An Interview with David Connell
Musician and Artist
Broughton Alumni, Class of 1979
by Polly Emrich, Broughton Class of 2024
An Interview with Mr. Connell, Broughton Alumni, Artist and Bass Player and Founding Member of The Connells, a Raleigh based band.
Polly: It’s nice to meet you, my Dad is a fan! (holds up three album covers for The Connells)
Mr. Connell: (smiles) Thank you, it's nice to be here.
Polly: In a past interview with Walter Magazine, you mentioned you and your daughter’s shared love of painting. Does Ivy inspire any of your songs or paintings?
Mr. Connell: When Ivy was born, I was in my late 40s, and so a lot of my music career was in the rear view mirror at that point, but as far as my painting, yes she did inspire me. I did a portrait of her that turned out well, so I got an interest in portraiture that I never had before. I’ve done some since that I think have turned out pretty well. She would paint and I would watch her paint and she went about it in such a different fashion than I did that I did learn something from her. She just had a very spontaneous approach to it and she made some very nice paintings, some abstracts, and she had some sort of natural affinity for it. She would use complementary colors, and I don’t know where or how she learned that, but she would just do that naturally. Watching her did inspire me to loosen up a little bit with my painting.
Polly: You only spent your senior year at Broughton. At that point, were you interested in music or painting? If so did you take any classes at Broughton that related to these interests?
Mr. Connell: I didn’t start playing music until I had graduated from Broughton, but I did take art classes at Broughton and my teacher was Ms. Vurnakes. I really liked her, I thought she was a great teacher. She inspired me. She had us do drawing and painting and I learned a lot from her, so yes, that’s where I started to develop my interest in visual art.
Polly: Was there any specific reason the Connell’s haven’t released music in 20 years? Or did life just get in the way?
Mr. Connell: Okay, yes life got in the way. In the late 90s, we parted ways with our record company and the way it worked in the past was that when we were with the label, they would front the money to us to make a record. We would go into the studio, make the record and then they would get paid back through record sales. So, when all of that ended, there was no urgency for us to put a record out quickly and we weren’t motivated to work on it. But we wanted to put a record out, and we slowly worked up the songs and we’d go in the studio and demo them or, you know, tweak them and play them live and then see how that went and decided if we needed to change anything. Slowly over the years from like 2,000 to 2,010, we picked away at it and then we finally did reach a point where we said to ourselves we really need to get moving on this. It was dragging out and we need to get something out if we were going to stay relevant. So that’s when it picked up a little bit, but still there’d be months that would go by when we didn’t do anything and it took a long, long time. It would have come out sooner except covid came and that delayed us a year or two. We finally got it out and we feel like it’s close to what we were after to begin with. We feel good about the record and it’s very close to our vision for it.
Polly: Being your first new album since 2001, has Steadman’s Wake incorporated any new styles of music?
Mr. Connell: The simple answer to that is no. It’s the same sort of format we’ve been using. It’s about a 4 minute song that I would say features a sort of arrangement of drums and bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboard and singing. That’s pretty much what we’ve done for 30 something years.
Polly: Who are some of the most significant people in your life and how do they inspire you?
Mr. Connell: Good question. Well, my Mom inspired me to read. She was a very avid reader and she taught me to be sensitive to the feelings of other people. She was not one to speak ill of people. She believed it was better to keep those thoughts to ourselves if we have very negative thoughts about people. And then my brothers were an inspiration to me. They were older and they were very good students, and they inspired me to work a little harder because I didn’t want to seem like less of a good student even though I wasn’t quite up to their level. They certainly inspired me to try harder than I may otherwise have. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. You know there was a lot of sibling pressure, right? (laughs).
Polly: You seem to draw a lot of inspiration for your paintings from the city of Raleigh. Do you put any of the same inspiration into your music?
Mr. Connell: You know really with bass playing for the Connell’s songs, I’m really just trying to come up with a part that fits the song and doesn’t step on a lot of other parts or other people’s contributions to the songs, so how Raleigh fits into that I’m not exactly sure. Early on I was doing a lot of paintings around Raleigh and it seems like the subject matter I was seeking out is sort of like urban decay or you know what I’m saying? And now there’s not a lot of that left anymore. It’s all sort of been replaced by shiny modern stuff, so I’m having to go outside of Raleigh for inspiration now.
Polly: What do you consider your greatest achievement and what’s one thing you did to get there?
Mr. Connell: Okay, that’s a good question, let me find my notes. I don’t consider that anything I have done to be a great achievement. The band is a lot bigger than anything I’ve ever done individually, and that’s a lot due to the creative talents of my band mates. I’m really lucky that my brother, Michael, writes very good songs and I sort of rode on his coattails I believe at times. If not for him, I never would’ve gotten into the band, so it’s a lot of luck involved. I guess you asked about what it took to get there. It was perseverance really that was a part of it. That’s something I’m proud of – that we’ve been doing this now for 37 years or so. There were a lot of times when we were unhappy with each other or we didn’t enjoy life on the road. We did a lot of touring, and just the act of persevering through all of those times we wanted to throw in the towel…I’d say I’m proud of that. Oh and one other thing. My Dad was trying to push me in a very different direction. He was a doctor and he always thought that I should go to Med school and I didn’t want to go to Med school, so the harder he pushed, the harder I pushed back, so I’m glad I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t listen to his advice, instead I found my own way and made a satisfying life for myself without his input. He never really accepted what we did, what Mike and I did for our professional lives and I find that kind of sad.
Polly: What’s one of your favorite memories from Broughton?
Mr. Connell: It was 1978, I moved back to Raleigh from Georgia and I was very happy to be back in Raleigh. My Grandmother and Mom and I lived over in Cameron Park, so I had very fond memories of walking to school. I fell in with a small group of friends. I didn’t have many because I didn’t know anybody, but it was a small group that I really enjoyed hanging out with and some of whom I still see to this day. One just passed away. We’d go to Hillsborough Street and do silly things that people that age do (laughs)…I do have very fond memories of that year.
Polly: Final question, what is one piece of advice that you would give a student at Broughton?
Mr. Connell: Okay, I wrote down a couple of things. So, even when I was coming out of college I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. I would say advice would be that if you can figure out sooner than later what you want to do, you will have a leg up. So, I got lucky as I mentioned before because of the band. And, so, you know, if you have something you love and you want to try it and it doesn’t work out, you can try something else. Life is long if you’re lucky. An example would be my wife had aspirations to perform on Broadway. She was a theatre major in college and she moved to New York and she performed off-Broadway, but she never could break through, so at some point she realized that that dream wasn’t going to be fulfilled and she switched gears and she got into sales and she has done really well in that. So you can always try something and decide to do something else. That would be my advice.