of the traditional gospel number “This Train Is Bound for Glory” to a killer, nearly 9-minute cover of Guns N’ Roses’ classic power ballad “November Rain.”

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Connor Christian, lead singer of Connor Christian & Southern Gothic, performs at the Midsummer Music & Food Festival on Saturday, June 15, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)

Christian delivers a tender vocal over an arrangement that sticks to the Axl Rose-penned original except for a few smart changes, most notably by Elena Martin. She imbues the song with melancholy accordion fills and then does an astounding job of recreating Slash’s iconic guitar solo on fiddle.

“As far as attitude, Guns N’ Roses always comes to mind,” Christian says when asked about his musical influences. “I’ve done a lot of different kinds of music over the years. At 18, I was even a rapper for a while. I went to school for journalism but have been singing in bars since I was 12. I’ve done everything from heavy metal to rap.”

Today, Christian’s music bounces around, at least to these ears, from Southern rock to alt-country to something more akin to mainstream country but with edgier lyrics.

“Or straight up rock and roll,” Christian says. “We do well with fans when they put us in front of a Big and Rich crowd or in front of Eric Church.”
Christian adds, “I think we are a certain band that can straddle those genres effectively. I’d rather just stick to my guns and write naturally. I’m only worried about writing songs and making sure our live show is out of control.”

Connor Christian & Southern Gothic; 8:30 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster, 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $5; 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.

Connor Christian & Southern Gothic
8:30 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster, 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $5; 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: September 30, 2013
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