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"I'm not really that sick," says Bruce Connole, coughing as he shuffles through his east-side apartment. While the singer was forced to cancel a recent gig with his bluegrass side project, the Pearl Chuckers, because of a cold, the spring sniffles have been the last thing on the mind of the local-music icon. Foremost among Connole's concerns has been the regeneration of his primary creative outlet of the past five years, neo-traditional country twangers the Revenants. The group has been on an indefinite hiatus since last year but is about to redebut this week with a revamped roster and a cache of new songs.
As for the lineup changes, there's been a complicated litany of departures and hirings since the beginning of the year. First, as we reported in January, guitarist/vocalist Richard Taylor, a member of the Revenants and Pearl Chuckers, left both groups. His spot in the Chuckers was immediately filled by picker Amos Cox. Cox was also set to take over guitar duties in the electric-based Revs, during what was originally to have been a mid-February resumption of the band's activities. Unfortunately, that plan had to be scrapped, as the ever cantankerous Connole also decided to part ways with trapsman Bobby Dommings and was unable to find a replacement in time for the earmarked date. As it stands now, Taylor, Connole's longtime foil, is back in the Revenants fold, while Cox will continue as the Chuckers guitarist. The drumming situation has also been resolved with the arrival of Joe Jacques, a former veteran of Valley rockers Caterwaul. Jacques has also been manning the brushes during the Pearl Chuckers' regular Tuesday night sets at Tempe's Long Wong's and their occasional appearances at Scottsdale's Jamaican Blue. Throughout all this, bassist Paul Schneider has remained the one consistent member of both combos, though he too is a replacement for Chuckers original rhythm slapper Ruth Wilson, who helped launch the bluegrass venture with Connole last July.
While he has remained semi-active with his bluegrass diversion, Connole's time has recently been occupied with a new venture -- a career as a computer programmer. Though he only became a PC user a few years ago, Connole is apparently something of a natural techie. He began by creating the Revenants Web site (www.therevenants.com) before moving on to the world of home-computer recording as a means to demo new material. As unlikely as it sounds, the onetime junkie rocker is now a dedicated net-head. He's also a professional working for Silicon Valley-based sonicbox.com, a company that's developed a proprietary tuning technology that will allow listeners to access a wide range of high-quality Internet audio. Connole says the technology he's currently working on will eventually be mobile ready, offering motorists a choice of 800 Internet radio stations while driving. "Hopefully, that will signal the end of commercial radio," says Connole, beaming at the very prospect.
The luxury of a steady income is also allowing Connole to dictate his schedule with the Revenants, which, he says, will be playing only a couple gigs a month. "This company I'm working for is giving me a lot of money, so I don't need to go around kissing college students' asses," notes Connole sarcastically. "At this point I'm just going to play when I feel like playing."
With all the instability on the personnel front, it's been difficult for Connole to concentrate on the main task at hand, recording a follow-up to the group's stellar 1998 disc Artists & Whores. While the band is still hoping to record with noted local producer Clarke Rigsby, Connole says blocking off time to complete the project has proved such a challenge that he's actually contemplating taking a different route with the disc.
"I might just make the motherfucker here," he says, sitting in the midst of a living room cramped with musical and electronic gear. "It's unbelievable what you can do on a computer nowadays -- they're so fast and have amazing processing power. And the cool thing about working for [sonicbox.com] is they pay me all this money and I immediately go to Fry's [electronics store] and spend it all on recording gear and then I send them an invoice and they send me the money back! It's great."
While it would seem hard to believe on the surface, Connole's claims of making a professional quality recording in his living room are true. A seven-song disc of material recorded in his home is a remarkably solid-sounding affair from a technical point of view. And while the bulk of the instrumentation was recorded live, he has had to compromise on the backbeat, using electronic loops instead of a live drummer.
"I don't want things to sound electronic; I would prefer to have a real drummer come in, but then you have to worry about miking stuff. But the guitars and everything else is just one line, one mike right here," says Connole, pointing to his desktop computer setup. "It's cool because the whole bit about recording on the computer has really got me to thinking about mixing and mastering and compression, all that stuff that I never paid any attention to. It's almost like having a whole other instrument to consider."