"A friend of mine wanted to live vicariously through me and it was my birthday and she said, 'Y'know, you should just buy yourself a grand piano,'" Connolly, whose father played piano, tells Billboard. "I'm like 'What are you talking about? I don't even know how to play piano!' So I don't know why but I was like, 'Alright...'" Connolly found an instrument on Craigslist and the results were instantaneous.
"I got this beautiful piano and I put it in my house and just started playing and writing songs like I'd never written songs before," Connolly recalls. "And the songs were so different and the lyrics were so different. It came from a place of complete freedom. It didn't come from a place of, 'Where's music at right now? What's rock doing?' It was just me sitting at a piano and playing chords and notes and then all of a sudden I come up with one song idea after another. To me this is the most exciting writing process and funnest record I've ever done."
The new sound did, of course, set off some early alarm bells -- though, Connolly notes, no opposition from any quarters. "I told our management and label (Atlantic) this wasn't a conscious thing," Connolly says. "I wasn't like, 'I'm sick of rock. I want to change.' It was the opposite. It wasn't a conscious thing. It was just me finding a place of freedom or happiness maybe. Something was happening that was great, in my opinion."
Wake Up Call also features some slightly more serious lyrics than Connolly has been prone to write before -- "Rx" being a prime example. The song deals with prescription drug addiction, and Connolly is confident it's an eerily appropriate song for the times.
"I really wanted to discuss how messed up America is with this prescription drug thing," he explains. "When I got divorced, I went and saw a therapist and the first thing she said was, 'I want to put you on some Beta blockers or some sort of anti-depressant stuff' and I'm like, 'No! No Way! What? How is that the first thing you want to do?' I just feel like something's wrong and I felt like the song needed to be written and people needed to hear it. It seems like every week something terrible is happening. I mean, Chris Cornell...and when we shot the video for it all these directors we talked to were like, 'Oh yeah, I had a huge prescription drug problem, so this hits home' and all that stuff. So it's a really important song and I'm so happy we get to release it first."
Preorders for Wake Up Call begin Friday (July 28). As it gears up for Wake Up Call's release, Theory is working up live arrangements of the new songs. The group has a half-dozen dates during July and August, with a full-scale tour slated to start Sept. 29 in Minneapolis, with dates booked into mid-November. By then more of Wake Up Call's songs will be out, and Connolly is bracing for some potential polarized reaction -- though obviously hoping it's minimal.
"I guess I'm a little worried about it 'cause I want our fans to love our stuff, obviously," he says. "I'm a fan of music. I remember listening to Pearl Jam or STP and they slowly became kind of lighter and I was like, 'Man, can't they write a record like Core? STP Core was so heavy and awesome!' But I still love that band, so...I'm not too worried, but I don't know. We'll see what happens."