UPDATED: 03/09/20 1:30 p.m.
“For me, once Stephanie moved and we made the decision to put the project on hiatus, it was less sitting on the songs and more giving up,” Julian Conner told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay in an email.
The expat Tampa songwriter was detailing music that’ll be released as The Florida Years, a new EP of unreleased songs from his band, Atlantic Oceans, which featured Conner’s wife, Tessa McKenna, on drums and vocals, plus Anderson who added harmonies to a lone 2014 single released on local indie-rock label New Granada Records.
Conner was already in bands that broke up as they were starting to take off (Giddy-up, Helicopter!, Sleepy Vikings), and while Atlantic Oceans was smaller and had less momentum, Anderson’s move to Jordan made him decide to just walk away from the songs and leave them on the table.
“I stopped playing music altogether,” Conner added. “I’m naturally competitive and I couldn’t just let myself enjoy playing anymore so I stopped.”
Then more change happened. Conner and McKenna changed careers and moved to Philadelphia, where they’ve embraced everything one of the oldest cities in America has to offer; New Granada’s recent 25th anniversary as a label seemed like a good reason to finally release the songs.
The Florida Years is a streaming-only effort that hits the web on March 6. To celebrate, Conner and McKenna are flying home to perform as a duo as part of a release show on Sunday, March 15 at Seminole Heights’ Microove record shop, which is the de facto headquarters for New Granada.
Atlantic Oceans w/Joel Davis/Van Plating
Sun. March 15, 5 p.m. All ages.
$10.00 suggested donation
Microgroove, 4906 N. Florida Ave. Tampa
Since Anderson is still in Jordan, label co-founder Susie Ulrey will fill in on backing vocals at the show where support comes from Joel Davis (of Fistful and Ascend the Hill) and Van Plating (featuring Pemberly’s Rachel Van Plating.)
“We decided collectively to release this EP because, one, it was time, and two, to be a part of New Granada Records 25th anniversary year,” New Granada co-founder and Microgroove owner Keith Ulrey told CL.
The five-track EP was recorded at Tampa’s Atomic Audio in 2015 with DieAlps! guitarist and songwriter Frank Calcaterra at the board.
“Frank was super easy to record with. Looking back, I probably should have utilized him more, because there are parts I hear now that I would have loved to put in there,” Conner said, adding that the process of writing the songs was a lot different than when he was writing for Sleepy Vikings.
“These tracks kind of wrote themselves, in the sense that I never sat down and thought, ‘I need another couple of tracks to introduce to the band,’” he added. So the tunes happened more organically thanks to Conner being less worried about how they would sound live, or what other parts had to be built around them.
“Sweet Believer" features Atlantic Oceans’ familiar, and heartbreakingly earnest, indie-folk still drenched in McKenna and Anderson’s stripped-back harmonies, which are lent a contrasting voice thanks to at addition of vocals from Conner.
“I think what we put down is an accurate snapshot of where we were at the time,” Conner said. “I’m incredibly excited, grateful and nervous about this release.”
Conner, for his part, is probably less nervous about the release show happening in the same room that hosted Atlantic Oceans’ farewell show nearly four years ago.
“We are incredibly stoked to come down to Tampa and play at Microgroove,” he said. New Granada is more than label to Atlantic Oceans; Keith Ulrey even officiated his and McKenna’s wedding. “Keith and Susie are basically family, so we’re psyched beyond words to be able to have a family reunion of sorts.”
In typical fashion, Conner will be sharing intimate lyrics when Atlantic Oceans hits the stage.
On "Elvis," Conner name checks Willie Nelson to help process what happens after someone's loved one commits suicide.
"I sat with my fiend for awhile and in the conversation she talked about the things he had loved. One of them was baseball—he played, he was an athlete—and another was classic country and rock and roll," he explained. "She said they used to listen to Willie Nelson and Elvis together, and I guess in some weird way this song is a tribute to that, or at least a kind of memorial."
"Sickness" found Conner tried to step into McKenna's mind as she was beginning to battle an eating disorder.
"We were both struggling then, actually all three of us, and I wanted the song to feel like we were feeling," Conner said about the tune with a defiant, almost triumphant ending.
The outro—where Conner sings “I’m the dog getting better/you are the owner/crying in silence as the vet puts me under”—comes from something he wrote about a toxic relationship. It was supposed to be in another song, but it spoke to his wife's fight. The songs ending is a back-and-forth, with two voices making promises to get better. To Conner, those kinds of promises are always more like pleas.
"That’s what I hear when I play the song," he said, before adding that McKenna is coming up on the five-year anniversary of her enrolling herself in a treatment facility. Conner said that she's been strong since that day when she made a decision that undoubtedly saved her life.
" think it’s so important for anyone struggling to reach out for help and be open and honest about that process if possible," he added. Having McKenna and Anderson sing those dual vocals lifted the song; it's something he could never do.
"It’s really been an incredible experience to be able to write for two frontwomen who are just great fucking singers. I also have no talents whatsoever when it comes to harmonizing, so all of the harmonies you find on this recording are attributed to Stephanie and Tessa," he said before ending on this message for the friends, family and fans he hopes to see back home.
"Prioritize mental health, vote, and keep up the good fight you beautiful people."
Follow @cl_music on Twitter to get the most up-to-date music news, concert announcements and local tunes. Subscribe to our newsletter, and listen to us on WMNF 88.5-FM’s “Radio Reverb” program every Saturday from 4 p.m.-6 p.m.