ReGen Magazine presents a new conversation with the legendary Chris Connelly about his new double album, Bloodhounds, with a special exclusive premiere of his new music video, “Ascension.”
An InterView with Chris Connelly
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
To say that Chris Connelly is an important and revered figure in modern music is an understatement. Although often associated with the industrial scene, Connelly’s music has transcended the trappings of genre with elements of dance, electronic, post-punk, alternative rock, folk, and everything in between finding their way into his sonic palette through his numerous bands and collaborations, but most especially in his solo career. It has only been just over two months since ReGen Magazine last spoke with the man, touching on his previous solo release, The Tide Stripped Bare, as well as his recent work with the likes of Cocksure and Bells into Machines. But as has been stated before, Chris Connelly is not a man to sit still, and with his new album, Bloodhounds, releasing on his birthday of November 11, there is still so much more to decipher in his uniquely creative vision. A double album of 16 tracks, Bloodhounds is likely to be regarded as one of his most accomplished solo endeavors, with lyrics that are as ethereal and as evocative as the soundscapes he lays them upon – wrought with jangly acoustic guitars, dissonant layers of keyboard textures, and vivacious rhythms, his voice soaring and shrill in a manner that has often earned him comparisons to the late great David Bowie. Here, Connelly lets ReGen in on his thought process for this album, drawing upon literature and visual art with connections to his preceding albums – The Tide Stripped Bare and Art+Gender – to craft a three-dimensional emotional space in the form of music. In addition, ReGen Magazine enjoys the privilege of premiering the music video for the album track “Ascension,” with Connelly espousing on the relation between its lyrical and visual themes.
Your previous album, The Tide Stripped Bare was dedicated to Jackie Leven, and we’d spoken before about his influence (as well as the writings of Martin Amis) on you and that album in particular. Now, you’ve covered him with ‘Desolation Blues.’ Was there any particular reason the cover wasn’t on the previous record? Perhaps too on the nose, or was there a thematic impetus to it?
Connelly: No reason really… I had not recorded it, and then I finally did and I was not 100% sure about it so I dug it up again a few months later and added to it. I did approach it with reverence; the song means a lot to me, and I found out from his partner, Deborah, it meant a lot to her, so it had to be right. It took a while, but I am happy that he would have been happy with it, and also that, although it was hard for her to listen to, Deborah gave it her approval.
In a second connection to the previous album, Bloodhounds is dedicated to ‘The Ophelia Moments,’ which was a track on The Tide Stripped Bare. What is the story behind that?
Connelly: ‘Ophelia Moment’ is based loosely on the Shakespeare’s Ophelia, in that she is a female who allegedly goes mad. The song is a study of women in a male dominated world being gaslit and being told they might be mad, and often with devastating results. I am still shocked that women are still being treated this way, and in fact, in the current climate, of course, it seems to be an accepted norm.
‘Ophelia moment’ is a fiction – someone who loves the central character (the ‘Ophelia’) from afar is scared that she is being given a false diagnosis of mental illness and there is nothing he can do about it. He starts to panic and thinks he is going mad because of the panic or because of empathy.
Thirdly, ‘Another Song About a Sculpture’ seems almost like the inverse of ‘Another Song About a Painting’ – slower, more atmospheric, with a heavier emphasis on vocal layers, though no less vibrant. You reference classical works of art and literature as much as music, and the title is pretty sardonic; what are the thematic elements at play with these two songs?
Connelly: Haha! The title is ironic, and of course, it’s a direct response to the song on the last album. I was toying with the idea of doing a 45rpm at one point! But the point of this song is the sculpture, whereas ‘…Painting’ dealt with the idea of two-dimensional art – I wanted ‘…Sculpture’ to be a three-dimensional song. As I have relayed before in interviews, I try to make the sounds and music communicate emotionally to the listener in direct relation to the words, and as with many of my songs, this song has a backdrop, an area where it is taking place. This time, it’s a huge room in a gallery, and though the sculpture itself maybe a little nebulous, we do know there is a huge three-dimensional object in there. There is also the suggestion of extremes of light in the room and extremes of dimension. I quote Wilson Picket’s ‘Midnight Hour’ at the beginning because I needed to suggest darkness, and one of the lyrics, ‘Beach dynamic on the head of a pin’ suggests confusion over size and dimension. At the end of the day, I always wanted to be a visual artist, so I try and do that with sound.
And then ‘Anna Karina’s Guide to Beind Mesmirized’ was inspired by Scout Brown. Can you fill us in on that?
Similarly, the song seems to trail off when an electric guitar comes in, introducing a theme or leitmotif, hinting at something that we never quite get to hear enough of. The same thing happens in ‘I Figured It Would Be My Undoing,’ ‘I Dream in Argentina,’ and ‘Another Song About a Sculpture.’ Why is this?
Connelly: Scout is one of my students. She is 15 and one of my favorite people in the world. Apart from being vivacious, she has an incredible thirst for learning and an encyclopedic knowledge of the French new wave of film, so our lessons are peppered with references to Goddard, Truffaut, and – her fave – Anna Karina. The song came out one day when I got home after teaching and it was a result of my lesson in Karina’s work!
It’s interesting that you point out the guitar codas in my songs… yes, it’s deliberate. These are cliffhanger endings – I want to give the listener the impression that the drama or the situations that took part in the song are not over, and we will never know if they are. As in a painting, the song perhaps hangs in a frame, but we do not get to see what is outside the frame. As a lifelong admirer of the form, that always titillated me, or if you could see something happening in the far background, but couldn’t quite make it out – as in, for example, Dali’s ‘Moment de Transition’ (or many of his, for that matter) or the strange arenas where Francis Bacon’s characters dwell… they are all timeless, and I want my songs to occupy the same timelessness.
The last song once again references art with ‘Brush Stroke Blues.’ So let me ask a bit of a maudlin question here, but what works of art would you say have had the most profound impact on you outside of music?
On a broader note, what sorts of connections to you draw between visual artforms with musical, and how do you feel this is best felt in your music (outside of the lyrics)… if that makes any sense?
Connelly: I am inspired by so much art, but often, it is not necessarily the art itself. The real turn-on for me is the moment when the brain tells the brush what to do, and although, for example, I am not a huge lover of the impressionists, I do get so worked up thinking about how that soul saw that light and how it ended up looking like that on the canvas. Do you see what I mean? Also, with more abstract work, which is more of what I am into – the sculptures of Henry Moore, for example, which have fascinated me since I was a toddler (there are some in the botanical gardens in Edinburgh, or at least there used to be). It’s the perception of how one brain can translate the object and recreate it; it’s almost paranormal to me.
In your other bands like Cocksure or Bells into Machines, it seems that your input is strictly in the vocal/lyrical department, but with your solo material, it’s all you. What is the songwriting process for you, at least as far as this album? Was there a lyrical theme in mind, or does that reveal itself when you sit down to write the lyrics for each song?
Connelly: My process is the same as it has been for the past few records – it’s like casting a dragnet through my subconscious and through my immediate ambience, whatever that may be… where I am, what I am seeing, things I mishear, a little spark, and then some kind of mental ignition… the funny thing is, I can’t really remember the moment of impact, the moment where everything is working and the song is created, why this word went with this word went with this chord. This album, Bloodhounds, which is in fact a double, clocking in at about 78 minutes, is one I consider to be my best lyrically. There is real fire, smoldering fire, passion, panic, fear, and elation and I feel like I brought it all to life. As far as themes go, the themes are there at the beginning to a small extent, but the real story reveals itself during writing… or strangely enough, months later. I don’t believe there is a chronological trajectory; time does not exist in anything I write.
You’d said before how you approach much of what you do as a role, which makes sense in the context of your various collaborations and bands that you’re involved in. Method actors often infuse their own personalities with the roles they play and vice versa, often blurring the line between their own personality and the one they’re portraying. In this regard, what is the role of ‘Chris Connelly, the solo artist,’ and to what degree do the other roles you play seep in?
Connelly: I think the role I play in my solo creativity is whatever the song demands. There are characters in the songs, but they are my ideas, my hybrids or composites of people, and they are all relative to my personality… different to Cocksure or whatever. These are larger than life characters that have little to do with me; that’s fiction or maybe slapstick comedy, I don’t know! That’s in the eye of the beholder, but I do like playing parts. It’s a lot easier than being me. I think the people and places in my solo work are parts of me enhanced and exaggerated for the sake of the song and the emotion that it might demand.
One of the more striking aspects of your solo work, at least as far as I’ve noticed, is the dissonance at play – the acoustic guitars run throughout and there always feels like a note or a string is slightly out of tune. The interplay of the vocal harmonies with the keyboards and guitars all have a wavering, dreamy quality that, again, almost feels slightly off-pitch. Sometimes, even a beat seems just a bit off from the strums of the guitar. Am I hearing things, or is this an intended element in your songwriting? What role does this dissonance play in the atmosphere you’re trying to establish for the listener?
Connelly: I like dissonance. I like that it may create a sort of panicked undertone to what I am doing. It’s misshapen and somewhat unsettling…
I can truly say that it is an honor and a privilege for ReGen Magazine to now present this exclusive premiere of the music video for the song ‘Ascension’ from the new album, and it’s rather visually striking. Can you tell us about it?
Connelly: The video was made by E Gabriel Edvy, who also did ‘The Tide Stripped Bare.’ I gave her the lyrics and outlined the songs concept, which is thus:
I was walking down the street one morning, and I found a copy of a book of Albert Camus’ letters – how fucking random is that? The first page I opened it to was a piece entitled ‘Santa Cruz and the Ascension Through the Pines,’ which inspired me. I chose to write about St. Catherine as it was one of the churches I attended as a kid (when I was made to go to church; I am an atheist), and with the knowledge that there are two St. Catherines – both incredibly powerful and knowledgeable women from different eras. St. Catherine of Alexandria – from the fourth century – was one of the voices who ‘guided’ Joan of Arc. In a sense, in a strong sense, the theme is another, which I have repeated, strong and intelligent woman persecuted by men.
Shift of topic for a moment, but you also had made a guest appearance on Mr. Russia’s Big Noise album, and I know that Ivan is also hugely influenced by David Bowie. In sharing that admiration, what was the dynamic like between you and Ivan? Do you feel there were aspects to Bowie’s work that you thought of in a different way because of Ivan’s approach, or perhaps vice versa?
Connelly: I really just went in and responded to direction in the studio. I like Ivan, we had a good time, but that’s really it.
Any other collaborations or guest spots in the works that you can tell us about?
Connelly: Sons of the Silent Age will perform Scary Monsters on January 12 at The Metro in Chicago… that is taking up a lot of my time just now!
Photography by Derick Smith – courtesy of Chris Connelly and Armalyte Industries
Video by E Gabriel Edvy – courtesy of Blackswitch Labs and Armalyte Industries