A limited edition CD with autographed Polaroid image (150 copies), as well as digital download formats, are available for pre-order and the first track, “Another Song About A Painting”, is available now on Bandcamp. You can also experience the title track, “The Tide Stripped Bare”, via this exquisite video by Gabriel Edvy.
As Chris prepared for the release of his new album, I grilled him on all the details I could get for “The Tide Stripped Bare”, his first release of 2018, his 20th solo album, and our third interview together.
- Megan Walters: First of all, congratulations on your newest album! The name of the album itself — The Tide Stripped Bare — happens to sound a lot like the name of a Bryan Ferry album, “The Bride Stripped Bare”, which in itself is a reference to an artwork by Marcel Duchamp. Was this a deliberate nod to either artist?
Chris Connelly: Absolutely: I adore Bryan Ferry and, of course, Duchamp, and I see some definite lineage between the two… so, in a fit of absolute egomania, I added myself to that lineage! But seriously, the sculpture alludes to masculine and feminine relationships, as does Ferry’s album (which he made after breaking up with Jerry Hall) and I have always dealt with these relationships in my lyrics. Although the substitution of the word TIDE for BRIDE which opens up the more allegorical side of the album and my own romantic relationships with the unattainable, it hearkens back to something I mentioned before in that I create backdrops for my songs, like the background in a painting, I spend as much time fixated on the use of words and sound to create the context of the song.
- MW: Speaking of Bryan Ferry, the first song “Another Song About A Painting” has a definite glam rock feel to it. Does this mean you were influenced by glam rock while you were making this? Do you have an idea of what you want your songs to sound like before they are finished, like “I am going to do a glam rock song”?
CC: No, I never have a vision, maybe a melody and the traces of words, but that song went through a lot of changes before it became what it is. When I finally delivered it, it happened really fast and in a sense it was the comedy of the words and the references AGAINST a very glam rock backdrop that appealed- if you listen to the words, it’s sort of referencing all these centuries old paintings by people like Constable of farm labourers and pastoral scenes all colliding with each other. At the end I start yelling out artist names off the top of my head and it’s a direct reference to the outro of “Elected” by Alice Cooper- so you are bang on the money about glam, which has been one of the backdrops of my life for ages.
- MW: Why did you decide on this name for your album? Do you have a list of cool album names in your head or do you choose the name based on the material you’ve written?
CC: These days the titles come to me, and usually I can’t start writing or don’t start writing until I have a title, and it has to really grab my attention. Both works of art The Tide Stripped Bare have been woven into the fabric of my life for decades and it’s just something my brain threw up when I was playing word games in my head, and it seemed like such a perfect “Chris Connelly” album and song title. It was then that I started writing the title track, the tide going out is like water stripping water stripping water, the ocean undressing itself. It’s both sexy and in a metaphorical way revealing of truths, stripping away of artifice, and when the tide is out we ourselves can wander further out into an expanse.
The song itself looks at this, and it also deals with two souls who maybe friends or lovers being able to confront certain truths both good and bad in an arena without distraction (the empty beach). The fact that the water is shallow the further out they walk (the “ankle deep affair” written about in the chorus) suggests that perhaps a commitment is elusive for both, but like many things I write, I leave it open ended for those listeners who may need a happy ending.
- MW: “Tide Stripped Bare” is yet another reference to water — you have done Ultimate Seaside Companion, Shipwreck, Pentland Firth Howl, Stowaway… do you intend to have these recurring themes or does it just make for good lyrics?
CC: Yes, I come back to it. I grew up near water and spent a lot of time there, actually. Reading this question makes me think it’s an easy cheap shot, any dipshit poet can wax lyrical about the fucking ocean, but all of the titles above explore different aspects. The sea is just the canvas and the backdrop really.
“Shipwreck” was suggested to me by Bill Rieflin as the title for the album and I really grabbed the ball and ran with it. Of course, he suggested it to me as my life was a bit of a shipwreck at the time — it’s funny that something as beautiful came out of what was a very ugly and self destructive time in my life. But if there is no tangible beauty in my life at any given moment, if there is nothing good, my mind will create these incredible vistas for me to dwell in, and out of this will come some kind of creative outburst inevitably. It’s all checks and balances, really, isn’t it?
- MW: This marks the second time you have covered a song by Scottish post-punk band Visitors— what is it about Visitors that brings you back again?
CC: Third, if you count “Drug a Bug” by Cocksure — which basically samples a Visitors song and loops it. Visitors were my mentors, their music, their approach and creativity still resonate with me strongly to this day and I feel like I have so much to thank them for. I love their music and know it well and I wish it were more widely available. In a sense, I am on one hand recording these songs for my own indulgence and on the other hand, I want others to hear them and explore.
In their short existence they never made an album, but they went through so many incredible creative changes and became more and more obtuse as that short time went by, it was kind of overwhelming for me. They were the ones who played a different set each time, who played different instruments each time and were a huge influence on the way the Fini Tribe worked.
- MW: What was this album like to make? Are some songs or albums more difficult to make than others and why?
CC: I made it at home, as I do all of my records now. It was a wonderful, if protracted, experience. Some of the songs I worked and reworked, and some were very quick, the writing took no time. It was really the expression of the music I had the most questions about, but it was a lot of fun, and I was by myself. When I first started making records, when I was a kid, and many of my peers will attest to this, going into the studio was a big deal. It meant planning, it often meant saving money (or any other illicit means), rehearsing, endless discussions because it was your “shot” — if you blew it, the meter is running and you still have to pay. So I grew up in that environment. Now we are seeing the opposite of that and I think it is a lot more zen. I don’t build up any kind of importance — the work happens when it happens, if something wasn’t happening, if a song felt wrong, I could leave it and come back to it — any kind of self-importance is diminished and it becomes all about the work, and never really about the finished product. I write and record when I feel like it, and eventually there is an album, ta dah!
What’s interesting to me is that these methods are changing the way I write, not necessarily on “The Tide Stripped Bare” but perhaps a little on the track “Ophelia Moment”. I can see part of me focusing on a real structure — and never a traditional structure, a unique structure for that song — and also a very loose “non” structure as well. I have been writing these pieces for the next album that contain both these elements, structure along with a lot of almost improvisational lyrics, and whereas I may have worked them a little more in the past, I am now inclined to leave them. I feel like there is this automatic writing coming out of my own method.
- MW: So now that you no longer have that sense of urgency or as much worry about money spent on pro studio time or making your “shot”; does having more time or being more comfortable create different songs than it used to? Do you think there might be something great about restrictions or parameters in a creative process that you won’t get from how you are currently working?
CC: I have always worked better with restrictions. For years and years I shunned any kind of home recording in favour of my beloved handheld cassette recorder. I was always afraid that anything else would detract from my writing process. I found out at a very young age — and absolutely no disrespect to Al or Paul (who I worked with in Ministry) but when I first joined (and this was not just them, it was a trait of recording in the 80s) they took forever to do anything, and I thought, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But it was ridiculous, and that’s the reason I finally left: because I was bored. Ultimately I realized I needed to A: do what pleased me, and what I thought sounded good and B: having these tools at my fingertips actually augment the songwriting process, or present another dimension after the basic melody is written, and the sketch of the lyrics are written. (I did not make this realization until I was around 50.)
I still have restrictions, I have a lot going on in a very full life and I do not have dead time at all really, so I do not have endless hours to kill looking for the perfect guitar sound or whatever, so I really go with my gut on everything, and I am usually right. If something seems to be not right, I can go back and change it, and I have done this quite a few times — if something is nagging at me, I don’t have to call the studio and book time to fix it, I can do it when I get a spare minute. My creative process is and has always been fairly spontaneous, it’s almost the only area of my life where I do not second guess myself, and it’s a huge and very solitary part and that’s the way it’s got to be, I suppose.
- MW: Tell me about the cover art—does it have a particular meaning to you and do you think it’s important to make the art for your own albums sometimes? Is there a difference to you whether you make your album art vs anyone else?
CC: No, it seemed right for me to do it. I have this creative game I like to play where I have a huge bag of old magazines, a glue stick and some paper: the game is that you have to use your fingers (no scissors) to tear magazine pages and create a collage, but you only have 2 minutes to do it (these are my parameters, you can make up your own). For TIDE, another prerequisite was that all the pictures I tore from had to be bodies of water or beaches. It’s an exercise in creative flow and it can really change your perspective in real time. For a while there, I would do 4 or 5 in the morning after recording and before waking the kids up.
- MW: You have various characters that appear in some of your songs, some real like the folk singer Jackie Leven in “Jackietown” and some fictitious — presumably the Ophelia in “Ophelia Moment” was taken from Shakespeare. Are most of the characters in your songs based on real people in your life or are they mostly fictitious? What are some good examples of real vs made up characters in your work?
CC: “Jackietown” is an example of something I do fairly infrequently: a song about a real person. But Jackie’s music and words are so precious to me, I needed to write it, and it’s not the first time — the song “To Swing From the Air” on Decibels From Heart is for him, as well as the song “The Ultimate Seaside Companion”, which is not necessarily about him, rather a nod to his style. “Diamonds Eat Diamonds” from the album Blonde Exodus is written for Billy Mackenzie, and then there’s “Julie Delpy”, of course…
Most of the characters in my songs are hybrids of both real and fictitious people, kind of like the characters that populate my novel Ed Royal. Some of the peripheral characters are real, because they are so peripheral it doesn’t matter, but the principal characters are made up, in songs they are basically hired guns, actors I have hired to carry things from one end of a song to the other, to walk around the buildings I built and walk the beaches I make, or to create dynamic with other characters.
You mentioned “Ophelia Moment” — this was inspired by the idea of gaslighting: telling someone or orchestrating situations to suggest to someone they are mad (in this case a female) when they are not, which kind of refers to the idea that (in my opinion) Hamlet was subconsciously trying to make her go mad deliberately. I have seen this kind of (male) behaviour, or at least heard about it first-hand and it’s something to be aware of, a predatory weakening of the female by wearing them down.
- MW: How easy is it to “switch” creative personas? Could you be writing your own songs while in the midst of Bowie season?
CC: I do. The inhabiting of David Bowie requires a very different intellectual strategy than songwriting. It requires researching and playing a part, which takes an enormous amount of energy, but not the type of creative energy I use for songwriting. It requires stepping into my idea of what the character of Bowie may be, and it may be my romantic notion, so it’s quite personal.
- MW: You played your first solo show in a decade last year — any interest in doing more solo performances?
CC: It’s always possible… It was fun and, if nothing else, I have amassed a staggering amount of songs over the past 28 years I have been making solo records…