Harry Connick Jr. talks new album Alone With My Faith: ‘I didn’t expect it to be this emotional’

If you ask five Harry Connick Jr. fans why they love him, you may get five different answers. Broadway, television, movies, hosting. But at the heart of it all, Harry Connick Jr. is a musician who’s sold 30 million records and earned three Grammy Awards.

Now, Connick has just released an incredibly personal new album called Alone With My Faith. As the title implies, the recording reflects on how faith can be both individual and universal — something that brings us together. Comprising both traditional and original material, Alone With My Faith is also a musical tour de force for Connick, who played everything you hear on the album and recorded it himself in his home studio.

“With no tour dates in sight, and with everyone’s realities upended and futures uncertain, recording was what was necessary for me to help guide me through the uncharted odyssey in which we all unexpectedly found ourselves,” Connick said. “I was able to go deep within myself as a musician and a man, uninterrupted by the normalcies of collaboration or human interaction. It was a sort of musical isolation chamber, a silent retreat, the silence only broken by the sound of my own voice, the instruments I played, and the occasional microphone I inadvertently knocked over, as I’m not the most graceful recording engineer that ever lived.”

Connick joined us over the phone to tell us more about the intensely personal and emotional process of making his latest record.

Was the idea for this album completely born out of lockdown, or had you previously thought about doing a record like this?

I think it’s because of the lockdown. I’ve recorded songs on other albums where I’ve done 30 background vocal parts or played all the instruments. That’s really nothing new. And the idea of wanting to do a gospel album is not new, either. But what’s new is that the whole album was done by myself, and it also turned into something more than singing a bunch of spirituals that are celebratory, feel-good songs. It turned into an album that’s about faith, and a lot of the songs describe the ups and downs not only of what I was going through, but what I figured everybody else was going through. I feel like we have this shared experience now. I’ve never really done an album like this before.

Did it take shape as you were making it?

Yes. That’s a really interesting question, because if I’m recording with an orchestra or a big band or even a small group, you kind of know what you’re going to play when you’re going on. I write out all the arrangements and do all the conducting, so I know what songs are going to be [on it] and I know in my head what they’re going to sound like. This was totally different because I’d sit down and play [a song] on the piano and go wait, this needs to start with something else and needs these different instruments. It took about eight months, but I recorded all of them track by track and I ended up with this album.

How did you find that rhythm? Were you getting up and going to work every day, or were you waiting for inspiration to come? Did you have an engineer on a Zoom call?

I didn’t have an engineer on Zoom, but I probably wish I did because I’m not the best recording engineer in the world. I remember when it came time to mix the album, I drove down from Connecticut to New Orleans to my buddy Tracey [Freeman]’s house and I said look, you’re the mixing genius. He’d say things like, “Do you have a power problem at your house? I’m hearing all this weird hum.” I didn’t know what he was talking about because I didn’t hear it. So, I definitely could’ve used a recording engineer. But in terms of how I did it, I would get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and come sit down here… Some days were three hours and some days were 20 hours.

On a tune like Old Time Religion, this is what you did: You played piano, guitar, bass, trumpet, tenor, alto, sousaphone, tambourine and drums. At some point Harry, aren’t we just showing off a little here?

Wow. If I had a sousaphone that lived in my house, I would’ve used him or her! What I wanted to do with that… If y’all have ever been to Mardi Gras, you know when the parade comes down the street, I wanted it to sound like a brass band. Sometimes during Mardi Gras the parade will stop in front of you on the street — maybe the marching band had an accident or the float broke down — and there will be a band on a float in front of your for like 20 minutes. When you listen to Old Time Religion, the band comes from the left, and then you hear this other band playing for a bunch of choruses, and then they continue on down the street and you hear it fade off to the right. That was something really fun that I wanted to do.

I’m a bass guy, and you’ve got a G&L, an Alembic five-string and a Fender Precision. You’ve got a pretty well-stacked bass library at your home. It’s very impressive.

Over the years, I’ve collected instruments. If I see something that I really like and that I’d like to put in my collection, I’ll get it. That’s really fun for me. I do that all over the world. I’ve got tons of unusual things from Africa and Asia. It’s really fun. So when it comes time to lay a bass track down, like on Alone With My Faith, there’s a low C at the end, I had to pull the Alembic out for that.

Were there any unexpected outcomes of the process?

I didn’t expect it to be this emotional. Normally, you can put yourself in a particular context of performing when you’re interpreting a lyric. It may really rock your world and you can get to a certain place, but so many times during this album, I was moved to tears. If you can picture what it was like, I’m in a room literally by myself, and I would just have to stop and sit down and cry for a while. Sometimes those tears were because I was moved musically. Sometimes I just felt frustrated and saddened by what I was going through personally and thinking about what other people were going through. I guess because there was nobody else there. I’m a pretty emotional person — I’ll tell you I love you and give you a big hug — but I normally don’t sob in front of people. And I did a lot of that. I was really moved. The music itself was really helping me get through this process. That was the first time there was no reason for me not to just be as emotional as I needed to be. There was no one else in the room.

In the other albums you’ve made, you may have felt moments like that but wouldn’t have allowed yourself that moment?

It’s not that I felt it and wouldn’t allow it. If I felt really sad, I may well up a little bit. But this was like something else was happening. The only thing I can say is if you’re talking to somebody, let’s say an expert on rocket science, and they tell you a fact, and they say, “This is the truth,” and I don’t know anything about rocket science, I need to believe it’s true considering the source. I can’t really argue with that. When it comes to faith, it’s a very similar feeling. I can’t really explain it myself sometimes, but I can’t deny it’s there. What else is doing that? What else is moving me to record these songs? That’s part of what my faith does for me. I guess because I was alone, I was more uninhibited — plus, the context of what I was singing was heavy stuff, you know.

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Your daughter was also involved in the post-production. There’s a video for Amazing Grace and your daughter Georgia got involved. How special was that?

It was amazing. All of our daughters are pretty artistic kids. Georgia is 24 and she’s a photographer, director and editor. She did the album cover, and when it came time to do the video, I said, “Look, here you go. I’ve always told you to be prepared for opportunity, so here you go. Good luck.” And she killed it. We did a second video for Alone With My Faith, and she directed, shot and edited that and did an amazing job. I couldn’t be more proud.

Any creative differences on set?

Sometimes, but I welcome that. I’m a big fan of the best idea wins, and she is too. She’s grown up around me and she knows that art at times can be highly collaborative. If you can tell me that your idea is better than mine and show me why, then let’s do it. I might have a vision for something and she’ll say, “Dad, I like that, but try this.” And that’s better. We work really well together.

It’s been an incredible year in the rearview mirror. Where are you on the hopeful scale?

Oh, I’ve been 10 out of 10 on the hopeful scale since this thing started. It’s just that sometimes what you hope for doesn’t work out. But I’m feeling a lot more positive than I was a year ago. I’ve had some tough blows this past year with people I’ve known and loved who have died and been affected by this terrible disease. But I’m feeling like the light is at the end of the tunnel and we can see it. We just keep ploughing ahead. All of my prayers go to the people working so hard to get us through it. I think about them way before I think about myself and my needs. I’m just so blessed to live in a world where people dedicate their lives to making sure our trash gets picked up and our hospitals get cleaned and our kids get taught in school. I feel hopeful, and I’m looking forward to getting back to normal.

This interview has been edited and condensed.