Jugglers, trapeze artists, magicians, quirky gardeners and even a lion tamer populate The Conleys songs, but those characters are just the tip of the iceberg. Brother-sister duo Nick and Sarah Conley write powerfully vivid vignettes about their own lives as well. Coming from the suburbs of Los Angeles, their eclectic mix of subject matter seems unlikely, but in the context of The Conleys it all comes together.
The Conleys frontwoman, and sister of the team, Sarah Conley first started making waves as a solo act around Los Angeles while attending UCLA. Starting with appearances at local open mics, Sarah quickly became a standout at singer-songwriter haunts. In 2003, she appeared in front of 5,000 students at UCLA’s time-honored music showcase, Spring Sing 2003, which garnered her a command performance in the 2004 edition. After coaxing her brother Nick to join in, it was the 2004 Spring Sing where The Conleys were born.
As siblings, Nick and Sarah grew up with a lot of the same “subversive” influences. Whether it be learning the trickery of the magic world from their grandpa magician Jim Conley, or experiencing the behind-the-scenes circus life with Guinness World Record holders Wini McKay and Chester Cable, The Conleys grew up soaking in plenty of good writing material. Sarah has even spent a number of years working for a herd of Asian elephants. Rich with songs, both personal and character-based, The Conleys put out their first studio record, Folk Noir, in December 2009.
Folk Noir featured guest performances by greats like soul and blues music veteran Barry Goldberg (Bob Dylan, Gladys Knight, etc), Alex Del Zoppo (Sweetwater), and Victor Bisetti (Los Lobos). The Conleys amazing songs coupled with their popular live shows at Los Angeles venues like the Whisky a Go Go, Genghis Cohen, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Paladino’s, the Pig ‘n’ Whistle, and the House of Blues started drawing attention. A potential partnership with an upstart independent label resulted in a label executive acting as producer for Folk Noir but ultimately The Conleys felt it was a bad fit and released the record independently. Well received, and beloved by fans, Folk Noir was many’s introduction to The Conleys. Their cover of Bjork’s masterpiece, “Hyper-Ballad” even became a sleeper hit with sales on 3 continents and was featured on the Coverville radio show.
Garnering comparisons to Stevie Nicks and Neko Case, Sarah’s vocals are the focus of The Conleys sound. Nick’s melodic lead guitar serves as a kind of duet and counterpoint, adding layers of depth, tension and release. While their sound as a duo relied more on the folk aesthetic, after fleshing out their songs for the record The Conleys recruited their friends to fill out the live sound. With Stephen Philp on bass, Frank Schnyder on drums, and Julie Hill singing back-up, The Conleys found their way to their current line-up. If their first record is the dark, smoky corners of folk, then as a full band their new material keeps the noir and adds some rock.
Currently writing and arranging material for their next record, The Conleys are fast moving forward with their carefully crafted, emotional, and at times quirky sound. Understanding where it comes from stops being relevant as soon as you let it in. The real question becomes, “Are you ready to rock and roar?”