By Christian Chiakulas
Chris Connelly--known for his work with Ministry and the Revolting Cocks--is set to release a new album titled Artificial Madness on November 8th, with a show following on Friday, November 18th at The Hideout. I got a chance to ask Chris some questions about the new album, his thoughts on the Chicago music scene and more.
WCR: I heard the first song from the album, "Waiting for Amateur." It's a great preview track and definitely makes me want more. Why did you pick this song to release first?
Chris: Well, there is going to be a video for it, plus it's short (2 minutes) and I think it sums up all the elements of the album-and of my past, in one easy to swallow pill!
Are you planning on releasing any singles from the album?
Theoretically, "Wait For Amateur" is the single; it just will not physically exist as a single, but it'll be the calling card, if you will.
You've described the album as “acknowledging Ministry in certain ways.” Which other of your previous bands/projects do you feel most suggest the sound of Artificial Madness?
Definitely Murder Inc. and Damage Manual--for all of Martin Atkins's exasperating tendencies, he is very good at bringing people together: with these bands, I had the elements of Killing Joke and Public Image that I loved, but being pushed in a new direction. Actually it was not until recently that I truly appreciated these bands I was involved with; at the time it was hard work and often contentious, which made it difficult to enjoy.
I read a blurb explaining the album's title, how it references people's reliance on needless technologies. Is this a theme running through a lot of the album, or just the title track?
I have always considered that the artist is at the mercy of the environment they are creating in--their daily lives, etc.--and technology is something that is undeniably and very forcefully shoved down our throats--it has changed what we do, obviously, and we spend too much time using it for useless ends. I was thinking about someone who is alien to this looking at us and seeing this "artificial madness." Now, I use technology, I have to--I am not someone who lives off the grid and is self sufficient--but I don't use it for the creation of my music. I still write my books longhand and I don't use a smart phone. I'm just really afraid that our collective consciousness and subconsciousness, or parts of it, will either shut down or morph into something useless over time. The album is not all thematic like this, really just the title track, but I found that it would unavoidably rear it's head in other aspects of the songs.
I also read a specific quote about the album's sound being “a statement against the way music has become a flaccid Eagles/Fleetwood Mac nightmare with no one fighting or asking questions anymore. It's time for a revolution.” I absolutely loved this. There's a lot of discussion about the prevalence of cover bands in the Chicago music scene, and I'd have to agree that the glorification of the classic rock era is absolutely killing musical creativity in this city. You mention a "revolution." Do you see any other solutions to this problem?
Not just Chicago, but I think what once maybe started as being an ironic liking for this type of sound or these bands has turned into hero worship. Here's a cliche I am always saying--"it's like punk never happened." This music is not provocative, it's like we forgot about the Pistols, Public Enemy, etc., when we need change or we need to be talking about it. It seems that people are not using the rock format to protest anymore. Artificial Madness is not a protest record, but I would like to think that it is an instigator and a provocateur. I can't understand why someone would go back in time 35 years and come back with "Hotel California" or a Jackson Browne record--have we learned nothing? These people changed nothing, they and their ilk are a bunch of rich wallowing California blobs.
The musicians on the album come from several different bands, all of whom are pretty big deals around Chicago. How did you come to put this group together, and in what ways did the other musicians contribute to the songwriting?
Sanford Parker (producer) put the band together, except for guitarist Dallas Thomas. Sanford introduced me to Dallas, who played on the High Confessions album. I really wanted to work with him. I knew of everyone else, and I know Sanford's instincts are brilliant.
The band was not involved in the writing. I recorded "demo" versions, passed them along, and they just showed up prepared, and away we went!
What was your experience with writing and recording Artificial Madness? Were the songs written in-studio, or beforehand?
I wrote the songs last December, recorded a demo of just me playing and singing, and I would listen to it in the car or wherever, trying to get a sense of where they were and what they were doing. The studio experience was quick--I am not one to hum and haw about decisions, ditto Sanford. We come to decisions quickly because, well, he really KNOWS what he is doing, and I will A: follow my first instinct and B: have no patience whatsoever. So it was a good experience. I always treat being in the studio as a fun diversion, not work. It is a privilege for me to work with who I do, and having that many creative people in one place makes for a good time. In my past, I have had brutal experiences in the studio, so I have learned about going in prepared, and keeping the atmosphere light and enjoyable for everyone involved.
As far as mixing goes, I left this up to Sanford. That's something I have learned--I am good at writing songs and singing, but leave the other jobs up to people who know what their field of expertise is. If I have an opinion I will voice it, but usually way ahead of time, before recording, I'll say which direction I feel a song should go in, or reference another song of mine or someone else's just as a starting point.
I eventually left the mixing stage of Artificial Madness. My wife was unwell, and I was just sort of sitting there nodding my head going "sounds great!' Sanford was a tiny bit nervous, but I said "look, you know what will sound good, you don't need me," and I was right!
You have a release show on November 18th at The Hideout, and I'm reading that the whole band from the album is gonna be together for it. Will you be playing songs from your other albums? Do you have plans for more shows, or perhaps a tour, with these or other musicians?
We'll play the album, and maybe there will be other shows, but touring? No, my life does not allow for touring right now, but it's something I'll go back to when I’m older. Who knows though, maybe some one-off dates here and there.
What is your favorite song on the album, if you have one?
Probably "Classically Wounded," but I must mention that there is a cover version of a song on there that I love. The song "Compatibility" was a single for the Edinburgh band VISITORS in 1980--these guys were my mentors, and their legacy has gone unnoticed for the most part. "Compatibility" is a really strong song, and I was thrilled at how my version came out, as were VISITORS. I asked for their permission, and they loved my version.
Any shout-outs for any local Chicago bands you like and think people should know about?
I love MAGAS, Death Ships, Implodes, Disappears, Nachtmystium, Azita, Swan King, Blasted Diplomats, White Mystery. There are others too, but I can't remember off the top of my head.
Listen to "Wait For Amateur" off Artificial Madness here.