Chris Connelly has always been known for having parallel musical lives, so it comes as no surprise that in between releases from the “classic WaxTrax!”-influenced Cocksure comes another solo album of powerful melodic rock. Two years in the making, “Decibels From Heart” features guest vocals from Meshell Ndegeocello, Roxy Swain, Rebecca Pidgeon, Lesley Rankine (Ruby) and Claire Massey. Musical collaborators on the release include Scott Bennett (who has played with Beach Boy Brian Wilson), Mike Farrell (Morrissey), and Matt Walker (ex-Filter, Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage.) In an email interview, Connelly discussed his new album and various other projects.
You always seem to be working on various things, and recently launched the Cocksure project. What made you decide that now is the time for a new solo release?
Mostly that I was in the mood to write by myself, it’s a strange and exotic place to be, and once I am in that space – the writing space, I will stay there for a good long while, emerging when I have a strong idea for an album, I have a busy life, it does not happen that often.
Could you discuss the various collaborations found on “Decibels From Heart”? How did they come about? In which cases did you have sense of what you were looking for someone to bring to a track versus just wanting to work with them / seeing what happened?
In the case of the vocalists, I approached several of my favourite singers, not all of them could do it because of time or other commitments, but I approached them all because of their voices and a love of them and their work: nothing too deep I just asked if they wanted to be on a track, and with the exception of Rebecca Pidgeon and ROXY SWAIN, I just let them have at it and do what they wanted – with Rebecca & Roxy, I knew I wanted to make the songs more of a traditional Boy/girl duet…As far as the musicians on the album, That was Matt Walker’s call – in recent years, one of the jobs I have given over to the producer is figure out who to have play on the record.
When I interviewed you about “Artificial Madness,” you said that album was created in more of a concentrated timeline than other releases. What was the process and timeframe like making “Decibels From Heart”?
The writing was over a couple of months, unlike “Madness” which all came together over a furious day of writing – I don’t know how – but “Decibels” that took it’s sweet time!
Creatively, do you keep your various projects complete separate, or do you find ideas that don’t seem appropriate for something end up elsewhere? (For example, was there any overlap with the writing of Cocksure material and your solo work?)
I keep everything separate to the point where I feel like these are characters writing, not me, especially with Cocksure, I am not that guy, he is just someone I play, and the songs on “decibels” though have some little anchors of truth – these are fictions, short stories about characters I have developed in my writing.
More and more artists I’ve spoken to recently are considering abandoning the album format, as they don’t see it as relevant in the age of online music distribution. What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that creating/releasing music an album’s worth at a time is still the preferable format?
Yes, this is a quandary, and I am very divided – in one sense, the “format” of listening to music is changing, just like – I suppose – the way we watch TV, and it is just the way it is, there was a time when we didn’t have video recorders, right? And as a parent, my kids will perhaps not acknowledge the album format, it was not so long ago in the grand scheme of things that we did not have albums, then all of a sudden producers were scrambling to fill up 2 sides with fluff to pad out the hit-but I personally am and always have been a fan of the album, that said, there was a time in the mid 80’s when I was starting out with the FINI TRIBE that the norm was the 12” single or EP with it’s remixes, etc.-or also the 6 track mini-album, which is a forgotten but great format (check out Dannielle Dax’s “Jesus Egg That Wept” a perfect mini album from ’83 or ’84) so, I cannot complain, it’s just I think in terms of an LP with 2 sides, in the early 90’s, the CD tried to get us to think differently, and because you had more time, everyone was struggling to fill up the 80 minutes of the disc with left over crap, so the CD did not help the cause, I will always sit down and write an album’s worth and record an album’s worth, otherwise I feel I am short changing the listener! But I suspect many people do not listen to an “album” anymore
We’d previously discussed the David Bowie vocal comparison, but now you’re been part of a project that actually performs his music (Sons of the Silent Age). What is it like performing Bowie material live? Do you feel that the experience has influenced your own music at all?
Certainly, it has made me a much better singer, these songs are not easy, it has brought about a focus that I lacked before, and performing it live means I get to stand inside of a character standing inside of a character, it’s like acting, it’s hard work, but very rewarding and fun.
Your current solo work and Cocksure sound very different, as do many other projects you’ve been involved with. Would you say that variety in your work has been a goal all along, or is it just the way things have turned out?
No, I am without goals, but I do have a wandering imagination, and I do like to inhabit different characters and spaces, I think musically and (especially) lyrically, I am always reaching for something new, but I do not think in art this is anything peculiar, look at the work of 2 of my favourite artists WOODY ALLEN and MARTIN AMIS (author) they are not restricted by pattern or format, but they WOULDN’T be, they are writing what they write..that said, I enjoy being given parameters if I am writing for someone else and they have a specific goal in mind, that’s a good exercise.
It’s been a while since you’ve done extensive solo touring; do you think you’d ever do it again? Have you done or would you consider co-ordinating solo shows around, say, a Cocksure tour? Or do you perhaps think your current solo material too large of a touring band?
I hate touring, but I will probably do it again when my kids are older, I do weekenders with Cocksure and that is a fine way of reaching people, but I quit touring in 2003 because it was a thankless task.
Somehow I completely missed ‘Day of Knowledge’ but saw it pop up on Spotify recently. Could you discuss that album? A lot of it sounds a bit different from your other recent solo work.
“Day of Knowledge” was experimental in the sense that I wanted to write an impressionistic piece based on reflections on extremism using the siege of the school at Beslan in 2004: there is a lot at work here, the idea that the myth we are given of “hell” is a joke because it is right here on earth, we created our own hell, in real time. Also the terrifying idea that certain extremists are very keen to die for there “cause” (I approach this on “Day of Knowledge”) it also came about after reading a lot of books on Russia, Stalin and in particular Chechnya, it came from a stark overview of human rights violations on a global scale, as did it’s predecessor s“how this ends” and “forgiveness and exile” it is a trilogy.
What’s in the immediate future for you, and what else is in the pipeline?
There is a new Cocksure album on the way this summer, “Corporate Sting.”
Other interviews with Chris Connelly:
For more info on Chris, visit his website at chrisconnelly.com.