I Got The Damn Dress On, Where's the Party?: The Maggie Connell
Connell used to be in the L.A. band the Heaters, that put
out two records in 1978 and 1980.
After various bands and projects she has released a marvelous
album called The Luxury of Sadness. In the interview
Maggie speaks about flow in her music, feeling the feelings
of people that feel, the "Mangirl" on the cover
of her album and eating children for breakfast.
Robert Pally: What is behind the title The Luxury of Sadness?
Maggie Connell: The actual phrase comes from the title of an unfinished
song. It seemed bittersweet and paradoxical enough to be right for this
particular amalgam of material.
It also describes (like many of the songs on the CD) a modern disconnection.
We live in a world (especially in the U.S.) where feeling...much of anything
is a luxury. There's simply no time. People work 50-60 hour work weeks
interspersed with mind-numbing entertainment. Also there's an interesting
polarity in operation: our culture is obsessed with feelings and feeling
our feelings...and feeling our feelings about feeling our feelings (the
pop-psych approach). It can turn into an almost narcissistic romance with
our own pain which is both....tragic and hilarious.
RP: The album does not have a real flow. There are a lot of breaks in
the songs that cause a kind of tension. That makes the album more difficult
to access but also deeper. The Luxury of Sadness needs time! Was
it a goal to make an album that grows on the listener?
MC: Yes, the songs stop and start without consistent grooves. This came
out of my desire to venture beyond the framework of traditional rock/pop
rhythm section arrangements. Also, I'd wanted to stick close to the meaning
of the text, so maybe the «stops» serve as punctuation marks.
I'm glad you think it takes a few listenings to digest the material. This
was not a conscious goal, yet some of my favorite records are challenging
in that way. I think it's fun to be disoriented by something new, and
then conquer it gradually.
RP: Was there something that influenced you for the album? To me it sounds
a bit like Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Sheryl Crow on a merry-go-round with
MC: Wow!!--an intriguing image and flattering comparison(s). I'd never
properly listened to Kate Bush until people kept bringing up her name
in reference to what I was doing. While it's a great compliment, I don't
feel that her work is particularly an influence (same goes for Tori Amos
and Sheryl Crow). I really had only one mission: to get the songs out
of my head and onto tape where they could hopefully be more useful (haha!).
AND.... I was looking for myself in a way,
avoiding the beaten
path as much as one can ever do (and still communicate).
RP: What is the idea behind the cover painting?
MC: Jeff McGregor of Frigidisk (her label) helped me to zero in on this
image. I'd been sketching different things (such as an alligator on a
psychiatrist's couch). But the cover image had to reflect the gestalt
of these 10 songs. While looking through some old drawings, I noticed
that I'd often depicted a figure of a little girl with.... the head of
a pissed-off middle-aged man, who's (usually) wearing a party hat.
This "mangirl", for want of a better term, emerged as the best
representative for the songs. Obviously it's me on some level saying:
"O.K., I got the damn dress on. Where's the party?".
RP: What actually made you release a solo album?
MC: I wanted to hear my songs without cringing. It was a natural next
step. I had accumulated tracks and tracks and tracks on adat tapes (intended
as song demos), and discovered through working with Al Houghton (of Dubway
Studios in NYC) that these tracks WERE a potential CD! In other words,
they sounded better than I'd thought. Then Jeff asked if I'd like to put
out a record on Frigidisk (Frigidisk was started, by the way, in '96 by
Jeff and his wife, Angela McGregor to serve as an outlet for his extraordinary
records). I said yes without much hesitation.
Here is a sentence that for me describes the album a bit: Through darkness
and absurdity one will find the "Joy of Living". Does this match
The Luxury of Sadness or am I wrong? If it doesnt, do you
know a better one?
MC: Haha!----I like that, and the CD is definitely a journey through darkness.
Unfortunately, however it indicates a hollow victory, because «Joy
of Living» is about a forced joy...a shiny smile through gritted
teeth. It pokes fun at the self-help world-view which sometimes over-simplifies
things: "Think positive and take complete control of your life"
(which is impossible, of course). "Depressed?-----stop drinking coffee!!!
Homeless?----just buy a house, what's the problem!?", etc.
RP: "I Eat Children" reminds me lyrically of The Dead Kennedy's
song "Kill The Poor". Exaggerate something to show its absurdity.
What did you think of when you wrote that song?
MC: That's exactly right! Also, where I live, there's a bit of a baby
boom going on---and for some reason it seems that many of the mothers
are quite aggressive. They mow down innocent people with their oversized
baby-strollers. It's a real hazard.
RP: "La La La" is pretty satirical. Laughing about one's own
MC: "La La La" is true-to-life and simultaneously poking fun
at itself: (Oh the drama of it all!).....and yet, it DOES hurt.
RP: How angry were you when you wrote "Diagram of Rage"?
MC: That song is more about disconnection (a major theme for this CD)
than anger or rage. It's about how what you ignore in yourself can actually
gather force, rise up and surprise attack you. When it does, it's terribly
confusing...."You don't understand what your heart seems to think"
(from the lyric). It also implies that that same disconnection can, on
a mass level, create huge problems...wars, for example. Violence, it seems
to me, comes about because of DIS-connection, and a sense of powerlessness.
It's a form of surrender.
RP: You are very open in your lyrics. Don't you have a problem with that?
MC: Yes and No....Personally it can be very embarrassing----but it's important
to be honest. It's like a sacred trust to me....Otherwise, what's the
point? The embarrassment is worth it.
RP: In "She Loves Me" you take the position of a man. Why did
you do that?
MC: Yes, the choruses are obviously the man saying or thinking "She
Loves Me", but the verses are narrated...by a friend or neutral observer
describing his experiences----telling his story. Who knows where these
things come from....It spun itself.
RP: Which is the most personal song on the album?
MC: The most personal is probably "I Wish I Was Alice"---because
it comes from a real experience and was never intended to be played for
anyone, in fact. There's no trace of irony...it's straight as an arrow
and it still scares the hell out of me!
RP: Why did The Heaters break up?
MC: The short answer is: We were broke......and disheartened by the ways
of the business. The original Heaters--Melissa (main writer and bass player),
Mercy Bermudez (lead vocalist and sax player), James Demeter (guitar),
Phil Cohen (writer and drummer),
and I (keyboards), were very much a part of the electricity of the late
'70s in Hollywood. We were riding that wave---although our music was too
pop to be hip at that time (in most L.A. circles), interestingly. After
The Heaters' first record on Ariola, James and Phil decided to not continue.
Melissa, Mercy and I, however stuck it out and subsequently got signed
to Columbia Records. Victor Bisetti (drums) and Carlos de La Paz (guitar)
played on this (our second) record. Carlos left and was eventually replaced
by Cleveland native Steve Barbato. We performed, but got little support
from the label. Columbia wanted us to do another record with them---but
the direction they insisted on seemed so contrary to who we felt we were----
and what we needed to do, that we said «No thanks». By now,
we were in deep financial trouble---collectively and individually. Still
Melissa, Mercy and I continued to record new material. Suddenly out of
the blue, Art Fein (a wonderful writer and music archivist), surprised
us by setting up a meeting with Phil Spector. Art had given Spector a
tape which had perked his interest. A brief collaboration ensued. Gradually,
however ..when that didn't pan out, I think we each realized that it was
time to move on.
RP: What did you do afterwards?
MC: I began to drink too much (haha!)...My sister (Melissa) and I continued
to develop projects together based on our original material. But...there
were peripheral excursions: For a while we were in an all-female band
called Mr. Girl. Mr. Girl backed a magnificent drag queen named Pear»
who impersonated Janis Joplin. We were the Kosmic Blues Band behind her.
I think WE were also in drag--although I can't remember for sure. But...
that was quite the experience! After Mr. Girl, there was a band called
Push Push which included Joani Weir of The Weirs (John Guerin produced
a demo for us), then a project called Goes The Weasel with guitarist Bill
Lay, and finally Puzzle Palace. Jeff McGregor played bass in Puzzle Palace
and produced a tape that we did at Earle Mankey's studio.
this time, I also began to perform solo--as a way to expose material that
didn't fit into a pop-band structure...Boogie Woogies, odd 6/8 ballads--a
wide variety. I also worked at a telemarketing company and gave piano
lessons for survival money.
In '94 I moved back to NYC (where I'd grown up)---and continued to perform
solo. I also began recording some of the tracks that ended up on The
Luxury of Sadness.
RP: How do you make a living?
MC: I became licensed as a massage therapist in '97. I also do foot reflexology.
This type of work allows me a lot of flexibility with my schedule. Also...lesser
known forms of healing and metaphysics in general have always fascinated
RP: What happened to the other members of The Heaters?
MC: Melissa Connell (main writer and bass player) has continued to write,
perform and record (she was truly, by the way, the creative force behind
The Heaters). In `95 she released a powerful self-produced tape called
Breaking The Rules which evolved into a CD titled Living In a Sitcom.
The CD came out in `98 on Garage Records. It got a wonderful response.....and
was played on hundreds of radio stations across the U.S. Also----interestingly,
one of the songs ("Everything I Do Makes Her Mad") was covered
by The Knack on their CD Zoom. Melissa has recently relocated to NYC.
Mercy Bermudez (lead singer and sax player) got married and is living
in Sedona, Arizona. While we're not in touch, I've heard that she's singing
in a «new age» choir there. James Demeter (guitar) has a successful
company based in L.A. He creates amplifiers and audio equipment
(Demeter amps are well known to musicians). Phil Cohen (writer and drummer)
is now the Vice President of film music at Universal Studios.
Victor Bisetti (drummer from the second album on) now tours and records
with Los Lobos.
RP: Any plans of a reunion? BTW: I just ask because there are definitely
some people that wanna know it!!
MC: Wow!----No plans as yet. Anything is possible. It's surprising (pleasantly
surprising) that there is still an interest in such a prospect!
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