Conor Wallace and The Shared Creative Dream

Photo by Courtney Marie

Conor Wallace has been playing music in Denton for over fifteen years. What began as a love of music instilled by his family has most recently culminated in Wallace’s Friday Mean album release, and he has no plans to stop making music anytime soon. The native Dentonite has played in about nine bands, contributed to more than that many albums, and only wants to keep going.

“Denton has been the most amazing place to live and play music,” Wallace says. “My parents gave my sisters and me the gift of music very early…my dad was so good and creative in visual art; I always felt like that was his thing.” Wallace says he was drawn, very strongly and very quickly, to music. That became his thing.

Wallace began playing in garage bands in high school about fifteen years ago. Back then, there weren’t many places in town where he and his friends could play—he says the only options for them were The State Club, Eagle Burrito, some afternoon house shows, and the annual school-sponsored Battle of the Bands. Wallace’s first taste of success came from winning that Battle of the Bands as the bassist for the Jimmi Sticks. “I bought a bass because no one else wanted to do it. We liked clear melody, so we played pop punk…we could barely play,” Wallace says. (We think he’s being a bit humble here, seeing as the Jimmi Sticks also won Buzz-Oven’s 2003 compilation contest. No small feat for a group of high school buddies.) But the band gave its members what music gives so many young musicians: a taste for physical release, a love of theatrics, and a willingness to experiment and get a little silly.

Wallace spent his post-high school years in various other groups: Vade, East Bay Panic, Phalanx, Sattori, and Cactus, respectively. The music during this time was consistently heavier than what came before (remember, these were the years when no one could turn off At The Drive-In) and Wallace was having a hard time finding his niche. Denton favorites Ella Minnow solved that problem—or, as Conor puts it, he “finally settled down and got married to a band.” Ella Minnow’s original lineup consisted of Wallace, Steve Reynolds, Corbin Childs, Trey Price, and Josh Kitchens; the band would later add Tiffany Graber and Courtney Marie. Wallace describes Ella Minnow’s lifespan as seven of the best years of his life.

And from those years came a collaborative outgrowth called Forever & Everest, which started when Childs and Jacob Greenan attempted to write and record ten original songs in one month as part of the RPM Challenge. Wallace was brought in to do a track and loved the experience. “The speed of creativity was mind-blowing. I had no idea melodies and lyrics could leap out of me like that,” he explains. Forever & Everest eventually morphed into a sprawling venture that involved almost every member of Ella Minnow, as well as several of the group’s friends, who were often not affiliated with any official band or project. At some point, everyone began meeting every Sunday to practice or record together. Wallace says it was almost like church. Forever & Everest’s recorded discography, all of which can be streamed online, adds up to an impressive 70 individual songs over eight albums. There are several more songs that never made it onto a record.

When you sit and talk with Conor, it’s not difficult to imagine how he’s remained so prolific over the years. There is a vibrant, almost bouncy energy about him that makes conversation and brainstorming feel easy. He’s fascinated with people, and people make up the bulk of his subject matter. “I’m very obsessed with my friends and their lives,” he explains. “So a lot of songs are me trying to place myself in their world. Or sometimes it’s a sweet thing, like a love letter to them.” One example is Friday Mean’s “Taste of Cinnamon,” which was written as a soothing serenade for loved ones. “I have all these friends who have trouble sleeping and I wanted to write them a lullaby. So it was me trying to put myself in a place of insomnia, which I don’t have at all—I sleep so soundly,” Wallace says with a laugh.

One might classify his writing as musical creative nonfiction: all of these true stories about other people come with careful strokes of embellishment. “I can’t write fiction, I can’t write poetry. So I just tell myself the same story over and over, and explore it each time I come back to it,” he says. As for the writing process itself, Wallace compares it to shared dreaming. In fact, he feels that all creativity is a shared dream. He aims to create from a place where any emotion is immediately accessible. “I’m incredibly ambiguous with my lyrics, and I want you to get into my head,” Conor says with a smile. “But you have to really start to make associations that you may not. And I hope that you just make your own associations [within the song], that you have your own moment that you’re pushing on.”

These days, Wallace is focused on his goals as an individual artist. Friday Mean gave him one of his first chances to give those goals a shot. In a lot of ways, he says, working alone is tough. “The solo thing can be lonely. You don’t have the collective telling you to get off your ass and finish the record, book shows, organize practice,” he admits. But there are positives too, one of them being a kind of artistic clarity that Wallace feels he’s just beginning to tap. “This sound tells a clearer story,” he says. “This sound is more ‘me.’ I can hear a little of every person I have played with…I can hear the late night conversations about music, love, family.” But in the spirit of all these older projects, he doesn’t plan to just write alone forever—he would like to continue to collaborate and keep the shared dream alive.

"I would like to be playing out more, to collaborate with more people in town," Conor says with sincerity. "I want to keep sharing. I want to do more than I ever have in this community."