John Connolly has spent the better part of his life in the music business. As the rhythm guitarist for Sevendust, who are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album in 2017, he is living proof that hard work and dedication to your craft truly pay off. Sevendust’s successes have afforded Connolly and his bandmates the unique opportunity to venture out and explore uncharted musical territories. In 2012, PROJECTED was formed when Connolly reached out to his friends Vinnie Horsnby (Sevendust), Scott Phillips (Alter Bridge/Creed) and Eric “E-Rock” Friedman (Tremonti) in the hopes of creating music together during their few moments of downtime. The results of the collaboration were undeniably powerful and led to the release of PROJECTED’s debut album, ‘Human,’ later that year. After establishing a deep creative connection, there was little doubt that the members of the band and reunite at some point to blaze even more sonic trails.
It might have taken five years, but Projected is back and stand ready to unleash their long awaited sophomore double-length release, ‘Ignite My Insanity’ on July 21st via Rat Pak Records. The ambitious new album 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.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with guitarist John Connolly to discuss his life in music, the keys to longevity in today’s music industry, bringing PROJECTED’s powerful new album to life and the challenges he faced along the way.
I’ve been a fan of your work for years and have watched you grow musically over the years. I wanted to start by going back to your early years. How did you get hooked on music early on in life?
I think I was 8 or 9 years old when I walked into the record store and saw ‘KISS – ALIVE II.’ I hadn’t even heard it but I saw the record and the logo, flipped it over and the I saw the flames and costumes. I had no idea what they sounded like but I had to have that record! That was it! From that point on, if you were to ask my mother or father what I was going to be or wanted to do, I wanted to do something in music or musically related. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a drummer, a guitar player or what I was going to do but ‘KISS – ALIVE II’ sent me down that path and changed my life. After that, it was the obvious things like becoming involved with a band. I played alto sax at first and then I switched over to drums. I studied percussion and, one day, I just decided I wanted to take a stab at writing songs. It’s difficult to write songs on drums, so I learned the bar chord. I picked up the guitar and learned the bar chord. I was totally self-taught on the guitar and never had any lessons, but as long as you could take that bar chord and learn it all over the guitar, you could make a song, which is what I came to find out. That was how I got started and what led me to where I am today. It wasn’t the most orthodox way of going about things but it was my path for sure!
You and the other guys in Sevendust are celebrating 20 years since your debut record. Keeping a band together for that length of time is no small feat. What do you feel are the keys to longevity is the music business?
I think it comes down to doing it for the right reasons. Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but if you are looking to get rich in the music business, you should probably look elsewhere! [laughs] It’s one of those businesses where you really have to love what you do. As an artist, you have to be really, really passionate about what you are doing and not the reasons for doing it. It’s never about, “Ok, if I write this kind of a song, maybe I will get one hit, I’ll get rich, buy a big house and fancy car.” If that’s your agenda, then there are plenty of other careers where you can have a better guarantee! Go into medicine or something like that if is your goal! [laughs] It’s all about doing it for the right reasons. I think the whole reason PROJECTED works the way that it does is because we even took it further. That’s not to say Sevendust doesn’t do things for the right reasons but that is our career and our job. Sevendust has given me the ability to be able to step out and do a project like PROJECTED and not have to worry about a lot of things you would have to worry about in the world of Sevendust. PROJECTED is not something we depend on to pay the mortgage or something I am depending on to pay for my kid’s college tuition. We do PROJECTED specifically because it is fun to do. If it sells, it sells and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There is no pressure or expectation. We are super, super conscious about how we spend money in the world of PROJECTED and we don’t go into the studio and run up million dollar recording bills or stuff like that. We make things super efficient and kind of left of center. We take advantage of technology these days and do most of the recording at the house, on tour, and whenever we get a spare minute here or there. We just make the best of it. So, to have any kind of staying power in this business, you really have to love what you do. It was crazy that Sevendust just did these anniversary tours for Sevendust. Like you said, it’s been 20 years since our debut record, and it’s the same 5 guys who made that record, which is even weirder! [laughs] There are plenty of bands who have been around for 20 years but not a whole lot of them have the same 5 guys in it. We realized we were in a very unique club and it’s cool to be a part of it, for sure!
For people just discovering PROJECTED, how did the ball get rolling with this project and what made now the time for a new album?
It was a very organic thing that came out of the gaps. In the world of Sevendust, we have been so busy for so many years, at one point, we realized we needed a break. Our fans needed a break and we needed a break from the constant cycle of make a record, tour, make a record, tour, make a record and tour. It was kind of like the whole thing with a shark — if a shark stops swimming, he dies! We felt as if we had become the shark. We knew we needed to miss this again. In 2012, we consciously decided that after the ‘Cold Day Memory’ tour, we would unplug for good 10 or 11 months to see what would happen. We wanted to take the pressure off of Sevendust and took the focus off the band and touring cycle, not monotony, but it had almost gotten to that point. We finally had spare time and all of us had things that we had always thought about or wanted to do. Sevendust is a huge part of our lives but it’s not everything in our lives. We’ve all got families and other projects. Call Me No One released a record back then as well. Morgan [Rose] works A&R and produces and Lajon [Witherspoon] has always wanted to do things on the side, so we took advantage of the time. We had the time off and as much as we are going to take a break from Sevendust, it was probably the busiest year of our lives because not only were we gearing up to hop back in the studio later that year for Sevendust, but the 4 of us had put the pedal to the metal to take advantage of the free time we had. We said, “Look, we have a little bit of time here. Let’s hurry up and get in the studio!” Morgan and Clint went and did a Call Me No One record and Vinnie [Hornsby] and myself went and did the PROJECTED record. It was cool! It was something that was completely outside of Sevendust but was completely Sevendust at the same time. A lot of Sevendust fans have even said 2012-2013 was one of the weirdest years because we weren’t touring together but they ended up getting more new music from the band than they had gotten in years! [laughs] Lajon is arguably one of the best singers and frontmen in the business and we are blessed to have him be out there, but it was kind of cool to step out from behind him and go, “Okay, let’s just see if this will work.” It’s not easy! His gig is not an easy one, for sure. He has mastered it very well! For Clint and myself, it was a major learning experience. It’s one thing to be able to sing and it’s a totally different thing to really be able to step out front and have the focus be on you. My hat is off to all the singers in the world because it’s not an easy gig! It was an eye opening experience but we had such a good time doing it and I think it was received a lot better than we had even hoped for. As far as timing for the new record, over the past few years Scott and myself would get together and say, “when are we going to do another PROJECTED record?” I was like, “Okay! Sounds good! I’m on it! Let’s come up with a game plan!” Low and behold, five years later, we actually finally got it all together and got it out!
What can you tell us about how you approached for ‘Ignite My Insanity.’ What changed and what stayed the same this time around?
We did a lot of things the same way we did on the first record. The only thing that was majorly different, other than the amount of songs which is majorly different, was that everything was finished before we went into the studio. On the first record, Scott was playing drums to 4 of the 11 songs that I had written beforehand, so there was still a lot of guess work. He would look at me and say, “Am I too busy in this part?” I’d be like, “I don’t know because I haven’t written anything there yet.” This time around, everything was kind of in place. It was a conscious decision to do that so we could move more efficiently once we actually started recording. There wasn’t any guess work this time around and he knew if he would be stepping on a vocal or there was something else going on in a certain spot. That was the major difference in the two albums. We did it almost like we did the first record. We did the drums, loud guitars and everything in the studio and we mixed it in the studio but everything else we did at my house or Eric Friedman’s house. He did a lot of his background vocals at home. It was a very efficient way to work. It kept the bills down and was super easy because we didn’t have to drive to a studio. The one thing about doing the first record was that there was 30 to 35 minutes to and from the studio everyday, which is an hour, and if you are working 7 days a week, that is 7 hours you could be doing something other than driving. There is a certain beauty about being able to wake up in your own bed, go downstairs, make a cup of coffee, walk into the studio, sing a song and then your daughter comes home from school and you are able to hang out with her. The older I get, the more I enjoy making music at home. It’s cool to go to a studio and really isolate yourself and do that, but we have done that so many times. In the Sevendust world, we have worked with so many producers and made music in so many different states that we have already kind of explored the songwriting process on those terms. For me, I’m just more efficient when I’m home. I can set my own schedule and do my own work. I’m kind of a workaholic when I am actually in the project and I can kind of drive people crazy! So, it’s kind of cool for me to go, “Let me do this and I won’t bother anyone. I’ll get it all done and we can mix it up when it’s all said and done!”
Obviously, you have tremendous chemistry with the other guys in the band. What do they bring out in your creatively?
A lot of confidence, that’s for sure! In Sevendust, it’s a different animal. There are so many different personalities and so many different points of view, you never know where a song is going to be coming from. It could be something that Morgan writes with Lajon, or something Vinnie has written with Clint, or an idea that all 5 of us had together. There’s a lot of push and pull, as well as a lot of leaning on each other, so to speak. If I’m having a bad day, I know that the other 4 guys are going to be able to carry me through the day. We may have one of the best songs we have ever written on one of my worst days. In PROJECTED, it’s a little bit different. I kind of like to describe it as “I frame the house and they finish the house.” They kind of let me take the ball and run with it as far as I can go and once I’ve got it mapped out and the song is kind of built, that’s when I take my hands off the wheel and let someone else drive for a bit. That’s when Scott will come in and do whatever he is going to do drum-wise, which is usually more than he might be able to get away with in Alter Bridge or in Creed. It’s a busier project and we are making music for the fun of making music, instead of thinking, “How is this fill?” or “How is this thing going to play out on the radio?” We don’t even ask that question. He will ask me, “Is this drum fill too busy?” I’ll say, “Nope! Not if you wanted to play that!” That’s kind of how we approach it. We put the pieces in the holes and into their places; it’s very organic. There’s never the discussion of “Well, I wonder if the record label is going to like this?” That never comes into play. It’s cool because they have a lot of faith in me and it’s a humbling experience for sure because all three of those guys are tremendous assets to the bands they are in. Them having the faith in me to have the vision and to be able to pull it all together is a really, really cool spot to be in.
As an artist, what type of impact has PROJECTED had on you creatively?
It’s had a huge impact on me creatively. Anytime you do something that’s outside of your comfort zone, you are honing your skill set, so to speak. Doing PROJECTED makes me more confident when I go into the world of Sevendust singing backup vocals, playing guitar solos or even from a songwriting point of view. There is a lot of trial and error within PROJECTED. I will write something and listen back to it and say, “It’s just not good enough.” So, I will go and do a rewrite. You always take those things you learned along the way into your other bands. Back in 2012, when we did both the Call Me No One and PROJECTED records, it was a major learning experience for all 4 of us and it truly made us step outside of our comfort zones. Sevendust is very comfortable and we know our spots in that band, what we can get away with, and the latitude of what kind of music we can make. Anytime you can step outside of your comfort zone and test your boundaries, I think you make yourself a better musician, songwriter and listener. Doing something like that is always going to impact you creatively with your main gig, which for me is Sevendust.
What does the future hold for you and PROJECTED? What are the short and long term plans?
It was such an enjoyable experience the first time around, we said, “Okay, let’s try number 2 and see what happens. Now, we have a pretty big record coming out with 21 songs and we had a great time making this record. This is something we want to continue to do. I don’t know how often it will happen but hopefully it’s sooner than every 5 years. We pushed ourselves and pushed the envelope of what is possible musically, the latitude we have within PROJECTED, and how how heavy or light we can go. We explored the the question of “Can we still do it and still have a good time doing it?” Anytime that it feels like it’s a grind or tedious, that’s when you decide to not do it. We haven’t gotten there with this project. Thank God all of us have successful bands that have given us the ability to step outside and do a project like this and not put the expectations on it. It’s not like the label is going to get upset if we don’t sell half a million records or if we don’t get a number one on the Active Rock chart. That’s not the objective here. The objective here is to make music for the love of making music and do it with the people we enjoy making music with! I think the next logical step would be to try and take it out on the road because we really, really enjoy each other’s company. It’s never a difficult process when we are making music, which is such a cool spot to be in!
I couldn’t agree more, John! Thanks so much for your time today and thanks for all the awesome music you have sent our way through the years!
Thanks a lot, Jason! Take care!
PROJECTED will release ‘Ignite My Insanity’ be in-stores worldwide on July 21st via Rat Pack Records. Visit PROJECTED’s official Facebook page for the latest info at www.facebook.com/Projectedband. Connect with John Connolly on social media via Facebook and Twitter.