“I was too rebellious for the industry,” CoCo O’Connor admits of her years spent in Nashville, a period when the blossoming songwriter felt that she didn’t fit into the stubborn confines of the city’s legendary music scene. So she headed out West, to a region where free spirit and eccentricity reigned. But though the mysterious nature of Santa Fe, New Mexico continues to aid CoCo in her songwriting and self-reflection, it wasn’t the right place to record an album. For both her debut record and her upcoming June 8release, This Ol’ War, CoCo had to rediscover her roots, heading back to the energized hum of Music City.
Along with producer Parker Cason, CoCo went against the grain of Nashville to let the songs of This Ol’ War breathe over the course of five months. Of their time together, Parker expressed, “CoCo graciously gave me a lot of freedom and creative input on this record. It’s nice being able make an independent record away from the noise of Music Row where we can focus more on being creative instead of hitting hard deadlines.” Both unconventional in the ways in which they approach modern songwriting, CoCo and Parker forged a bond that could only come from a mutual awareness of each other as music industry outsiders. On the original yellow shag carpet of the Creative Workshop, which has seen the likes of prolific songwriters such as Jimmy Buffett and Parker’s father, Buzz Cason, CoCo and Parker created a record that mimics the careful, smooth-like-honey process of country and blues long past.
CoCo waited before releasing her debut album, Turquoise, in 2016. In the passing time between, CoCo settled in the arid desert of the Southwest, leaving behind all that was familiar in favor of the unknown. “Santa Fe is more reflective because of the landscape,” says CoCo. “It makes you introspective because you feel, by default, small. You’ve got the majestic mountains and you’ve got the big sky. You’ve got all this glorious bigness around you, so it makes you look inward to yourself to do some soul searching.”
CoCo’s creative method might stand out as an outlier in the fast-paced, bustling world of Nashville’s music empire, but she discovered a “psychic” producer who innately understands what her songs need in an almost supernatural way. Though CoCo refuses to fit the sharp songwriter outlines that rule in both Santa Fe and Nashville, she brings pieces of both cultures back-and-forth to each town, creating a vision that’s wholly her own. For now, CoCo’s got the mountains and she’s got the big sky above.
MiLLENNiAL caught up with CoCo to learn about her journey from Nashville to Santa Fe and how New Mexico has influenced her sound.
Share the story and message behind “This Ol War”.
I wanted to write a song that expressed my frustration with the battles that go on in a relationship. You have arguments and they are essentially the same old fight or war just a different topic. These battles can be within ourselves and in the personal relationships that we may have between our parents, lovers, children, jobs and even the Creator.
I think alot of people can relate to feeling this way…especially nowadays.
What is your favorite song from this album and why?
“Free State of Winston”…it’s the barn burner and I’m a rocker at heart I guess. There’s some sassy lines in it too and it’s always fun to be a little sassy.
Discuss your experience working outside of Nashville and Music Row.
Working outside of those areas simply opened my mind up to more exploration creatively. My place in Santa Fe is 5 miles up a mountain and I’m probably gonna sound a bit woo-woo here but believe that mountain has given me songs. That’s what I am after anyways, I want to tap into something bigger than myself when I write songs. That’s the only way my art can be pioneering and that what I want it to be.
Why did you decide to settle in Santa Fe?
Honestly, my husband and I bought the cheapest place we could find. It had no running water or electricity when we got it. It had an outhouse and yes , we used that for about a year. We almost died from pneumonia because we had to take a bath on the front porch with tarps around to keep the elements out. We fixed it up over 6 or 7 years and it’s really something special now. Because of that experience I like to say “I am a country girl who became a frontier woman. “
How did you get started making country music? Well, my mama knew I was a big Dolly Parton fan and she said to me when I was 10 …”you like music, then honey, you should learn to write songs like Dolly, you’ll make more money.” I took that to heart and started writing at 10 and never looked back.
What influences your work?
Life…by that I mean it’s just being observant to things and opening myself up to listen, to see, to feel what is going on around me. I could be influenced by part of a song I really love or holding my baby girl and inhaling her sweet baby breath. Or a fight I’ve just had . Sometimes I like to put myself in another person’s shoes and write from a different character’s point of view. So, there’s a lot of things I pull influences from.
Describe yourself as a musician.
Singer/Songwriter….I don’t think of myself as a musician …I’m not that great at any instrument….well, actually I am a good drummer. I play guitar but I like to drown it in reverb…even if it’s an acoustic.
What can your fans expect from you next?
I’ll be building upon the “This Ol’ War” and using it as a foundation for the next record. I think the next one will be more expansive in sounds and writing. I already have a few tunes and they are just waiting for the process to begin.