Most songwriters I have come across know Niall Connolly and it's no surprise. He's been leading the Big City Folk Club for nearly 10 years, it's a song circle known for its excellent quality of musicianship and camaraderie. He's a dedicated and tireless member of the NYC music scene striving to create a community where musicians can bring their songs and open them up for other songwriters to hear and offer feedback. I asked him why he's been doing it all these years (after all, it's not an easy feat to organize these biweekly events especially when venues change and the sign up has to be done in advance), and he said that back in Cork (where he's from), you would go to parties and a guitar would be passed around, giving each person a chance to play a tune. There, the culture of music and an appreciation for sharing that music with others, created a community and an audience of friends and fellow musicians. When he moved to New York eleven years ago, he missed that community and wanted to build one here. And so he did, to great thanks from the musicians of this city!
Niall's creative space is his home, an apartment in Park Slope that he shares with his wife, Clare, an art teacher. It's a vast railroad style apartment that stretches the span of the building, with windows on both sides and high prewar ceilings. His writing spot is the desk in his bedroom. A corner where he sits down with a cup of coffee and a guitar in hand and works on his craft.
When I asked Niall about where his inspiration comes from, he said he used to write a lot from personal experiences but now, his creative process has changed. He's on the road a lot, touring by himself, and he finds the road gives him a lot of opportunities to listen. When he's traveling, he has the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories. This is where he derives his inspiration from nowadays.
I am always curious about the types of stories a musician is most drawn to telling. As artists, songwriters, photographers, we all strive to tell human stories that make us feel - whether it's joy or sadness or an empathy for the human condition. Sometimes it seems like the darkness in humanity is the most powerful story to tell because its full of raw emotions. One of the beautiful things about Niall's music, is that despite the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. A search for the belief that human beings can be better than their circumstances. Those are the stories that Niall tells so masterfully. In his songs, there is a message of urgency, to turn life around, to make it better because that is what the human condition demands of us. To keep going despite and in spite of it all.
Niall has this incredible line in one of his older songs which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it: "We are just skin and bones without love." And damn, what greater truth can be said?
Niall is releasing a new album this Friday called "DreamYour Way Out of This One" and has just begun his tour around Ireland. I hope he finds more beautiful tales on the road...