By Jesse Drake
“My mama hand me a Bible
My daddy said to believe,
They said son if you go
just remember you go somewhere
where the wolves look friendly
down to the teeth.”
Levi Conner’s lyrics in “Never Coming Back” unfold like an old roadmap – dog-eared, thumbed through, loose at the seams. At only 35 years old, they reveal a man with some mileage.
Conner, network core engineer in UIT’s Network and Communications Infrastructure, is back home in his birth-state, but not before a circuitous musical journey from Provo to Portland (Maine), Orlando, Boston, Brooklyn and Nashville, with Reykjavik, Iceland and the island of Saipan sprinkled in for good measure.
“It seems like a lot of randomness,” he said, “but it’s just life.”
Conner’s parents MariLou and Casey – after graduating from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, respectively – departed Utah for Bar Harbor, Maine when he was only in preschool.
The Conner children – four girls, four boys – became passionate about music from watching their parents: mom plays French horn; dad plays piano, flute, banjo, and drums.
When Conner was 10 years old, he followed his dad’s lead on drums. As he got older, he started playing the skins in bands around Mount Desert Island, and up and down Maine’s coast.
“I played around in little shows when I was a teenager, bars and taverns mostly,” he said.
One summer he joined a garage band in Bass Harbor with Winn and Will Butler, founders of the Grammy Award-winning indie rock band Arcade Fire.
But back then, they were just a couple guys whose parents owned “the music house,” a second home with a rehearsal space where the boys’ mom would sometimes play harp.
“I grew up with them,” Conner said. “We played together to have fun. I mean, at that age, no one really expects to make a living at it.”
When he turned 18, Conner’s dad was hired as a contract worker for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the family was relocated to Saipan in the Western Pacific. For about a year, Conner taught music lessons on the island while establishing himself as a writer and self-producer under the pseudonym Leave Calmer.
Back on the mainland, Conner settled in Orlando, Florida, where he formed alt-rock quartet Million Year Echo. The band moved to New York City, where they were signed by Epic Records.
They recorded their demo in California and experienced a string of successes, including a 2008 performance at the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in Reykjavik, and two years on the mainstage of the Florida Music Festival, at one point opening for the rock band Filter. One of Million Year Echo’s biggest fans is Matt Pinfield, former MTV video deejay. Pinfield placed their track “So This Is Love” into rotation on his Sirius Radio show.
The band was dropped when Epic Records reorganized during the 2010 recession, after which Conner moved back to Maine. In early 2011, he took some music theory courses at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music before moving back to Utah, where one of his sisters was attending the U.
Throughout this entire period, in addition to music, Conner worked with computers, first as systems administrator at Whole Foods Market in New York from 2005 to 2009, network analyst at Mountain States Networking in Salt Lake City from 2011 to 2013, then briefly bouncing back for a stint as network/systems administrator at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor. He came to UIT as Sr. Systems Administrator in 2014.
Connecting all the dots is dizzying, and doesn’t end there.
In 2012, Conner was invited back to Nashville by some producer friends who recorded his self-titled, five-song EP in the house of Darren Jessee, drummer for Ben Folds Five. As part of Million Year Echo, his voice had been compared to the floating falsetto of Jeff Buckley, but his solo work unearths a guttural, bluesy sound.
Longevity in the music business largely depends on who you know, and luckily for Conner,
the person at Epic who signed
Million Year Echo was Allison Hagendorf. Among her many accomplishments, Hagendorf is the Global Head of Rock at Spotify. She never forgot Conner, and continued to play his music.
“You know it’s funny because I figured
nobody knew who I was,” he said. “But my friends kept saying, ‘Look at Spotify man, you’ve got like hundreds of thousands of plays there!’”
Conner doesn’t profit from Spotify, but that’s not why he does it.
“I don’t get royalties but I also don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care about making money. I just like to play.”
Working in UIT, married to a Maine girl, raising two children with a third on the way – that’d be plenty for most people. But while music-as-vocation may take a pause, for Conner, it will never stop being a calling.
“I’ll always be writing. I’ll always be singing and playing,” he said. “It’s just a part of who I am.”
The album he’s currently working on is dedicated to the memory of his sister Kaitlyn.