I came in pretty late to the music of Ags Connolly, his album ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’ was released a year ago this week, but I didn’t stumble on it until sometime late summer. When I was considering the idea of featuring an album that was released a year ago, Ags was the logical first choice; I felt like I really missed out finding him as late as I did, and I wanted to help make sure fewer people missed the boat. ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’ is a classic country album through and through, but what really stands out is how the whole album tells a story, it’s not just 10 different songs. This is an exceptional album, one of my absolute favorites of 2017, and I am proud to share it.
I had intended to write many descriptive words telling you just how good ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’ is, but through the magic of social media I was able to connect with Ags, mention my idea for discussing an album that came out a year ago, and sign him up for an interview. I think the interview tells more that I could ever spell out, so fire up the album in the background and read what Ags has to say about his sound, music in Europe, and what the future holds for fans.
What’s your story? Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to this point in your career.
Well, I'm a traditional country singer-songwriter born, raised and still residing in Oxfordshire, England. I started out playing live by doing covers in pubs, mostly 50s rock n' roll, which gave me some good experience before I started playing my own stuff. I've been writing my own songs for a long time and my first album, 'How About Now' was released in 2014. That album was well-received and, as you know, my second record 'Nothin' Unexpected' followed in 2017.
Thanks for being my first in the (Hopefully) monthly segment One Year Later: So, one year later, where has ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’ taken you? Did you run into anything you didn’t expect? (Pun intended)
'Nothin' Unexpected' has been very successful from a critical perspective. The platform that my first album gave me allowed this one to reach an even wider audience and the response has been 100% positive. I can't say there were any surprises - I'm used to how people respond to my music, particularly in the UK where traditional country is generally quite rare. If I can make a strong third album I'm hopeful that I can establish some kind of niche for myself, three being a magic number and all.
I love that the album starts with “I Hope Your Unhappy”, it sets the tone nicely while “I Should’ve Closed The Book” wraps it up neatly; can I assume that was all intentional?
Yes it was, in a few ways. The album kind of starts still hung up on the person in question, goes in a few directions and off on a few tangents, but ultimately accepts the thing is over and has been for a while. It's not a concept album, but there is a thread there for sure. Also I am a fan of albums starting in a lively, engaging way and ending more somberly.
Who influences Ags Connolly? You have a great classic sound, so I have to assume many of the greats, but would love specifics.
When I was younger I was interested in singer-songwriters and songs. So my early influences were people like Loudon Wainwright III and Ron Sexsmith, and they're still there. My interest in songs never dimmed, but I realised it was simple stuff that I liked and that country was the home of that. I didn't know a lot about country so around 10-15 years ago I set about learning as much as I could. Yes, of course all the greats are influences and you can't ignore them if you want to write country songs. Specifically to me though, I consider David Allan Coe, Guy Clark, Roger Alan Wade and Dale Watson to be big influences on my music.
How long have you been at it? Do you have a day job, or is music paying the bills?
I played my first covers gig when I was 26, I think. I'm 35 now, so not that long in the grand scheme of things. I used to work in an office, which I hated. Among other problems, it just didn't give me the time to get out and play live as much as I felt I needed to. So about three years ago I went full time with music. Don't get me wrong, it's very tough but it keeps me on my toes. Working a day job can dampen that hunger a bit, but who knows, one day I may need to go back to that again. There are worse things.
Tell me a bit about the music scene across the pond. I know many of the independent country guys I follow do very successful tours over there, so the scene must be big.
It kind of depends. There is virtually no scene for traditional country music at all. I gig as much as possible, probably 75-80 gigs a year, but a lot of that entails fitting in wherever I can. There are quite a lot of Americana promoters, but Americana over here tends to be more on the folk or indie side than the country stuff. Plus US artists are generally more highly valued, which is why, as you say, many are able to tour successfully over here. There is a burgeoning country scene, but most of that is on the pop and rock side. There are two problems - one is that traditional country has never really been popular in England, so you're always struggling for an audience. People in Scotland and Ireland are much bigger fans of that stuff but that brings us to the second problem - the UK just isn't big enough to tour constantly with this genre of music. I love going to Scotland to play but I can't over do it or people won't come out. I'm grateful that a lot of the promoters and venues do have me though and I'd like to think I'm slowly but surely carving my own path.
When can we expect to see you in the US again? What’s on deck for 2018?
I toured the UK with Jeremy Pinnell last year and there is talk of us going on the road in the US in 2018 too, so watch this space. More generally this year I want to finish writing the third album and get plans in place for recording it. I like to keep things moving.
Personally, I have listened to this album at least once a week since I found it, and that says something with how much I try to mix things up. Only one other record in 2017 felt as well-done for traditional country music, and that was Zephani O'hara's album 'This Highway'. These two records really gave a lot of hope for this traditional country fan. Sure I like the outlaw realm, and I like the Texas scene, but it's no picnic trying to carve a living out of traditional country music and one can only hope that with guys like these two putting out solid traditional records, we can find a bit of a resurgence in the genre, allowing for them and many others to flourish.
I'd like to thank Ags for taking the time to talk with me and for putting together two fine records. I'd also like to wish him continued success and growth in the future, and I hope like hell to see one of those US tour stops come close enough to drive to.