Chris Connelly Interview

Posted: 4th December 2018 by blaue-rosen in Live reviews,Interviews

“…there is never a destination, destinations are boring!”

Chris Connelly, the man with a thousand (and more) musical faces, released his latest album entitled ‘Bloodhounds‘ through Armalyte Industries. As has always been the case with Chris Connelly’s work, the songs are much more than great music with great melodies and a beautiful performance. They give an attractive, Chris Connellysoul/blues/rock form, to many sources of inspiration, ranging from paintings to books and landscapes. Inspiration is a malleable concept and it can mean different things to different people. It is evident, if one takes a deep look into the details of the albums (artwork, music, song titles) that Chris has created that, what motivates him is a great personal and spiritual ‘calling’ that transforms even every day experiences into dreamy, poetic and disquieting melodies. Whether you love more his industrial/dark side as has been revealed through his work with Cocksure and Revolting Cocks or his more lyrical Sylvian/Bowie inspired side more evident in his solo work, you must admit that, since the 90s Chris has created an artistically rich sonic universe.There have always been visual artists who were inspired by music but rarely have we encountered musicians being inspired by visual art. To us, translating a static image and its emotional impact into sound, is one of the most challenging tasks an artist can undertake. And yet, here we are, with an album and a musician that does exactly that.

We were delighted to be given a glimpse into the artistic mind of Chris Connelly and talk with him about the new album, his future plans, his previous work, Cocksure,Ministry, Revolting Cocks and anything in between. We would like to shout out to promoters in London in particular, to arrange for us to enjoy him perform live next year.

Blauerosen: Hi Chris thank you for joining me in this interview. 2018 seems to have been a very creative year for you having released 4 albums, 2 solo ones, one with Cocksure (‘Be Rich‘) and the debut album of Bells Into Machines. Did you embark on a mission to release as many albums as possible within a year? 🙂 

Chris: No, it’s just the way things worked out, I have, of late, been fairly quick in my writing, I am not in any hurry, but I seem more comfortable with kind of vomiting out the work, I have not been going back to do many revisions, once the brush hits the canvas, then that is the brushstroke that remains, I am not a particularly spontaneous person, and not everything I do is like this, sometimes it takes me longer, but I work very organically, I do not have a deadline, and I do not believe that time has anything to do with my art, I think the art exists in it’;s own dimension, no north or south, no night or day.BUT I might get hit by a bus tomorrow, you never know, so at least I am leaving a lot of my creativity on the planet.

Blauerosen: You have recently explained the thinking behind two of your older songs that have been re-imagined in this album, ‘AAISW‘ and ‘F-birds‘. As I was reading your answer I realized that both songs are inspired by the dark qualities of a landscape. A similar idea (e.g. the threat of the stillness, the menacing landscape…) has inspired many writers of gothic novels of course. Are you a fan of gothic literature? If yes, which is your favourite novel?

Chris: I am a fan of literature, but I am not sure what you mean by gothic literature, I think my inspiration came from the source directly, have you ever seen the shadow of a cloud as it moves with the wind over a huge hill? turning the green grass to a dark grey in seconds,? THAT is what I am talking about, it is all about the perception of the person watching it, really, don’t you think?

Blauerosen: Scotland is very much present in your work through various references that you make, despite the fact that you have settled in Chicago. How has this distance influenced the way you refer to this place through your lyrics? Has life in Chicago helped you look at your past life in Scotland in a more constructive way?

Chris: I will always feel like I do not belong anywhere until I move back to Scotland, so I feel like I am in a nether world. As far as constructive goes: it has certainly produced some good writing, I do not know now if I romanticize SCOTLAND or the me I left there when I was 22, or both. I feel like when I write about it I am sketching from memory. I was probably foolish to have ever left.

Blauerosen: At the same time, apart from the older song ‘How This Ends‘, I have noticed that there is not much reference to America in your recent work. Al Jourgensen for example, offered a great show here in London this summer, during which he kicked two huge Trump-replica balloons in their inflated asses. How much or how little has the new situation in America influenced your way of writing music? At the same time how has Britain’s changing situation (e.g. Brexit) has influenced the way you look at this side of the Atlantic?

Chris: Great question! I think my work with COCKSURE perhaps addresses the bottom end of American society and recently maybe British society .To be honest I don’t think there is anyone out there right now with a political stance in music that is as strong as AL’s, everything else seems to have a self serving falseness to it, MINISTRY now reminds me of CRASS in the early 80s. I do not think I can do it on my own. I write what I write and it is informed by politics but it is not necessarily political.

Blauerosen: In this album there is a song entitled ‘Anna Karina’s Guide to being mesmerized. What a great title! I must confess that I am a big fan of her roles especially in Goddard’s films. How did this song come about? Are you a fan of new wave cinema? Do you think that she is aware of this song? What do you think her reaction would be if she listened to it?

Chris:I work as a voice teacher, and one of my students , Scout, is a 16 year old girl, we have worked together for 4 years and she is obsessed with the french new wave, and has in turn made me keen on it! She LOVES Anna Karina, and the song was born after a lesson where we talked about her. I would like to think Anna would like and appreciate it, she is magnificent!

Blauerosen: The song ‘A Farewell To Athens refers to Edinburgh which is dubbed as ‘Athens of the North’. I was wondering whether you have visited Greece’s Athens and if not, whether you plan to. Is this title a goodbye to this city, in the sense that you never intend to go back there or is it a critique of the changes that have happened there?

Chris:A FAREWELL TO ATHENS is certainly the most spontaneous of the songs on the album. I wrote the lyric all at once, no going back, no revisions, then I sang it. I was particularly homesick that day, and trying to understand if I was homesick, or just missing being young and in Edinburgh. I do not know how Edinburgh has changed, but I do feel like I betrayed a lot of my close friends by leaving, which they will probably say I am crazy for thinking, The song is me talking to the younger me, shouting across the years back to the early 80’s.

Blauerosen: Before ‘Bloodhounds‘ there was ‘Art+Gender‘. Could you share with us how you think that art and gender influence one another? I recently attended the exhibition ‘Modern Couples’ at the Barbican, that had as a subject the way a relationship between heterosexual and homosexual couples, impacts the artistic output of each party. Somehow the title of your album has added another dimension to the paintings and work I saw at this exhibition.

Chris:Well. ART & GENDER was titled when I was worried that our society was starting again to lean on and try and stamp out freedom of expression, sexual liberation and the hard work that many LGBT people have strived for, when you read about concentration camps for homosexuals in Chechnya, you cannot help think that this is a global disease of complete prejudice, how long before painters and musicians are marginalized?

Blauerosen: In the EP ‘Jackietown demos‘ there is a song dedicated to the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin (i.e. ‘The last Renoir (a fiction)).I was wondering what would Rodin and Renoir would be saying if they spent a day inside your Jackietown.

Chris:Indeed! anything can happen in my songs!! I would like to think they would create something amazing together

Blauerosen: For each album you collaborate with different musicians/artists (e.g. The Dead Mauriacs, William Tucker, Michael Begg, Jah Wobble, Martin Atkins…). If I asked you to pick your favourite and the weirdest moment from all these collaborations, which would it be? 

Chris:My favourite collaboration was the album LARGO with BILL RIEFLIN, we composed it in his parents’ basement one Autumn, and we would go there each day with a bag of apples, and sit with a guitar and a piano, we would work all day, there was a park outside and the music was punctuated by bird sounds and rain, we took many strange turns in our writing process and I think it is maybe the strangest and most beautiful record I have ever been a part of.

Blauerosen: In the album ‘Decibels from the Heart‘ Meshell Ndegeocello has provided vocals in ‘Workin’ Time. Taking into account that her own style focuses on soul and jazz (genres that have influenced you but are not very similar to the music you write), how have you found the collaboration with her?

Chris: Meshell is a friend and I have actually collaborated with her on a few songs for her solo albums, she is not constrained by anything and very open minded, I love the way her creative mind works, we/I do not see musical boundaries, it’s never about style, it is always about that moment.

BlauerosenArt+gender coverVisuals have always been a very important part of your work. Whether we focus on the covers of your albums or the videos, the visuals always add one more level of mystery around the music that we listen to. This is especially true in your latest solo albums. What makes you decide the tone of each album’s cover?

Chris:The cover for ‘ART AND GENDER’ was done by a painter called NICOLE CAGGIANO, it’s a painting of me age 27, and I liked that the painting was contemporary, the music contemporary but the subject completely self referential and quite narcissistic.The cover to ‘THE TIDE STRIPPED BARE’ is a series of collages I did, it’s a game I play to get creative energy flowing, you have 2 minutes, a pile of magazines and a glue stick, no scissors, just hands and you create something in that time, then you do it again, it’s an exercise I came up with myself that a few people have used and enjoyed.The new album is a photo by DERICK SMITH, I loved it the moment I saw it, it looked exactly like an album cover, my album cover, and I think it represents me at 54 better than anything.

Blauerosen: For the latest album Gabriel Edvy has created a beautiful video for the song ‘Ascension‘. As you have already explained, this is a song based on a phrase in a book of Camus’ letters (“Santa Cruz and the Ascension Through the Pines”) but it is also a song about powerful women. The task of giving visual and sonic form to both these ideas, seems to have been a very challenging task for a visual artist and for yourself as a songwriter. How well do you think the video captures the essence of the song? 

Chris:I think the video captures the sense of the song as well as I capture the sense of what it’s about: I told Gabriel what it was about, and how the song came about when several different factors all intersected at once. I think her job was harder than mine because I have my own agenda and I only pursue what my mind offers up. I am woefully aware of the duality of how women are treated in this day and age and how often they are treated as something not human. ASCENSION deals with this and the barriers they are faced with that I as a man have never had to bother with. The Duality is the objectification of women and the mythologizing of women and then the destruction after the build up (St Catherine). I am shocked that this crap is still happening, in business, in religion, in music, everywhere.

Blauerosen: This is not the first time you have collaborated with Gabriel and it would be interesting to learn what you like most about the way she visualizes your music.

Chris:I am comfortable with Gabriel, I tend to gravitate towards people who I have an immediate positive gut intuition about , and what led me to her was an immediate and deep love for her own art, I just knew we had to work together.

Blauerosen: Sculpture seems to be a constant source of inspiration for you. In ‘Jackietown demos’ there is a song dedicated to Auguste Rodin and in ‘Bloodhounds’ there is ‘Another Song About A Sculpture‘. Could you share with us which sculpture has inspired this latest songjackietown demos cover and in which way?

Chris: There is no particular sculpture that inspired the song: more the idea of a completely abstract object monopolizing the physical space of a room, that song kind of takes you through the idea of strange and deceptive dimensions , I love the idea of something that exists in a space just to be looked at-not a 2 dimensional painting, but a complete abstraction in 3 dimensions. I have always from a very young age been faceted by Henry Moore’s work, because as a child I could not tell what they were supposed to be, my brain wouldn’t give conclusion so it was just an abstract shape.

Blauerosen: It is not often that we listen to songs inspired by paintings. There are paintings inspired by people and music (Jean Michel Basquiat was famously drawing while listening to music). You have said that you wanted to be a painter and I was wondering whether you have tried to create a painting. Can you share with us one painting that inspired you to write a song about it and in which way it did so?

Chris: I am inspired by so many: I do remember the revolting cocks song ‘BUTCHER FLOWER’S WOMAN’ being inspired by one of Francis Bacon’s triptychs, but as I have said before, much of it is inspired by the moment where the brain or perhaps the soul tells the painter where to use the brush: that to me is the moment of ignition, the most exciting thing in the world.

Blauerosen: Is the song ‘Richter Grey Stairs referring to Gerhard Richter’s work?

Chris: ‘WOMAN DESCENDING THE STAIRCASE’ is the Richter painting that inspired ‘RICHTER GREY STAIRS’ but I also have a beautiful painting of the sea by him that hangs in my room, it’s the first thing I see every day..In that song I wanted to create this, sexy, slow, shimmering grey/silver feeling with music, and I think I got it.

Blauerosen: Earlier this year you made a surprise appearance on stage with Ministry in Chicago. How did this come about? How was the experience for you? Did it tempt you to collaborate with Ministry again? I was under the impression that this ‘chapter’ had closed for ever.

Chris: I love the new MINISTRY album and I reached out to AL JOURGENSEN, we reconnected and it felt good, I guess no chapter is ever closed, is it?

Blauerosen: We have not had the chance to enjoy your music performed live in London for quite some time. Any plans to do a gig here in the near future?

Chris:I have no plans to play in London or UK, but I never do, no promoters have asked me, much as I would love to. I miss London, I really miss the London I knew in the mid 80s, I think it’s a different city now-but no less a creative hive I am sure.

Blauerosen: This album along with ‘The Tide Stripped Bare‘, are the first ones to be released through Armalyte Industries who have released albums by Cubanate, Kommand+Kontrol, Concrete Lung among others. How did this collaboration with the label go and how did it happen?

Chris:I just approached the label, I had met Giles, who runs it before and I just asked if he wanted to do it, which is always, to me, a big ask with my solo records, they don’t follow a pattern , they don’t sound like the revolting cocks or whatever, so I am always appreciative when a label just recognizes what might be different for them but still good.

Blauerosen: Apart from your solo work you have participated in many groups throughout the years, including Pigface and others that have only released one album, such as Malekko, Lake Wandawega Resort Band, Everyoned, The High Confessions. Which of these groups are still active and do you have any plans to collaborate with them in the near future?

Chris:Collaborations come and go, for me the magic is the time and place, I feel like there are still so many collaborations are out there waiting to happen, and I am a curious guy, these things have an effect on everything you do, you take from it, you learn, and you move on.

new_town_nocturnes coverBlauerosen: Recently you have said during an interview that, with your latest album you have reached the ‘zenith of my lyric writing…‘ and that ‘Bloodhounds’ somehow closes the circle that started with ‘New Town Nocturnes‘. Any idea about which direction you will be exploring next?

Chris:I actually have recorded since BLOODHOUNDS, I was working in a more improvisational field, recording music spontaneously and writing long form lyrics , so I suppose it’s kind of an exercise to find out, indeed WHERE my lyrics will go and where my melodies will go, but there is never a destination, destinations are boring! I think my writing develops organically, there is never a plan, and like I have said before, that actual moment of writing is unique, and it does not seem to exist in any time frame, I can never remember the actual writing part because I am operating from a different part of my consciousness I guess, it just appears on the paper and I get that thing that so many writers get..“wait…did I write THAT???” -my favourite thing is if I can’t sleep and I work in the middle of the night then go back to bed, listening the next morning and having no recollection of the process.

Blauerosen: If I am not mistaken you manage a record shop in Chicago. I was wondering whether you have made any observations regarding the way people buy music these days?

Chris:I do NOT manage a record shop. I used to, a long time ago, so I am very removed from what people do or how people buy music, I do know that many people don’t buy music and that the shape has changed, I can’t do anything about it, so I just sort of walked away from it. I still buy music, not particularly ravenously, but I do.

Blauerosen: You have listened to a lot of music over the years and you have shared some of your influences in previous interviews (e.g. Can, Fairport Convention, T Rex, Mark Bolan, reggae, soul, Lou Reed, Joy Division, Virgin Prunes, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, David Bowie). In ‘Bloodhounds’ there is a song dedicated to Jackie Leven (i.e. ‘Jackietown’) and a cover of one of his songs ‘Desolation Blues’. Jackie Leven was a musician who had a tragic accident and also healed himself from heroin addiction. Are these influences a blessing or a curse for you as an artist? Do they haunt you or do they further trigger your artistic instincts? Do you want to honour them or transcend them?

Chris: Jackie is a special case: I think he touched my soul very early on (I saw his band when they supported DEVO on their 1st UK tour in 1978 and I was captivated) for me it’s about the music resonating with you, it does not have to be a musical influence, but you know if it pushes you to do something. I have heard songs before and then felt this sort of trembling feeling in my stomach and my hands might shake, then I have to go and write….but the same can be said for a great novel or a work of art. It is not for me to say if it is a blessing or a curse, it just IS, you know? I see it as this form of energy that just zaps around people’s creative minds: but make no mistake, MY creative mind is my salvation , not that I put it on any kind of pedestal, I treat it the same way as I treat the rest of my body, but I do have a fear of it leaving me one day, through old age or whatever…

You can find the latest album of Chris Connelly here and the rest of the albums mentioned in this interview in his official bandcamp page.

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