By Andrew Catania
John Connolly is a multi- talented musician by all standards. This man can do backup vocals, play the drums, the lead and rhythm guitars and has currently been playing Dean Guitars. He has been involved in several bands, but his home is definitely in the band, Sevendust. He began as a drummer in the band Piece Dogs. He then joined Sevendust where he has been a member ever since.
Piece Dogs were formed in the year 1988 in Atlanta by Greg Anderson who was the lead vocalist, Mike Grimmet the guitarist and Kyle Sanders, the bassist. The band specialized on the genres power and thrash metal. It was dissolved in the year 1992 a few months after releasing their album “Exes for Eyes.”
John Connolly plays the rhythm guitar for Sevendust. The Sevendust band was formed by Vince Hornsby who plays the bass, Morgan Rose who does the drums and of course John Connolly. Lajon Witherspoon later joined as a lead vocalist and Clint Lowery as a guitarist. They released their first album in the year 1997 and had consequently released other albums that have sold millions of copies. This band has ten albums to its name some of which have gold certifications.
Being the natural person he is, John Connolly spearheaded another music project which they called Projected. He says, was just something on the side. Not to mean that the Sevendust members were not the talents they were looking for in any way. It was just another project, just like the name suggests.
Ignite My Insanity features 21 all new tracks from Projected and continues to build upon the sound the band established with their debut. It is an album designed to resonate with fans from the member’s original projects and guaranteed to garner new fans along the way. From the melodic piano interlude of the opener “Strike” to the raucous ending of closer “Battlestations,” the new album takes the listener on a journey inside the minds of the band. Songs like “Six Feet Below,” “Gomorrah,” “Inhuman” and “Upside Down” are infectious rockers. The first single “Reload” is a frenetic composition that showcases the musicianship of these accomplished performers. Alter Bridge/Tremonti songwriter Mark Tremonti co-wrote “Rectify” and “Call Me The Devil” and Sevendust’s Morgan Rose co-wrote “Concede” with the band. A teaser video for the release can be seen at https://youtu.be/di_ceQJSoVU.
On the subject of Projected’s new record, John Connolly comments, “There are four powerful personalities in this band. Everyone has been in the business doing various things, fromAlter Bridge to Creed to Sevendust to Tremonti and it took all those elements and sounded to make this album what it is!”
Scott Phillips adds, “We’re all part of other bands that we’ve put our heart and soul and life into, and this was just a chance to extend that into somewhat of a different direction.”
Guitarist Eric “E-Rock” Friedman comments, “When I think Projected, the first words that come to my mind is a very raw and honest band. Things aren’t overthought. It’s very organic.”
Says bassist Vinnie Hornsby, “We’ve been playing so much time together, you know it’s kinda’ like a marriage to a certain degree, it warms my heart to be able to play with my friends and these great musicians.”
I had a chance to speak with John about Projected and when we should expect another Sevendust record.
How’s the feedback on the new record?
John: Everything’s been great so far man, I mean, I’m crossing my fingers and holding my breath. It’s sort of out, one single out of 21 songs is just scratching the surface. In 3 weeks, one’s just out-out, it would be pretty exciting to get all the feedback from those people who have taken the journey through both of the discs.
Who decided to make two records? Was that something that you Vinny, Scott & Eric just decided to do, a double disc?
John: Yeah, well it didn’t start that way, you know. Every intention was to make 1 CD, and I’m never usually the type that like, if there are 11 songs on a CD, I don’t write 11 songs and then call it you know I always like to have more, you know, somewhere around 16ish, I always figure is a nice comfortable number. That way you can pare it back, and you know have a B side and all that good stuff. The problem was, we got to the 16 and every time I would pull one, someone would freak out. [Alright] So, I figured ‘ok let me pull this one, ’ and then someone else would freak out, and then I’d pull another one, nd I’m just always hearing it. And I was like ‘Ok, this isn’t working, no matter how I try to pare this back it isn’t going to work, and 16 songs aren’t going to go on a disc’, so we figured ‘let’s write ahead some more and see what happens.’
So I got back into the writing mode and spent another week, week and a half, just pulling some stuff, just trying to see what would happen hypothetically speaking, if we got closer to 20. Ended up with 21 and we just looked at each other and went ‘ok, we’ve got a choice to make here. We’ve either made two records, which was pretty the politically correct move. And then you figure out, you know, you put ten on one, 11 on the other and give them different names. One would be called Ignite, and one would be called My Insanity and release them at different times. And then we were talking about it with Rat Pak; we send that the lighter would be at the very end of the hole, 2 CDs and the memory said ‘why don’t we make a double record? They were written all together weren’t they?’ And I was like ‘yeah.’ So the artist in me was like, you know, just jumping up and down, was like ‘WOW!’ I figured the label would be the one place that would be like ‘alright, let’s be practical about this,’ you know, dollars and cents and all that other good stuff. They just wanted to blow it out; they just said ‘no, let’s do it like nobody is doing these days. Let’s go ahead and just release a double record’. And I said ‘perfect!’
That’s going to be kind of hard to top that, doing a double disc. I’d listen to it, yeah, you know, it’s good, it’s a good record.
John: Oh, thank you, man
Who does the collaboration on the songs? Is it a common kind of effort? One makes the music, and one does the lyrics or does all of you have a say in it?
John: It’s an entirely different animal. Like on the World of Seven it’s always five cooks in the kitchen, you never know who’s going to be writing what. Somebody writes this and then someone completely different, we’re quite notorious for writing on each other horn. Quinton would bring a bit of music, and I’d through the lyrics on it, and he’d do the same with mine. But with discs, it’s an entirely different process. The easiest way for most people to get is, I frame the house and the rest of you guys finish it. It pretty much gives me the leeway to take the ball and just run as far as I can run with it. Until it’s to the point where I’m either not happy with it or second-guessing stuff, and that’s when they usually talk me off the ledge. There have been a million times when I’d be like ‘I’m going to delete this file’ and (ReRock) would be like ‘No, it’s one of my favorite songs, hang on a sec, what are you doing? You’re overthinking it’.
They give me the leeway to put it all together and then, you know, any of the extra (dollars and muscles) normally is, guitar overdub solos, things like that, we’ll fit that after the (fight) and we’ll kind of divvy out parts. A lot of the times I’ll put like, there’ll be something in a part or a section that I call a Place Holders. And actually is like ‘ooh I love that’ and I’m like ‘aww it’s just a Place Holder’ and he’s like ‘nope, that’s staying,’ and I’m like ‘dang it. Well, as long as you’re into it.’ But that’s kind of how the practice goes; you get super organic, super easy and super simple, you know. They’ll let me know if they’re not into something, for sure, but there’s not a whole lot of second-guessing when it comes to this stuff, it just kind of happens.
Do any of these songs have any particular meaning to you? Or they just going to the what’s the theory of the album, Big Mike, I’m Standing 6 Feet Below, Call me the Devil. Is any of that any personal story to you or the band mates or is it just going to what the album title is?
John: It would be hard to say that it’s not personal because I think that the whole gist of the album is a person dealing the acceptance of the fact that they might be going a little insane, they might be losing it, the voices in their head have actually gotten pretty loud and pretty convincing. And it’s one of those things; it’s a universal thing, I mean everyone has discussions with themselves and kind of talks themselves into things and out of things at different points in time. But this is a time in this person’s life where the voices are persuasive, their major personalities. I think we’ve all gone through periods in our lives where you have to deal with that, whether it be a blessing or whether it be a curse. I mean it could be a positive thing, it could be a negative thing, but at the end of the day, I think it’s just a universal type of stuff. For me, I can’t point a finger and say ‘yeah there’s one particular song that that’s me directly,’ it’s more of a universal overtone to all of it.
How do you have time between Sevendust and your current project? Is Sevendust off the road right now when you’re out promoting this?
John: Yeah, this is the 20th anniversary of our debut record what we released in 1997, so we just got done doing five shows up in the northeast. We did Baltimore, Philly, New Jersey, Long Island & Rochester. That’s the only real tour we’re going to be doing this year, was just for that, it was just for the specialty. Pretty much I’m more in a projective mode right now than anything. Although we will be making a new Sevendust record this year, so we’re kind of in writing style too. So it’s always interesting because the schedules overlap a little bit. You try to pick a whole window and say ok, nothing’s going to be happening now, and then a few little things come up on the radar, so sometimes you’ve got to wear both hats at the same time, but it’s not that difficult.
Going back to your childhood, what made you pick up the guitar?
John: Just allowed to, no doubt about it. It wasn’t the guitar more than anything; I just wanted to play music you know. I hadn’t even heard. I opened up Kiss Alive II, and I saw the inside, and I saw flames and the costumes, and everything and I were just like ‘ok, this is what I want to do. I don’t even know what it sounds like and I don’t even have any idea how to play an instrument. Started on drums, played drums from I guess the time I picked them up when I was 13 or 14 years old. I played drums in a bunch of different co-bands and a couple of delusional bands and then for me it was just, I guess it was more of the feeling than anything.
I love playing drums, but I also love writing songs. It’s challenging to write songs on a set of drums. You at least have to have a piano or a guitar or something where you can kind of hammer a melody off. I think musically for me that’s the most important part, is songwriting. Playing guitar is great, playing drums is great, I love to sing but, there’s something cool about the process of starting with nothing and building something from zero, didn’t exist. For me it’s a weird sequence, the songwriting process is a lot like fishing. You never know what you’re going to get. You cast your line out and you real it in, and it’s kind of the same thing with sitting down, at least for me.
I don’t sit down and say ‘ok I’m going to write a power ballad, I’m going to write the heaviest song I’ve ever written. I just grab a guitar and wherever I end up is where I end up. So it’s always cool because at the start of that journey there’s nothing and at the end of that journey, you’re putting harmonies and solos and extra bits and pieces and parts, and you’re making it all. For me, that’s the thing that still gives me goosebumps, when you finally get to the end of the song, and you’re excited about it.
I know basic pentatonic stuff, I know the chromatic scale, and it’s a shocker there. But as far as the physical knowledge of the instrument, I don’t know why I’ve avoided most of it. I think it’s because I was trying to find my voice more than anything, but I’m learning it all backward. I think I’ve found my place, my voice, my own thing, for better or for worse and figured out what I was going to do with it. And now as I get older, like we just made two bonus tracks for this album. They’re going to be on international releases and stuff like that. Either way, the two songs are cover songs, and they are on a standard, so I had to learn how to play standard, which was kind of cool. I’m like, well I’ve been playing guitar for 20 something odd years and now all of a sudden I’m going to have to learn to play standard. So it’s almost like I’m working entirely in reverse. Now I’m learning like the essential, pentatonic licks and you know shakes and scales and stuff like that. You throw me the other tune, and I can show you our method to our madness. But you put me in standard, and I’m like ‘alright, the kid in a candy store here. I’m excited to learn, ’ but as far as shredding and stuff like that goes, I’m not that guy. I mean there’s a little bit of tapping on a couple of solos, and there’s some busy stuff, but I’m way more of a funneling guy than I am the soloist so to speak.
Have you evolved as a player since you’ve been playing over the last two decades? How have you evolved?
John: Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. I’m not going to lie. When we first started Sevendust I didn’t have a guitar strap, I was sitting on the drum stool because I’m a drummer, that’s my natural position. Just sit on the drum stool, and I was holding the guitar. Then we had a show coming up, and Vinny walks in, and he has a strap, and he hands me the strap, and I’m like ‘I guess it’s time to stand up.’ I stood up, and for me, it was like ‘wow! This is crazy’. Because it’s a whole lot easier to play guitar when you’re sitting down than it is when you’re standing up. Especially when you’re trying to look cool, because I try to hike it up real high every time and Vinny was like ‘nope.’ He came over and lowered the strap way-way-way down low. I was like ‘ok.’
So yeah, starting from there to where I’m at now, I think each year you dive into different things. I think about 5 or 6 years into being in Sevendust I realized that I need to step my game up, I need to figure some new things out. Not for the band, but just for me. I think originally when I started, the guitar was a tool, to be able to light a fire. I could run bar chords all over the Mack, play a few little extra over things on and we could hammer a song together really quickly. And being we had Clint in the band; he was always the other guitar element that would be going on. He’s been playing his whole life so there’s never a shortage of killer stuff that would come out of him. But I think I finally got to the point where I really fell in love with the instrument not as a tool but as something that I wanted to explore.
And I think each time we do a record, this time ‘alright, I’m learning how to play slides. Let me buy a slide and mess around with it a little bit. But I’ve never done anything with finger tapping, so I’m going to put that on the radar too because there was this one song that just needed it, it just required that there be a tapping sound so I’m liable. So I said ‘alright cool, the method would write on the next unclear. But I mean, every time I sit down on the instrument it’s always like, there’s always a good 30 minute period of ‘let me explore, let me push myself, just on the other side of my comfort zone.
Check out Projected @ https://www.facebook.com/Projectedband/
and Rat Pak Records @ https://www.ratpakrecordsamerica.com/home