Interview: Chris Connelly
I don't think the Cocks were professional enough to have highlights, we fucked everything up really well.
Chris Connelly is a name that is synonymous with so many legendary bands. From Ministry to Pigface to Revolting Cocks to Murder Inc and beyond. Add to that a multitude of solo albums and his work as an author and you have a lot to talk about when dealing with his career. Gavin Brown was privileged to delve in deep with Chris to hear all about all his musical endeavours from past to present, his career as an author, how he is dealing with the current situation and how he fits it all in.
E&D: How are you keeping busy during this lockdown period?
Chris: I have no problem keeping busy, and I have been working remotely, as well as catching up with musical projects, having more time to focus in on details I may have otherwise overlooked. A ton of recording, which I generally do alone and share with other musicians anyway (like cocksure). I also have 2 children in school so…..there’s that.
E&D: Are you working on any new music at the moment?
Chris: I finished recording a new solo album right at the time we went on lockdown, I had started it in mid December, so that is done, and I have been collaborating with various people, vocals for a couple of new Joy Thieves songs.
E&D: Have you got any rescheduled live dates planned at all or are you waiting to see how the pandemic pans out in terms of the return of live music?
Chris: Nothing scheduled, I think that will be a long time coming, sadly.
E&D: Have you missed playing live and what was the last gig you played like?
Chris: The last gig I played was in January with my band Sons of the Silent Age, we play the music of David Bowie, it was a wonderful gig, so if it is the LAST gig I ever get to play in a venue, I am fine with that. I DO miss it, and I know all my colleagues who are musicians really miss it too. It’s sad.
E&D: Your solo output is extremely prolific. Do you try to bring out a record as often as you can?
Chris: I don’t try, I don’t try to achieve anything particular on any time line. I write quickly, that’s just the way I am made, but I get to a point where I feel like the album has to come out or I cannot write anymore. Nothing is planned, I don’t give myself 3 months or so to compose, but when the album is finished, generally I just sort of feel it in my bones and I stop. The big problem is the gap between finishing a record and the release, I find it hard to create when in limbo like that, but that’s usually when I get busy with gigs or collaborations, it’s a very minor concern.
E&D: What have been some of highlights of the solo albums you have put out so far?
Chris: Good question, I am usually in love with what I am doing at the time, the album I am writing is better than anything: the folly of love! But I am writing that music or those words at that point for a specific reason (which is elusive of course) so it is the most special thing at the time. I have pride for everything I have done, and it’s very personal. Each record has its own quality or component that separates it from the others: for example, the album Shipwreck was an amazing band, a creative volcano, a well executed record that we were all proud of, then a record like The Episodes was recorded outside in the country by a lake with a huge ensemble.
E&D: You’ve just brought out Operation C . O . C . K . S . U . R . E. by Cocksure, can you tell us about that and what the reaction has been like so far?
Chris: We wanted to bully our way back, I love Cocksure, it’s big, rude, preposterous and terribly crass. It has been a little while since we had a release, I think the reaction has been positive because it’s a great EP.
E&D: What are your musical roots and what was the first music to inspire you?
Chris: Monteverdi!!! That was what I sang in the choir as a child, amazing stuff from the late 1500’s… But that was very quickly superseded by Bowie, punk, Iggy and then onward to things like Throbbing Gristle and the amazing DIY culture of post punk.
E&D: Did your hometown of Edinburgh have much of a musical influence on you while you were growing up?
Chris: Absolutely, there was a good scene in the late 70’s/early 80’s, some amazing bands.
E&D: What was the first gig that you ever attended?
Chris: Henry Cow, George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Feb 1978.
E&D: Who are your biggest influences as a musician ?
Chris: As I get older, they are not so much other musicians (though they certainly play a part) who make records and things, but certainly musicians I collaborate with, and visual artists I enjoy, that and writers/film makers. I think there is a sort of open vision you have to have, be aware, all the time of what you are seeing and hearing, walking through a gallery or thumbing through a book may very well collide and join with something already on your mind, and at that point, it’s a motion to make something new, all these feelings are hardly cerebral for me, it’s gut and muscle. But since you are asking, here are some of the “wellspring” artists who keep giving. Throbbing Gristle, Lou Reed, Martin Amis, David Bowie, Henry Cow, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Cindytalk, Current 93, Dirk Bogarde, Harold Pinter, Patricia Highsmith.
E&D: What are your main memories and highlights of your time in Finitribe?
Chris: What an amazing time of learning. We rehearsed a lot, we were very concerned with being as 100% original as we could be, we were concerned with not being “rockist”, we worked bloody hard and played a lot of gigs to no one. But it was the learning experience of a lifetime, they were my family at that time, we did everything together and when it was done, it was done, we were young and I am still sad that I left, but I did.
E&D: How exciting was it when you moved to Chicago initially and what was the music scene like in the city at that time?
Chris: It was great, it was a lot easier to be a musician in Chicago than it was in Edinburgh. Sadly, that had become such a fight, a fight for money, a fight to be heard…what we were doing in Edinburgh as Finitribe was so counter to the trend, which was either BMX Bandits, Shop Assistants, Pastels (all of whom were great, but nothing like us) or slick proto yuppie off brand simply red type shite. Chicago welcomed me and my aesthetic with open arms and stuff got a lot easier. Maybe I should have stuck it out with Finitribe, but when we split and half of them carried on, it got a lot better for them, it needed to happen.
E&D: How did you meet Al Jourgensen and join Ministry in the first place?
Chris: I went to London to visit Southern Studios with a tape of Finitribe, he was there, we hit it off. I was already a fan of the Revolting Cocks, so I was thrilled. We went out and got drunk.
E&D: What were some of the highlights from your time in Ministry?
Chris: Some blistering live shows, some fun times in the studio.I have a strange relationship with that era, there was a lot of darkness as well, but, I would say the 1989/90 “Mind” tour was a great time, I had a lot of fun on that tour.
E&D: What are your main memories of creating the The Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste albums?
Chris: A lot of time sitting around and waiting. The Mind was hard work and I think there was a lack of focus in direction, which is not always a bad thing, it just changed all the time, we had a producer who…for the life of me I cannot remember if he was there the whole time, there was also a lot of freedom given to me, but as with all my times in the studio back then, we were making a lot of other records too…we were working on Revolting Cocks stuff as well.
E&D: Was being in the band as crazy as it was made out to be or was it just media hype?
Chris: Define crazy. I mean, the fucking Eagles got crazy, and they are the most boring band ever, so, nothing new. We had our fun, to be sure, we also had an element of the band that kept it together (Bill and Paul).The crowds were bonkers crazy though.
E&D: How was your time with Revolting Cocks and what were some of the highlights?
Chris: Ditto the Cocks, My favourite Cocks tour was in 2018!!! Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s we gained notoriety and healthy-ish record sales. The shows were bananas but it could not be sustained. I don’t think the Cocks were professional enough to have highlights, we fucked everything up really well.
E&D: Revolting Cocks have got back together a few times for live dates, is that something you will do again in the future and will there ever be another Revolting Cocks album?
Chris: It was a lot of fun, I don’t see us making a new record. For me Cocksure is a continuation of what I always wanted the Cocks to be. But I enjoyed playing live again so much I would like to try that again.
E&D: What was it like recording the Beers, Steers and Queers and Linger Ficken Good albums?
Chris: Beers was essentially done at the same time as Mind so lots of fucking around with technology, long sessions mixing, ‘Stainless Steel Providers’ actually dates from The Land of Rape and Honey sessions, it was an outtake and me and Paul were bored one night so we threw the tape on and I came up with the vocals. To me, that is the cocks song.
E&D: Was being in Revolting Cocks just as debauched as Ministry?
Chris: Same people but radically different drugs, innit!
E&D: You were also in Pigface and Murder Inc, what were the highlights of your time in those bands, playing with so many great musicians?
Chris: Touring with Pigface was really good fun. Murder Inc was great, but too short lived, and yes, a real thrill to play with all of those people. We recorded Murder Inc in a live-in studio in rural Minnesota, kind of made it up on the spot, it was a great creative time.
E&D: Was your time in Acid Horse with members of Cabaret Voltaire and how did that project come about?
Chris: Cabaret Voltaire were in town recording but their producer got really sick, they were bored, and we were horny.
E&D: Can you tell us about your time in The Damage Manual? That band had a hell of a lineup!
Chris: Again a band that was too short lived: the politics were fucking ridiculous, there was way way too much baggage and the whole thing blew up in our faces. I mean there were fucking screaming matches backstage, that I had nothing to do with, me and the keyboard player just slunk off and let the others yell at each other.
E&D: You have also authored several books, the most recent being The Heart Has To Ache Before It Learns To Best, what has the reaction to your books been like?
Chris: I suppose positive, I think they are nice to have, if you like what I do, I have a few books of peoples lyrics I like to browse.
E&D: Have you any plans for any further books in the future?
Chris: I am not a planner, I enjoy the process of writing prose, but it is so different from writing music. A different headspace.
E&D: How do you find the time to fit in all your artistic endeavours?
Chris: I don’t. There is no agenda, I do it because I love it and I am compelled, but I still have to cook, clean, look after my kids and work a day job, I get all of it done, no idea how. I am an early riser so that helps.
E&D: How does it feel looking back on your career having achieved so much and influenced so many?
Chris: I like what I have done, but it is all leading to the next creative outburst. If I have influenced people, I am humbled by that.
E&D: Did you ever think you would have had a forty plus career in music?
Chris: Absolutely, what the fuck else would I do???
E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments of your career so far?
Chris: I look on each release with an element of pride, they are unique like pictures in a gallery, but they remind me to move on and to learn from them.