Known for their Southern-flavored jangle-rock, The Connells formed in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina in 1984 and soon took college radio by storm with the release of their first two albums, Darker Days and the Mitch Easter-produced Boylan Heights. Their biggest commercial success came in 1993 with "74-75," an acoustic ballad that swept charts throughout Europe. They released a few more albums, the last being 2001's Old School Dropouts, before taking a lengthy break from the studio.
Here, Mike Connell, the band's leader and primary songwriter, takes us through the songs on Steadman's Wake (including its title track/lead single), set for release on September 24, 2021.
Really Great"Really Great" is told from the point of view of someone who is going through a less than "really great" time, between external stuff like global pandemics and global warming and political turmoil, as well as more personal stuff. So, that would be the "never-ending, mind-bending turnstile" and "thunder-clapping, soul-sapping whirlwind." But between a favorite old song and a beautiful day and someone to share the experience with, the person singing the song is seeing "clear skies and sunshine." All major chords here, which doesn't happen very often with my songs.
Fading In (Hardy)"Fading In" was written with one of my sons in mind, so it's more personal and more literal than most of my songs. I found it to be pretty tough to write a song as personal as this song without getting overly sappy and sentimental. Hopefully, I mostly managed to dodge that pitfall. Anyway, it's about how I perceive that this young man is starting to know and understand himself and find his way in the world - so, gradually "fading in" and "fading fair" and coming into his own.
Steadman's WakeI wrote "Steadman's Wake" with the modest goal of trying, in the context of a four-minute pop song, to address (1) the opioid crisis – "they peddle this stuff for pain, and now it's a steady rain," (2) the waste and futility of war – "I joined up to have some fun, but man do these boys die young," and finally, (3) the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, a couple of years ago – "I showed up in Charlottesville, you make of it what you will. And now I'm just running past these fine people with baseball bats."
Even though I felt that I wanted to say something about these matters, I tried my hardest to remain as oblique as possible with my references, while still managing to express a particular point of view. I typically try to steer clear of writing anything even remotely political in nature – I guess I felt the need to make an exception with this tune.
Rusted FieldsMy thinking for "Rusted Fields" was to try to write some sort of post-apocalyptic love song – the person "telling" the song is inviting someone to go out at night, "beyond the mills and the radioactive fills," in order to get right, which could really mean any of a number of things. More than anything, I was hoping to create a mood versus spin some sort of narrative, which is the case with most of my songs. It's a pretty dark tune, and touches on things like trying to find something in life that has some meaning, as well as more nebulous stuff like the meaning of "Southernness." So, this is just some of the stuff that I had in mind while I was writing the tune, but this song, like most any song, should be about what someone listening to the song thinks that it's about.
Gladiator HeartThis song is an ode to someone, anyone, everyone who has the inner strength and resolve and courage – "gladiator heart" – and the grounding and the internal compass – "navigator heart" – necessary to work through difficult or extreme circumstances.
Burial HeartThis is kind of a skewed love song, with funerary or burial art as an idiom and the set-up for the singer asking that someone lift him ("Ms. Amphetamine") and set his course ("Ms. Demonstrative") and "dig me, dig me, dig me now."
Hello WalterThis is a song about my best friend growing up in Macon, Georgia, and experiences we shared, like playing guitar together, going to bars, and otherwise hanging out, with an oblique reference to hanging out with other stoners in Rosehill Cemetery, overlooking the Ocmulgee River, where Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers are buried beside one another.
Universal GlueYou tell me. I would invite anyone else's interpretation of this song. That said, and even if I don't necessarily know what, if anything, I had in mind when I wrote this song, I do like the way some of the words work together, like "doing rings around the room," and some of the images, like "a howl from the fields is enough to tell me that I'd be wise not leaving here too soon."
Also, being a twin, I gave a shot at the whole overused and cliched Cain and Abel thing.
Song For DuncanThis song is about my other son, and like "Fading In," the challenge was to write something that captured something essential about this child – who is no longer a child - without getting too syrupy and maudlin. It's a poor man's "Father and Son," with a twist - "please be everything I'm not…"
Stars"Stars" is the tongue-in-cheek lament of some sad sack who feels as though the stars are aligned against him, and who asks, "When it's over, tell me…"
Helium"Helium" is about how we really only understand and have a sense of ourselves in relation to our relationship with others - and especially those with whom we are closest - and the feeling of coming unmoored and lost and adrift and "Helium light" when that point of reference is lost after a relationship ends. So, that's where I was attempting to go with the lines, "what we'd never known, turned to what we'd never know," and "what we'd never been, turned to what we'd never be…"
It's also an attempt to convey the idea that a line of some sort has been crossed, with no going back - which was really all that an earlier song, "74-75" was all about.
September 21, 2021
Information on how to stream or buy the album is at theconnells.com
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