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Interview: Connor Roff talks Jeff Buckley, Pride, and new music

English-Canadian singer-songwriter Connor Roff is the perfect interpreter for heartbreak. Favouring delicate vocal lines and sparse arranging, Roff’s music is a gentle balm that can heal any and all malicious wounds.

At home both in the quieter outer recesses of Vancouver and the bustling cityscape of London, Roff was originally a member of the London Contemporary Voices choir, whose list of collaborators is about as extensive as can be: U2, Florence + the Machine, Elbow, Sam Smith, Alt-J, Basement Jaxx, Lewis Capaldi, Joss Stone, James Bay, and Jarvis Cocker, just to name a few.

Through the choir’s work, Roff’s penchant for layered vocals and intertwined harmonies began solidifying. You’d be hard-pressed to find a song in his repertoire that doesn’t have some kind of complex vocal interplay. That ability to convey emotions works just as well for infatuation and desire as it does for depression and despair.

So it only makes sense that Roff should take on another king of heartache: Jeff Buckley. Roff’s cover of Buckley song ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ understands everything that made the original so special, but rearranges the track just enough to highlight what makes Roff unique as an artist in his own right.

Here, we caught up with Connor to chat about his inspirations in taking on a classic artist, how he connects with Pride, and what it’s like to be a “Canadian and U.K. sandwich”.

Far Out: ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ is beautiful, what inspired you to do that Jeff Buckley cover?

Roff: “To be honest with you, I’ve always loved Jeff Buckley and I always appreciate his songwriting, especially that album Grace, where that tracks obviously part of, I think like I was just messing around with it in my room and I like recorded a demo in my room, piano and vocal, and then started to add on some BVS for fun. And I sent it over to my producer in the UK, James, and he just was like, ‘whoa, we should turn this into something proper’. And I was like ‘All right, cool. Let’s do it’. He’d then just sort of like made it and brought it out even more.

“And we tried to really layers as many vocals as we could around to try and create this sort of hugging sensation around the lead vocal. And then it just continued to grow from there.”

Did you have any trepidation about doing a Jeff Buckley song?

“Definitely very daunting. I think whenever you try and cover one of the greats, so to speak, it’s something that is always a bit frightening as a singer-songwriter or as an artist, but at the end of the day, like, I love the song and I love how it turned out and I feel confident about that.

“And there’s always going to be some people that have something to say otherwise. So you kind of have to just roll with that.”

How has Buckley kind of influenced you in your own personal writing for your own music?

“I’m not exactly sure. He is someone that I don’t actually think of it that way, which is interesting.

“I think I just stumbled upon Buckley later in life, like maybe in my early twenties. I think songwriting wise definitely in terms of his falsetto and his use of his range of his vocal, I think that’s something that I really admire respect and try to incorporate into my own writing these days.

“And his confidence: he was such a confident performer and he was such a confident artist. So both of those things are good.”

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In the press release that I got for ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’, the very first thing it said was ‘LGBT artist’. And I was wondering what your own personal feelings are regarding the promotion and the monetisation of your identity. Is there any conflict with that?

“I mean, I think for only speaking for myself, when I was a lot younger, it was the other way round. It was like, ‘Oh, um, You can’t’. You know, it’s better if you kind of like don’t mention these things where you just keep them kind of like in the background and people don’t really need to know or whatever.

“And that was definitely a common theme for a long time. So I think from my perspective, it’s great. I like that people are being really upfront about this now. And yes, maybe there is a bit of monetisation and marketing involved in that, but ultimately, I think it’s spreading awareness and doing more good. So I’m okay with it.”

Pride Month is here and Pride means different things to everybody. Does it mean anything specific to you? Do you have any personal connection with it?

“I mean, I think Pride is just great fun. It’s a good celebration. Like, you know, I have no qualms with that.

“I think I’ve kind of gone through the motions over the years of like Pride. And like, for me, it just represents like a big party, especially growing up, being in London for quite a long time and experiencing pride in London. We did some really fun things with a couple of shows I did with the choir I was part of over there called London Contemporary Voices. And we performed so a couple of times there.

“I used to be part of this throwing club, which is quite funny, which has an LGBT club there as well. I was part of the parade in some way, shape or form. And I think Pride is just a great, a great reason to go out and celebrate obviously an LGBT+ identity. And there’s no reason why people shouldn’t do that or have anything against that.”

You said you just came from a video shoot last night. Does that mean that there is something coming up in terms of new music, potentially, maybe an EP or an album?

“Right now, there’s definitely a lot of other new material. That’s sort of culminating in the background that will be coming out. I’m not exactly sure when I can’t tell you when, but it will be coming out soon. Like there’s probably two or three songs… Yeah, two or three songs this summer, and then some more after that.”

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What’s it been like being based in both Canada and the UK during Covid?

“It’s been a bit of a back and forth game. I’ve been back here in Vancouver now since the beginning of Covid. So it was like over a year ago, but my producer, James, is in the UK and we’ve been working internationally in that way.

“It’s been really cool and actually worked very well for us, considering the circumstances, but my time in Canada and the UK is always a dichotomy and always a conundrum because both of them feel like home in different ways. I was both of them at this point.”

Do you feel more Canadian? You feel more British? Does it not matter?

“It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t.

“I think for a long time I tried to figure it out and to put, you know, a label on it, but now it doesn’t matter. It’s just both. I’m kind of a Canadian and UK sandwich.”

What’s the general plan for you regarding live shows or touring?

“Yeah, it’s still hard to say right now for me, what those tours are, what the shows will look like. I think that I miss it. And obviously, we all miss it. Obviously, we all want to be out at a live gig or any concert situation ASAP. Vancouver has just announced their kind of like BC health update as of a couple of days ago and their restart plan as they’re calling it is to very gradually keep moving things towards being fully open again.

“And I believe by Canada Day, I think it’s the 1st of July, they are planning to have all indoor and outdoor gatherings fully open. And then by September, the beginning of September, they’re expecting, or they’re hoping they’re planning for things to be fully open, like in every way. So we’ll see. They are rolling out the vaccine very rapidly. So hopefully soon.”

This article has been edited for clarity.