Around four years ago, Conor Donohue made an almost impulsive decision to move to New Orleans from Charleston, South Carolina, where he had been living for nine years prior. After the move, Donohue reignited his passion for playing music while bartending at Mimi’s in the Marigny. The move heavily influenced Donohue’s new record, “Let Love Contaminate,” which is influenced by the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s, and tells an honest story of his time in a new town.
The Red & Black: Is this new record a solo record?
Conor Donohue: It’s a full band. Like I wrote all the songs but I definitely had a lot of help with all the arrangements from the band and my producer Andy Dixon and my good friend Joel Hamilton of Mechanical River, who has also produced for me before. He’s always been a great source to have because he can play pretty much anything and he has just fabulous ideas when he comes into the studio.
R&B: Do you think your move to New Orleans had a heavy influence on your music?
CD: Of course. Definitely, lyrically, I took a lot of inspiration from the city. You know, it’s just a big change. Especially when bars don’t ever close, it’s a very celebratory city. Especially this time of year, we’re right in the heart of Mardi Gras. It’s a very active city. So I definitely took a lot of lyrical inspiration. And then musically, I was playing with a lot of drum players down here from different backgrounds. Roky Erickson's rhythm section … we’ve played music together for a couple years now and they helped me arrange some of the tracks on the record.
R&B: How did you decide which songs would go on the record?
CD: What I did is, more if I just had a skeleton of a song I would just record it on my phone and then send an email over to Andy, my producer … because sometimes in the writing process, you don’t even know if anything’s good. You can get very in your head and be kind of like sometimes you have momentum and you love a song and then two weeks later it’s absolute garbage. Having Andy or just some other close friends just kind of be like, “Yeah that’s one of the songs that should be on the record.” That’s really it. He was just the main guy who would pick and choose which songs actually made it on the record.
R&B: “White Noise” seems to stand out from the other songs. Why is that?
CD: That was definitely an outlier. We did a lot more experimenting in that. For me, the writing of the song happened in like two hours but then when we were in the recording process we had my drummer, Ron Wiltrout, just record maybe like five or six different styles of drums along to me playing bass and then we kind of built the track from there. The guy that typically plays bass for me, George Baerreis, played a couple Wurlitzer lines and then Andy pretty much just got in there, chopped everything up and put it back together. So the arrangement was definitely driven by my producer Andy.
R&B:This record seems like you’re telling a story. If you are then what is it, and if not then what were you trying to say?
CD:I would say these are like snapshots of my life in New Orleans in the past couple years of me moving down here. I moved down here, I was going through pretty hard depression and I decided to just sporadically quit my job and slowly move from Charleston. But, I didn’t really have a game plan, and I fell into this city and slowly worked my way into playing music again. I met up with some great musicians that I relied on and we had a thing for a little while. Eventually, I met somebody, fell in love and started to take care of myself a little bit better, so it’s all a part of that whole thing. Just diving deep into the city, definitely experiencing the debauchery of it and then just coming out of it and still knowing how to have fun but definitely investing in myself a little bit more as I found somebody that made me want to do that.
R&B: Why did you pick “Let Love Contaminate” as the name?
CD: The initial title was influenced by a podcast by this guy Duncan Trussell and this other guy Aubrey Marcus were talking about an ayahuasca trip and at the end of it they were like the main thing is love just let love contaminate the world instead of all this other negative stuff that’s going on in our political world with global warming and whatever. So, I just took that broader theme and placed it into my life and navigating newer relationships and navigating how to make better older relationships with family and friends and loved ones.
R&B: The song seems very positive but some of the words have negative connotations. Why did you do that?
CD: Love is kind of complicated you know. It’s nice to just say, “Hey, love everybody,” but that’s not the reality. It takes a lot of work from yourself and your partner or your friends or coworkers. Everybody has their own personal struggle so sometimes love can be pretty tough. So it’s just depicting the realities of it. Like being anxious about diving into a new relationship and not knowing where it’s gonna go. It’s nice when it does work out but that’s not the reality of a lot of people.
R&B: What was your favorite song from the record?
CD: “The Garden” was almost a throwaway song. Like, I wrote it really quick, I recorded it to my phone and I played it for one or two people down here and didn’t get a huge reaction from it. So, I thought it was a throwaway and then Andy was like, “This is one of the best tracks on the record.” Then just the way that all fell together with the dying chorus at the end. That’s something I can still go back to and listen to. Typically when I do record records, after the mixing and mastering’s done I’m just completely sick of it by that time. “Let Love Contaminate” was really fun to write too. I came in with a couple skeletons to a band down in New Orleans. My buddy Matt Long and Trent Pruitt and they just kind of helped me piece it together.
It was just kind of that nice high energy moment where we’re all kind of feeding off of each other. Writing by yourself can be kind of depressing. It can be super inspirational, but sometimes when you’re just trapped in a room by yourself pacing, trying to come up with lyrics it can get pretty heavy sometimes. So just having something light. Like we were all just kind of hanging out in our practice basement and we hit record a couple times and that’s pretty much the arrangement that’s on the record with added organ and slide guitar. So that was definitely a fun one to write, and like I said, “The Garden” was probably my favorite. And “White Noise” too because that was just a complete experiment. So those were some of my favorites to actually record.
R&B: Why did you pick Athens as a stop on your tour?
CD: It fit into our route and I opened for T. Hardy Morris in August and we were talking a little bit about Athens. He was very encouraging about me stopping through next time I was in the Southeast on the road. He made some connections with some of the guys who book out there and so it was just super easy. And everybody that we’ve been in contact with from Athens has been super sweet and supportive so I’m really looking forward to getting out there.