Industrial Arts: Ryan Connelly of Hallelujah The Hills, Guillermo Sexo, and Alden & Harlow

February 24, 2014

Ryan Connelly
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Ryan Connelly is a familiar face from some of the best places in which we’ve been inebriated: he’s been a server at Eastern Standard and at Hungry Mother, mixed us some splendid vermouth cocktails and chatted about wine at Belly, and just now migrated to Harvard Square’s brand new (but already beloved) Alden & Harlow, where he’s serving and bartending.

He also plays drums in two Boston bands: Guillermo Sexo, purveyors of fine psychedelic shoegaze, and Hallelujah The Hills, who’ve just finished recording another album of punchy indie rock.

We caught up with him at Drink, pre-gaming for Opus Affair February.

Christine Fernsebner Eslao: What are you drinking?

Ryan Connelly: A Vieux Carré. It is my favorite cocktail, especially in colder weather.

CFE: Ironically, it comes from a very warm, humid place.

RC: It kind of does, yes.

Brayden C. Burroughs: Tell us about your bands.

RC: Both bands have been around since 2005, 2006, and I’ve been in each of them for a little over two years. The bands are vastly different projects, which is what I like about it. I started in Hallelujah The Hills in December of 2011, and Guillermo Sexo I’ve been in since May of 2011. My first band --

[Palmer Matthews of Drink appears and promptly hugs our interview subject]

Can I have a hug break?

CFE: We’ll record the hug break.

RC: This is actually an avant-garde recording. This is gonna be a hit single.

[All are eventually disentangled from Palmer’s embraces]

When I first started playing drums I was into a lot of metal, death metal, and hardcore.

CFE: So how did you end up in indie rock bands?

RC: That’s kind of where my heart’s always been.

BCB: If you were going to use a drink to describe your drumming style, what would it be?

RC: I might compare it to the cocktail that’s in front of me. It feels like home. It’s a classic. It’s more complex than your standard martini or Manhattan. It uses some of the same ingredients as a Manhattan but there’s something kind of edgy and different about it.

I think my style is rooted in music that’s already been well established. I started playing -- when I was really starting to play -- I was playing pop-punk records. Green Day’s Dookie was the first record I put into my stereo when I got my drum set and, like, wanted to play along with it. My dad brought me up on classic rock: a lot of the Who, the Doors, things like that. But I want to keep pushing the boundaries [and hearing] things that I’m not already comfortable with.

Knowing what’s been done, where it’s all coming from, but also being open to where it’s going, and hopefully being a part of that. And changing it.

CFE: Are there skills you’ve learned from bartending that have benefited you in your career as a performer, or vice versa?

RC: It has taken years to overcome, but I'd say a catalyst for controlling my stage fright and general social anxiety has been working in the restaurant setting where social skills are imperative and there's nowhere to hide. As a shy person you're constantly building courage to approach your table or entertain conversation with your guests, and after a while that confidence just lives there and becomes natural. It's easier to just be yourself and have genuine interactions.

My nervous tic is watery eyes and the shakes, so any time I'd speak in front of a group or be performing in band, my debilitating anxiety would trigger these symptoms and people would ask me, ‘Are you crying? Are you okay?’ To which I would turn red in absolute humiliation, setting off another cycle of waterworks and tremors. My parents had a very apt name for this situation: Ryan's all “blink-blink.”

Part of it is exercising self-confidence, and another is channeling adrenaline into creative inspiration. Seasoned performers, regardless of medium have a finer-tuned relationship with their audiences. They can feel what's working and what's not, and learn to adjust accordingly. The audience are like your guests in the restaurant, and establishing sensitivity to their needs and feelings is the key to creating the greatest possible experience for them, which I believe is the highest goal of both the performing arts and hospitality industries.

BCB: How do you feel about the tension between “technique” and “feel” in music, or in bartending?

RC: I was always that annoying kid in kindergarten, tapping on the desk, annoying the teachers. It wasn’t until I was going into the fourth that I was like, let me find an outlet for this, and I joined the concert band. That was when I was first confronted by: is this something I can just do, or do I need to learn a skill set around this? I never really had an attention span for the technical aspect of it… That’s kind of how I approach bartending, too. It has to feel natural. There are lots of rule books, there’s structure, and instruction, leading you along the way, [but] ultimately it comes down to something within you.

[Creating and performing is] a cathartic process, bringing your mind into another space.

In bartending, especially, you have your hand on creation itself, you look for inspiration in your experience, you let the ideas come to you. It’s like stepping up to a canvas, in a lot of ways. It’s about being honest and true to yourself and allowing yourself to let something happen and not worry too much about the consequences of it. It’s a creative endeavor.

CFE: How do you balance your careers in music and in hospitality?

RC: Being completely transparent. Constant coordination – Google calendar is my best friend, Doodle is pretty darn good. No one likes surprises.

You have to take an inordinate amount of care when it comes to planning and scheduling. I’ve gotten it down to a science. Thankfully, everyone’s very supportive. They’re all on my side. Any employer I’ve had, regardless of restaurant, has been like, yes, we want you to follow your dream and become famous.

CFE: Do you have any events coming up that we should look out for?

RC: My next immediate gig is for people who enjoy house parties. Hallelujah The Hills is playing a show at a space in Allston called the Womb.

CFE: The Womb?

RC: The Womb.

CFE: That in which a child gestates?

RC: Yes, exactly. That’s with another band from Boston called Vundabar, who are great. February 28th, Friday night. I will choose not to give the actual address of that show and let you do a little research yourself. I don’t want to blow the party before it’s even started.

May 3rd at the Middle East Downstairs, [Guillermo Sexo is] opening for a psych band from Texas called Blackstone Rangers. I love playing the Middle East Downstairs; it’s one of my favorite venues. The kick drum sounds like just a beast up there.


 

Industrial Arts is where we talk to some of our favorite Boston bartenders, servers, and other hospitality professionals about their involvement in the non-culinary, non-mixological arts.

Featured photo by Tom Gilmore.

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