- Posted on May 4th 2011 5:00PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Arts & Crafts
The loquacious vocalist (who readily chatters away about everything from pop to politics) has been on a creative roll, quietly putting out 'Cold Hands, Warm Hearts' -- his first collection of solo material earlier this year under the Dead Child Star handle -- before 'Here Comes a City,' the third full-length from Memphis (Campbell's side project with longtime friend and collaborator Chris Dumont) came out last month.
While both records showcase Campbell's swoony vocals and the kind of shimmering melodies that wouldn't be out of place on a Stars album, each bears its own distinctive hallmarks -- the Dead Child Star release, a compilation of Campbell's own songs written over the past several years, is a gentle, stripped-down affair, while the Memphis album evokes a grander, more cinematic feel.
But, as Campbell is quick to point out, all his music shares the same DNA: friendship.
"What I get out of [each project] is as individual as what we get out of friendships, right? You get something different from each of your friends," he tells Spinner.
"Memphis is all about my relationship with Chris -- what I get from it, musically speaking, is a songwriting partnership, which is a different dynamic than trying to write a song with a band.
When I'm with Stars, I'm writing in the context of a band that many people have heard of, and they own our records and have a relationship with those records. We've chosen a certain approach to music, and a certain aesthetic, and we're having a conversation with people through the music -- especially with people who have been listening to our music for a long, long time.
"But with Dead Child Star and Memphis, it's still much more like I'm putting it out into the ether -- and I doubt very much anybody will ever hear it," he quips wryly.
"Stars for me has been a place where I can be very outgoing as both a person and a musician, but that's not actually the entirety of how I approach life. A lot of what music has done for me has allowed me to be private -- it's allowed me to sit in my bedroom or in a park and try to be alone in the world. And I think the lyrics written for DCS and Memphis come more from that place than the ones in Stars do, where I'm just another voice in the band and I'm fighting for it. So it's two different lives, in a way -- the many facets, the many shades..."
Campbell and Dumont's partnership as Memphis in fact pre-dates Stars' genesis -- the pair met at theater school in New York in the early '90s and quickly bonded over their shared musical influences.
"He walked up to me after the first day of theater school on the street and said to me, 'Hey, excuse me, we didn't meet, but my name's Chris, and I think you're a great actor.' So I immediately liked him," Campbell laughs. "We'd both grown up in the late-'80s college rock world of REM and the Pixies and the Smiths and stuff like that, so we just had a ton in common musically.
"Me and [Metric guitarist] Jimmy Shaw and [Stars keyboardist] Chris Seligman were living together in an apartment in New York, and that's when we first started to write and play music," Campbell reminisces.
"We started a band, and Chris [Dumont] played guitar in it -- so he was one of those people who was there from the beginning of my life as a musician. We always wrote songs together, and it was a way of just keeping our love alive, you know? And he went on to work at the Metropolitan Opera for many years as an actor on stage, and he's been a New Yorker ever since. So Memphis served as a way for us to reunite in the summertime in Vancouver and hang out, and have a good time together."
Despite the distance, the duo managed to sketch out rough ideas for the songs on 'Here Comes a City' (named after a song by veteran Aussie band the Go-Betweens) over the course of the past two years before reconnecting in Vancouver (where Campbell now lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter) last summer for a ten-day recording session.
The result is a collection of wistful pop gems with a slightly retro, Brit-inflected edge that remains in the same vein as Memphis' earlier albums while adding new elements to the mix. Campbell continues to mine the deep recesses of the human spirit, slyly concealing his knowing lyrics in Dumont's mesmeric guitar melodies so that the full impact of tunes like 'I Am the Photographer' (inspired by a documentary film about suicides at San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Bridge) takes some time to settle in.
Despite releasing three albums and one EP since 2002, Campbell and Dumont's project continues to fly just under the radar, something they hope will change with the influential Arts & Crafts label (formerly home to Stars) getting behind the new record.
"Memphis is a band that has had a bit of a tough break in the way that our records have been released, and have never really gotten the attention that I feel they deserve," Campbell says.
"But I feel like we're going to have an even shake this time. So that's a nice feeling, to know that people who are backing you up are going to do the best they possibly can. There are so many bands out there, so many records -- I'm not expecting to become a big rock star with this record or anything; I just really love the music, and I'm quite determined this time to devote the time I have to make sure as many people as possible hear Memphis. Because I think that if you like Stars, you'd probably like Memphis -- and there are a lot of Stars fans out there, so I'm trying to find 'em!
"I mean, I know we lack Amy -- and I understand that for 90 percent of people who listen to Stars, that is a crucial and devastating loss," Campbell continues, tongue-in-cheek. "But just close your eyes and imagine that Amy had a sex change and she's now me! I give the best Amy Millan impression I can -- I always do!"