Jeff Campbell, this year's winner of Guitar Center's Singer Songwriter Artist Discovery Program has a lot to be grateful for. In addition to a fat check, loads of cool gear, and the opportunity to work with one of the industries most prolific musicians, six times Grammy nominee and Grammy producer of the year, John Shanks, he was handed the opportunity of a lifetime-exposure. Exposure to thousands of fans who otherwise may not have been fortunate enough to grab a hold of the indelible talent this man possess for music making.
Jeff Campbell grew up in a proverbial "small town" setting just outside of Philadelphia where hard work, and even harder life lessons were the norm. At fifteen, thanks to Mom's old acoustic, he started writing his own songs and hit the local scene, peddling his brand of music to coffeehouses all around. The next several years would find Campbell tinkering about with music in various bands while trying to make his mark in the "real world."
Campbell worked diligently at his day job in investments, an industry that would eventually pull him to California. Promotion in hand, he packed his bags and headed west. After putting ten years in the investment industry and playing music on the side, where he was quickly carving a place at the head of the table for himself, he came to the realization he had to make a choice. Deep in the pit of his soul lingered the realization that he was meant for something other than crunching numbers. Campbell quit the investments scene and focused solely on his music career.
It was to be the wisest decision of his life.
Once Campbell dedicated himself solely to his music, things started to happen for him. Opportunities came up that never would have crossed his mind, let alone his daily agenda. And we are so much the better for it.
Campbell brings a raw integrity to the singer-songwriter style, an honest approach to lyricism and writing that leaves one feeling like they've witnessed the baring of a naked soul. Campbell's themes and lyricism are deeply personal, reflective of his long love affair with life and music, and detailing the letdowns and pleasures that come along with them. His intensity not only won over fans in his various roles as a solo artist and band member, but also caught the ear of John Shanks, who ultimately selected him as the winner of Guitar Center's contest.
Campbell's future in music promises to be a strong one, with no threat of being lost in the crowd. He stands apart from the blend of voices clamoring discordantly to be heard, his smooth yet edgy timber commanding attention as he sucks you in with his poetic lyrical style.
antiMusic caught up with the now very busy Campbell in between his heavy touring schedule for a chat.
antiMusic: Talk about coming up in Philly.
Jeff: Philly was an awesome city to grow up in. Great people, great culture. In the 80s we had Hall and Oates and the hooters alongside George Thorogood but we also had a rich R&B scene that grew into one of the most important hip hop breeding grounds in the east. Bel Biv Devoe, Boyz 2 Men, The Roots and lots of soul. It all influenced me as I was immersing myself in the 90s rock coming from Seattle and the Midwest and my parents kept me in zeppelin, the Beatles and all the stuff that came from the 60s and 70s. It was a great time to grow up and there was no escape from tons of music. My amazing parents and older friends made sure of that.
antiMusic: Philly has a strong local music scene and has for years. Where did you hang out?
Jeff: The point in Ardmore had a great up and coming singer-songwriter scene and places like the Khyber and the Grape Street Pub in Philly are where I learned how to rock.
antiMusic: When did you start writing songs?
Jeff: I was around 12 when I wrote my first batch of tunes. Found my mom's old acoustic in the closet. Started hitting coffeehouses to sing them at 15 and played drums in a few bands in between.
antiMusic: Who were your inspirations?
Jeff: All the stuff mentioned above. I also went thru a huge Jeff Buckley phase in the late 90s. I can honestly say that my friends in bands like Pilot Round The Sun and Jealousy Curve were my biggest influences. They showed me what to do first hand.
antiMusic: What venues gave you your start?
Jeff: The ones above along with Rex's and Spence Cafe in West Chester, Pa.
antiMusic: Do you think the attitude of Philly plays into your music at all?
Jeff: Hell yes. Philadelphians are very emotional people. We run hot in lots of ways - happy, sad, serious, goofy, love, etc. We do it all to the extreme.
antiMusic: How did growing up in Philly affect your music?
Jeff: See prev question. That and the overall musical fellowship of the area.
antiMusic: What was the music scene like growing up?
Jeff: Supportive. Raw. Awesome.
antiMusic: Who were you listening to?
Jeff: Oh boy:
Alice in chains
Sunny day real estate
Tribe called quest
Wu tang clan
Stone temple pilots
Nine inch nails
I could go on forever
antiMusic: Who were you impressed by?
Jeff: All of them. I ate it up like I couldn't live without it. But again, some of the bands made up of good friends were my biggest influences
antiMusic: What local musicians caught your eye at the time?
Jeff: Pilot Round The Sun
antiMusic: Describe the day you decided to move to California to pursue your music ambitions?
Jeff: I moved to San Francisco. It was a tough day. And once the call was made, the actual move came quickly.
antiMusic: What pushed you to leave Philly??
Jeff: The catalyst was a job promotion at a company I'd been with for a few years. But I knew in my heart why I was really going. The job didn't last more than a few years. Once I started to stitch into the San Francisco music scene, it wasn't long before I had to pick between it and the day job.
antiMusic: So you move to Ca and take on a day job while trying to get your music together. What kind of job were you working and what were the conflicts that led to your eventual dropping of said job and to focus solely on your craft?
Jeff: The job I had was a wonderful opportunity but so much so that it required more of my attention than I was willing to give it once I started gigging and growing in the scene. The job was one that needed and deserved a full commitment. I was committed elsewhere.
antiMusic: Talk about the music scene in San Francisco and how different it is from the east coast?
Jeff: It's a bit more geared toward singer-songwriters and less toward bands, which is what I was used to. I think the fact that I showed up and immediately started a band (pine and battery) helped me stand out a bit.
antiMusic: What was the hardest learning curve for you?
Jeff: Once my solo career started taking over, I had to learn how to work with session musicians and "hired guns" instead of bandmates who were more mutually interested in the cause and end goals.
antiMusic: You've "shared the stage" with members of the Counting Crows, Phil Lesh, and even opened for Train. Talk about how these opportunities came about?
Jeff: Phil Lesh came about from a hard working and insanely talented bass player/multi instrumentalist named Jeff Symonds. In addition to being a pillar in our scene, he was a high school teacher and Phil's son was one of his students. Leaving no opportunity unexplored, he asked Phil to be part of an allstar band for a benefit show and a ton of my singer-songwriter friends and I all took turns singing lead on a live reproduction of a Bob Dylan album with Phil on bass throughout.
The Crows guys came to us via Megan Slankard, one of the hardest working members of our crew. Her brilliance attracted them (they're local guys), and as she started to work with them, she shared us all with them.
The train thing, arguably the most amazing opportunity I've gotten up til the Guitar Center thing, came about because their second guitarist/keyboardist, Jerry Becker, a good friend of Jeff Symonds' and us all. The band was looking for local openers for the 6 kickoff shows they did in SF for their Ca 37 tour and Jerry recommended a few of us. Amazing shot. Great guys.
antiMusic: Was the path a clear path you're on or did it kind of unfold on its own and take you along for the ride?
Jeff: Took me for a ride. An awesome one, but bumpy at times. I've always been a musician and have always dreamed of a successful career in the business. But the life I'm living now is very different from where I thought I would be in my early 30s. If you asked me when I was a kid, I'd have told you I would have a few kids by now. Most of my friends growing up all do and it's tough at times to put all that aside in favor of chasing my dreams. Granted, I wouldn't change what I have for anything but I do have to remind my subconscious at times why I'm doing what I'm doing every day.
antiMusic: You entered in guitar center's singer songwriter discovery artist discovery program and won. Talk about this for us?
Jeff: Oh man. It's all so amazing. I saw a Youtube video of Dallas Green, the frontman of City and Colour, a band from Canada I was geeking out on a year or so ago playing acoustically in a guitar center store. I talked with my manager Allie about how to make that happen and she showed me the contest entry page that would ultimately make that and many other amazing things happen for the winner. We entered.
antiMusic: what did you have to do? What was the process from start to finish?
Jeff: We set up a profile on the contest page and asked fans to help us stand out via support, which helped us rise to the top. They flew the other 9 finalists and I to L.A. for an amazing and educational week and we all played one song at hotel cafe at the end for john shanks and he picked me as the winner. It was/is such an honor.
antiMusic: Were you ever in doubt you would win, or did you think someone else had it in the bag?
Jeff: The other finalists were all so amazing. It could've been any of us.
antiMusic: You put out your first solo acoustic album, Stop and Go. Talk a little bit about this album.
Jeff: It started as me just wanting to get some old acoustic demos out there for pine and battery fans to hear. They were all songs that the band agreed weren't band material (save for a few that I had written for the band and wanted to reproduce acoustically. It quickly snowballed into Charlie Wilson (the producer) and I making a full fledged album and dragging like 13 of our friends along with us. I didn't sing one backup vocal on the album, every song has a different set of backing players and it was my first foray into co writing, 3 of the songs being collaborative efforts.
antiMusic: What were the themes on the album?
Jeff: Moving on, getting old, political and social observations, overthinking, making and learning from mistakes...the whole album is very personal.
antiMusic: What were the differences in this body of work than from your previous efforts?
Jeff: This one was more acoustic based and was much more lyrically and vocally forward.
antiMusic: How has the public received your album?
Jeff: Reaction was great. It turned a project that was supposed to be informal into the body of work at the forefront of my career. I didn't have much choice but to see how far I could take these songs after the reaction it got initially vs past projects. I loooove the rock stuff. But I've grown to love this stuff just as much and this is what most have said I should be doing. I listened. And at the end of the day, it's still my writing style and its still rock. Just not as loud :)
antiMusic: What kinds of musical risks do you see yourself embarking on in the future?
Jeff: I want to continue to collaborate with other writers and producers and keep challenging myself to write music that I'm proud of in different styles and that my fans like as well.
antiMusic: If someone handed you a magic wand and said you've got one wish to record with anybody in the world, who would you like to record with and why?
Jeff: Lennon and McCartney. They started it all in many ways. Why not just go straight to the pure source?
antiMusic: What are the biggest lessons you've learned over the years as an artist; as a person?
Jeff: Take chances, artistically and in life. Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. It's the only way to grow
antiMusic: What are your biggest accomplishments?
Jeff: Being able to leave my career in investments after 10 years and in my late, late 20s and start a new one in music and having survived this long is something I'm very proud of.
antiMusic: How does pride fit into your work?
Jeff: I have to learn new ways to keep it from taking over all the time or I won't take chances or listen to others and that's how one grows, I think.
antiMusic: What's next, after the touring is finished, where do you see yourself headed?
Jeff: The touring is never finished :). But after this leg of touring is over in the summer, I get to go record with an icon, john shanks and then play on Jimmy Kimmel in the fall. I can't wait. In the meantime, keep writing and doing my best to position myself to take full advantage of the amazing opportunity that guitar center and john have given me. I'll take it as far as I can. It's the biggest break I could have ever hoped for and I'm so, so grateful for it.
Visit Jeff's site to learn more here.