“Ithink in the day-to-day as an artist and songwriter, I write what comes out of my life,” said Eli Conley, a California transplant by way of Richmond, Virginia. “I write a lot of love songs because I have a partner that I love, and some of those might be construed as explicitly gay, or they might not.”

To contextualize that statement, Conley publically came out as queer when he was 14-years-old. He was attending high school in Virginia, and although the internal struggle of gender identification was present within Conley, he was positive that he wanted to be open and honest with his friends and family.

“Honestly, I think the reason I came out at first was because I wanted my other queer friends who I had a crush on to know that I was someone they could date,” he revealed.

At the time, Conley was socially identified as a female. In the state of Virginia, where Conley was living, the general assembly was looking to pass a bill that prohibited sexuality-related student clubs, which would have prevented Conley from joining, or even starting, a gay-straight alliance at his high school.

“I came out in that context to be able to have a gaystraight alliance in our school, and we won! Well, so did a lot of people,” he said.

It wasn’t until his final year of high school that Conley came out as non-female identified, and shortly thereafter came out as male-identified when he was attending college.

When the chance to travel to Germany for a semester abroad was prevented because of passport issues, Conley traveled to California for an internship with Catalyst Project, which is a social justice organization. It was there that he learned the importance of working for change.

“I write songs that people would term political because those are the things that I experience in life, and they are things I want to write about,” he said.

Although Conley currently resides in Berkeley, California, his music is strongly influenced by his memories from living in Virginia. As he grew and moved away from his hometown, he took note of the privatized prison system and what it was doing to his community. This later influenced a song off his 2013 album At The Seams called “Dry As Sin.”

“That song is about the connection between mass incarceration of people in this country and the building of maximum security prisons in rural areas like where I grew up,” he explained. He went on to describe how rural communities like the ones he familiarized himself with at a young age shifted the primary local economic contributor from coal mines to prisons.

“These communities were primarily white, and a lot of people who are locked up are people of color, so it leads to these jobs for white working class people who might be coming into contact with a person of color for the first time,” he said. “The white supremacy comes out in that structure, and that’s something I really wanted to write about.”

He found that asking himself the question of “what would it be like if I had a family who was a prison guard and what if I had a friend that was locked up in prison?” helped him write his songs, and helped him portray the injustices he sees every day through his voice and guitar.

In the musical sense, Conley’s voice carries a timbre reminiscent of Bob Dylan, and his songs bring about a call to action regarding the social injustices that are so present and accepted in America.

Conley will be joined by Joel Price on the fiddle and mandolin, and Adam Plant will open the show in Winston-Salem. !


Eli Conley will play the North Star LGBT Center located at 704 Brookstown Avenue, Winston-Salem on April 10. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is scheduled to start at 7:30. There is a $10 suggested donation.