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An Overnight Low explore Dublin on tunefully rich ‘Connolly, Part Two’

June 8, 2021
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What’s more important, the journey or the destination?

For musician and songwriter Chad Walls of the Portland-based band An Overnight Low, both play a huge role when it comes to creating music. The group plans to release a fourth LP, “Connolly, Part Two,” on June 11, continuing their mission of creating music inspired by Walls’ various adventures abroad, in this case, Dublin, Ireland. The musically varied full-length LP is the sequel to a four-track EP issued last year.

An Overnight Low’s albums aren’t intended to be musical travelogues in the pure sense. There are no lyrics about helpful travel hacks or which airport offers the best pizza. The band’s records are collections of Walls’ impressions of the people he met and the locations he visited first as a student, and now as a seasoned traveler and observer. The group’s albums are titled after one of the four train stations he frequented most.

Walls says An Overnight Low is mostly a duo these days consisting of himself and guitarist and vocalist Sam Anderson. An extended musical family of a dozen or so players contributes to the group’s albums and live shows. Seven guest musicians helped Walls and Anderson realize the songs for “Connolly, Part Two.”

Walls is a native of Biddeford, a city with a population rich in French-Canadian and Irish heritage. Walls has Irish ancestry on both sides and says he vividly remembers the feeling of anticipation he had in 2007 when he first visited the Irish capital.

“Anticipation was high as I took a boat from Wales to Dublin,” he said. “I kind of went berserk, talking to people, meeting people, and going from pub to pub. I wanted a song to reflect the feeling I had of letting my inhibitions go.”

That song, “Surfeit Safari,” opens “Connolly, Part Two” with a crashing power chord and some scene-setting audio from Connolly train station. What follows is an irresistible ode to the rush of first seeing a city you’ve long wanted to visit. Memories and impressions fly by like flashes seen through the window of a moving train. ‘Surfeit Safari’ is upbeat catchy pop in the vein of Fountains of Wayne made even better by the deadpan delivery in Walls’ lead vocal, his first for An Overnight Low.

“My vocal was intended to be only a guide track but the consensus was that’s how it should be,” Walls said. Walls’ laughter during the guitar solo is at his own expense, convinced in the moment that his vocal wasn’t right for the song. The contrast actually makes the song even better, cementing the song in my view as one of An Overnight Low’s best moments on record.

The jangly pop of “Dover Thrift Edition,” released as a single last year, chronicles a failing relationship told through a literary lens. Walls wrote the lyrics in a bookstore/coffee shop combo and emailed the results to Sam Anderson.

“He immediately composed this song based on those lyrics,” Walls said. “I was astounded at how quick the turnaround was.”

That feeling of “instant song” happened again, Walls said, with “Terminal D,” an old-timey acoustic song featuring a very cleverly composed set of lyrics by Walls sung by Anderson to his melody. The perfect touch was added by clarinet legend Brad Terry, who has performed with a who’s who in jazz, from Dizzy Gillespie to Lenny Breau.

“I took a chance and emailed Brad Terry out of the blue,” Walls explained. I said ‘You don’t know me but would you be willing to come to a studio to record a part?’ I was shocked when he wrote back saying ‘Absolutely.’ He arrived, heard the song once, recorded two takes and it was mixed that day.”

Nearly everything heard on “Connolly, Part Two” was written pre-pandemic, but strangely, “New Fascinations,” a song about isolation, contains a reference to a ‘quarantine.’ Walls said that is purely coincidental.

“It was written before any of that happened,” he said of the song that is quite unlike anything that has appeared yet on an album by An Overnight Low. Recorded at the home of lead guitarist Ted Warner, Walls said he asked Warner to play some lines similar to what Jerry Garcia might have played. “He just banged out his part and it was perfect for that song,” he said.

The pandemic created some limitations for Walls and Anderson that forced them to rethink how they record music for An Overnight Low. That included the use of programmed drums on songs like “Caterpillar,” a tune about the endless cycle of leaving and returning. It was inspired in part by a sermon given by Walls’ friend, David Gray, a reverend in Manchester, England, with a radio show where he plays An Overnight Low’s music and is known as “the punk monk.”

During one of Walls’ trips to Dublin, he took a roundabout flight that landed at Shannon Airport, roughly 140 miles away. Assuming he could take a train to his destination only to learn there wasn’t one, Walls found himself on a series of buses and an excursion through the Irish countryside that added six hours to his trip but ultimately revealed a part of the country he may never have seen otherwise. Listening carefully to conversations going on around him, Walls took notes and incorporated some of what he heard into these songs.

Another excursion from a different trip inspired one of the record’s most moving tracks: “Ornament, Coordinate, Armament & Alms,” a song about finding your own inner light and forgetting people who try to lead you with theirs. Walls says the band’s publicist drove him around Dublin and explained some of the hardships some folks had to endure.

“I think a lot of people became a little more self-reliant during the pandemic instead of relying on a higher power to take care of them,” Walls explained. “That song is about a city of people discovering that inner light at the same time.”

“Connolly, Part Two” was recorded in five studios and mixed by five people. Walls said they realized that a cohesive sound was unlikely so they let the idea go and felt better about that notion when they thought of another group that was known to record in multiple studios.

“We’re both big fans of The Monkees,” Walls said. “When you listen to those records, you can tell they were recorded all over the place. You have the hits, the B-sides, the funny songs, and they all sound different. Once we allowed ourselves to do that, it freed us up to try different things.”

“Connolly, Part Two” is the most varied collection of songs yet from An Overnight Low, intentionally so. What was to have been a trilogy of travel-themed records named after train stations in London, Edinburgh and Manchester now has an Irish sibling with “Connolly” and Walls says there will be more.

“We have another album’s worth of material ready to go,” he said. “We have plans to get together next week around a fire and start banging out some new songs.”

“Connolly, Part Two” will be available on all streaming services on June 11. Physical copies of the album will be available from Bull Moose.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 June 2021 14:27

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