My friend and colleague Craig Havighurst recently alerted me to an artist I wasn’t familiar with and I’m so glad he did! Conrad Fisher is back home in Pennsylvania now after writing and recording for a few years here in Nashville, where he’d caught the attention of Americana Lifetime Achievement producer Jim Rooney (John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Griffth, Hal Ketchum). Conrad’s writing takes me back to the classic country songs I grew up on with a sort of stripped down presentation of them on his album, Homemade released earlier this year.
AnaLee: Tell us a little about your home in Pennsylvania and how you first fell in love with country music?
Conrad: I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Our family had a greenhouse on about 10 acres of land in the heart of Amish Country. I fell in love with country music because my dad was a huge Johnny Cash fan. I grew up in the Mennonite Church, and we probably weren’t really supposed to have Johnny’s records in the house, but we did anyway. When my uncle Davy was in “rumspringa” he used to play in an Amish band called the Green Peas, so he taught me a lot of country standards. My uncle Henry played the fiddle and taught me all those old bluegrass and folk tunes.
AnaLee: I really love the stripped down arrangements of the sounds on Homemade, on which you played almost everything. From what I understand, you had planned on more of a full production sound but Covid stepped in and changed those plans. Maybe it wasn’t planned, but I feel like this production really allows the beauty of the songs to shine. Can you talk a little about making the album, did you record it here in Nashville?
Conrad: Thank you! I was planning to cut a record with a full band early last year. At the time, I lived in the tiny town of Millersville, a bit north of Nashville. I had been working as a carpenter part time when the stay-at-home order was put in place, so I decided to be productive and try to record an album at my house. I figured that even if I didn’t end up releasing it, I would end up with a handful of really good demos of songs that I had written. It was all kinds of fun. I did it in about two weeks in my 12’ by 14’ bedroom studio with some gear my publisher loaned me. I got my friend Daniel Beachey to play steel guitar on “Never Been Good at Goodbye,” and another buddy named Ben Sanders to play fiddle on “Reasons and Rhymes.” Shawn Gough mastered it for me.
AnaLee: “Hello Good Times” feels like a song we could all use right about now. It’s really easy to slip into a darker place as the pandemic wears on but as things start to slowly open back up, this song is kind of a reminder to look towards what is good in life. It’s only two minutes long and I find myself playing this one on repeat! It kind of reminds me of something Buck Owens would’ve done. Tell us a little about this song.
Conrad: Thank you. That is a massive compliment in my book. I wrote this song in late 2019. I was pretty discouraged with the fickle nature of the music industry at the time and just trying to look on the bright side. As a whole, I try to stay out of “the world sucks and here’s why” kind of songwriting unless there is some kind of redemptive quality to the message. I think that a large part of being successful at anything has to do with the way you frame your circumstances in your mind. “I’m not poor, I’m just broke, but I’m willing to wait.” That guy’s gonna make something of himself.
AnaLee: “Never Been Good at Goodbye” is a classic country heartbreaker. There is a voice mail recording featured in the song. Can you tell us a little about the song and that message?
Conrad: That’s the voice of one of my best friends in the whole world. He died early last year. He lived alone in a cabin he built for himself in the hills of Juniata County. That’s where my wife Beth is from, and where we live now. We visited him every time we came home to Pennsylvania. He was the kind of country smart that is really hard to come by. He taught me how to cure and smoke meat, and how to plant a better garden. He was always smoking hand rolled cigarettes and drinking his coffee way too strong for my taste. I couldn’t be there when they laid him to rest, but I got to build him a coffin, and line it with one of my favorite quilts. I have a lot of older friends. I know they can’t live on forever, but it sure is hard to watch them go.
AnaLee: I follow your YouTube channel and it seems like you are releasing songs as they come to you! One of my favorites that is not on Homemade is another uplifting tune called, “The Bluebirds Are Singing For Me”. Tell us about this one.
Conrad: Thank you! I like that song, too. I’m always writing and recording demos, so if I come up with something I think folks will enjoy, I’ll post it on Facebook and Youtube. “The Bluebirds Are Singing For Me” was fun to write because it woke me up one night around 1 AM with the complete chorus playing in my head. I laid awake for a few hours ‘til I had the verses written and memorized, then fell back to sleep again. I wish it was always that easy. The lyrics talk about the way I’ve been feeling lately. Nashville can really start to feel like a bubble when you are around music as an industry all the time, and it was tough for me to write good country music in the city. Living back on my farm in Pennsylvania has been so therapeutic and helpful for my creativity, and that song was just the outpouring of those feelings.
AnaLee: What are you working on now and do you have any plans to tour?
Conrad: On the home front, I just got a pair of donkeys that we named Mavis and Jethro, and a couple of goats we named Jake and Jubal.
One of my musical goals for this coming year is to get to know the seasoned songwriters in Nashville that are still writing but not enjoying as much commercial success on country radio anymore. Those writers have a lot to teach anybody who can be quiet long enough to listen. We’re also cutting a record with a full band this summer, which I’m really excited about. I’ve got a few private shows booked, but no real touring plans at the moment. I’ve got a killer band though. They are all much better musicians than I am, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear them once the world finds its new normal.
Conrad Fisher, “Hello Good Times”
Conrad Fisher, “The Bluebirds Are Singing For Me”