After 15 years with Sevendust, guitar player John Connolly has finally stepped out of his comfort zone to take his vocal chords for a test drive on their own. Along with his longtime friends – bandmate Vince Hornsby, Alter Bridge/Creed drummer Scott Phillips and Creed touring guitarist/vocalist Eric “Erock” Friedman – Connolly took what was supposed to be something more solo yet found the energy and chemistry too strong to keep under wraps in his Florida recording studio. Thus Projected was born in a blaze and the record Human is the fruit of what some good buddies can create when pressure and deadlines are not a factor. Featuring such red hot tunes as “Watch It Burn”, “Bring You Back”, “So Low” and “HELLo”, the album will debut on September 18.
Calling in on a cloudy morning in Orlando amidst Hurricane Isaac’s slow-prowling move across Florida and into the Gulf Of Mexico, Connolly talked with me about his new project, his lack of vocal confidence, meeting Gene Simmons and playing for the troops in a war zone.
Well, tell us how Projected came together? Who initiated it and why these particular four guys?
It’s kind of a two-part thing. I knew that I was going to do something, like something for real. Sevendust just celebrated our fifteen year anniversary of our first record so you figure in a decade and a half you always get these ideas and you kind of meet people along the way and you always discuss doing things. Five or six years ago I said, alright, it’s time to just try something different, something that was totally new for me, and in certain ways it kind of pushed me to learn how to do new things, you know, as far as recording and how you approach the whole production side of making music. Scott Phillips and myself would always find ourselves at 4:30/5:00 in the morning on the back patio joking about getting a band together, doing a side project. Then all of a sudden, fast-forward ten years and here we are.
So I knew about five or six years ago that I’d probably be able to find enough time to actually get it done. It’s not just a matter of saying, alright, you’re going to do something, it’s a matter of when too. Something like this takes a little bit of time, even though you can get in and out of the studio relatively quickly, it still takes time to kind of get it all put together and get it done at least the way you feel good about doing it. So ten years ago we probably planted the seed and then when I saw the six month gap, a big break for Sevendust – we agreed that we needed to kind of give the band a rest for a minute – it looked like the perfect opportunity. I talked to a couple buddies of mine here in town that actually own and run Paint It Black Studios and we kind of worked out a how and when we’d actually get in up there.
Originally I thought, I’m just going to do it all myself, cause it was kind of a test to see how much I could actually do, how Dave Grohl can I do this? (laughs) I’m just going to play it all, because I originally started as a drummer. And not to take anything away from Scott whatsoever because what he ended up playing was light years beyond what I was originally going to try to do but I was just going to do a real scaled down version of it. I’m a decent drummer. I can get by on it. But literally we were just kind of hanging out and it was like, wait a minute, remember that side project we always talked about (laughs). What are you doing next month? “I’m not doing anything,” cause I honestly thought he was going out with Creed a month earlier. So it worked out perfect and we were like, let’s do it. I had already talked to Vinnie about doing it so Vinnie was kind of onboard whenever wherever; we really didn’t have much of a game plan other than the fact that we knew we were going to do it.
So once we got Scott onboard then of course as we’re playing the demos and kind of discussing things and talking about things, Erock is hanging out – he’s in Mark Tremonti’s band and in Creed – and Erock I think jokingly was like, “Hey man, I really want to come in the studio and help out with this,” and I was like, alright, cool. And he goes, “No, no, no, I’m serious, like I can be your touring guy, the guy who will sing all the high harmonies and play all the really hard guitar parts and stuff.” (laughs) And I was like, “No, come and record on the record.” Then he was like, “I’ll absolutely do it.” So it literally just kind of happened. It wasn’t like we sat down one day with a pen and paper and said, here’s our list, here are the guys that we’re going to go after. Honestly, we didn’t originally intend on it being a band, so to speak, but being there is an individual musician physically playing on every one of the songs it turned into one and it just kind of happened, which was really kind of cool. It grew into whatever it grew into, which was something way, way, beyond what I think any of us really expected going into it originally.
Did this bring on a whole new energy and excitement for you being that it was more like a bunch of friends just getting together and jamming?
That’s all it really was, you know. Even when we were at the studio we kept it super, super low-key. The whole idea behind it and the whole mentality was, who cares. We’re just going to go in and we’re going to have fun and we’re not going to stress out over stuff. Scott Phillips played these songs probably three times with me in a room, picking parts. I mean, he’d already listened and done a lot of physical notes and had a ton of ideas for arrangements and how we should take things and maybe we should double up stuff half-time and stuff like that. Vinnie came down and learned his parts the night before he tracked and we tracked the next day. Same thing with Erock. He came in and he had a ton of ideas because he had been spending time listening to the demos. So it was really cool cause it was like when you plant a seed, like take one of the songs, any one of these songs that might have been written over the past four or five years and to actually take it in and kind of frame it out or structure it and then hand it over to everybody else and let them finish it, it’s really cool. It was definitely super exciting cause it was something new, something that was different and something that just had a different vibe and a different chemistry than any of the bands that we all play in just because it was in the spirit of having a good time with it.
I think that this is the hardest that I have ever heard Scott play.
Well, he told me, “I’m screwed now, cause Mark heard all the double bass, thanks a lot.” (laughs) I was like, you didn’t have to play all the double bass. But he literally wanted to give it a crack and kind of give it a try because he realized that some of those songs kind of needed that. It’s like on one hand people ask me, “Is it as heavy as Sevendust?” and I’m like, “Well, it’s definitely in the same vein, the same ballpark, some of it’s a little more mellow for typical Sevendust.” It kind of leans on the softer tip, I guess, but for Scott, yeah, I mean, it’s funny, he’s gotten a lot of comments on the drumming but it was him reacting to stuff without overthinking it, without getting in a rehearsal room.
There’s a certain thing when you’re rehearsing a song 150 times and you go and record it. You know it like the back of your hand and there’s a certain energy and a certain feeling you get when you approach a song that way. But when you keep it loose, like, I don’t really know what I’m doing here, I’m just kind of recording and tracking everything, then you find those moments. It’s just a certain reaction that each one of us had moving quickly. We weren’t rushing but we were also kind of clipping through it. The engineers were looking at us like, “Do you guys normally move this fast?” and I’m like, “No, not really. We’re just kind of moving on through it, having fun.” (laughs)
And you did all the lead vocals?
Yes, except we go back and forth, Eric and myself, on “HELLo”. It’s a call and answer kind of thing. It’s a little too much for one. One person could sing it if they had to but it’s a lot (laughs)
I hear that you are not a big fan of your voice and I don’t know why you have the lack of confidence because I think it sounds great on this CD.
You know, the funny thing is going into it you’re always hesitant cause you sit there and you ride shotgun behind such great singers like Lajon [Witherspoon] for all those years, you can get away with some stuff. You feel pretty confident but you’ve also got somebody that you can hide behind. And all of a sudden you step out from behind them and you go, wait a minute, this is all on me now (laughs). I think coming to terms with it was the biggest thing for me because I was like, [Lajon] is a gifted singer all around, his vocal technique, the tone of his voice, everything about him. He can get away with the song maybe not quite being up to snuff and he can sell it. For me, on the other hand, I needed the song to be a little bit stronger just because I didn’t have quite the confidence going in that I think I probably do now. It’s funny, you track it the first time and you sit there and listen to it and go, hate it, hate it, hate it (laughs) and then you play it for people and people go, “What are you talking about? This sounds great.” And I go, “Ok, it’s ok, right?”
But, yeah, doing new things, being a singer, being a singer recording in your own house in a neighborhood, which is very interesting. It was probably the most bizarre recording schedule I’ve ever been on. Actually tracked the vocals from about 8:30 in the morning till about 11:00/11:30/noon, somewhere around there, because it was the only time of the day where I could get complete quiet in the neighborhood. It’s either that or UPS trucks or here comes the landscapers down the street, and I was like, oh my God (laughs). It’s a great concept to go, “Yeah, yeah, we’re just going to make a record in the house,” then all of a sudden you start doing it and, wait a minute (laughs), turn the Wii off, I can hear “Just Dance” coming through. And the landscapers are definitely in a couple of songs for sure. I heard it and we buried it enough but, yeah, a little flavor (laughs). But just coming to terms with the sound of your voice and doing it here at home, kind of where I can do it by myself and critique the shit out of it, it’s tough when you step out for the first time and you go, I need to become a lead singer. How do you do that? So I had to really kind of sit down and do a little bit of homework and figure out what my strengths were, things I did better than others, what you want to do but don’t want to overdue. I guess all the things that most lead singers spend most of their career developing. So it was kind of a crash course – alright, let’s record something and not hate it (laughs).
Was it harder singing your own lyrics as opposed to Lajon singing them?
The person not so much. We write for and with Lajon. We trade points of view and stuff like that. He’s sang plenty of songs about something that Clint or Morgan or myself had gone through. So the actual person isn’t so different but the approach, the whole melodic approach, is just a different thing cause there’s certain things LJ does, where he has a whole ton of strengths but he has other things that he’s not quite as strong at, and I’m not saying that I’m stronger at it at all, but it gives me an opportunity to actually try cause you’re not trying to write for a certain type of voice. LJ is good with certain things, holding notes like single notes similar to a Jared Leto of 30 Seconds To Mars or Linkin Park and stuff like that, I’m a huge fan of those kind of melodies, but they’re not naturally the easiest thing for us to incorporate into Sevendust. We’ve tried it, we’ve flirted with it and it’s not our strong suit. But with a band like this, you sit there and listen to it and go, you know what, my voice is different. I don’t have that thing so I’m going to be hanging on for dear life anyway (laughs) so let me try some different things. Like I said, the person not so much but the way that you write for it is completely different. As you go through the process you kind of pick and choose things that you want to repeat or go, this is not so good and maybe I need to start over with it. The whole thing is kind of a learning process when you go through it. It’s easier to write for LJ cause I’ve done it for a lot longer (laughs). I’m actually doing it right now and kind of back in my safe zone, but yeah, it’s just a totally different approach to it.
Did you feel more naked, so to speak?
Oh, very much so, absolutely. From the moment that you say, yeah, I’m going to go in the studio, and then you actually take your demo, literally have a demo that’s sitting in Pro Tools and you have a little file and you click on it and you play it and you then go in there and play it for real it’s like, ok, we actually loaded up the truck, we moved the drums in, we tracked drums, tracked guitars, and then you start playing it for people and you’re like, don’t hate it please (laughs). Please like the music a little bit. But it’s always tough when you kind of open yourself up and go, I’m going to sit here and be creative in front of the whole world. But it’s cool and it was such a blessing having the other three guys to kind of lean on and use as many ideas as they could throw at things. There wasn’t a shortage of them, which was great.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Jersey, grew up in New Jersey, grew up with a lot of cousins. God, I got a lot of cousins (laughs). Irish-Catholic families. I was the only child but my aunt and my uncle both had a whole herd so I was always around a lot of kids growing up. But typical middle class. My family was from New York, grandparents came over on the boat from Ireland. I had a great childhood. I got to explore music which was cool, you know. I had parents that were receptive and willing enough, and I was a drummer so you got to remember, band practice was at my house (laughs) so there was a lot of jamming going on in the basement of my house. My parents have definitely been very understanding through the whole process.
How did you discover rock & roll?
Probably through my cousins . I kind of sat right in the middle. I had a couple of cousins when I was coming up through grade school, they were in high school, five or six years ahead of me, they played Black Sabbath and I was like, whoa, what is that? Cause I’m six and I was like, this sounds scary, what is that? It was my first exposure to heavy metal and I was like, what the hell? (laughs) So mostly from my cousins. They were playing the latest and newest and greatest. Then when I was old enough to actually start buying it on my own, it was all KISS back then. It was like, good Lord. There wasn’t any other band there for at least six months (laughs)
When did you want to be a musician instead of just a fan listening to the music? When did you want to create the music?
Probably the first time I opened KISS Alive II and I saw all the flames and the drum riser and I just went, whoa, look at that, I want to do that. And my mom was like, “Oh great, here we go.” (laughs) So that was the earliest. That moment was probably the most defining. Then the other more defining moment was probably the first time I heard “Eruption”, heard Eddie Van Halen. I heard that guitar solo and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was still playing drums back then but I had to call my guitar player: “Have you heard this thing?” (laughs) And he was like, “Yeah, and I don’t understand what is happening.”
What was the first concert you went to?
First concert was KISS. I think it was Destroyer. It was either Love Gun or Destroyer. It was a million years ago but that was the first show.
Was it everything you thought it was going to be?
Oh yeah, absolutely (laughs). Call it what it is, cause people talk about the musicianship or whatever, but at the end of the day they did put on and still put on one of THE biggest spectacles you’ll ever see, that’s for sure. It’s definitely showmanship for the sake of showmanship. I always kind of got in on the showmanship. I got into that first and then later on you kind of get into your more technical bands. Like you discover Rush and then you get introduced to Racer X and all of a sudden you’re practicing shredding on your guitar and you’re like, how did I get here? (laughs)
When did you get your first drum kit?
The first serious kit, I was probably 14 or 15. The first like toy kit I had when I was probably four or five and it was a decent enough toy where it actually had heads you could tune. I could actually play it. Wasn’t ever very good at it. I had a guitar, there was always a guitar around the house, but I’d break a string and couldn’t get anyone to help me change it cause no one knew really how to play guitar. So I kind of went back and forth between the broken guitar and the broken drum set for quite some time. Then one day it just became my thing, like, alright, I’m going to play the drums and I played drums for a while, a good ten or twelve years. Then completely switched gears cause I wanted to write music. Playing drums is great but it’s limiting, like here, play this chord progression, let me play this drum fill real quick (laughs), you feeling me? It’s cool to be able to sit down with a guitar and punch out three chords and have somebody else sing something cool over it. It’s very difficult to get that translation when you’re sitting behind a set of drums. So I totally understand. I’m basically in the exact same spot as Dave Grohl. You know he just had a band that sold eighteen gazillion records in the process. But yeah, he switched gears and I pretty much did the same thing but I had a fifteen year run behind one of the best in the business before I stepped out and went, ok, now I’m going to try and be a singer (laughs)
Who was the first rock star that you ever met?
Back then you’d go to the show but you never really had the chance to meet any of them. If meeting is standing outside the bus and getting an autograph then it was probably either Van Halen or KISS way, way back in the day. But actually getting a chance to sit down and talk to people was probably out in LA. Might have been Gene Simmons. He was interesting. He was definitely exactly like he is on his show. He wouldn’t take a picture and it was when they weren’t in the unmasked era but kind of in the original reunion thing. But he was actually pretty nice but he wouldn’t do the picture because he wasn’t in makeup. But he was probably the first one.
You have a tattoo on your neck. That seems like a very painful place to get a tattoo. So what about that design made you want to put it right there?
It’s my daughter, her birthdate. It’s a design we did on A&E’s Inked. I actually didn’t even pick the spot. My wife did. She thought it would look good there so we were out there in Vegas and we hooked up with the guys to do the show. Josh did a rough sketch of it that we threw up there and shot it for Tv and actually it’s not really that painful. I mean, it bled a lot but not very painful.
What was it like going over to Afghanistan and Iraq.
We went over two years ago to Iraq and I think it was either three or four years ago to Afghanistan. We basically went over to just play for the troops. We’d go around to different bases and play electric and sometimes we’d play acoustic. Show up on a base, play a fourth of July party and stuff like that. It was such a cool experience to be able to get over there and actually do something for them there because they can’t leave. A lot of these guys, like the Marines are over there for fourteen months and then they get a two week leave, which they don’t even go home, and then they’re back in it. So anytime you get a chance to go over and do something like that, I tell all these bands, you really want to show some support, something that means a lot to them, just go over there and actually play for them. Sure, for two and a half or three weeks, it’s scary but you’re surrounded by the military. In some ways I’m sitting there going, alright, I’m probably in one of the safest places I possibly could be when you’re inside one of the bases. But it is a war zone. There are people that are actually firing mortars at the lines and there were a lot of soldiers that were actually killed while we were there and it was a slap of reality. It’s like, look, it may not be pretty but it’s kind of one of those things where it’s, dammit man, you got to go and at least show your love and support the people who are actually doing that job.
And you got to talk to a lot of the guys while you were there, I’m sure.
Absolutely. We would do a meet and greet every night. We’d play and then basically we said we’re just going to wait out here until we meet everyone who wants to meet us and some nights we were there till two or three in the morning. But it was fun and we’re not going to come all this way and not at least get a chance to shake some of these people’s hands, take a picture.
Will you be doing any live shows with Projected?
I’m hoping so. We start the Sevendust record on September 5. We’ll probably go four or six weeks, somewhere in that ballpark, and then as soon as we’re finished with that, we’re going to shut it down until at some point, maybe Soundwave. I’d like to see us try and get on Soundwave over in Australia. That might be like the first thing we would do for Sevendust but that doesn’t start till I think late January. So theoretically, yeah, if we get done the first half of October it would be nice to be able to get a few weeks of Projected dates together. We’ll look at everybody’s schedule and see if we can hammer something out cause I’m definitely itching to try to get this on the road and see what happens with it.
Why did you pick “Watch It Burn” as the first single to introduce everybody to this band?
Well, two reasons: Number one, we did a fan poll on Facebook and it crushed both “HELLo” and “Closure”, which I thought were better picks for the first single. We put them up for like a day, day and a half, and we were kind of blown away, like, 80%, so it wasn’t even close. A buddy of ours, Randy Hawke, a dj for JJO up in Madison, I sent him the song and he tested it and it tested really well and he was like, “Well, they like that one better than they liked ‘HELLo’ cause we played them both on the air.” So we said, you know what, this is kind of the one that everyone has been pointing to so we figured, alright, this might be the right way to go with it. It was one of those things we just kind of let what was happening around us kind of dictate that one being picked. I wouldn’t have picked that one to be the first single, to be quite honest with you (laughs)
What would you have picked?
I probably would have personally gone with “HELLo” but after we saw the poll results and the radio, cause “HELLo” did good on the air but it didn’t do as well as “Watch It Burn” did. So we said, well, let’s not resist (laughs) Picking singles is probably not my strong suit.
Are people talking to you a lot about the Dimebag song, “12804”?
Yeah, as much as to be expected. It’s kind of one of those things where it was written on the anniversary, on the date. It was kind of one of those songs that kind of happened, kind of had a reason for it. Didn’t even realize it was the date. I was probably in the studio for an hour and a half/two hours and the music was pretty much done and I was just kind of bummed out. I was like, wow, this is kind of sad. I was just on a really mellow tip there and I went and hopped online real quick and someone had mentioned something about the anniversary and I started thinking, well, maybe that is why I’m in such a weird mood. But yeah, a lot of people talk about it but it was something cool to be able to do, just for a personal thing for me. It was one of my favorite pieces of music on the record.
Was it 3:33 when you wrote it?
Yeah exactly (laughs). But I tell you what, there’s a lot of 333’s all over the record. There’s some tracks that are 3:33’s, I mean, there are 333’s everywhere (laughs)
Next week we wander into the horror movie loving mind of Rob Zombie.