Locals: Connections' new, diverse record informed by past lessons

Joel Oliphint

Connections singer Kevin Elliott describes his musical relationship with guitarist and principal songwriter Andy Hampel as "telepathy." The two have known each other since high school, when 15-year-old Elliott would write songs with 16-year-old Hampel and experiment with a four-track recorder in Tipp City, just outside Dayton.

"That was our entertainment," said Elliott, now 39. "That was all we did in those days."

The relationship formed the basis of Elliott and Hampel's first band, 84 Nash, and now Connections, which formed several years after 84 Nash's demise and issued its first albumPrivate Airplane in 2013.

Three years and three albums later, Connections is set to release its fourth full length,Midnight Run, on Anyway Records on July 22, with a release show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, July 16. Speaking in the living room of Hampel's north Clintonville home, just above the band's basement recording and practice space known as Tough City, Hampel, 40, and Elliott spoke of the nostalgic elements in the new record - particularly the fact that their old 84 Nash bandmate J.P Herrmann producedMidnight Run during Tough City recording sessions.

"J.P. speaks that language that we have," Elliott said. "He knew what we'd like and what we wouldn't like."

As usual, Hampel presented his songs to Elliott, Dave Capaldi (guitar) and Philip Kim (bass), who then added their parts quickly and naturally. There was a slowdown, though, when the band had to find a replacement drummer after Elliott's brother Adam Elliott (Times New Viking) left the band and formed a new project, Long Odds. Connections didn't release any new music in 2015, which wouldn't be abnormal for other bands, but this is Connections - the group that released two full-length records and an EP in 2013, then another LP and two EPs in 2014.

Soon enough, though, Connections recruited drummer Mike O'Shaughnessy, whose list of local credits goes on and on (Ipps, Nick Tolford & Company, El Jesus de Magico, Natural Sway and others). O'Shaughnessy got up to speed in time for a Nelsonville Music Festival performance in May of last year.

In some ways,Midnight Run is classic Connections: short and sweet pop songs with boisterous hooks and buoyed by Hampel's power chords, Capaldi's white-hot fretwork and Kim's groovy bass. But the record also boasts more variation than previous records. "All in All" starts as a slow burner and gains urgency and volume as it goes, like a Big Star power ballad. And a handful of sparse, downtempo numbers are sprinkled among the 14 tracks.

"There's three or four songs on here that we did just the two of us on eight-track," Elliott said. "It hearkens back to when we really had fun recording."

"There's always been nostalgia in our songs," Hampel said. "You're nostalgic for shit that didn't feel good when it was happening, but then in hindsight, it was cool. … There's some melancholy underneath the pop songs."

There's also a monkey that Connections would like to get off its back once and for all: the constant comparisons to a certain legendary Dayton rock group that is known for writing and recording short, lo-fi pop songs at breakneck pace.

"I don't want us to be thought of as only for that crowd of 40-something Guided by Voices fans, like that's our only audience," Elliott said. "Because it's not."

"We're just a band that writes good pop songs," Hampel said. "We sit around and listen to Gloria Estefan records. We're children of the '80s, so Top 40 radio is huge to us."

Hampel and Elliott sayMidnight Run is their favorite album they've made together - a bold claim given the pair's long history. "It's an accumulation of all those years and the things we did in 84 Nash," Elliott said. "You learn what not to do and what to do. There's a line on 'Weapons': 'Lessons we learned back in our youth, never forget.' … 84 Nash ended [because] we just weren't having fun doing it anymore. I have a lot of fun in this band with these guys. We'll continue to do it as long as it's a good time."

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Saturday, July 16

2619 N. High St., Old North

aceofcupsbar.com

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