Connells are too laid-back for prima donnas

May 20, 1994|By Jae-Ha Kim | Jae-Ha Kim,Chicago Sun-Times

Brief Connells history: It's 1984 and third-year law student Mike Connell decides to delay real life by forming a rock 'n' roll band with younger brother David, who happens to be a whiz on bass. After adding several other college pals to their fold, the Connells become a staple on the Raleigh, N.C., club circuit.

Their sound is earnest pop sung to a strong alternative beat. The band's look is laid-back, composed of whatever they have in the closet that's clean. And the group's attitude is low-key -- no prima donnas in this bunch.

Besides the brothers Connell, the group currently includes singer-guitarist Doug MacMillan, guitarist George Huntley, drummer Peele Wimberly and keyboardist Steve Potak.

The first couple of years were experimental, with the musicians honing their craft. The Connell brothers were weaned from Jethro Tull, a favorite during their voice-changing years, and guitarist-vocalist Mike Connell became the primary songwriter. He composes heartbreakingly simple songs that complement Mr. MacMillan's plaintive tenor. Currently touring to promote their fifth and latest CD, "Ring," which contains their radio hit "Slackjawed," the Connells perform tonight at Camden Yards Concert Hall (formerly Hammerjacks).

Would-be barrister Mike Connell took a few minutes from sound check to pop into an Iowa phone booth to give a band update. Here's what he had to say:

Q: What happened with law school?

A: "I finished nine years ago," says Mr. Connell, who's in his mid-30s. "I passed the bar in North Carolina and put law behind me. We have a real lawyer in California who represents us so the band doesn't have to rely on me."

Q: When you look out in the audience, what do you see?

A: "Us. The people who like us tend to be pretty laid-back and uninterested in keeping up with the latest whatever. I suppose that's bad in some ways because it doesn't make for very exciting news stories or photos, but it's comfortable for us."

Q: Why do your songs sound so sad?

A: "Do they?" he asked, laughing. "I don't mean for them to. It's just my style. I guess optimism isn't something that's in my lyrical makeup."

Q: What the heck does that mean?

A: "My words flow a certain way and I guess that way is a little more pragmatic than other [songwriters'] works."

Q: Do you remember the hardest thing on your bar exam?

A: "Yeah. It was an essay question about some sales and secured transactions that had to do with mortgages and stuff like that. We had been playing dates during the time I was supposed to be studying for the bar and I couldn't be bothered with learning about them. So, my answer was creative to say the least, but probably wrong."

The Connells

When: Tonight at 9

Where: Camden Yards Concert Hall, formerly Hammerjacks, 1101 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $12

4( Call: (410) 659-7625, (410) 481-SEAT

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