Editors’ Notes “I've basically taken my charge from Nina Simone, who always said it was the artist's job to reference the time in which we live,” Bruce Hornsby tells Apple Music. “I just feel like I'm writing folk songs in my own way. Obviously, none of them sound like folk music, but folk music was always that sort of thing, someone telling a story about his life or what's going on in the world. This is my more modern idea of what that can be.” By “this,” Hornsby means Non-Secure Connection, the 65-year-old Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s second full-length in two years, a “wilder” follow-up to 2019’s already adventurous Absolute Zero. Influenced by his recent work scoring film and television for director Spike Lee, it’s a naturally cinematic blend of pop, jazz, prog rock, and avant-garde classical music, set to tales of hackers, drones, racial inequality, and the death of mall culture. Much of it was originally written with the screen in mind. “The process for these last two records has led me to writing a different type of song,” he says. “It's not just a chord, and another chord two bars later, and then another chord. It's much more free-flowing and, frankly, very abstract. I'm writing for a picture, so trying to portray a feeling. The feeling will inform where the song needs to go lyrically.” Here, Hornsby takes us along for the ride, track by track.

Cleopatra Drones
“‘Cleopatra Drones’ is a rumination on the positive and negative aspects of the drone situation that has emerged in the last several years, with a little apocalyptic, biblical prophecy language in there just for contemplation and conversation. The feeling of the music has a sweeping, drone-like quality, or at least that's the attempt. I wanted it to feel a little mystical. When I wrote the cue, right away I knew it needed to be a song. It was a very simple thing: I'm just playing this repeated pattern on the piano as the string drone drones on. Both [2019’s] 'Absolute Zero' and 'Cleopatra Drones' start off with a string section playing a one-note drone—I’ve always loved that type of thing, like Thomas Newman’s work on [1999’s] American Beauty. I just feel like it has this ineffable, intangible quality that just draws one in.”

Time, The Thief
“I might call it an atheist hymn. It’s hymn-like but very stark, and not standard hymn, blocky-block piano chords playing. It's way spacier than all of that. The spacey-ness of it led me into the science world, and I was reading this book about the physics of time [Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time], so I'd say it became a song about the physics of time and displacement. That’s one of those totally written to a cue, because it's a fairly abstract piece of music. It's been very difficult for me to learn, because it's really not normal. But I think I've finally got it.”

Non-Secure Connection
“I get Wired magazine. There was an amazing article about a hacking of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics that was discovered just hours before the opening ceremony, and it was going to shut down the entire Olympics. And these guys miraculously, just before the ceremony started, were able to figure out and thwart the attempt to completely ruin the Games. And then they did their due diligence afterwards to try to find out who did this. It was an amazing article, a real window into the hacking world and the world of people trying to stop these nefarious missions that some hackers may be on. I had a real interest in writing about that, and I had this piece of music, and I thought with the lyrical idea it would make a good marriage. That’s it: Wired magazine and a She's Gotta Have It Spike Lee cue.”

The Rat King (feat. Rob Moose)
“It’s not a requiem for the salesman specifically, but for malls and mall culture. The internet that kills businesses like the newspaper business and the record business is killing retail. It’s a song sung by a person who works at a store and is a high achiever, and they're feting him, celebrating him with some award. But he's obviously a guy who is dissatisfied with where he is. ‘This is what I do best, but I'll do better,’ as the song says. I want it to be an empathetic view of this guy. He's not a jerk, not an asshole. Not pompous or with a big ego—he’s just a guy, doing his job and doing it well. To me, it serves as a personal tale but also serves as a requiem for a certain area of American life and life around the world that is going away. We're probably going to lose these things. I don't know if anybody cares, but it is a fact.”

My Resolve
“I wrote this song inspired by a conversation I was having with my older brother who's a big music fan, loves the old ’60s and ’70s music he grew up on. We were talking about the great old Stephen Stills band Manassas, and the first record they made [1972’s Manassas], this double record that was just really, truly great. Maybe the most famous song on the record is a song called ‘The Treasure.’ It was this epic, sweeping piece, and our discussion made me go back and listen to it, and I decided I want to write a piece that gives me the same feeling. I guess you could say it’s the least abstract song on the record. It's a Sisyphean tale of the creative life, of the ups and downs. I wanted an angular melodic line in it, and I was inspired by a Shins record that I liked. So I wrote the song, and I thought, ‘This sounds like something on which I'd like to sing a duet, and there's a Shins-esque area in this song.’ I've never met this guy but I'm a huge fan, so I reached out to [Shins frontman] James Mercer, through the channels, manager to manager, and he got back and said, ‘Yes, please send me the song.’ Long story short, he liked the song, and we sent him the track and he sang beautifully on it. Now we're friends. So friendships can happen through music, and here's a perfect example of it. It's one of the songs on that record that I'm the most proud of.”

Bright Star Cast (feat. Jamila Woods and Vernon Reid
“It's an attempt at a civil rights anthem. I've tried several times in my career, or I've written several songs over the years inspired by the problem of race in America. This is yet another attempt. The track was for a Spike movie called [2014’s] Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. That's why Vernon Reid is on it, the great guitarist from the band Living Colour. Spike said, ‘Hey, let's call Vernon,’ when we were recording for the film. So we got him on there, and we used him again. I called him up and said, ‘Hey, Vernon, you remember when you did that? Well, it's now on the next record of mine.’ He enjoyed that, and we had a great visit. I wanted to do a duet here too, so a friend of ours, Eric Deines at Jagjaguwar, hooked us up with one of their artists, Jamila Woods from Chicago, a poet/singer-songwriter. She emailed me and said, ‘My dad was playing me Bruce Hornsby records when I was young, and I'm in.’”

Shit’s Crazy Out Here
“It comes from real life. My son Keith is a very strong basketball player. He's a pro now, entering his fifth pro year. He was the starting two guard at LSU in college, so he went through the Darwinian world of summer AAU basketball. And it truly is that—survival of the fittest to the max. I wrote the song about the AAU scene, coming from a very specific time when one of his teammates yelled over to him, ‘Keith, shit's crazy out here!’ after he had just been yanked for making a turnover. Certain players have a short leash in that world, and that makes it very stressful for them. But I also try not to make my songs so literal that they can't be thought of as having other meanings, so to me this song is also a bit of a metaphor for our crazy world now, and the dysphoria and anxiety with which we live. Musically, it's great fun for me. I'm always trying to execute unlikely musical marriages and meanings. I describe ‘Shit's Crazy Out Here’ as Arnold Schoenberg and Elliott Carter meet The Beatles at the Boo Williams Sportsplex, which is a famous basketball venue in our area.”

Anything Can Happen (feat. Leon Russell)
“I didn't write the lyrics—Leon Russell, one of my heroes, did. We wrote this song together in the early ’90s and it was the title cut from the record that we made [1992’s Anything Can Happen] that I helped him produce for Virgin Records. It started when he asked me to write a Barry White track for him, so the music here is my version of Barry White, with those nice jazzy chords. He had written the words and he asked me to select some for him out of this lyric notebook. I selected this one and he sang it, and his performance was amazing. In the end, I thought it was the best song on the record, and I've always wanted to recut it. I finally got around to doing that here, complete with electric sitar styling. Leon’s voice from the original rough mix that I have is wired in a very low level in the first part of the song. And then he emerges, comes into the light, and he sings with me and we're singing in harmony together. It’s an homage to a guy that—along with Elton John—inspired me to get into playing the piano.”

Porn Hour
“My friend Chip deMatteo and I were writing the song for our ill-fated play SCKBSTD [pronounced ‘sick bastard’]. And maybe the title just ruined us right at the beginning—it was too weird for the people, for our partners. So we kept the song for ourselves, and we've been playing it for the last two or three years in orchestral concerts that I do, because it works great as an orchestral song. It was inspired by a newspaper article I read about unlikely innovators in the early days of the internet, those unlikely innovators being the porn industry. I thought, since we're writing a song a little bit about the birds and the bees, I would use some of the modern classical language that I've been dealing in, in my piano play. This song features the language of Olivier Messiaen's musique des oiseaux. Messiaen is a famous French avant-garde composer who was famous for going out in the forest and fields of France to score and transcribe birdsong, chant des oiseaux. He had perfect pitch and he could write it all down, then he would go back to his music studio and compose. I call it Messiaen meets Diggler.”

No Limits
“This is coming from another area of modern classical music, the [Steve] Reichian minimalist piano. I guess you could say it's a pop song—sometimes it reminds me a little bit of The Police, and that's good. It's a song about the neurological aspects of the elusive, fleetingly euphoric nature of creativity. I wrote it about writing another song, about the feeling of having written another song: the title song of my last record, Absolute Zero. That was the first song I wrote to a Spike cue. As I was writing it, it kept giving me chills. And I thought, ‘Oh man, there's something really special about this piece and this feeling.’ I decided to write a song about that. Because it really is elusive. You wish you could bottle it, but you can't. ‘I feel no limits, but I know it won't last. I'll kiss the moment and watch it run away so fast.’ The chorus of the song kind of says it all.”

SONG
Cleopatra Drones
1
3:54
 
Time, The Thief
2
3:09
 
Non-Secure Connection
3
4:32
 
The Rat King (feat. Rob Moose)
4
2:32
 
My Resolve
5
5:25
 
Bright Star Cast (feat. Jamila Woods & Vernon Reid)
6
3:16
 
Shit's Crazy out Here
7
5:14
 
Anything Can Happen (feat. Leon Russell)
8
3:44
 
Porn Hour
9
4:39
 
No Limits
10
3:34
 

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