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Atlanta country-rock outfit Connor Christian & Southern Gothic has been winning fans one show at a time since 2004, and 2013 looks to be its biggest year yet. The group’s latest album, New Hometown, released Feb. 12, bowed at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot Country Albums chart and effectively encapsulates what brings fans out to their shows.
“We’ve been a band for close to nine years now and we felt like we’ve never been able to capture what we do live—which is really where the magic happens—on a CD,” says band leader Connor, who grew up in a military family that lived in Indonesia, Korea, Belgium and elsewhere. “[The producer] understood, he got it. He came out to a few shows, wanted to see us play in front of a hometown crowd and really get an idea of what we were like night in, night out. The live show gets a little more rambunctious than the record for sure, but I feel like people will at least get the vibe and understand what we’re about.”
The album’s rootsy first single, “Sheets Down,” recalls a night spent wasted in New Orleans with the object of his affection, dancing in the rain. The song’s video is currently playing on cmt.com. The explicit references to codeine and pills might be a little much for radio, but Connor didn’t want to soften his approach to win fans.
“We were like, ‘Should we really lead off the record with this?’ When we sat back and looked at the record, [we decided] this is the best introduction to this band,” explains Connor. “We drink and we party and we ride the road hard. If we give you the sanitized version and you like it and you come see us, you’re gonna hate us. It’s better to just put it out there and be like, this is what we do.”
New Hometown also offers sweetly soulful fare like “Stella Please,” and straight up honky-tonk like “That Ol’ Jukebox.” There’s also a (nearly) guitar-free cover of Guns N’ Roses’ epic “November Rain,” with twin fiddles handling Slash’s iconic guitar solos. Connor says the GNR treatment goes over well in the live shows—at least when they have time to play it. “If you’ve got 45 minutes, you can’t whip out a 10-minute-long song,” he says with a big laugh. “But people get pissed when you don’t!”
The band’s penchant for delivering rowdy live performances has earned them opening slots for everyone from Tim McGraw to Styx. With the release of New Hometown, Connor notes he’s ready to swing for the fences in the major leagues.
“Every night, if you come see us in a bar or a theater we’re going to give you the arena show. It’d be nice to do the arena show in arenas,” he says, reflecting on the band’s years of touring and honing their skills. “I’d love to be able to put this record in everybody’s hands and see their faces at the show, too.”