Jan 2020 22

You can’t keep a good Scotsman down, as Chris Connelly proves to be one of the most creatively prolific forces in modern music, giving ReGen some insight into his latest string of releases and collaborations.
 

 

An InterView with Chris Connelly

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

With such an extensive history as his, it would perhaps be better to ask what Chris Connelly hasn’t done in the realms of modern music. Revered by the industrial music scene for his participation in MINISTRY and Revolting Cocks, along with several others in the roster of Al Jourgensen side projects, he has lent his skills as a vocalist and a performer to a wide range of artists and bands; throw in the diversity of styles he tackles with his equally impressive output as a solo artist, and you have one of the most prolific musicians of the last several decades… and he’s still going strong. For one thing, he continues a seemingly endless streak of collaborations that now includes The Joy Thieves and a new soon-to-be-released NUKES collective, sharing the stage with cohorts old and new on the recent Pigface tour, and appearing on a track by esteemed producer/musician John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise. If that weren’t enough, he released two solo records in 2018 (The Tide Stripped Bare and Bloodhounds), and then another two in 2019 (Death It to Love and Sleeping Partner), moving through such an assortment of styles that in the hands of most would seem so disparate and incongruous that they couldn’t possibly have been created by the same man; as well, he has a new volume of poetry, lyrics, and other writings titled The Heart Has to Ache Before It Learns to Beat, due for release soon. In this special conversation with ReGen Magazine, Connelly speaks about his creative process, touching on the significance that certain artists and works of art play in his outlook, the simplicity and directness of his collaborative mindset, the hope he feels for outmoded forms of patriarchal oppression to be conquered, some fond words in memory of Francesca Sundsten, and although many are saddened by the announcement that he would not be participating in the upcoming Industrial Strength Tour, he offers some words of love and hope that we’ll yet see Chris Connelly cross paths with MINISTRY yet again.

 

Let’s talk about your latest release first, Sleeping Partner. What was your mindset going into the recording of this album, and how do you feel it contrasts from your approach toward the previous outings? Was it a conscious effort to go for a less ‘rocky’ kind of sound for something more free-form, or was that just a result of what you felt at the time?

Connelly: As with everything I do creatively, it does not matter what my intention is at the outset – it very quickly gains a life of its own and I am its humble servant. Sleeping Partner was no different really; however, I will say that the seed was really sewn with the song ‘Ophelia Moment,’ which was a piece from The Tide Stripped Bare.

In our previous InterView, we’d spoken about ‘Ophelia Moment,’ which you explained as relating to the way women are treated in our society, that women are often gaslit and told that they might be mad, and that the character in your song panics and goes mad because of panic or empathy. From your perspective, to what would you attribute the lack of empathy in our society pertaining to women? Do we really live in that patriarchal a society, or is there something more insidious that you feel is at play?

Connelly: I feel we do, and the older I get, the more angry I get about it. It’s 2020 and men are still marginalizing women – more so I think now that we have all these new bullying tools available to us in social media and so forth; it’s never been easier to gaslight. That said, I do hear voices getting stronger and I hear the voice of my daughter and it gives me hope.

Once again, the influence of Jackie Leven appears as the title is a reference to one of his songs. For those still unfamiliar with him, what is the significance of that particular song and how do you feel it relates to your intentions or the themes you approach on Sleeping Partner?

Connelly: The song ‘Sleeping Partners’ by Jackie’s band Doll By Doll is one of the greatest rock ‘twist in the tail’ songs I have ever heard. It’s like a drug fueled film noir or detective novel in that it starts kind of like an up-tempo new wave rock song, and about halfway through, you are subtly thrown into a nightmare of crime scenes and fugitives. It’s one of Jackie’s masterworks. But I also like the title in relation to my album as, again, I touch on the idea of a partner to the artist who maybe is the unsung author, the silent partner. The song ‘Picassa,’ for example, is feminized to draw attention to the fact that there are many male artists’ lovers historically who were indeed the real artistic force, the male gathering all the plaudits.
I also feel the role of the muse in the creative process has been one historically marginalized or misunderstood. There are incredibly strong creative forces out there that are far more esoteric and ethereal than a simple brush to a canvas, and from my experience, they are female.

 

 

Another album you put out, shortly before Sleeping Partner was Death It to Love on No Devotion Records, which was ‘constructed using some soundscapes and incomplete songs as well as some brand new compositions,’ all inspired by different works of art you’d seen over the past year. In our last InterView, you’d spoken about how art inspires you, how ‘that soul saw that light and how it ended up looking like that on the canvas,’ and that the real turn-on ‘is the moment when the brain tells the brush what to do.’
Bearing this in mind, could you tell us about some of those artworks and the sort of impact they had on you, what it was in those works that they inspired your approach towards these tracks?

Connelly: My family went back to Scotland last summer, as well as some other places, and we crammed a lot of gallery visits in – often to the chagrin of my children – so, one could say it was this beautiful overload. I feel like a lot of my inspiration has come from seeing or hearing two or more contrasting things at once, two people talking at the same time in passing, or me reading something and hearing something different. So, march me through some of the most amazing galleries in Europe and I came out shaking with inspiration. Death It to Love bounced out a few days after we came home; it was improvised to a great extent. One track, ‘MothMeister’ was directly inspired by an artist collective of the same name, and the album is inspired by the Scottish artist and absurdist PUKKADUBBA.
I very specifically asked the Croatian artist Marija Buljeta to design the artwork, and I left it up to her to be moved by the music. I gave her some vague parameters about what the themes of the album were about, and that the first inspiration for this album was the book The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan. As always with me, the themes grew like a wild plant out of this (as I talked about before), and I was so delighted at how she managed to capture the mood of the album so perfectly.

Would it be fair to say that the sessions for Death It to Love ran concurrent with those for Sleeping Partner? Were the ‘incomplete songs’ on Death It to Love intended for Sleeping Partner?

Connelly: No, Sleeping Partner was done before I even went to Europe. To say there were incomplete songs is a bit of a stretch, except for ‘Saliva Beach’ really.

‘Saliva Beach’ was originally recorded in Humboldt Park in Chicago in ’99, now reworked for this album. What sorts of memories of that time and the original recording would you be willing to share with us? What was it that made you feel that now was the time to rework that recording into the version we now hear on Death It to Love?

Connelly: ‘Saliva Beach’ was one of a few songs I recorded when the band Damage Manual imploded. We were about to go on tour – a big tour. I had quit my job, apartment, everything, and it all was ground to a spectacular halt. I borrowed a DAT player and began writing. The song is a song of yearning. I was considering at the time moving back home to Scotland. I reworked it mainly because I wanted to add some new dimensions to it, textures, lights, you know.

So, Sleeping Partner was done before Death It to Love, yet they were released in the opposite order. What was the reason for this?

Connelly: Nothing interesting – the sleeve art was ready at different times, both releases are from different countries – Mexico for Death…, the U.K. for …Partner. Different formats as well. Since I am not really a touring musician, it does not bother me when things happen.

 

 

In our last conversation, we’d talked about your collaborations with Cocksure, Bells into Machines, and Mr. Russia, and since then, you’ve entered into The Joy Thieves, took the stage with Pigface in Chicago, appeared on a Black Needle Noise track, and started working in NUKES on No Devotion Records. First, let’s talk about The Joy Thieves, as you were on the songs ‘This Will Kill That’ and ‘Violent Lucidity.’ How did you first come to be involved in The Joy Thieves?

Connelly: I got involved the same as everything – I get asked and then if I like what I hear, I am in! Dan Milligan is a really nice guy with a lot of integrity.

Could you tell us what the process of writing those two songs was like? Was it just you and Dan Milligan, or were the other musicians involved at that stage?

Connelly: I think so; once I had added my part, he took it further. I love that I can record in my little isolated reclusive studio on my own and then send it out into the world.

Obviously, every collaboration is different and holds its own magic, so what do you feel is special about The Joy Thieves that stands out (for you) from others you’ve been part of?

Connelly: For me, it’s always what the music can make me do lyrically. If I feel like it’s a formula coming out of my brain, a step-by-step misanthropic comment on society, then I stop. ‘This Will Kill That’ was a direct reference to Victor Hugo’s prophecy that the printed word would make the church obsolete. I just grabbed the ball and ran, so cheers Victor!

Is there more planned for you with this band?

Connelly: I am sure so. It’s relaxed enough and prolific enough.

 

 

Speaking of the printed word, you were to release The Heart Has to Ache Before It Learns to Beat, collecting several works of poetry and lyrics of yours and coming two decades after 1999’s Confessions of the Highest Bidder. Obviously, there are numerous themes and subjects that you have approached in your words, but in collecting them for this book, did any sorts of new meanings or ideas spring up, or did you find that some verses meant something different to you now than it did when you first wrote it?
Similarly, did you find any sort of thematic or narrative threads between the new book and Confessions… that you perhaps might not have noticed or consciously thought about before?

Connelly: Unfortunately, the book is not out yet… a holdup at the printers, etc. But, I have to admit I spent most of the time compiling it looking at the mechanics of it, spell checking, correcting, which I am terrible at, so I ended up getting my friend Megan to proofread it after Kimberly (blessing, publisher).
There are no revelations for me. I know what and why I have written things and I am always careful enough that I think the language I choose holds up and I don’t wince later. I think my progress as a writer is good enough, but there are highs from different eras. I consider ‘Newtown Nocturnes’ to be my best writing; that will be hard to top, and it’s all in the new book, which is a relief. I think as far as Confessions… goes, it is all in the new book too, and you can perhaps rhyme ‘moods,’ and if you were to really know me well, you might be able to profile me quite neatly, but you would have to dig through a lot of cryptic layers.

You mentioned Victor Hugo’s prophecy of the printed word making the church obsolete – in some measure, that’s true, although the church persists. And now we have new forms of communications, new technologies – text, social media, the internet, etc. What are your thoughts on how these technologies have both fulfilled and negated Hugo’s prophecy?
Societally speaking, what sort of paradigm shift do you see occurring, or that you hope will occur, that will or can have a similar effect on us?

Connelly: I think Hugo was hoping for more of an intellectual liberation, and in a way, it happened, but I think this has perhaps been obscured with misinformation and stupidity and people yelling. Do you remember when you kind of thought that if it was on some website, it was somehow fact? I mean, the printed word has always carried a lot of import – verses, perhaps spray-painted graffiti in terms of propaganda. I think of the success of Stalin and his fascistic campaign in this regard.
I recently decided to come off social media because it was clutter. I first stopped reading it and honestly liked the funny cat photos and didn’t want to see the mean stuff. Now, I get along just fine without the funny cat pictures and I do not have to deal with the rhetoric. It was not slowing me down, but it was a waste of time for me personally.

Both KMFDM’s newest album PARADISE and your book are dedicated to Francesca Sundsten, William Rieflin’s wife, and I’m familiar with her work as an artist. Are there any memories or insights about her that you’d like to share – perhaps some way her artwork affected you outside of your friendship with her?

Connelly: She was a good friend. We enjoyed each other’s company and her view was beautiful – the way she saw, and the way she spoke too. I would stay at their house a lot when I worked with Bill and these were always fun evenings of word games and conversation. I am very lucky to have had that opportunity and to have had her friendship.

Regarding Pigface, tell us about your performances with the band this time around. With such a lineup of alumni and longtime friends as well as some new people like Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, what was going through your mind working with this group onstage?

Connelly: It felt a lot better than I anticipated. There is a huge chasm between now and me being onstage with Pigface in 1991. That ’91 tour was a special time and place. Not that I was apprehensive; I knew it would be fun. I was just scared it would be forced fun. I didn’t know, but it felt like everyone was playing because they loved playing.

To what would you personally attribute the lasting impact – the legacy, if you will – of Pigface on music as a whole, and on underground music in particular?

Connelly: It does what it does. It’s a collective of misfits and people have fun.

And now, NUKES, which – like Pigface, The Joy Thieves, Revolting Cocks, etc. – features a large cast of musicians from various groups, some of which you’ve worked with before. From what I understand, this partially came about as you’d released Death It to Love on Mario Alberto Cabada’s No Devotion Records; was it he who approached you? How did you come to be involved in NUKES?

Connelly: The same way – I was asked if I would contribute a vocal and that turned into a few songs.

Regarding NUKES and releasing Death It to Love on No Devotion Records, would you tell us about how you and Mario first became acquainted and how you feel this artistic partnership has been progressing so far?

Connelly: He asked me if I wanted to do a cassette for his label. I had never heard from him, but I thought it would be fun and specifically, he knew how important the cassette format was to so many of us. Not only was it a way to get your music out, and a way to find the most obscure experimental sounds; it was how you shared as well, by taping your LPs and circulating them. I can’t tell you how many cassettes I was given of albums that I could not find anywhere – SPK, Current 93, all the live Throbbing Gristle cassettes. It was the way of swapping ideas affordably. It was mail art. Mario knows this and so we are kindred spirits in this regard.

Like my previous question for The Joy Thieves, what was the process like for NUKES vs. other collaborations you’ve been a part of?

Connelly: The process was the same – I was sent some raw tracks and I got inspired and fired off some lyrics, and sent them back off to a bunch of men in dark glasses who I really don’t know………

There was a single release impending, but that plan seems to have changed. What can you tell us about this? Will a different single be released?

Connelly: I am not sure. Mario is curating this, so I act on his suggestion.

With regards to your collaborations, being so much more than just a lyricist/vocalist, to what extent do you contribute musically, if at all? Is there ever an imperative or a motivation to contribute in that aspect – how often do you feel like you have more to give to a song than just lyrics/vocals?

Connelly: I do not, for no reason except that usually, I am approached as a singer/lyricist, and the words are my first love; they are what comes first when I hear the music. As it’s just playing out of speaker, I am thinking words. As a music writer. I tend to keep myself to myself. No one comes to me because I am a great guitarist; I am not. I play because I need to have some kind of instrument to write my songs. I hope that answers the question.

Many were looking forward to your appearing on the Industrial Strength Tour, and you’ve now had to pull out of the tour. Given the seemingly renewed association with the MINISTRY camp over the last year-or-so (saying in one of our previous InterViews that Al is family), what can you tell us about the chances of a new collaboration with Al?

Connelly: I think there will always be that chance. Sometimes the paths cross and sometimes they do not. I love him very much and hope they do, and soon.

 

Chris Connelly
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp
Armalyte Industries
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube
No Devotion Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube
The Joy Thieves
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
MINISTRY
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Live Photography by Tabetha Patton (MizTabby)

 

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