Charles Connolly is quite possibly the most talented, best kept secret in the United Kingdom. Capable of blending many different layers of sound and sonic techniques into a homogenous and extremely pleasing whole, it should come as no surprise that my money is on this guy becoming the next, big, British export. You can read my review his debut album, Snakes and Ladders here.
Connolly recently reached out to award-winning Los Angeles-based jazz vocalist, James Tormé via Twitter to ask for Tormé’s opinion on his music. That introduction led to a partnership between Connolly and Tormé, under Tormé Music.
“Charles Connolly is one of those artists that you only come across once in a long while. Someone with a sound all his own,” Tormé said. “Most artists’ music are clear reflections of things they’ve osmosized over the years. And though you can hear hints of influences ranging from McCartney to Arctic Monkeys, there is something totally fresh, totally ‘now’ about the songs on Snakes and Ladders.
“Charles pushes on the front end of the musical envelope while at the same time managing to pay tribute to some of the great musical moments of the past. Just being able to do this, in a highly marketable way, is a very serious talent. It’s a mantra I try to live up to myself as an artist. In truth, very rarely is it done super effectively.
“So when Charles contacted me over Twitter – seriously that’s how we met, does it get any more organic? – to ask my opinion of his music. . . I wasted no time writing back to tell him what is supremely talented artist he really is. And, as they say, the rest is history.
“I’m proud to say we are now working together under the Tormé Music umbrella (my company) to develop Charles’ career, and I really believe it’s going to be a stellar one. I’m so thrilled to lend a little support to a young cat like this from the musical legacy I hail from. So glad to lend some support and guidance, when there is so much talent there to work with. It is exactly why I started my entertainment company.
“Look out music scene. There’s a new kid on the block from London. And boy, he’s definitely not kidding around. . .”
I caught up with Charles a few days ago, and he very graciously agreed to an interview.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): So, Charles Connolly. Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. I’ve done extensive research on you, and by “extensive research” I mean that I read your SoundCloud page. So, for our readers, could you please introduce yourself.
Charles Connolly (CC): I’m Charles. I write songs. I write, record, and produce all of my songs, and umm, I’m trying to make it, really.
RMM: Your new album, Snakes and Ladders, came out on January 6, or at least that’s when it came out on SoundCloud. Congratulations, it’s awesome. I’ve actually never heard your kind of sound, your brand of sound before, so it’s really something completely new for me – in a good way. So, tell me a little bit more about your new album. What should people everywhere know about it, I mean, apart from “go out and buy it”.
CC: It’s there. I mean, it’s there, on SoundCloud; it’s all free. I’ve spent the last year doing it, on and off my job. And, yeah, I put the album together. It’s sort of a mish-mash of sounds and ideas, and I like it.
RMM: Well, it turned out great. I’m curious: what song on the album would you say is a high point? I mean, what song are you the proudest of?
CC: Well, that’s a difficult one. Without sounding cocky, I’m kinda proud of all the songs I do. I mean, if I’m halfway through writing a song, and I don’t think much of it, or that it won’t work, I probably won’t carry on with it. I’d just abandon it, and start a new one. Because, as I’ve said before, they’re different styles. I kind of like a certain style for one track, and something different for another one. And the reason why I do that is because if you listen to an album, you kinda get bored if it’s the same sound, over and over again. So the styles [on my album] are different. So it comes out like that, otherwise I get bored and the listeners get bored, as well. But favourites, I would have to say the first track. That was the last one I did.
RMM: That would be ‘Go Go Go’, right?
CC: Yeah, ‘Go Go Go‘. I was particularly pleased with that one. It’s really punchy, and I spent a lot of time trying to get it to that sound. It sounds like “real stuff”, on the radio.
RMM: Well, it sounds at least as good as the stuff I hear on BBC Radio 1, of which I am a big fan.
CC: I was actually listening quite a lot to that station over the past year. That’s why a lot of the album sound quite pop-y. Like upbeat, dance music kind of stuff. I was working in a shop, and it [BBC Radio 1] was on all the time.
RMM: So it slowly got into your head.
CC: Well, that’s the thing. I never used to like the pop-y, Top 40 stuff. I preferred the older stuff. But I love the feeling that I get from the newer stuff. It’s pretty upbeat.
RMM: You said on your SoundCloud page that you spent all of last year putting the album together, and I was wondering about that. Were the tracks like stand-alone tracks, or did you consciously set out to do a whole album, from the get-go?
CC: Actually, you’re not the first person to ask that, and I don’t quite know how to answer it. Weirdly, I actually had taken a bit of a break [from writing music], for about two years, and I really wanted to get back to making music. It was actually on the first of January that I decided to start again. I did a couple of the tracks [that ended up] not on the album, and I liked it, and I thought I could do it. I actually noticed at the end of the year, after writing the tracks, that I had a full, album’s worth of music, and then I hoped I could make them into an album. It might sound like a stupid way of doing it, but it makes more sense. So I put the tracks into an order I thought would work, and it seems to flow really well.
RMM: Well, it does, and that’s why I asked you, because it’s really homogenous. It’s an interesting thing because, you hear this on other albums, and even on well established artists‘ albums, that you have two or three tracks that sound the same, and then you get the next track, and it’s like, “Wow! Where’d that come from?” Your album, on the other hand sounds very well put together. It’s the kind of homogeneity that actually makes sense, and doesn’t sound boring. I’m actually doing a bad job of describing your album, and I don’t know if anything I’m saying makes sense.
CC: No, no, I see what you mean. I do find that most bands have one or two sounds only, but when you do something different it doesn’t usually work. And most bands have only one sound. Of course they’ll have a soft track in the middle – they always think you have to have a soft track in the middle. But for me, it wasn’t a conscious effort to make the tracks different. I mean, you have tracks that use the piano in them, and they sound different, but that’s just what I felt like doing at the time. And also, if you have a soft song, it doesn’t have to have loud stuff along with it in the same album, although there has to be a flow to the album. They have to match, and flow naturally into one another, unless you’re intentionally trying to do something unexpected and clever.
RMM: Obviously, we’re basically having a conversation here, across time zones and a great distance, so, the Internet has undoubtedly changed how musicians get their sound across to listeners, to new listeners. You yourself are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and of course SoundCloud. So, in your opinion, how would you say has the Internet and social media changed the way in which musicians interact with their listeners.
CC: It’s huge. I don’t really know how it happened, but it works. It’s a whole other way now to get contacts, and to get yourself known. It used to be that you sent demo tapes to music producers. Nowadays they won’t even listen to it. They’ll just go, “email it to me”, or “send me the link to your Facebook account”, or something like that. And they [producers] get told by the people what’s hot right now, and maybe one person, somewhere, high up in management sees you, and says “Yes, I can make this person; I can make his career.”
In some ways, it’s still exactly the same way as it used to be, because in the old days, you’d play gigs, and you’d get the important people, and the important labels to notice you. And now you’ve got Twitter and all that stuff, and people notice you, and then record labels notice that. The problem is, that there are several million other musicians doing the exact same thing.
RMM: So, let’s get personal now. I promise I won’t ask any embarrassing questions. When and how did you get started with music?
CC: Well, I actually started by playing the drums. That was my first contact with music, when I was nine. So I’ve been making music for about 20 years. So, yeah, I started with the drums, and I think when I was about eleven I started the guitar. When I was about 15 or so, I started bass. I started writing songs when I was about, well, the first song I wrote was for my nephew, when he was born, and I was about 15. So, yeah, that was about half my life ago. And it only started happening properly when I was about 20, or something like that, and yeah, that’s pretty much how I got started. Originally, when I was six, or something like that, I wanted to be a Beatle.
RMM: Well, I think we’ve all been there. I think everyone’s wanted to be one of them at some point in their life.
CC: Well, yeah, but unfortunately, it wasn’t really possible. Now that I’m actually doing it, and putting my music out there, I’m really pleased with it, and it’s got a really good reception.
RMM: Speaking of the Beatles, I can actually hear some of their sound, or some parts of their sound in your style.
CC: You’re not the first to hear that. Actually my earlier stuff had that very Beatles, sort of solo McCartney sound to it. I’m a massive, massive McCartney fan. He’s just brilliant. I think he’s the greatest songwriter of all time, and his voice has pretty much limitless range, and not just physical vocal range, but also in terms of style. I mean, he can sing a ballad, and then rip through a rocker. So, yeah, if I had influences, he is the only obvious one I could say. I’m actually moving away from the Beatles sound. I’ve never tried to go for a Beatles sound, but I really like harmonies. So that’s probably why when people first hear my sound, the first thing they say is “Beatles”.
RMM: When did you know that music would be the thing you were going to do for the rest of your life? I mean, was there a sort of a Steve Coogan/Alan Partridge aha! moment?
CC: Well, it’s only come to that in the last few weeks, since the album’s been out. That’s actually the only time that I’ve gone aha! That was it. It was the first time I actually got my stuff out. I tend to think of it almost as bedroom music, and it’s such a waste. So this time I thought, Right, then, I’m really going to do what I can to put it out there. So that’s the first time I actually thought about it. I actually don’t know if it’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life. I want it to be, but it’s up to whether I can survive or not, to be honest.
RMM: What would you say is the inspiration behind your songs? I mean, not your personal influences, but rather the influences for the songs themselves.
CC: Hmm, inspiration. Well, it just sort of comes out of me. I don’t really think about it too much. It just happens. Lyrically, it’s just what comes out of my life. There’s a couple of quirky ones. It’s a sort of hopeful album, a very sort of upbeat, hopeful album, looking to the future, which is good, because last year was sort of a big, difficult year for me, because of various things, and I think a part of that comes across in these songs. One of the more obvious ones would be ‘Tell Me The Truth’. The thing is that, when I’m writing, I write the first little bit, and then I can sort of hear the rest of the song in my head. I hear the sound and the idea, as a whole song, even when it’s just a small idea on the piano or whatever. Basically, the song sort of writes itself. I don’t really know what it is. There’s two of me: I’m writing it, and I’m also watching myself doing it. It sort of feels like music by numbers, but it’s really not that at all.
I don’t know what it is; I just hear that first sound. It could be a hook, or a riff, or even a chord progression, or a sort of big, fat, chunky beat, and yeah, it does just write itself. And the thing is I’ve got so many ideas, and I try to record them. It’s always the most annoying when you have a great idea, and you’re having a bath or something, and you just have that little bit, and you can’t get it down. So, yeah, it’s a constant flow, just constantly moving, and I have to get it down.
Want more? Catch the rest of this interview on Monday!