Ohio’s underground torch carriers

Connections are playing 7:45 p.m. on the Porch Stage.

While Connections cut their teeth in a particularly unorthodox subsection of Ohio's underground rock scene, years of experience have yielded an accessible (yet far from tepid) sound for the Columbus-based quintet. This year, the hook-laden pop gems of Ohio's consummate songsmiths will be heard at the Nelsonville Music Festival.

Their set is 7:45 p.m. Friday on the Porch Stage. The full schedule is elsewhere in this issue.

Easily one of the state's most acclaimed acts, Connections' accolades are the result of mastery; they hold it as a high ideal. In today's world, where bands can so easily record and disseminate songs, proficiency is hard to find - especially in the often-dissident rock underground. But if you grew up when recording was a more momentous undertaking, crafting songs is often done with greater precision.

If you dig deep beneath the mire of Connections' somewhat nebulous recordings, you'll find a faithful process. A pronounced glimmer.

"Andy (Hampel) always presents his songs on acoustic," says lead singer Kevin Elliott. "We've got hours of stuff from the basement, accumulated since Connections began. The absolute best goes to the band, and a rigorous practice schedule makes them Connections songs. It's hard to keep up with Andy, he averages about a song a day, but trying to keep up is a good problem to have."

Andy and Kevin both grew up in Southwest Ohio - they've known each other for years. The pair first formed 84 Nash in 1994.

"When 84 Nash broke up, none of us really talked much afterwards," says Elliott. "I think we were all just tired of trying to keep a band together. We had run our course. Years later, Andy and I started hanging out again, and he had a burst of really catchy and creative songs. So on weekends we started recording them. We played one show as a duo - Gold Circle - and then recruited a band."

Remarkably, Hampel and Elliott were able to add three more musicians, yet effortlessly make Connections pop. In order to do so, the duo culled from Columbus' fertile music scene.

"I met Phil our bassist in the Rock Potluck here in Columbus - an event where they put musicians in new bands to play for one night. I asked my brother Adam to play drums since Times New Viking was over. We knew we needed another guitarist and eventually asked Dave, who played in the great El Jesus de Magico, which was a blessing. It was nice to have the first guy in the basement click. It was intuitive."

Connections have been rolling with this momentum ever since, and they don't look to be stopping soon. I had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Elliott about the past, present and future of Connections, the torch carriers for Ohio's storied underground music scene.

Leo: How has Ohio shaped you as a band?

Connections (Kevin Elliott): The mentors that we associate with in Columbus are unparalleled. We live in the same town as Ron House and Mike Rep. Neither of them has influenced our music that directly, but having them around among other creative people is a bonus of living here. Plus, these days, Columbus is becoming infinitely cooler than most places in the world.

What artists have had the biggest influence on your life?

As far as Connections are concerned, the songs are primarily based in pop hooks. If there's not a hook, we usually move on. So the stuff Andy and I have been listening to the last few years could be anything from Dwight Twilley to Anita Baker. We've both become really adept at finding great pop from '78-'84 that time forgot. I could list a ton, but don't want to spoil what we might want to reissue one day.

Who are you most excited to see at Nelsonville Music Festival?

Hopefully Miley Cyrus.

What does the future hold?

We just lost a drummer and added a new one. So NMF is the first show with our nameless new guy. There are a lot of new songs written for the follow-up, but we are taking some time this summer to make sure this next record is perfect.

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