We spoke with Greg Connors about dirty plastic, remaining on the fringes of cool, the sensation of having a dual childhood, creating during a time of awareness and what he longs for most on the mortal plane.
There we were with our sand and gravel, starfish and towels, pails and shovels, acknowledging it and incorporating everything somehow.
We asked Greg what came to mind when he meditated on these everyday objects.
White dirty plastic.
Jenny. Perfect red. Antique broken at dumb party.
A photograph from the ’80s.
The conflict of small and mass production.
Piles of paper.
Bags on street. Covert pop band.
I understand you got to open for your old friend Joseph Arthur on the drop of a hat recently from a text message. Can you tell me about your connection to this particular artist and how you met?
Jo and I met in Atlanta. We were both kind of on the fringes of “cool” there, I guess. It was an odd time. Pre-Olympic Atlanta. Everything looked overgrown and the food was weird to me. Then people started transplanting there when the potential commercial viability set in. Jo and I were probably a wave of transplants before the transplants arrived who really disturbed the old guard, but there was no denying the culinary diversification stemming from that. There is some snippet Jo wrote years ago that seems to still pop up of him reading a review of my old band Front St., saying my “back-alley purgings sounded like Lou Reed” or something like that. Jo found that to be an attractive quality, so he came to talk “music shop” and the likes at a burrito place I worked at called Frijolero.
There was definitely a bromance. He was soon to make his first album with Real World and I was trying to not do amphetamines or be drunk all the time. We were of different cliques. Jo was buying a lot of gear and people I typically hung out with were either getting their instruments in or out of pawn.
Jo has always had a musical confidence and competence I admire. He was very encouraging of my music and I was of his. We had a different aesthetic and background with the whole thing, but he would say things like, “I wanna record you with backups and beats,” and I had no real vision of that and found the thought of it terrifying or dubious at that time. I think, lyrically, I had a turn of phrase or certain “Who gives a fuck?” attitude or darkness he appreciated. We may have made each other more comfortable in genres we thought were somehow juxtaposed, but looking back, they weren’t really all that different. He probably listened to R.E.M. whereas I would listen to The Fall. We mutually enjoyed Blonde on Blonde, Hunky Dory and Vic Chesnutt and would tie their lyrics in with situations we found appropriately humorous and it would make us laugh at inappropriate moments. Inside jokey-like.
Many of your tunes have kind of a Dylanesque bitterness, which is funny because Dylan was lamenting being a voice of a generation whereas you and I play to eight people at Sidewalk Cafe on the weekends. I guess that’d be exemplified by your great song “Invisible Audience.” Tell me about the origin of that one.
It’s funny, I just found myself lamenting that my “tunes have kind of a Dylanesque bitterness”, but I know what you mean, and he’s certainly a hero of mine, so l will take a moment and spin that into a badge of honor.
That was a song that was completely effortless, depending on how you look at it. Both the writing and recording. The three of us, Scott Fragala, Nick Attila and I had played a show at a bar called Six Degrees of Separation here in Ossining. They are pretty good about advertising their shows and I had done my part, but no one showed up. We were rehearsed. Scott and Nick both graduated from Manhattan School of Music. They can play anything with style and precision. They speak in a language which is often completely foreign to me. I felt enthused and confident about what we were doing musically. We had been playing a lot together. Things were funky though that night. Scott may have been coming off of a bender. Nick had kidney stones, was maybe a little high on percocet and would have to get up every once in a while to go piss blood and clots. I don’t mean to imply a druggy tone at all. To me, it was more like that comfortable borderline near-chaos which some may to attempt to achieve through drugs, but you can’t really contrive these sort of things.
It was the owner, a bartender and there was a cook in the back. I mean, that night there wasn’t even typical street traffic. What came though, was to me, some of the most musical music I have ever heard. Certainly played. We gave each other room for each others egos, yet that wasn’t what it was. What was uniquely our own within that movement danced and played on a beach with planes crashing all around. Yet we were all that was happening. Metal and rubber were burning and it all was part of it. There we were with our sand and gravel, starfish and towels, pails and shovels, acknowledging it and incorporating everything somehow. We were the wreckage frolicking. That may all sound surreal or pretentious, but you asked. I’ll never forget that.
”Invisible Audience” is not terribly complicated (I’ll teach it to you) but I wrote it in five minutes and we recorded it in about an hour. Scott’s next-door neighbor kids came over a few days later. We recorded them ranting and screaming later. On Halloween.
Please tell me about trains.
Trains are far less smarmy than airplanes and less “needy” than a car. I find myself on one most days. The views from the Metro-North along the Hudson River are usually breathtaking. NYC subways (when operating efficiently) are just a straight-up magical network of machinery. Amtrak is mellow and I’ve had life-changing conversations on short trips and overnight excursions. I would love to be in a position, one of these days, to get a little room in a sleeper-car and go west on an Amtrak. Stare out the windows. Take pictures, briefly talk to strangers or read and drink coffee. My early teenage excitement of what felt like freedom from home, suburbs and everything I thought I knew, was brought to me by a train to NYC, Hartford or Boston.
I had gone from a kind of naturally confident leader-type to highly sensitive and had an extremely small threshold to fits of crying. I felt like a mangy chicken in a coop, lit like an operating table.
What was your childhood like? Have you always lived in New York, and regardless, how has being in a small town like Ossining informed your writing? I guess I ask all these questions because writers like Isaac Brock (who your music reminds me of) usually have this “pacing around the cage” vibe to their art in regard to growing up around strip malls and desolation. As they say in realty, “Location, location, location.”
Thank you for the Isaac Brock reference. Yeah, I feel as if he is somewhat a David Foster Wallace of indie rock, who also enjoyed referencing such things in a deadpan, absurdist manner.
I feel as if I had two childhoods. My parents and I had moved up the line to a then-rural town from the Bronx called Vista, New York. It didn’t have its own post office but shared one, strangely enough, with neighboring New Canaan, Connecticut. Vista seemed like it was this more working-class gateway between an old money, elitist connecticut town and a somewhat bourgier, new money area of Westchester County, New York. I think that has all smudged now. It was a beautiful place for a five-year-old kid to have landed. There was a lot of woods and streets to safely ride bikes on and hills to sled on. It all allowed for a fertile imagination to germinate and sprout.
Things were wonderful until they weren’t. I can see my countenance change in elementary school class pictures. The parental embrace of fundamentalist Christianity seemed to correlate with everything falling apart, yet somehow those pentecostals’ often toxic sense of community, was comforting and appeared nurturing (other than the subtext of potential eternal damnation, of course). But “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” With the bumper sticker or refrigerator magnet, the microcosm took care of itself.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer a few times. They married young by today’s standards. They initially were a successful couple by most standards. Perhaps the disillusionment kicked in. Vocations changed and were at times gone all together. Their parental roles fluctuated, doing the best they could with what they had. Both being survivors of abusive, alcoholic homes, and now here; they were different people when they had met. Now they had two sons, living in a mostly upper-middle-class area with their own unresolved issues.
I, at some point, had gone from a kind of naturally confident leader-type to highly sensitive and had an extremely small threshold to fits of crying. Kids I had come up with had betrayed me and become bullies. I was little. I felt like a mangy chicken in a coop, lit like an operating table. I didn’t have the right sneakers or sandwich bags in my uncool lunch bag and when I was told so, I would start crying. It was awful.
A lot of therapy ensued and a parochial school replaced that competitive school district. Eventually, I went back to that “highly acclaimed” school district with a certain amount of grounding. I took to a little crew of very funny, creative, intellectual snobs. We had our own lunch table. We would talk about the previous morning’s cassette-recorded Howard Stern episode on K-Rock. We would all hit record in our rooms and go catch the bus or get into a car. He was great for us then. They would just ad lib based on the headlines of the Daily News.
During my parents’ ugly, long divorce, my brother and I moved around a lot and I somehow adapted. I became a “fancy dancer.” A sense of reading what people may want of me or the situation became a keen survival tool.
I have lived in rural Pennsylvania, Atlanta, Georgia; all boroughs of NYC except Staten Island; Salem, Massachusetts, different parts of Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, and Vero Beach, Florida.
My last residence in NYC was Astoria/Long Island City. I really do love the energy there, but I’ve found myself a little claustrophobic overall in the city and at times, and name-dropping and posturing becomes exhausting to me. I’m great here in Ossining these days. There is a friendliness, but it doesn’t feel nosy or off-putting. In 45 minutes I can be in NYC if I have something to do. By train!
I’m not really sure of its effect on my writing. I’ve always written wherever I was. I know I have always found something very interesting in the mundane, or rather I look to see the different elements of it, since really that’s what life seems to wind up being. Waiting for traffic lights to change or lines at the grocery store. Rather than, as Ed Sheeran would write (in first person) about being “in love” with a body or its shape, I would find it more interesting to write about the famous person in his twenties writing clean sounding, catchy songs to the entire world about how “perfect” someone looks or which type of drinking establishment he would more likely get laid in. Ironically in a world which mostly seems to hate Donald Trump, everyone from three to 103 is hearing and bopping and buying that song. That’s fascinating to me.
Please recite a poem or passage in literature for me that means a lot to you. Tell me about it, “homework assignment,” style.
For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.
That’s from James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” As far as a “homework assignment”, I’ve probably given you more than enough editorial challenges. I will say that when I first read this in my late twenties, it was like a message from another world affirming how I always felt with regard to my nature and general practice of what I do creatively. I would, and often still do, feel and get shamed by comments of my music being “depressing” or “sad” or “hilarious” or “dark” or “absurd” or “scary” or how I “sound as if I’m working through things.” To me, the songs themselves are the triumph. It also addresses a circular obsession with being “original.” There is a beautiful detachment with the language in that writing, yet it is incredibly intimate. I am very impressed by the manner in which the sorrow is ultimately redemptive but not at all of the fairy-tale, American movie ilk. Yet it doesn’t get much more magical or American than that story. The enthusiasm occurs for me in the language itself. In the process of the journey.
Ultimately, it’s probably some sort of balance with the wisdom of everything around me being neither boring nor a death threat. To do and say what I mean, but not overkill.
Please tell me about your greatest longing.
Knee jerk reaction would be something like reconciliation with my estranged daughter, but earlier today it was more acute. Like I just wanted my mind to shut the fuck up again and to stop hating my guts. Then that happened. Ultimately it’s probably some sort of balance with wisdom of everything around me being neither boring nor a death threat. To do and say what I mean but not overkill.
We’re in a tough spot right now where producing an album on Bandcamp is like producing a touch of mist when it’s about to rain, or a discarded cheeseburger wrapper in the wind. Thoughts?
Well,you’ve made albums. You know it’s really not ever like that as someone who cares about “the craft” or expression or art in general. I think what you’re referring to is the amount of attention it may not receive, or a lack of sales creating a feeling of insignificance. Maybe you mean that any kid with a rockstar sort of fantasy or who has been genuinely inspired by music; one who formerly would have been singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror, is now contriving samples or doing searches of chords and trying to make songs. I think that’s pretty cool.
I think what is a more vicious product of that is the derivative, accompanying wave of “pay to play” situations or “pay for followers” or the mass acceptance of various game shows with catty, famous, often bitter has-been people judging performances where even the humility seems choreographed.
Finally, what do you hope will be relayed to your invisible audience with your album Home Made Compass? Weirdest and most beautiful thing you’ve put out, for my money!
It was created within a time of harsh, ugly, practical and beautiful new awareness. Scott and everyone involved did exceptional work on it. There is not a superfluous sound on it. It is weird and beautiful. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” said Banksy. I would hope it would make someone feel less alone. Or entertained. Or both.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: April 19, 2018
Total questions: 9 + 8
Word count: 2524
Reading time: Nine minutes
audience, awareness, bills, bitter, blinds, Boston, burrito, catty, cheeseburger, chicken, choreography, claustrophobia, comfort, computer, confidence, coop, David Bowie, David Foster Wallace, debris, derivative, disturbance, diversification, dubious, Florida, garbage, Greg Connors, guitar, hairbrush, Halloween, Hartford, humility, incorporation, invisible, Isaac Brock, lamp, Long Island City, Lou Reed, Massachusetts, mist, New York City, Ossining, pencil, practicality, R.E.M., rain, soap, songwriting, superfluous, tape, The Fall, threat, threshold, transplant, viability, vicious, wisdom
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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