Since the day he first picked up a guitar at the age 10, music has been a part of Conner Cherlan’s life. Although he stuck primarily to four-chord songs until his junior year at UC Santa Barbara, he has grown as a musician to the point where comparisons to artists like Ed Sheeran or Sufjan Stevens aren’t too far-fetched.
Nowadays, you can find Conner playing all over Santa Barbara with the accompaniment of his friend Nissi Vasa, a violinist who was originally taught classical music growing up. The duo first met at the Real Life Christian Group on campus while playing for the worship team. Their first independent performance was about three months ago in Lompoc while playing at Pali Wine Co. for its five-year anniversary party.
Like anything in life, too many cooks in the kitchen can make for a messy result. For Conner and Nissi, two is perfect company due to their naturally musical bond.
“We’ve never practiced,” laughs Conner. “It’s probably because [Nissi] is so low maintenance.”
A talented musician in her own right, Nissi’s ear is so precise from playing the violin that she requires little rehearsal before playing with Conner. In many cases, she doesn’t even need to know the duo’s setlist.
“I usually find out what we’re going to play once we get there,” says Nissi.
As for Conner’s responsibilities as the “leader” of the duo, he takes care of coordinating performances, making connections with people in the community, and figuring out which songs would work best given the specific venue.
On the evening when I first made their acquaintance in February, Conner and Nissi were playing a light-hearted set for customers and fans at Hana Kitchen in Isla Vista, a fitting atmosphere given the soon-approaching Valentine’s Day.
Conner asserts that a lot of the music they play is influenced by popular music and demand.
“A lot of musical acts these days are all about ‘I’ma get at you girl’,” he jokes. “It’s really hyper-masculine, so we try to keep it sweet.”
As a performer, Conner understands that his duties also involve wrangling in the crowd’s attention on any given night. When he first started out, he made use of loop pedals to add to his individual presence, as influence Ed Sheeran is known to do.
“It’s all about making the one-man band idea work,” says Conner.
Over the past few months, however, he has been trying to wean off the loop pedal, with the intention being to play more simplified acoustic music.
For the time being, Conner’s favorite original songs to play include “The Walt Disney Promise,” “Watch Over Us,” “The Lone Bellow,” and “Cambria.” In the near-future, fans can look forward to a full-length album – featuring Nissi – at the end of March. Having recorded the album with mentor Dan Bos at Truetone Productions, Conner considers this release to be his “ticket” to playing outside of Santa Barbara.
“I’ve made my initial impact and played in places where my music has been ignored,” says Conner. “So I’m looking to book more quality gigs at this point, in places where people are there to listen.”
For more information on Conner’s current musical projects, visit his website at connercherland.com.