"Nina Simone said that the job of an artist is to reflect the times in which they live. I feel like that’s the job I’m doing here..." - hmv.com talks to Bruce Hornsby
Probably best known to most for his work with his band The Range in the 1980s, who scored huge hits with songs such as 'The Way It Is' and 'Mandolin Rain', Bruce Hornsby has enjoyed a varied career spanning more than four decades that has also seen him work on film scores for Spike Lee, collaborate with Bon Iver's Juston Vernon and become a touring member of the Grateful Dead.
Releasing his first solo album in 1993, Horsnby has been prolific ever since and just a year on from the release of his 21st studio album Absolute Zero in 2019, the veteran songwriter returns this week with its follow-up Non-Secure Connection, which sees him working with Justin Verson once again on an album that also includes conrtributions from the Shins' James Mercer, Leon Russell and yMusic's Hideaki Aomori, among several others.
With the new album freshly on the shelves in stores we caught with with Bruce for a chat about how he put it all together...
Non-Secure Connection is your 22nd studio album, has the process of how you put an album together changed over the years?
"Actually my process has, in a way, come full circle back to my original mode. I got my first record contract at RCA (signed by the great former Zombies rhythm guitarist Paul Atkinson!) with a tape I had made in reaction to the way my band at the time was playing my songs. I made this tape solo, with a piano, Oberheim synthesizer and Linn drum machine, and this was the first recording I had made that truly sounded like what I heard in my head.
"Two years ago I made my Absolute Zero record by writing over film cues I had written for Spike Lee from 2008-2017, and recording as I went. This recording process was solo as well, where I was playing keyboard bass like that original demo. I continued solo, no drum machine, but creating loops where I played the drum parts. So now I’m back around to the process of 1984-5! I’ve continued this “solo” approach with Non-Secure Connection."
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on Absolute Zero?
"Most of the music on Non-Secure Connection was rather different from the music on Absolute Zero, but the process was not dissimilar. I wanted the music to be a little more adventurous, a little wilder than the last record, more dissonant, so the chromaticism/dissonance quotient is doubled (3 songs to 1 1/3!)."
There are a number of different producers on the album, what did they bring to the process?
"The multiple producers situation was the result of a trip to Eau Claire, WI to work with Justin Vernon and his wonderful group of kindred-spirit musicians. Justin and Brad Cook were sort of 'at the helm', running the sessions in their very collegial, open manner."
You've got a great group of collaborators including James Mercer and Justin Vernon. Can you talk us through who helped you make the record?
"I had two songs that felt like possible duets to me. “My Resolve” is a Sisyphean song about the ups and downs of the creative life, and I was a bit influenced by a Shins record while writing the song so I decided to reach out to James Mercer, the leader of the group. I had never met him, but he was open to it and did a beautiful job for me. On “Bright Star Cast” I was turned onto a very strong poet-songwriter-singer from Chicago named Jamila Woods (by our friend from Jagjaguwar Records, Eric Deines) and she came on board and sent the song to a new, higher place.
"'Bright Star' was a former Spike Lee film cue I had written in 2016, and Vernon Reid had played guitar on it, so he wound up on the record as well, enhancing the music further with his very funky playing. Rob Moose from yMusic was an integral part of Absolute Zero and also on Non-Secure Connection; I feel like I’ve finally found my Paul Buckmaster (the great orchestrator on the early Elton John records) in Rob, we seem to share a similar musical aesthetic."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"Nina Simone said that the job of an artist is to reflect the times in which they live. I feel like that’s the job I’m doing here, with songs about drones, hackers, requiems for the Mall life, racial issues, youth sports angst (and angst in general), and early innovation on the internet."
It's a 10-track record, did you always want to keep it short and sweet? Or is that just how things worked out?
"I used to try to pack everything I could onto a 76-minute CD, but as attention spans dwindle (in my opinion) I feel that something closer to the old LP length seems to be the right length. I truly feel 40-45 minutes is enough."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"No one song; it all came together fairly solidly."
And which came together most quickly?
"'The Rat King' - a simple triadic song with a simple piano-and-strings arrangement."
When did you settle on Non-Secure Connection for the title? Were there any other titles in contention?
"I just felt that the “Non-Secure Connection” phrase described so much of the lyrical content of the record that it was the obvious choice, for me."
Are you able to make any live plans at the moment, or are you looking towards 2021? How have you spent lockdown - have you kept writing?
"Most of our concerts have been postponed until the middle of 2021, so that’s not on my radar at all. I’ve been productive during the shutdown time, and have written and recorded 6-8 songs since mid-March. I’ll be working with some friends in LA in two weeks on that music, for the next record!"
Non-Secure Connection is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.