Savannah Conley on loving, losing, and relearning yourself

Savannah Conley - Credit Guerin Blask (2)
Photo Credit: Guerin Blask

Love is something that always changes. Within a relationship, you can control how you can give it to yourself, but not necessarily how that flame does its dance inside another person. Sometimes that flame goes out and as you walk through the dark places, you have to light that same fire in yourself again. You have to remember the things that made you unique and rebuild the wick.

Savannah Conley’s Twenty-Twenty EP, released in 2018, is three songs long, but accurately captures someone who is navigating the many avenues of heartbreak. With the many emotions and “what ifs” that come with heartbreak, Conley unveiled a crisp and melodic look into one specific period in in her life.

As she’s on tour with Ben Folds and Violent Femmes, we caught up with Savannah to talk about her evolution, both from a personal and musical perspective.

There’s was a quote that your parents told you. “Never do anything that’s not you.” In this time that we live in with music, it’s like appearances are everything. Sometimes, they seem more important than the actual music itself. With you signing to Atlantic and more acclaim coming from your music, how do you stick to that quote? 

Honestly, I think it’s like anybody or anything in life. Regardless if you’re doing music or you have any job. Pick any job. It’s always going to be temping to mold into what you think is the best thing at the time. I think right now, specifically, I’ve been really trying to differentiate the pull of social media or standards versus growth. I think as long as it doesn’t feel..because foreign things can become authentic. Something new can become authentic because you just didn’t know about it before. You’re just now discovering it.

I think really it’s just trusting your gut and going with it. Just saying, “no, this doesn’t feel right, so I’m not going to do this thing.” Or “this feels right, so I’m going to do this.”

In the beginning, you had your 18th and Portland EP. That was the first collection of music you put out into the world. You described it as “a coming of age” piece. How do you feel about those songs now? With the Twenty-Twenty EP, there’s more of a connective tissue. Listening to your first EP, you were realizing many things at once. 

Writing for me has been a very time-stamped thing. It’s always been very indicative of whatever I’m doing or feeling. So, I haven’t really listened in a long time, to be honest. When I think about it right now, writing songs for the first EP, it was a highly transitional time in my life. The earliest song, I wrote when I was 17. I just moved out of my parents’ house. I just got my first serious boyfriend. I started college. By the end of writing that, I quit college, was in the process of breaking up with my boyfriend. It was a lot of transitions all in one. So, it was kind of like a scrapbook.

Listening to those would kind of be like a hit to the gut. “Uhhh, I remember when I felt like that. That sucked.” Or it’s like “ohhh, yeah, that’s funny.”

For the Twenty-Twenty EP, you initially cut around 23 songs for it before you paired it down to three. Today, artists will just load songs onto an album or EP. How did you go through the process of condensing everything into a concise and cohesive EP that was tailored to what you were feeling with the breakup?

What happened was we cut the three best songs first that came out on the EP. At that point, we only cut five, then removed two of those off. Then after that, we cut the full 23 songs and decided to wait. That’s why we haven’t released anything in over a year. We just really wanted to think about it and make sure whatever we released next was the right thing.

I’m a very avid planner. I’m a direct 50/50 split of my left and right brain. I love spreadsheets, organization, but at the same time, I’m a mess. In the process, when we cut those 23 songs, that was when I put the breaks on. I thought that the three songs that we released really captured a moment in time. I wanted to make sure we did that again in the right way. My team was super supportive. They were incredible. We’re in the final stages right now of getting something together that everyone is proud of and captures another space in time.

I just wanted to make sure that we did it in a way that stayed authentic and me writing the best songs that I could write. Not settling and just trying to get content, you know?

Going from that point, with the group of songs that you are getting together now for a future release. I’m not sure if they are older songs. How do you view them now? Kind of like what you said with your first EP? 

Absolutely. I know people who will only cut songs that they wrote this year or whatever year they recorded in. I totally get it. However, that process is fun, too. To go back in your internet storage room or whatever where you find songs you forgot about.

There was one song that is in the group of songs for potential release that I had forgotten about. we had this folder and my A&R sent me that song and was like “I still really believe in this song.” I was like ” I don’t know.” Whatever I [had] written about at the time passed. Immediately, I got into a situation that was exactly like what I had written about. Like right after he sent it to me. So I was like “you know what? Fuck it. Let’s try it.” We messed around with it. Now, I think it’s my favorite song in the group.

There’s no one size fits all for that kind of stuff, I think. Listening back to stuff is always strange and a mixture of “ugh” and nostalgia. Cringy and nostalgic at the same time.

The Twenty-Twenty EP definitely tells a story of heartbreak unfolding. I want to go into this question a little bit different. What would the Savannah today tell the woman who was writing those songs now? What have you learned about love, the world, and everything in between? 

You won’t die [laughs]. It’s not going to kill you. At that point in my life, it’s your first real sock-in-the-gut heartbreak. It feels like you’re never going to get over it. Ever. Everybody thinks that at one point and I definitely did. I thought, “you know, this is it. I’m never getting over this. This is the end for me as far as love goes.” Obviously, that is not true for any 18-19 year old person. I would probably say it gets better. I promise. It takes a lot of time and listen to your fucking mom! That’s what I would say.

It goes into “Never Be Ourselves.” which is an interesting song. With your first love, you kind of forget the world around you. You fall into it so deep that you might forget friends or your routine. For yourself, how did you relearn who you were after the heartbreak? Maybe never see new parts about yourself in the process. 

That song came out of a very angry moment. I hadn’t dated in a very long time. Kind of ever really. I kind of had the same boyfriend my whole life. I hadn’t dated, then I started going on dates and tried to reconnect with my friends. The friends that I had for forever was easy. The ones that I’m still friends with today.

I’m a very 0-to-100 person in interactions where I don’t really dig small talk. I’m not a fan. I just want to know who you are, know what you’re about, and get there. Get to whatever the topic is and know people. That’s one of my passions in life is knowing people. So, in dating or getting back into social circles where I didn’t have that crutch of a partner with me, it was so strange to see people and feel myself putting up this wall. Saying internally, “this is my active persona right now.”

I had never done that before. I had never felt the pull to do that. So I was like “fuck this. This is horrible.” So in that moment of anger when I wrote that song, I was saying that nobody is being themselves. No one is being real. It was just frustrating. At that point, I felt so angry that I was almost relenting to it. “Ok! Fine. I’ll play the game.” Reintegrating into yourself is weird. I had to figure out what I like to do again which was strange. It took me well over a year, but once you get out of that funk, it got easier. Now I have a little bit less of a chip on my shoulder about interactions.

With fan interactions, I’m sure anybody can relate to feeling just like this. How do you feel with the reactions to these songs? I would imagine they are pretty strong and heartfelt. 

You know, we’re still at the very beginning of all this. I’m learning a lot. That is something that I didn’t anticipate. I obviously wanted the emotional reaction, but I really didn’t bargain for what that meant. There’s a line in one of the songs that talks about my dad. This girl came up and her dad had just died. She kind of went through that a little bit with me at the merch table.

I am 100% willing to do that kind of stuff. I don’t want to say I love it. I don’t love people’s pain, but I’m in support of all strong emotions. I don’t care if I’m trying to get a million things done, I’ll try to go through something with you if you need me to. It’s been strange, but it’s also been a really beautiful thing, too. There was this kid that came up. He said he was considering suicide, then he listened to “Same Old Eyes” and he felt seen. That is the real reason that you do anything, any kind of positive impact.

It’s strange because you don’t really know those people, but I’m so appreciative that anything I do could have any small impact like that.