Biography

14 Nov

For Toronto-based Jack Connolly, the belief in the power of music has been
one of the most persistent of his life.

The fine balance between masterfully orchestrated instrumentals and lovingly
crafted lyrics holds a power that can’t simply be ignored. It has the
ability to change the lives of the people who listen and even the people who
play it. It’s a power that Connolly has been familiar with since he was a
child, where he listened to records at home. To him, the ritual of turning
on the record player, putting down the needle, and sitting down to listen to
the likes of Elvis Presley, Leonard Cohen, Valdy & Bruce Springsteen held a
kind of magic for the BC native. It was the desire to be closer to that
magic, and perhaps even be a part of it, that inspired him to pursue a
career in music.

As soon as he felt ready, Jack started a band and began playing in coffee
houses on Vancouver Island, recording his first album, Open Stage, in 2001
at the age of 15. His second album, 2004’s The Empty Café brought forth
critical acclaim and the title of Songwriter of the Year at the Vancouver
Island Music Awards. Ever persistent and never liking to get too comfortable
with staying in the same place musically, Jack went on to be a regular at
folk festivals and local venues, often sharing the stage and earning praise
from such distinguished artists as Tom Cochrane, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
and Spirit of the West.

In 2009 a yearning for new adventures and experiences pulled Jack east to
Toronto, where he now calls home. There he continued to refine his craft by
playing in selected venues and recording an 8-song acoustic album,
Soulcraft, in the process. Toronto continued to be a positive influence on
Connolly, and his adventures there provided inspiration for the songs in the
album as well as ideas for future songs, jotted down in the notebook that
every songwriter has on them at all times.

In 2013 opportunity came knocking for Jack with the news that he was one of
six jury-selected finalists from across the country participating in the
Canadian Country Music Association’s (CCMA) prestigious 2013 Discovery
Program. Jack found himself brought under the mentorship of top country
music professionals including Juno Award Nominee Dallas Smith, and allowed
him to perform in industry showcases during Country Music Week in Edmonton,
Alberta. To say that this inspired Jack to push forward with his musical
career and look at his methods in different ways is an understatement, and
the Discovery program exposed his sound to a whole new crowd of people who
very quickly became fans.

Jack Connolly’s latest album, Great Big Soul, was not originally intended to
be an album, but more of a collection of 50 or so songs, several of which
were co-written with his father, to tuck away in his notebook. But
circumstances shifted for Jack and he found that he was in a position to
naturally create an album using 12 of the songs he felt were the best out of
the 50. While combining the soulful, heartfelt lyrics of the old country and
rock records that inspired him as a child along with the big band grandiose
energy of the new country style he has grown comfortable with, Jack
successfully shows that always moving forward and pushing yourself
creatively pays off. With the politically fuelled “Raise My Hand”, a song
about breaking the status quo and finding the faith and courage to stand up
for someone or something, to the gospel-inspired title track “Great Big
Soul”, a song that came to Jack shortly after his father had been diagnosed
with Leukemia and he realized that his life was heading for a major change.
The song itself is a challenge to enjoy each moment of life and the
importance of moving forward.

With the lyrics of a well-seasoned storyteller constantly on the road, the
instrumental high-energy of a full band concert, and the experience that can
only come with more than a decade of pushing for perfection, Jack Connolly
is a testament to the power of music and the notion that one can only ever
move forward and evolve.

Great Big Soul Track Notes

11 Nov

Lock Your Doors

First song that got manager and record label excited. It’s about fear, the resulting isolation and finding the courage to step out into the light and be known.

I Talk To You

Originally “I Talk To God” but rewritten after understanding that the song really wasn’t about God. It’s about a guy with a communication problem trying to work up his nerve. He could be talking to God but he’s getting ready to finally talk to the girl. Songs that pretend to be about God are trouble. Someday I’d love to write a clear, honest song about or addressed to God but this wasn’t it.

You, Without Your Makeup On

Some people say “So you don’t like makeup…?” That’s not really the point. It’s not the makeup that bugs me. It’s the need for it. It’s kind of heartbreaking to hear the love of your life saying “hold on…I can’t go out without makeup.” It’s just as heartbreaking to see the life of a friend or a stranger altered because of the way that they view themselves up against a very narrow conception of beauty. The media has struggled to present so called “real beauty” before with mediocre success. It’s not that other kinds of beauty are actually less beautiful, it’s just that the popular media seems to lack the capacity or depth to portray their beauty. This song is about falling in love with the authentic person, not the image.

Raise My Hand

This is an important song to me. When it comes to injustice I think it’s getting easier all the time to retreat to a kind of enlightened detachment and to respond with a variation of “it is what it is.” We are getting more reluctant to hold a definitive position on a matter and quicker to condemn those who do. That said, people still long to find ways to apply their courage. For instance look at the anonymity of the internet. Maybe I couldn’t find it in my heart to say how I feel about an issue but @JC_1987 sure feels strongly about it.

It’s a song about breaking the status quo and finding the faith to stand up for someone or something. This song took several years to take this form but I’m glad it did. This heavy, rootsy swing represents the kind of music I wanted to play my whole life.

Tangled

Just a simple little pop song. I especially love the keyboards and guitar call and response between John and Murray on the chorus

Things I Carry

Another “old” song that I think we finally got right for Great Big Soul. Exactly what it sounds like, it’s a song about baggage.

Beautiful With You

Being aware in any small way of the magnitude of suffering and chaos in our cities, in our country, and in our world can sometimes compel us to start putting things in order starting at home. It’s a bit like that old prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lightning Strike

The upheaval and exhilaration of new love or old love made new again.

Saying Goodbye

Standing on the porch of this house on a snowy February early morning in Abbotsford the first verse and chorus began to roll around in my head. I desperately wanted to leave but I had nowhere to go. I had no choice but to say goodbye to the old road and begin to find the courage to envision a new way forward. I didn’t know where I was going but I did know that I couldn’t make it there alone.

I came up with two song sections that day and I always saw them as two different songs. A few years later I was flipping through my notebook and I showed Andre Kaden Black those two fragments and he showed me how they were actually part of the same song. We sat down and finished the song together that afternoon. Later on I threw a key change in to give it a little lift out of the verse and there it is.

Anyone Who Wishes…

After my dad was diagnosed with leukemia he set out to write this song. Finishing it with him was really what got this project off the ground. It’s a special one for both of us and emotional to play or hear.

Paradise Lost

Taking its title and theme from Milton’s epic poem, this Is one of my favourite productions from Great Big Soul. It’s about falling from Grace in love and the struggle to get back there.

Great Big Soul

The first verse came to me when I was trying to get well after a series of mistakes which rendered me not well. It was the first time I noticed that things always went sideways about 5 minutes after I said to myself “I’ve arrived!” Since then I’ve realized that whether it’s a job, a city or life itself, we’ve always gotta be ready to move on. It’s like what Warren Zevon said to David Letterman a few months before he died when asked what advice he had for us as he faced illness and death: “Enjoy every sandwich.” It’s a challenge to enjoy each moment and it helps to remember that we’ve all got to move on — often long before we feel ready or willing.

I finished this one over the course of a few hours while I mopped the floor of this enormous one hundred and fifty year old church a couple of years after that first verse came to me. It was late August and the light was changing in the unsettling way it does as autumn approaches and change is in the air. My Dad had just been diagnosed with leukemia and though I didn’t know it, I was heading for major change that would bring both joy and pain. After work, I caught a ride down to Nathan Philips Square and explored the incredible chalk memorial to Jack Layton that the people had left there.

On the second day of tracking at the Bath House recording studio a year later we were starting to feel the pressure. We were up against the clock with 7 songs recorded and only one more full day of studio time ahead. To me a 10 song album felt incomplete and it was important to try and make this an old fashioned 12 song album that could stand being broken into parts as the market demanded but could also exist at some point as a fully realized piece of work. Everyone was feeling the strain and more than ready for a break and some food and beer but sensing my concern one of the guys said “How about we rehearse another one before dinner and then record it after we eat?” Everyone was resigned to the logic of it and relieved of the pressure of laying down usable parts for the time being — it was just going to be a run through. I played and sang them the song on my guitar and a light-heartedness very quickly began to materialize. We all took our places in our specialized corners and put our headphones on. Before John and Niles could establish a tempo for the click track, Pat counted it off and we fell into this almost maniacal gospel romp. I called out sections and solos as we went and as we crashed into the final chords we couldn’t help but cheer and say “Wasn’t that something?” And “Who needs a click-track?” Not us. With hardly more lead in time than the rehearsal run through, Pat counted us off and we laid down one take, no click and only barely less wild than the rehearsal. That’s the take on the album.