Chris Connelly, underground & industrial music

My Conversation with Chris Connelly

by Vittorio Carli

Photos by Richard Wilson

 

 Chris Connelly has been a major force in underground and industrial music for many years. He was a member of Ministry, the Revolting Cocks (RevCo for short), and Fini Tribe. He currently produces solo work abetted by the Bells (I caught part of a recent performance at the Double Door). He also records with the Chicago based bands, Damage Control, and the industrial band/circus, Pigface. He is about to go on tour with fellow Pigface member, Meg Lee Chin. A career spanning compilation of his work entitled “Initial CC” is about to be released as well as a new Pigface recording. I caught up with him and him and Kim Assaley at Earwax Café in the once cutting edge, Wicker Park, where we had the following conversation.

Carli-What was your family life like?

Connelly-I grew up in Edinbourough, Scotland, and I had one brother. I suppose I had a pretty normal, catastrophic childhood. It was a good place and time to grow up. I did most of my growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I went to an all boys’ school. It has affected my work. Most things I do have direct links to what I did when I was younger.

Carli-How was Scotland different from the United States?

Connelly-It is a completely different country although they may be growing more similar. The values are completely different. The culture is completely different. It’s hard to me to say because I have been in the USA so long and I forgot things. There was lots of unemployment although I hear it’s gotten better. That’s why I came here to get a job.

Carli-What kind of music did you listen to in Scotland?

Connelly Well, when I grew up, many of the popular bands I liked were part of the glam rock movement. I listened to David Bowie, Marc Bolan and T Rex, and lots of soul music. When I was a little bit older, punk hit. The first wave of punk rock was very important, whether you liked it or not.

Carli-How were you influenced by the punk and glam movements?

Connelly-It’s still my roots. I never stopped loving that music. I read a really interesting interview with David Bowie, recently .He said that he thought that he, Marc Bolan, and Roxy Music took a rock /blues based formula and turned it into something very futuristic. (The review he refers to is probably the one in the August 2002 edition of “Jane” magazine.) I agree and I feel the Sex Pistols also did that. They played rock music, but they were changing it again.


Carli-Some of the RevCo stuff has samples, and some of the Damage Manual material has lots of dub affects. Was reggae or rap a big influence on your work?

Connely-Certainly reggae music played a big role. Especially in Damage Manual with Jah Wobble involved. It’s definitely in there. Everyone in Damage Manual grew up hearing reggae in the clubs. In the ‘80s, that’s what they played in the clubs. I mean you had disco, but we considered ourselves a little higher brow. And the reggae worked well with the drugs at the time.

Carli-Some people have dubbed the music you did with RevCo as “death disco.” Do you feel that the phrase is appropriate?

Connelly-I think so yes. Basically when I first joined Ministry. I was attracted to their music because it had lots of the noise and nihilism that I craved in music – which was present in many of the bands of the time. But that music to me was nebulous—Throbbing Gristle and so forth. Their stuff had rhythms, but lots of it was basically free form. Ministry and Revolting Cocks songs had real basic four on the floor dance rhythms. with the noise on top, and that made it more palpable to me. W hat they were doing was also quite similar to the experiments that Adrian Sherwood was doing with dub music: he was using heavier beats and drum sounds. We were making dance music for sure. It was for dancing and you can still dance to it. Death disco is a very basic way to describe it but it’s also quite accurate.

Carli-Of course, Public Image Ltd. had a song called “Death Disco.” How did you hook up with former PiL members Jah Wobble and Martin Atkins?

Connelly-I had known Martin for about 16 years. He was in Public Image Limited with Wobble, and that’s how I got to know Wobble. Martin had not seen Wobble for about 20 years. One day Martin called Wobble out of the blue, and asked him to participate, and that’s how I got to know Wobble. Public Image Ltd. called themselves a self styled disco band and they were because of the music and the rhythm. The bass is very reggae but the drums were like Chic. People really liked that at the time-that live disco sound, so we thought why not put something very dissonant and discordant on top of that which is also what PiL did.

Carli-Of course, David Bowie also used disco as the basis for his sound on “Let’s Dance.” I also hear some Kraut Rock influences in your work. Did the big ‘70s German Bands like Faust and the Can also influence you?

Connelly- God yes. I was a big Can fan and I still am to this day. I got into Can because of their hit “I Want More.” It was very catchy and had a great disco rhythm, but the music was very bizarre to me. It was very unusual

Carli-I have a really unusual version of the nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” by the Can.

Connelly-Really? I don’t think I’ve heard that one.


Carli-What was the first band that you were in and how did that get started?

Connelly-It was called Rigor Mortis and over time it became the Fini Tribe I started that myself. I had an old reel to reel tape recorder, and I used just experiment with it—cutting up tape. I could sing, but I was not interested in that. So I would make noises cut hem into loops and play them. Later on, I found that if I banged things randomly, and cut that into the loop it would make a rhythm. I kept it going for awhile until I got a drum machine then we got a real drummer because a drum machine does have limitations.

Carli-Why did your association with Fini Tribe end?

Connelly-Well the band is still going. I left at a time when I felt we had gone as far as we could. We were taking too long to write songs and we were incredibly unpopular. I was bored out of my mind, and I decided to leave the band. Fortunately, I managed to leave the band on good terms, and this year I am putting together an anthology, which will include some Fini Tribe material. So I have been talking to the guys quite a bit. To get rights and so forth. The anthology will be called “ Initial CC.”

Carli-How did you get involved in RevCo and Ministry?

Connelly-I was looking for a label to put out Fini Tribe Records, and Wax Trax had an office in London. I heard a few of their releases. And it was the only label I felt any affinity with, so I went and gave them a copy of a song I wanted to release. They really liked it. And at that time Al Jourgensen was there along with Paul Barker and Bill Rieflin. I hit it off with them really quickly. I recorded that day with them. In fact, I hope to include that song in my upcoming anthology. It never came out. And it’s great.

Carli-Do you think it’s harder to market your work when you work in so many bands simultaneously? Did you ever consider focusing on your solo career or one band only?

Connelly-It’s a losing battle. It is it is hard to explain yourself unless you are doing an interview like this, which encapsulates a whole career. If I am promoting a new album it can get pretty hard because people always ask why does this sound so different from that? The answer is because that’s how I want it.
I have revoked my right to try to convince people of the validity of each project in relation to the others. I have a good attention span but when it comes to music I get bored easy. If I get asked to collaborate with someone I usually do it. Especially now as I get older I gets interested in what someone brings to the table, and how that might alter what I have to say or play. The last few years have been busy doing music with people I never would have thought I would do music with. But it’s a little bit of time, but I get so much from it. It pushed you to see how much you can changed. It’s all a big experiment, but in a way it’s also like method acting. Recently, an interviewer asked why don’t I do something that sounds like one of my old records. I responded: “ Why do you think John Cusack doesn’t want to do ‘16 Candles’ again or Johnny Depp doesn’t want to do ‘Nightmare on Elm Street again?’” Because they’ve grown. I don’t just forget about the past, and sometimes I work with some of the old people, but it’s not a nostalgia thing. We are building on something old to create something new. That’s what I feel we are doing in Damage Manual.

Carli-When you do a song, do you have to decide which band to pitch it to or which one is most appropriate?

Connelly-Usually, when I write on my own, I use the work on my solo albums, Sometimes, I am approached by some friends with some music and I’ll write music for it, and we’ll take it from there. If I am doing something new, I like it when someone presents me with something that is half finished. I’m not good at sitting down with people and just jamming. Usually some one will bring me part of a song and day I think your voice would sound good with this, and I’ll take it from there.


Carli-All of the Revolting Cocks members had nicknames. How did you acquire yours?

Connelly-Well my nickname was Scorpio and that was my sign.

Carli-Are you tempted to join any other tours like the Horde Festival and Area tours?

Connelly-Yeah I would do one in a second. The money is generally good, and on tours of that scale, you are generally looked after. It leaves you open to do what you’re supposed to, performing. It’s a nice change.

>Carli-So you think you will collaborate with fellow cocks, Alan Jourgensen or Paul Barker again in the near future?

Connelly-It’s always a possibility. None of us have ever really closed those avenues, but it’s all a question of crazy scheduling. Al and Paul take a really long time to make records. That’s how they do it, and that’s their prerogative. If they asked me to work on something that would be great. It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.

Carli-When both you and Al were together in Ministry or Revolting Cocks, how did you decide which of you would sing a particular song.

Connelly-Well usually 75 percent of the time it was just obvious. There were times when we all had a go, and see who sung it best. Sometimes, I would write the lyrics and Al would sing or I would join in the chorus. Al had the executive decisions at the end of the day, but he was very open minded to work with. Most of all, he cared about the music as a whole. He was not a real ego tripper. He didn’t need to always be on the spotlight, and that’s why he brought me in. I think the money and work was divided up very fairly.

Carli-Did power politics or drug and alcohol problems play any role in the dissolution of RevCo or Ministry?

Connelly-Well it always does. In a band you are looking at four or five people working together, and that can be difficult. The drug part can be difficult too, but nothing out of the ordinary. You are going to have to make compromises or you have to leave. I have been lucky enough to work in a situation where most of the people I worked with acted like adults.

Carli-Your solo work with the Bells is more melodic and subdued than your early work: why did you veer in that direction in your solo recordings?

Connelly-Once the anthology comes out, it should be clear everyone should see that soft side of my work has always been there. My early Fini tribe work is very melodic as well. I have always liked melody, but on the other hand, I also need the visceral violence of music. You know, sometimes a vegetarian might crave some raw steak or to get violent s well


Carli-Was the group name the Bells in homage to Lou Reed?

Connelly-Yes the group was named after his album of the same name.

Carli-Which of your recordings are you most proud of and why?

Connelly-I’m really proud of my new solo album, “Shipwreck.” On that record, I had a really great band. They were very sympathetic to what I was doing, and it was very much collaboration. I love the way it turned out,

Carli-One of your songs is about the French actress, Julie Delphy (of “Beyond Sunrise” “Beatrice,” and “White.’) Are you a fan of her work? Did she react to the song in any way and did you meet her?

Connelly-I don’t know if she ever heard the song but I do like her. And at the time I thought it might be a decent way of getting into her pants.

Carli-She even has a cameo in the animated film “Waking Life. Speaking of films, there are some cinematic references in your work, and your ex-bandmate, Al Jourgensen recently wrote the score for “A.I." Would you like to score films? Which films would you have liked to have scored?

Connelly-Certainly I am a big fan of movies. I watch them all the time. There’s never really been a movie that has been made that made me think I should have done the score. But I’m about to score a film this year called “Leftover Voices,” I am not apprehensive, but it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a different way of looking at music. The name of the filmmaker is Shayna Weiss. I will have to be sympathetic to a variety of movements or characters. It’s almost like you’re scoring for a ballet with dialog. I’m looking forward
to it.


Carli-Which of your recordings are you most proud of and why?

Connelly-I’m really proud of my new solo album, “Shipwreck” on that record I had a really great band. They were very sympathetic to what I was doing and it was very much collaboration. I love the way it turned out,

Carli-What are your favorite recordings by other people and why?

Connelly-My favorites have always been David Bowie, the Can, Captain Beefheart, and Scott Walker. These are people I still feverishly listen to. I also listen to a lot of folk music like Fairport Convention. . I just love Sandy Denny’s voice.

Carli-She was also on Led Zepplin’s “The Battle of Evermore.” I just love how she blended her voice with Robert Plant’s

Connelly-That’s right. But I have been listening to lots of folk. I have an affinity for it, but I don’t know how they do it.

Carli-Do you also like Richard and Linda Thompson’s work too?

Connelly-Yes, very much so. I really love the album; “I Want to See the Bright Lights tonight.”

Carli-She has a new solo album out-- her first in six or seven years
Why were the credits sung at the end of ‘Blonde Exodus,” and where did the title come from?

Connelly-The title comes from a number of blonde women that I had adulation for in my life, and all of them ultimately left. “Blonde Exodus” was supposed to be as close as I could get to a film, and that’s why it had opening titles and credits at the end. I wanted it to be cinematic. The dynamics of the sounds—louds and quiets put you through the emotional range. It has humor and sadness and it all takes place within an hour.


Carli-Did you ever get to work with Billy Corgan?

Connelly-No, but I did give him my old keyboard player. We were supposed to collaborate on a charity show, but he was too busy, so we had to do it without him


Carli-Can you tell me about your poetry book, “Confessions of the Highest Bidder?

Connelly-It’s a collection of poems and song lyrics from 1982-96. I had a few people approach me about collecting my work together. The girl who does my website offered to put it together for me. I didn’t do any editing except I picked the ones I thought were the best and she did a really nice job of putting it all together.

Carli-Do you read much contemporary poetry, and if so who are some of your favorites?

Connelly-I don’t read much contemporary poetry; although, there are two poets I am really into right now. I found one by mistake. I was looking for my book, and it wasn’t there I found a work by a Canadian poet called Karen Connelly and I just pulled it out. The cover looked really new agey, like something I would never be interested in. But her poetry is great. There’s also a female poet from the North of Scotland called Ann Frator, who has written some poetry that I have really enjoyed. I’ve written a poem about her recently which is unpublished as yet.

Carli-What are you listening to right now? Do you have any favorite new bands?

Connelly-I’ve been listening to Captain Beefheart same as I always do. there’s a Chicago band I really like called Joan of Arc. I’ve been collaborating with Tim Consella from that band. Along with Ben Vida and Liz from a band called Town and Country, which I really enjoy.

Carli-I wrote a poem about Captain Beefheart. It was published years ago in “ Alphabeat Press.” I also have one about John Cage in “Café Review.” I’m a big admirer of his work. There’s no one else like them.

Connelly- Exactly


Carli-Do you think that the commercial radio formats and playlists have made it more difficult for your work to be heard?

Connelly- Oh, yeah. I gave that up years ago. It’s not going to happen. It’s not for me. I’m not interested enough in what the formula is. I remember the charts when I was growing up. You could have a reggae song, a soul song. and a Marc Bolan song-- all in the top 5 in one week. When I was growing up, I loved the top 30 because it was so varied. I have little interest in that kind of stuff.

Carli- Moby once suggested that the people who like really innovative music tend to download, and that’s why the radio and the top of the charts is so bland.

Connelly- Yes, I’m fine with downloading, but my biggest concern is how am I going to get my records into people’s houses? Love it or hate it, the best way is to play live. I am not a huge fan of playing live, but it has its rewards. It seems to be the best way to get the records in people’s houses. It’s very grass roots but that’s how I ply my trade. I have given up relying on people. My record company does what it can, but there is a marginal audience for what I do. They might pay six dollars to see you. And if they like what you have done and if they had a few beers they might buy your CD. They are much less likely to take that kind of risk and pick up your stuff when they are in a record store. It makes it a little more special if they can buy your records and talk to you afterwards.


Carli- Do you think that the Internet is going to open up commercial radio or supplant it as the main source of recorded music?

Connelly- When I was a kid if a record was hard to find, it really was hard to find. Hard to find these days means a few clicks away. Now, you might be able to buy it from someone in New Zealand. But before the Internet, you had to rely on your local record stores in a two-mile radius or you had to order from a catalog or tape from friends. It’s wonderful that there are lots of record albums that I loved as a kid that are available on CD now. Sometimes, I’ll get people to burn them for me, but I’d rather just buy the things.


Carli- What new projects are you working on?

Connelly- I just finished a track for the new Pigface, and we’re going on tour in November, I’m also doing the project with the Town and Country and Joan of Arc members. Apart from that, I am working on a new solo album. I have been writing diligently. I think I have enough material now. Now I just have to record it.


Carli- Do you sell quite a bit on-line and is your stuff available on Amazon.com? The reason why I ask is because there’s a link to Amazon.com on this website.

Connelly- Yeah it is. I don’t know how much percentage of my sales come from there, but I never sell that many records anyway. But I am really pleased about that. I am also starting to sell my stuff through through my website.

Carli- Is there anything else you wanted to say?

Connelly- Not really. I think we covered a lot of ground.

 

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