JAM Magazine Main Features

John Connolly

The Formation Of A Super Metal Band

JAM Magazine Interviews Multi-Talented Musician

Photos Courtesy Projected Facebook Page

When it comes to the creating music, most ideas are turned into songs. Some however, are turn into musical projects, or in this case Projected, to explore the boundaries of individual creativity.

Sevendust founder John Connally had an idea for an album he wanted to do outside the confines of his band. The blueprint included the guitarist taking over the added duties of singing. Fellow Sevendust bass player Vinny Hornsby jumped on board when asked by his friend to follow him down the path of the musical unknown. So was drummer Morgan Rose until previous obligations forced his departure. A conversation with friend and drummer Scott Phillips of Creed and Alter Bridge fame, solved the problem. A chance encounter with guitarist / vocalist Eric Friedman added another dimension to the music Connally never thought of. Within a month, these four accomplished musicians had finished work on an album entitled Human.

What Connally & Co. accomplished in the limited time they all had to work together was nothing short of amazing. Initially this project, which was released Sept. 18, was supposed to be a 'fun' thing to do on the side. The end result was more real, and musically satisfying, than any of the participants could have ever dreamed. Time will tell how this achievement is judged as the public deliberates on the music. Don't be surprised if Projected is found guilty of creating a rock masterpiece.

JAM: So John, let's start at the beginning. How did the four of you hook up? You and Vinny obviously play in Sevendust, but Eric and Scott are from the Creed/Alter Bridge camp.

John Connolly - Sevendust played on a couple of shows with Creed back in the day when our first album was released. We hung out a bit and exchanged phone numbers. Well, we were actually looking for a new manager, so I made a phone call to Mark. He suggested Creed's management firm. So, we came down to Florida, had a meeting, and liked what we heard. Since I was down here in Orlando, I decided to set up shop to do our second record, Home. It just so happened that around the time our album was wrapping up, Creed finished recording Human Clay. They were rehearsing for their upcoming tour. So, we hung out some more. Next thing you know, we're on the road supporting them for a good bit of that tour. In 2001 both bands released new records, (Home for Sevendust, Weathered for Creed), and we went on the road together once again. We just had a friendship ever since. I never left Orlando, and live here to this day.

JAM: You knew Scott Phillips from the Creed days. Eric Friedman would be a different story. How and why were they recruited for this 'one-off' project?

Well, you're right about Eric. That was a little different. He was in a band called Submersed. They were on Creed's label, Wind-Up, and Mark Tremonti was producing their first record back in 2004. Scott played drums on the record. The first time I met Eric over at Mark's house, he was probably 17. Today, he's the same guy, just happy to be jamming', happy to be singing', happy to be playing. Even back then, I knew there was something special about him. When he volunteered his services for this record, I was thrilled. Originally, when I came up with the Projected idea, basically it was just going to be Vinny, myself and Morgan (Rose). Then Clint (Lowery, Sevendust vocalist / guitarist) asked Morgan to produce a deal he was working on. So I asked Scott if he'd like to get involved, and he was up for it. I figured the three of us would go in and knock it out. I'd add whatever I needed guitar wise laster on. The three of us were hanging out at Mark's house listening to demos and Eric was there. Right then and there he offered up his services. I am not sure if he thought I was actually going to say yes (laughing), but I thought all right, let's see what happens.

JAM: Between Scott and Eric's commitment to Alter Bridge and Creed, when did they find the time to work on this record?

They had both just finished up touring with Alter Bridge. Their last touring commitment was the Soundwave Festival down in Australia. They had literally just gotten back in town. The Creed tour wasn't going to start up for a bit. I believe we had a month's window of opportunity to where they could pull off playing on the record. Scott was the first one I asked if he could come in and play. He had tons of time on his hands, so he said yes, I could have him for a whole month (laughs). he had tons of time (Laughs). Then Vinny came and stayed at the house and tracked over two or three days. Then Eric came over for about two weeks. We worked on vocals, guitar solos, as well as bits and pieces of guitar playing on various songs. Then it was time to edit. He and I basically just trade places, with the guitar and in the chair. It was funny. He walked in one night and said, "You know, every time one of us sits in the chair, the song gets better. It is kinda cool, isn't it?" Again, we had a very small window of opportunity to pull this off, but you know, every now and again the planets line up and this is one of those times.

JAM: On this album, Scott's playing doesn't sound like anything he's done in the past.

Well, part of that is production, but you are right about his playing. Totally different than anything he's done in the past.

JAM: It's a heavier sound, 'boomier' sound than I'm used to hearing from him.

Right, right, that's all me! My idea [laughs]. We wanted everything big - big production, big sounds, you name it. You have to realize that Scott was literally playing stuff right off the demo. Sometimes when I'm demoing tapes, I'll put these wacky beats in there or some double bass, because we need energy. I'm not sure what Scott heard on those demo tapes, but he defiantly got it! Some of those drum parts he learned it note for note. Other stuff he obviously took a lot of liberty with because what he initially heard was boring. The seed was planted in the demos, and came to life under Scott. We needed to have that 'human' element mixed into the record, no pun intended.

JAM: That heavy booming from Scott sounds like a Bob Rock thing he had tommy lee do on Dr. Feelgood!

Well that's cool. That is one of my favorite records that he produced. That was our ultimate goal. It's like, all right, how do we get that sound and not spend hardly any money to do it?

JAM: Without hiring Bob Rock?

(Laughs) It was tricky.

JAM: Singing isn't something John Connelly is known for. I know Eric's doing background vocals, but you're singing lead right?

Yes, that's me. I mean I've always sang vocals when I demoed stuff with Sevendust, but never in a situation like this.

JAM: Well, with Clint and Lajon handling the lead vocal duties, it doesn't really leave any room for you to do anything but play guitar.

That's why I leave that stuff to the other guys. Listen, if I write 25, 30 songs in the off season, there's bound to be five or six of them I'm just dying to put vocals on. But that's what we work with Lajon (Witherspoon) on. We usually just let him do his thing. For better or for worse, you know, sometimes I put vocals on them, and then, you know, we listen to them and go, "Well that doesn't sound anything like what Lajon would or should say." The ironic part is this. I can write the music, I just have a lower vocal skill set than Lajon. I have to go with more simple, longer notes you know. I can't move around as much as he does. Long notes aren't his thing. The whole Jared Leto approach to singing is not LJ's style. For me, however, it was cool to be able to step out and not have to have to adapt to a different style of singing. I only had to sing what I could pull off. I will say it's nerve racking when you step out there for the first time and actually have to do it for real.

JAM: And then you have Lajon come down to Orlando and participate on the album.

Yeah, he's on one complete song with me and has a very small part in "Stella". He has a little part in the bridge where he pops in for 10 to 15 second and then at the end of the song.

JAM: He definitely has a distinctive voice that you instantly recognize.

It was funny, on the song "Bringing You Back", I originally had the parts where I was singing the front line, and he was singing the second line. Looking back, I kind of wish I had done that, because it's a lot easier to play and sing the other part [laugh]. We flipped it because that part sounded too much like Lajon than the one I was singing. So we made him sing the part that didn't quite sound as much like him. It was kind of fun to sort of switch roles. It's interesting singing with Eric as well. He's working on Mark Tremonti's solo album at the same time where he also steps out and sings. Seriously, I don't think anybody really knew Eric could sing. He handles the backup vocal duties in Alter Bridge really well. But singing lead the way he does on this album, it was like, "Wow!"

JAM: Working two completely different projects at the same time is impressive as well.

Yes he was. It takes a really disciplined musician to give two different people room to step out in front. That's what really surprised me about him, or should say, doesn't surprise me anymore. I can't begin to tell you how valuable his talents are when it comes to recording an album. He could step in where you needed him to step in, whether he was singing behind Mark or me. Let me tell you something, Eric did his homework. He came in here already with plans on how he wanted to lay out bits and pieces of the songs with phrasing, lengths of notes, etc. Eric is one of those people that can duck into that role and pull it off. He's such a good singer and guitar player, in a way, it's a shame he is sitting behind somebody instead of out front. It's almost tragedy to see that kind of talent trapped in the background!

JAM: Well he's still young.

Yes I know, but he's such a talented kid. I remember Mark saying, "John, he's gonna go in there and nail your stuff." He was right.

JAM: Did you produce everything yourself?

I actually did the co-production with Elvis Baskette because he really did more than just mix. We initially hired him to mix, but at the end of the day, he was doing much more than that. Elvis worked on a song a day for over ten days. He added so much to the record with the strings and other production ideas, that at the end of the day I was like, "No, Elvis has got to have co-production credit on this record because he has a big impact on it." This wasn't your typically produced album. We tried drums and live guitars at the studio over a five to six day period of time. Then we broke everything down and set up at a home office where we tracked everything there, like the vocals, guitar solos and bass. Then we edited the songs. Once we completed that work, I took it to Elvis and he mixed it up for us.

JAM: When you finished the last Sevendust touring cycle behind the 2010 album, Cold Day Mmeory, had you and Vinny already planned to do something on your own?

There had been many discussions about when it was going to happen, it just so happened this time it did. I had been talking for years with Morgan about doing something. At the same time, I talked to Scott Philips off and on for years about doing something as well. I just wasn't sure he actually would play the drums. Vinny was always in. We had been kind of discussing it on the last tour, and came up for a tentative game plan for studio time and stuff like that. Vinnie was always part of the equation, and it's unfortunate for Morgan wanted to do it. He had other things going on and just couldn't get out of the commitments. Once we started work on this record, I was determined to make sure this record sounded good. This wasn't going to be a run of the mill, one-off side project. We were going to give this everything we had. We wanted to make sure the production was where we wanted it, and felt and sounded the way we wanted it. Honestly, everything just fell into place really, really well. I couldn't be happier.

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