Interview: Nick Campbell Destroys is back with “Art”

Nick Campbell Destroys promised to bring us “Art” the last time he was around these parts. He made the offer fully enticing with his single release “Sundays” which we described as “a vibrant and almost summery track with a rather upbeat -if laidback- framework.” What’s most interesting about that release Vs the full album is that for as good as “Sundays” is on its own, it really doesn’t do justice to the overall magnificence of the entire album. It doesn’t even prepare you for the full-bore mad experimentation and virtuosic display that Nick and his collaborators came up with across 10 whole tracks.

Los Angeles native, and electric bass player, Nick Campbell is reinventing the jazz genre for this generation. Flipping traditional conventions on their head, Nick’s unique penchant for superimposing triadic patterns over static harmony has brought a modern twist to “getting modal,” creating a distinctive yet eccentric sound of his own.

Though the album as a whole feels sufficiently cohesive, there’s not necessarily any real over-arching narrative that can be appreciated in the face of it, nor does this debut release really need it anyway, instead the album is more of a statement about Nick, and about the “burgeoning creative renaissance happening in the independent music scene in Los Angeles” where he’s drawn so much inspiration from, in fact, Nick Campbell Destroys has called “Art” his love letter to the community and his contribution to the ever-growing library of innovative sounds it’s fostering.

Upon hearing the album most listeners will realize that Nick Comes from an academic background, he studied music-jazz in particular at its headiest and more arcane or obtuse angles, and that’s bled into this album in many ways. On the one hand, there’s an undeniable complexity and mastery in everything he’s done here, and on the other, there’s also that palpable touch of madness that comes to those who’ve really dug deep into the guts of an intellectual-practical subject. As you may imagine, all of this makes Nick a fascinating subject to interview, we only hope that our questions were up to the challenge, check it out:

What is “Art” the album and what is “Art” the craft to Nick Campbell?

Nick Campbell Destroys Art is a ten-track ultra funky modal blast about meaninglessness in the face of suffering but in a fun way. It is a distillation from my more than a decade of experience doing session and sideman work with some of the most interesting artists in the jazz, soul, and pop music worlds. On this album, I wanted to try to break down the boundaries that exist between these genres and make something exciting and exploratory while marrying all the things I love about them. More generally, I think art is the most powerful language we have as human beings to communicate. I was a teenager when I started to get into music seriously and learning how to communicate through music has been the focal point of my life ever since. 

“Nick Campbell Destroys is reinventing Jazz for this generation” What does that look like in practice? Why does our generation need Jazz to be reinvented?

Like many of my peers, I grew up cutting my teeth in Jazz academia and I think a lot of the music people in my community have been making is partially a response to that experience. A lot of academic musical environments are focused primarily on conserving the legacy of music that has already been made and are not always interested in adapting the musical traditions of the past to more modern contexts. They can also be fairly insular and alienating to audiences who don’t already know a ton about Jazz. I think the Jazz language is a lot more flexible than people give it credit for and I’ve always been interested in combining it with all different kinds of music and presenting it in a fun way that audiences who aren’t musicians might also enjoy.  

Who do you look up to today for guidance in that reinvention process?

There is a pretty wonderful scene of independent artists in Los Angeles making really forward-thinking music that I take a lot of inspiration from. Artists like Louis Cole, Vulfpeck, Michael Mayo, Jacob Mann, and Moonchild are great examples of this but there are plenty more too. 

Even in reinvention, there is preservation, a passing on of the torch. Who would you say are the artists that truly passed this torch onto you?

It’s a very long list haha, but here’s a short one of the artists that really inspired me growing up: Radiohead, John Coltrane, Nine Inch Nails, Tower of Power, Brad Mehldau, James Jamerson, Weather Report, Jeff Buckley, D’angelo and Frank Zappa

I think that the most common style of songwriting today seems to be the ‘personal confession’ where artists mostly narrate difficult events in their lives. What does that look like to you? How do you approach songwriting and composition?

To me, songwriting is all about storytelling. I’ve always loved Radiohead, Haruki Murakami, and Charlie Kaufman and the way they use abstract imagery and humour to tell deep stories, and that heavily influenced the style of my lyric writing. Any kind of personal confession in my lyrics tends to be filtered through that lens. I usually start writing with the music first and let that inspire the lyrics. I do keep a list of funny song titles on my phone though and a lot of songs start with a title I like. 

Recording an album is a process, a journey. What has been your favourite part or moment in that Journey to creating “Art”?

My favourite part of the recording process was definitely capturing all the live performances with all the amazing people who played on the record. There is some overdubbing on the album but in general, I don’t really edit or fix anything I record in post. There is something amazing about using the recording to create time capsules of otherwise fleeting moments of musical performance. It creates a special kind of magic you can’t get any other way. 

“How To find peace in a world with No Future” is a wonderful track. Do you feel like the world truly seems to have no future?

Thank you! I love how that one turned out, Michael Mayo’s vocal performance on that song is pretty incredible and it makes the whole song what it is. To me, the song isn’t really about the future in a literal sense. I think for a lot of people in my generation and younger, whose adolescence and adulthood have been largely characterized by an escalating series of crises largely out of any individual’s control, the future can feel ominous and overwhelming.  There is an inherent tension for us in trying to build a meaningful life in the backdrop of global unrest and I tried to capture that feeling in the musical imagery of this song.  

And how does one find said peace? What have you discovered?

I’m not sure if there is a real answer to that question. To me the song is about the struggle to find meaning in an unstable world and that there is something beautiful about not giving into despair in the face of that struggle. I think that sentiment is more of an abstract feeling than a prescriptive statement, which is why I chose not to write lyrics for this song. The emotional power of instrumental music to convey complex emotions is a powerful thing, especially when dealing with topics that have no clear answers. Sometimes not giving the listener words to latch on to is the best thing you can do as a composer to get your point across.