As an artist and local performer Kawnar, aka Connor McFarland, is hard to pin down. Throughout his musical output, the 21-year-old effortlessly switches between the roles of MC, songwriter, guitarist and producer.
His style is equally transient as he borrows heavily from hip-hop, dance, pop and even rock. Kawnar primarily made his name as an MC and producer with his 2008 debut Unclear and his collaborations with rapper/producer P.D.A. But the label of rapper or MC is something that Kawnar has been avoiding for years because of his Caucasian heritage, being called a rapper had negative connotations and stereotypes he said.
"I wouldn't have a problem with being called a rapper if it wasn't condescending in a way," he said.
Since the age of 14, he has diversified his musical resources teaching himself to play the guitar, bass and piano. He later attended school for audio engineering and recording; all in an attempt to escape being just a "white rapper."
His new release, BE DFFRNT, is to further remove himself from labels as he adds healthy doses of modern rock and pop to the mix. Part of the reason he stretches genres so far on the EP is to further prove he is not a one-dimensional rapper, he said.
The EP's namesake is a reference to the stylistic departure that he has taken during the creation of the record as compared to previous releases. Although it's called BE DFFRNT, he said, it's actually the most normal sounding project he has done in terms of style.
Kawnar will be formally releasing the EP with a free show at Bob's, which is next door to Cain's Ballroom, 473 N. Main St., on Friday, June 18. Sheree Chamberlain and The Ne'er Do Well are also scheduled to perform.
Aside from BE DFFRNT's mainstream pop style approach, the record is also his take on what the radio programming should sound like, he said. The result is an interesting mesh of diverse songs that have a catchy beat-driven production in common. Although every track on the EP is unique, most would nestle nicely in their own way next to the playlists of today's pop radio.
The upbeat "Timeless Sync" is a particular standout track that modulates from a funky dance floor verse full of synth stabs reminiscent of Justin Timberlake's solo material to a sweltering anthemic chorus.
"Wings of an Elephant" is a more laid back song led by a melodic bass guitar and a bass drum figure that has the rhythmic one-two punch of a well-trained boxer. Kawnar's staccato verse vocals are well augmented by a soaring smooth chorus where he sings, "Girl you're not that beautiful/ Girl you're not that beautiful/ So get your head out of those clouds."
Kawnar cited genre-bending artists such as Gorillaz and Andre 3000 as personal influences, which provides clarity for his own work. Both artists mentioned are able to experiment and absorb inspiration from a variety of styles of music, while retaining a unique identity. Kawnar's attempt to do the same is apparent in his catalog.
The 2008 EP Unclear is sample heavy and the most hip-hop oriented of all of his output. Kawnar calls it a "glorified mixtape" that he could not sell because of legal reasons, so he gave it away for free. Although the beats and keys of the album hit hard and often there are tinklings of guitar that would later become a much more prominent place in his music.
The beginning of 2009 found him collaborating on A Hard Week's Night with P.D.A. The 13-track project is a modern hip-hop recreation and sampling of classic Beatles tracks all done in five days.
It was a "weird idea" Kawnar said, that grew out of obsessively listening to The Beatles album Abbey Road for a week straight. "We locked ourselves in a room literally and just made music for five days," he said.
Also in 2009, Kawnar entered a songwriting contest to create a new theme song for the television program Lost. He came in second place, and his song received thousands of hits on the Internet. He saw an opportunity to incorporate the new season of the show into his songwriting for a kind of built-in exposure.
"I'm a big nerdy Lost fan," Kawnar said. The concept was to write a song every week lyrically based around the newest episode of the show. Unfortunately, fans of the program were too busy obsessively analyzing the show itself to pay much attention to his compositions. He lasted seven episodes.
"That (project) was a huge failure," he said with a laugh. The music he did compose demonstrated experimentations in tone and atmosphere and a diversification of instrumentation, which probably played a big part in his transition to the songs of BE DFFRNT.
Considering the origins of some of the material for the EP, it makes sense that BE DFFRNT would be Kawnar's most pop-orient work to date.
Last summer, he was approached by a music placement company in search of original music for commercials and films. One assignment he received involved writing pop music for scenes in a Disney film. Two of the songs he wrote for the project became the first two songs for BE DFFRNT. At the time, it occurred to Kawnar that he could make an entire EP in the pop genre that he was experimenting with, and the foundation of BE DFFRNT was formed.
Kawnar plans on revisiting his earlier sound and making a hip-hop and sampled-based Unclear 2. But he has to get back into the mindset of rapping again.
As a result of making pop songs, "every time I make music now I want to sing over it," he said.
But as always, he continues to be an artist in transition. The whole pop music stuff? "It's not a permanent thing," he said.
Kawnar will be performing a free show at Bob's Friday, June 18 with Sheree Chamberlain and The Ne'er Do Well.
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