The Connells, one of North Carolina’s most successful indie rock bands, have new music on the way for the first time since 2001. They’ll break their recording hiatus with “Steadman’s Wake,” a new 11-song album that will be released September 24th, 2021.
Beyond the fact that “Steadman’s Wake” is the group’s first new release in over 20 years, it is the first Connells’ album to feature their two newest members, guitarist Mike Ayers and drummer Rob Ladd (who have been in the lineup since 2002 and 2012, respectively), and the band’s first record made up of songs contributed solely by Mike Connell, who happens to take on a more prominent role as vocalist.
Additionally, the title track, “Steadman’s Wake,” represents the first time The Connells have ventured into overt politics. Previously, the group tended to let actions and implications do the talking when it came to current events. But taking a more concrete and literal stand was something the times seemed to demand. With references to war, the opioid crisis and the white-supremacist rioting that roiled Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 (and were reprised in the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.), there is no mistaking the message of “Steadman’s Wake.”
“We’ve had some oblique socio-political bits here and there over the years,” says Mike Connell. “But never as direct as this. It seems like it’s time. It’s scary, where we still stand in this country with issues of race. Of the 11 songs on the record, the clear consensus within the band was that ‘Steadman’s Wake’ best reflected the band’s take on the temper of the times and best represented the “spirit” of the record.”
Off-record and onstage, The Connells have been no strangers to political activism over the years, going back to benefit shows they played for Harvey Gant when he was running against controversial Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Nevertheless, taking a musical step into current events was not a decision they made lightly. But as frontman Doug MacMillan concurs, the times are dire enough to demand a response.
“Even the least politically minded bands are saying things now because they need to be said,” MacMillan says. “Mike’s never been one for hitting anybody over the head with an agenda, and his lyrics tend to be pretty subtle. But I’m glad we did this. I’ll be interested to see what people think.”
Even though it’s been 20 years since their last recording, The Connells never quit playing live, and Mike Connell never quit writing songs. Eventually enough material came together to suggest it was finally time to make another record. “Steadman’s Wake” features eight new songs that have never been released, while three of the album’s songs previously appeared in different versions on 2001’s “Old-School Dropouts” – a collection of demos recorded at the group’s practice space.
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