Press & Music Reviews
"When Conor and the Wild Hunt’s new album You’re Not Alone came to my email inbox, I had no idea it would be exactly what I needed to hear. Lead by Conor Brendan’s inspired songwriting and vocals, this inspiring collection is full of emotion and positive messaging that strikes a poignant chord in these trying times. It’s also possible that I am nine months pregnant, extremely hormonal, and susceptible to falling hard for vocally driven folk-pop (The Ghost of Paul Revere, Fleet Foxes), but I fell utterly in love with You’re Not Alone and I have a feeling you will, too.
Funny enough the album’s sound immediately took me back to my indie/emo days and reminded me of the emotive sounds of the little known Daphne Loves Derby, albeit with a much more lush and layered sound. The soaring four-part harmonies are my favorite part of these polished acoustic songs. The album starts with the upbeat harmonica and harmonies of “Eliza,” into the sweet sounds of love song “Garden State.” “Dear Mary” treats you to the female vocals of Lena Traynham dueting with Conor, along with more harmonies and loving lyrics singing of promises a lover makes to his family. Many of the songs bring me close to tears — most of which unsurprisingly is “Broken Hearted Lullaby” with lyrics about a woman singing “don’t you worry, little baby, we’ll be alright” to the baby in her belly. The title track “You’re Not Alone” is appropriately the most cinematic of tracks, an emphatic anthem singing “I see you, I hear you, I’m with you, you’re not alone.” The building of impassioned drumming, guitar and vocals builds to triumphant heights that will take your breath away. The rest of the album continues similarly with rousing harmonies, foot-stomping beats and upbeat harmonica to keep you smiling. They even break the unspoken rule to never cover “Wagon Wheel” with enough inspired vocals and respect for the original that it might be my new favorite version of the song.
Conor and the Wild Hunt’s album You’re Not Alone is a feel-good collection of songs from front to back. Their folk/Americana is driven by a vivid emotion not often heard accompanying the traditional acoustic instruments. An album of lullabies and love songs, You’re Not Alone is perfect for a quiet morning or a twilight drive, and I imagine their live performances are just as moving. Listen to the album now on Spotify or on their website."
-Elise Olmstead (Music Journalist at The Jamwich)
"Conor & The Wild Hunt is a Folk Pop/Americana trio from Maryland who feature brilliant song writing, a huge instrumental sound and soaring harmonies. Conor, who plays guitar and keys has been on American Idol twice and Lena Traynham who plays guitar and bass was the advertising face of American Idol, making Hollywood two years in a row. Chris Elvidge plays drums and sings like an angel too. This is an original music band that thrills audiences with a powerful show, driving stage presence and precise performances. They released a 14 song full length album this year."
"Conor & The Wild Hunt are from Baltimore in the USA and they are back with their special new single called "You’re Not Alone". The group animates soulful original songs with fresh perspectives on Americana, Folk, and pop styles. Their music is stupendously delivered with love letters that make me happy.
Conor Brendan, Chris Elvidge and Lena Traynham are Conor & The Wild Hunt and "You’re Not Alone" is easily one of my favorite songs of 2020. The folk-fused indie treats are sandwiched together to make my stomach smile again.
"You’re Not Alone" is such a peaceful song from Conor & The Wild Hunt that puts my mind at ease. After what has been going on with the world lately, this is exactly what we all need in our ears. This is pure music with such great vocals from both the singers. We aren’t alone if we have the support of those close to us. We just need to express ourselves and ask for help if we need it."
-Llewelyn Screen (Music Journalist at A&R Factory)
"New processes and projects were born out of new life in the pandemic for Conor Brendan, who plays guitar, piano and banjo, and lends lead vocals to the folk and acoustic pop band Conor & The Wild Hunt. Brendan and his bandmates Chris Elvidge (drums, harmonies) and Lena Traynham (guitar, bass and vocals), have turned the time and energy they usually put into touring into recording. In his dad’s home studio, Brendan has recorded an impressive near 27 new and unreleased songs.
“Chancey June, Jay Keating and I have begun pre-production on a series of short films set to songs and tied together by a ghost narrative,” Brendan says of other projects he’s hard at work on with other fellow creatives. “Jay is a board member at Songwriters Association of Washington and has provided us funding and insight from his experience in the film industry. Chancey is a brilliant cinematographer with a poetic eye and is sure to bring poignant life to the story on screen.”
Along with Elvidge and Traynham, Brendan also just released a new version of their song “You’re Not Alone,” a song Brendan wrote about an experience traveling the States and living out of his car.
“The song’s story is born from busking in the streets of Philly and feeling invisible, and a simultaneous sense of wonder and loneliness in the Colorado mountains. It’s also a good example of a practice of mine, to dive into an emotion and find salvation and a sense of joy and peace in its release.”
While also exploring new recordings, reworks and songs for short films, Brendan says the trio is taking the time to perfect their individual skills in ways they may simply not have had the time for in their pre-pandemic life.
“We always do, but in these quarantimes, there’s more time than ever to practice,” he says. “I’ve been working on expanding my mix range and belting. I’ve also been spending a lot more time with banjo, mandolin and bass in the process of recording. Lena has been working persistently on vocal technique and finding new tones. Chris is always working on mesmerizing rhythm and stick patterns, such as odd ways to displace beats inside a time signature.”
With so many positive changes and additions to their catalogue, it’s no surprise that Brendan says he’s stoked to put everything out into the world for Conor & The Wild Hunt fans to have and enjoy.
“And when it’s safe to perform in venues again, we’ll be ecstatic to get back into the flow with audiences and fellow artists,” he continues. “In the meantime, if you follow us on Spotify, Instagram and Facebook, you’ll be the first to see and hear new content we’re beginning to release with more regularity. And in this day and age, Spotify and social media followers are the most important kind of support.”"
-M.K. Koszycki (Journalist at District Fray Magazine)
“Put my ashes in an urn of seeds so I’ll grow into a tree./In the gloom of the spring you will hear my spirit sing.”
So goes a lyrical lyric in Conor Brendan’s song “I’m Not Afraid,” which was fertilized by his magical serenity after a death-defying encounter with a hopped freight train. It exemplifies how the Maryland native turns his wild adventures into musical myths; it also exemplifies the revisionary vision of his band Conor & the Wild Hunt. The group combines gleaming vocals, percolating instrumentals and radiating grooves that work well in Brendan’s favorite theatrical theaters.
One of those atmospheric venues is the Mauch Chunk Opera House, which on Oct. 18 will host Brendan and his Wild Hunt comrades, the singing drummer Chris Elvidge and the singing bassist Lena Traynham, They’ll sample their first joint record “You’re Not Alone” (CD Baby), which includes the wave-washing, star-dusting “I’m Not Afraid” and a smiling, cleansing version of “Wagon Wheel,” a hitch-hiking singalong hit completed by Ketch Secor, leader of Old Crow Medicine Show, from a chorus and melody that Bob Dylan wrote while recording the soundtrack to “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”
In the email conversation below Brendan, who lives on a permaculture farm in Ellicott City, Md., discusses being inspired by everyone from Jonsi to The Tallest Man on Earth; climbing physical and emotional mountains around the globe, and the nirvana of losing time, space and self.
Q: Can you remember the first song you couldn’t forget, the one that knocked you out stone cold?
A: When I was younger, while I was familiar with a wide array of music, I was saturated in hip-hop, rock, and niche metal genres. Then at 12 years old I saw the movie “Once,” created by the Irish band the Frames, starring [Frames leader] Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The most powerful song was “Say It to Me Now,” but the song that stuck with me at the time was “Falling Slowly.” The music in the film inspired me so deeply that I began writing folk music and had an album of material written and recorded by age 13 (unreleased).
Q: What was the first song that convinced you that making music absolutely, positively had to be your calling?
A: I grew up in a musically saturated environment, homeschooled by a mom who was a professional singer/musician/bandleader in her pre-parental life, and a dad who was/is, among other things, a professional recording engineer. At 11 years old my mom was recording Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with my dad in the studio, and I asked if I could give it a shot. I had a knack for it and my parents took me seriously, giving me freedom to pursue that path from a young age. Before that day I was set on being a filmmaker, and now that day feels like a marker for when I decided music was my calling.
Q: Who was/is your main musical mentor, and what’s the best lesson he or she imparted to you?
A: I’ve had various mentors, but my dad imbued some of the main songwriting concepts that have stuck with me, such as writing about interesting people, telling stories. and making emotionally genuine music that people can believe. I’ve had a wild life so far with vast emotional mountainscapes, and those songwriting elements have helped me process much of it.
Q: Why did you add “The Wild Hunt” to the name of the band? Were any other names seriously in the running?
A: The first band I ever formed in 2011 was named The Wild Hunt, inspired by the beautiful song by The Tallest Man on Earth. I went through various musical names through the years, but The Wild Hunt revolved back around and deeply resonated with me. It’s also a mythology with roots in cultures around the world: all involving a spectral leader, a following train of spirits, the howling of hounds, flashes of lightning, and a mystery born from ties to folk magic and paganism, plus reported sightings. This combination of myth and truth is somewhat parallel to our music, in how I take inspiration from my life and turn it into mythology.
Q: You’ve said that “I’m Not Afraid” was triggered by a close call while hopping freight trains with a friend. What year did you have your revelation outside Philadelphia? Why were you train hopping? What other old-fashioned, hobo-esque, picaresque adventures have you enjoyed? And have any of them blossomed into songs?
A: It was 2015, in the days following Halloween. We hopped trains mostly for the adventure. I’ve also hitch-hiked 800 miles down the Midwest in three days (out of necessity), traveled around the U.S. living in a car with a blown head gasket and a cat I accidentally adopted at a laundromat in Northern California, backpacked around Greek islands, and swam across the Aegean Sea to a distant island on a whim. I remember some of the places like they were lucid dreams, like the sky of more stars than dark in the Mora mountains in N.M., the twilight in the Montana mountains, hearing hundreds of people wail “We love youuu!” In unison from the other side of the mountain, and falling asleep on a hidden beach in Greece, feeling my body sway with the waves even though I wasn’t in the water. Some of these have made it into songs, including a few songs on the debut record we just released.
Q: How has making music with Chris and Lena changed you as a musician and, maybe just maybe, as a person?
A: I’ve been playing with Chris for about two years, and Lena for one. The amount of effort and care these two put into this endeavor is humbling. When I’m in the audience and see people on stage engulfed in the music and communicating with dedication to a shared vision, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, and I’m blessed to be entwined in such relationships.
Q: Have you discovered something recently—as a guitarist, a singer, a songwriter, a public performer—that has made making music easier and more rewarding, something that qualifies as a long, hard-earned epiphany?
A: I recently had an epiphany, something I’d already known but only recently fully clicked. The sound of a singer’s voice is mostly breath control and the vowel shapes one creates with the mouth: the position of the tongue, the vertical space between the tongue and the soft palate. I’ve always had a knack for doing impressions, and it recently hit me that I can embrace whatever characteristics I want. I’m sure I’ll always be working to hone my voice. It’s truly freeing.
Q: How would you like to improve as a musician?
A: I ‘m always working to improve my techniques. I’m currently working on belting with a growl, fluid soloing, and composing more intricate orchestral arrangements.
Q: What song do you return to, again and again and again, for an instant dose of inspiration?
A: There’s this state of mind called flow state. It’s when one is so fully immersed in an activity that you lose sense of time and space, and even self. Some ambient music really puts me in that zone. Once I was free climbing a cliff while listening to a collection of beautiful ambient compositions, and every move upwards was clear, till there was a long silence in a track. For minutes I couldn’t figure out where to grasp to ascend, and I couldn’t climb down without falling a far distance. All of a sudden the music returned and every hand and foot placement upwards was obvious.
Ambient music can move me to that flow state of mind, which is profoundly beneficial for songwriting. “Ævin Endar” by Jonsi is one song I can count on for that. The [Jonsi & Alex] album “Riceboy Sleeps” is emotionally powerful and also puts me in that space.
Q: What are your favorite venues, and why?
A: I’m somewhat obsessed with stage aesthetic, specifically stage drapes and balconies. Regarding venues we play: our favorite one in Baltimore is the 8×10 (balconies and supportive culture), in NYC Rockwood Music Hall (stage drapes, balconies, and very supportive), and I presume Mauch Chunk Opera House will remain on our favorites list. It seems to have all three of those elements, and we certainly hope to return after this concert.
Q: Is there a talisman, a notion and/or a potion that keeps you happier and saner on the road?
A: I have a piece of jade that my partner gave me seven years ago, a moon that represents me and her. It’s also tattooed on my arm, but I hold it often on the road.
Q: So, Conor, what tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: A couple main things are performing at Red Rocks and a ship tour around the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. And Medicare for all would be nice.
Q: And what tops your Fuckit List? Musicians have told me everything from ending oppressive religions to assassinating all snakes.
A: Ending imprisonment for low-level nonviolent crimes. And no more ticks.
Geoff Gehman (Former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown)
"Like if Postal Service had a baby with The Head and the Heart, and somehow one of them had slept with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but Stills was a female and liked modern pop music, and Bruce Hornsby helped them arrange shit."
-Drew McManus (Satsang)
"...Energetic folk-ish pop-rock with strong main melodies and catchy choruses. Great lead and harmony vocals; passionate lyrics about personal and societal matters. I guarantee we will be hearing more from this crew."
-Ken Roseman (Music Journalist at "Sing Out!")
"I listened to Conor's CD and was very impressed with his songwriting and vocals. His version of "Wagon Wheel" has grown on me. It might be a hit record."
-Normand Parenteau (Manager of Old Crow Medicine Show)
“With great embarrassment and with equal joy I wanted to say that found a CD hiding beneath geological layers of stuff on my desk… Track 5 [Garden State] has now played 30 times… the instrumental chorus to set up the vocal again is just insanely brilliant… To think that Conor wrote GARDEN STATE when he was 16 is just terrifying… The lyrics of the song are so brilliant, personal, unique… the local voices, the makeshift bed… I'm off to Glacier Ntl. Park for some climbing and hiking and Conor's will be one of the 3 CDs I plan to bring along.”
-Will Ackerman (Founder of Windham Hill Records)
"...As Conor's song "Creation of the Universe" illuminates, stories begin in wonder. We behold something incredibly powerful and awe inspiring - lightning splitting the air near to us, or a shooting star lighting up the night sky - and suddenly our lives are filled with delicious mystery, latent power, and beauty. [Creation of the Universe] captures these emotions so beautifully... sparkling harmonies and melodies, instrumentation and archetypal lyrics."
-Professor Steven McAlpine (Interdisciplinary Studies at UMBC)