Just a few months after graduating in May, musician Mara Connor ’13, who performed countless times during her time at Vassar, will be returning to campus to grace the stage of the Mug as the first stop of her East Coast tour. Connor will be coming back to her alma mater to perform along with friend and fellow musician Katie Von Schleicher at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 3.
For Connor, deciding to pursue music was a natural decision. “My parents are both in the arts and they’ve always told me to do what I love,” said Connor.
Songwriting has been a part of her life since she was a toddler; Connor first started writing songs at the age of three or four and never seemed to stop. “They just kind of came out of me all at once: lyrics, melody, and all,” Connor explained.
The decision to pursue music professionally became clear to Connor the summer after her senior year of high school, when she joined an indie rock band in Los Angeles.
“I joined my first indie rock band in Los Angeles the summer after high school and fell in love with performing,” she said.”I think the collaborative aspect of music-making that summer really inspired me, along with all the crazy fun we had playing shows around L.A. at venues, parties, in friends’ backyards and at each other’s houses late into the night. Around the time I left for Vassar songs started pouring out of me and I realized that was what I wanted to do.”
While at Vassar, Connor continued to perform music in a collaborative style. “During my time at Vassar I performed a lot on campus and was able to develop my sound in a nurturing, pressure-free environment,” she said.
Connor’s first performance at Vassar was during her freshman year. Her band, Shark Wrangler, performed a mix of covers of bands like the Pixies, The Arcade Fire and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as some of Connor’s original pieces.
“We’d rehearse in the grimy Joss basement in between classes and play shows on the weekends. It was a lot fun,” explained Connor. Aside from Shark Attack, Connor was in another band, an all-female ensemble called The Jems. The Jems, however, disbanded after a short while.
“We played one show on Joss Beach dressed in black and wearing sunglasses and that was that,” said Connor. She also took part in After Hours, Vassar’s former singer-songwriter showcase.
“I found Vassar to be an incredible resource for me as a musician,” said Connor. Her guitar teacher and faculty sponsor at Vassar, Adjunct Instructor in Music Terry Champlin, has been a helpful force behind Connor’s music career, even after her graduation.
“He supported me as I was developing my songwriting skills and urged me to think about making music my career, so I did,” revealed Connor.
Champlin asked Connor to partake in a field work project in which she recorded one of her songs at a studio in Woodstock—where some of her personal musical heroes, such as The Band and James Taylor, recorded their songs as well.
“I also love the flexibility of Vassar’s curriculum and the programs it offers for travel,” said Connor. She did a semester in Dublin, where Connor had a gig performing solo shows twice a week at a popular pub. Upon returning, Connor next took a semester at Wesleyan University through the Twelve College Exchange Program where she studied a variety of musical forms, ranging from jazz vocals to gospel choir. During her semester at Wesleyan, Connor started an electronic and indie band with a few Wesleyan students.
Connor first started playing at a professional level before graduating in 2013. At the CMJ Music Festival in New York, Los Angeles and Dublin, she was able to open for Christopher Owens, the songwriter and front man of indie band “Girls,” in front of an audience of over 500. But Connor continued to perform at Vassar up until the day she graduated; her last show took place in the Aula just a few hours before Connor walked at commencement.
Since graduating, Connor, a Los Angeles native, has moved to New York City and is working for the Brooklyn-based record label Ba Da Bing Records as the Director of Music Licensing. Ba Da Bing also released Connor’s first single, “Love is Simple”, on their summer compilation.
Connor offered words of advice to any Vassar student considering a future career in music upon graduating.
“To anyone who feels the same way I do about music, I say just go for it. A few things I’ve learned recently: Follow your instincts and don’t second-guess yourself. Practice, record and perform as much as you can and don’t be afraid to seek advice from people you respect,” she said.
“Write first and think later. Take your time but also be proactive. Meet as many musicians and music lovers as you can and collaborate with artists you admire, even if you might come from different stylistic backgrounds. I’ve also learned a lot from just sitting down and listening to my favorite records and researching how other artists began their careers,” Connor added.
“Music isn’t an easy career,” noted Connor, “but then again neither are most…if you love it, why not give it a try?”