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Q&A: Harry Connick, Jr. mixes things up on new album

Harry Connick, Jr. is the epitome of a successful artist. As an actor, he’s appeared in several blockbuster films and has won two Emmy awards. As a musician, he’s enjoyed even more success, and is what he’s best known for. He’s sold 28 million albums worldwide and has three Grammy Awards under his belt. He even lent his talents to American Idol as a judge during the 12th and 13th seasons. His discography dates back the late ‘70s, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He dropped his 32nd album this past October, entitled That Would Be Me, and it’s a bit different than what we’re used to hearing from the storied jazz artist. The Denver Catholic caught up with Harry about the new album, his ties to Colorado and his Catholic faith.

That Would Be Me is available to order from iTunes and Amazon.

Q: You’ve got a new album out, and it’s quite different from anything you’ve done before. What makes it different?

A: What’s different about this album is that I worked with two producers, and the function of these producers was to suggest ideas, talk about different ways of recording, give me feedback on what I was doing, how I was singing and playing, what the instrumentation was and all of the stuff, which was a process I’ve never gone through because I’ve always answered all of those questions myself. I’ve always been very definitive in terms of if I sing a song and I like the way the vocals sound, then we move on. I’ve never had somebody say, “Sing it again,” or if I didn’t like the vocals, I didn’t have somebody say, “Oh, it’s perfect, leave it alone.” Working with producers was very different for me but it’s something that I wanted to experience because that’s the norm in my business. Working with producers is actually the way most people work and I wanted to feel what that felt like.

Q: Most musicians start off in the pop world and then as they mature they begin to experiment differently, but it seems like you’re pulling a Benjamin Button on this and turning the clock the other way. You were more of a big band artist early on and now you’re kind of going pop. Tell us about that.

A: First of all, I’m not going pop. These are pop songs, but I’m not really going anywhere. It’s just a snapshot of what I’m feeling at this point in my life. If you go back and listen to my earlier records like She and Starturtle, this record isn’t that different from those and I was in my early to mid-20’s when I did those. I just like making music and I’m not going in a particular direction, intentionally anyway. It’s not like I’m trying to be young. I’m 48 years old, and this is what I’m hearing right now. It doesn’t mean that the next record is going to be similar or dissimilar from this, it’s just where I am. It wasn’t really a calculated move; it’s just what I felt like playing.

Q: What are some of the lyrical themes you touched on with this album?

A: This album is kind of all over the place in terms of theme. Some songs I wrote and some songs I didn’t write. The song “(I Do) Like We Do” was one I did not write about being married and how wonderful that is. One song is about looking at somebody and seeing them smile and it stops you dead in your tracks. One song is about relevance in a relationship and why can’t this guy matter to someone in a relationship. It’s all over the place; there are happy songs and sad songs and angry songs and joyous songs…it’s just a little bit of everything, there’s not really a theme.

Q: It’s pretty well-known that you’re a devout Catholic. Talk a little bit about your faith and its importance to you, and how it informs your art and your music.

A: My faith is very important to me, and it probably does inform my music and art and most things in my life, but I’m just not sure how it does that. I sing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “How Great Thou Art” occasionally and I love those songs, but aside from those songs, I’m not sure how it works. I’m not a preacher or someone who does Christian albums; there are people who do that and it’s terrific, but it’s kind of a mystery to me how my faith works its way into my life. All I do is pray that I can be the best person I can be. I know that my faith is intertwined with the decisions that I make, I’m just not sure how it works and I kind of like it like that.

Q: You’ve had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, right?

A: I did sing at the Papal Mass but he wasn’t there. That was at Yankee Stadium and I had the chance to sing in front of a bunch of wonderful people, but that was before Pope Benedict got there. The same thing happened with Pope Francis; I was singing at Madison Square Garden for the Papal Mass but in fact, it was before he got there. It was an honor nonetheless, but I wasn’t able to perform for them.

Q: You’ve performed in Colorado at Red Rocks before and put on a phenomenal show. You also have a little bit of a Colorado connection.

A: I do! My wife grew up in Boulder, and her father and brother and our niece and nephew live there, so we have deep connections to Colorado and we love that connection. It’s a great, great state. We certainly relish the time we get to come out there, it’s always such an amazing time and it’s really not like anyplace else.

Q: How do you balance your artistic career as a musician and as an actor with your family?

A: I have a manager, and I’ve been with her for 30 years, since I was 18 years old. She is very aware of how important my family is to me, and basically it’s as simple as making sure I get enough time with my family and keeping that balance. When I go on the road, I don’t go out for six months, I go out for two weeks and then I’ll come home. Then I’ll go out again and sometimes my family will come with me and we’ll make sure we plan things around times that my kids either individually or as a group can come with me. On paper, it looks like a very, very busy schedule, and it is, but there are all kinds of times when the only thing I have to do is take my kids to school or go to parent-teacher meetings or whatever we’re doing, and ultimately that’s the most important. My career, although it’s very public, it’s very easy to keep the balance between my professional life and my private life.

Q: We appreciate your time so much. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your audience out here in Colorado?

A: First of all, I just want to thank you guys for having me. I absolutely adore your state and I’m just so thrilled to have your support and I hope everybody likes the new record and hopefully I get out there to visit you guys one of these days.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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