It’s not that Brett Conlin secretly eavesdrops on conversations in his downtown barbershop to mine material for new songs.
“I’m definitely not going to take someone’s personal story and just throw it out there,” said Conlin, who owns and operates Lone Wolf Barber Company in downtown Bloomington. “But there are definitely bits and pieces that float in there.”
Most of those bits have to do with loss, a great moment in someone’s life, or a funny story about traveling. But those are the odd moments. Mostly Conlin’s folk-punk/alt-country music is rife with vignettes and moments from his own life. His 2016 album “Glad To See You Go” is littered with those stories, including the lead track “Hard Hard Life.”
You get off work bout a quarter past five
It's gonna be a good, good life
Your pockets are full you won't go hungry tonight
It's gonna be a good life
Your baby's cryin' loud while the sun is risin' high
It's gonna be a hard, hard life
The water in your well is all runnin' dry
It's gonna be a hard, hard life
“I wouldn’t say it’s entirely my life, but it has been my progression,” said Conlin, now the father of a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl.
“I wrote that song when my son was pretty young, but I had transitioned from being a young carefree person to now working in a warehouse job and trying to make ends meet and go to school at the same time. And write music,” said Conlin.
Dealing with young children is a transition for anyone, especially those as busy as Conlin. As expected, a first child introduced new emotions and perspective to the previously carefree troubadour. “Home On Time” is reflective of that.
And the sign said 15 miles to the Bureau County Line
Where a job and a girl and a baby boy are fightin for my time
And I know about bein' lonely it's the only thing that we share
“It’s definitely changed the way I do shows and travel around,” said Conlin. “In the past I would do the show and hang out, and stay the night with somebody. Now it’s one or two in the morning and I say, ‘You know, I get to get back, because he’s going to want to wake up at 6 a.m.”
When Conlin plays nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 20, he’ll play solo as part of the songwriter series with Naperville native and Illinois State University student Grant Milliren. But Conlin also fronts the two-piece punk outfit Dead End Lights.
“That’s a recent development and super fun,” said Conlin. “That’s the stuff I grew up with was played in punk rock bands.”
It’s obvious from hearing "Daggers" from the band's initial three-song “Demo” EP that Boston’s Dropkick Murphys was on his radar.
“They were one of the first bands I was into when I was younger,” said Conlin. “I also remember seeing Flogging Molly on the Warped tour where they do the whole Irish punk thing.”
Classic rock was also omnipresent while growing up. He remembers hearing a lot of his stepfather’s Steely Dan records and other classic rock and country at his father’s house. That’s where one particular song made an indelible impression.
“I was sitting in my dad’s car one day. And not that this song is heavy, but I heard 'Dream On' by Aerosmith and I was like, 'Yeah, that rocks, that’s cool. Whatever that is, I want to know more about that,’” said Conlin.
His most recent single is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark.” He characterized the sparse arrangement that would sound at home on Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album as “a bold move.”
“I remember playing part of it for my girlfriend, and she was like, ‘It’s really sad.’ I said, ‘I know … it’s awesome! It’s awesome how sad it sounds.’”
Covering any Springsteen song is audacious, especially one of his most well-known songs. But Conlin pulled it off.
“I like doing it, and I like that listening to the lyrics it’s kind of a desperate song about maybe not liking who you are or wanting to be a better person or thinking, ‘I’m not happy with something, but I’m going to find something that makes me happy.”
Brett Conlin plays nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 20.
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