Some musicians just have to discover themselves.
Waynesville singer-songwriter Lorraine Conard grew up singing at church and in plays, jotting down song verses here and there in college.
Music was an inextricable part of Conard’s life, but without outside confirmation of her talent, she opted for a career in web design.
The need to express herself through music eventually took over, though, and Conard decided to go for it on her own terms.
“I realized there’s not somebody out there just waiting to tell you, ‘This is who you are.’ You have to decide who you are,” Conard said. “I never even thought about majoring in music, and looking back, I would have loved that. It didn’t even exist in my picture of who I could be.”
Since her epiphany years ago, Conard quickly built up a local reputation with her powerful croon. Her first album, “Riding on Your Wings,” released last fall, is a mixed-bag of bluesy folk, country pop and Americana intertwined with a tinge of jazz.
The Lorraine Conard Band had its start earlier this year.
Conard had played on and off with mandolin player Ed Kelly for the last six years. Less than a year ago, a mutual friend introduced Conard to bassist Greg Kidd, who was practically a next-door neighbor.
When the first big snow before Christmas essentially shut Waynesville down, Kidd walked up the hill with his bass to Conard’s house to play.
It was an instant musical connection that stayed strong when Kelly joined in.
In newer songs, Conard’s sultry voice still occupies center stage, but energetic bass lines along with Kelly’s adept mandolin playing create a pleasant pared down sound.
A modern approach
After performing nearly every weekend without fail this year, Conard set aside August for a much-needed hiatus.
Conard continues to enjoy her work as a freelance website designer. She says her experience with the web has helped her “a million percent” in her musical career.
“They definitely inform each other,” Conard said.
Conard has come up with some creative ways to support herself, including one idea that will be carried out for the first time at an upcoming concert in Sylva on Aug. 27.
Conard will offer concertgoers a chance to create their own albums using songs recorded at the live show — as soon is the concert is over. Fans can mix and match songs for a 5-track EP, a ten-song album, or a double disc, which will include the entire concert.
“A lot of times people will say, ‘Do you have a CD like what we heard tonight?’” Conard said. With this arrangement, Conard can give listeners exactly what they want. The CD will be delivered to their doorsteps two weeks after the show.
It’s another way for musicians to support themselves in an age when free music is taken for granted, Conard said.
“Musicians are really struggling right now with finding ways to not make huge sums of money, but to simply be able to afford to play,” Conard said.
After a few weeks of polishing up songs, Conard is looking forward to performing again this weekend and hoping for an energetic crowd.
“It’s not just the musicians, it’s the people that come and bring their picnic,” said Conard. “Everybody is part of the event, just in different ways. That’s what makes it so wonderful.”
Conard hopes to continue taking her music to wider audiences, but she’s not itching to become a full-time musician — just yet.
“What I have right now is this incredibly lucky balance of a flexible job that I work with people that I love, that gives me some balance and also allows me the freedom to go and play music,” said Conard.
Having that flexibility means that Conard doesn’t have to force herself to create. Usually, Conard flips through her notebook full of ideas to see what strikes her at the moment.
She wrote the first two verses of “Dance With My Blues” six or seven years ago and finished it earlier this year.
Conard wrote most of “Carry Me” in college, but added the chorus a year or two afterwards.
“Carry Me,” one of Conard’s first, was inspired by Conard’s great grandmother who in her very late 90s suffered from dementia. She stayed with Conard’s family for a month and would always tell stories about her childhood.
“That really impacted me,” said Conard. “All those parts of life that are still part of someone, even when they are kind of slowly slipping away … A lot of what I write is more about a feeling or emotion, and not necessarily mine.”
What grabs Conard’s attention most about music in general is good storytelling and songwriting.
“I don’t think that is genre specific,” said Conard. “It’s that energy when everything comes together in the right now…music just has a great power to connect people in a way that just talking doesn’t necessarily do.”
But Conard focuses as much on the music as the lyrics, recognizing that listeners always don’t stick around for songs that focus solely for their words.
“Most people aren’t there to appreciate how great your lyrics are,” said Conard. “They’re there because they want to have an experience, they want to have a great time, they want to be entertained and be transported.”
• The Lorraine Conard Band will play a two-hour show starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27, at the Bridge Park Pavilion in downtown Sylva. The show is part of the free Concerts on the Creek series.
• The Lorraine Conard Band will perform at the Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market Saturday, Aug. 28, as part of a customer appreciation day. The market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of HART theatre on U.S. 276 four blocks from Main Street in Waynesville.