BC Camplight- interview with maverick songwriter who moved from USA to Manchester
BC Camplight moved from Philadelphia to Manchester a couple of years ago to make music. It seems like the city’s huge music scene and grey skies have done him a lot of good as Frazer King singer and talented music head Nathan McIllroy discovers...
– You relocated to Manchester from Philadelphia about 18 months back. Why did you do that?
I had some success early in my career. People were there to help me when I was starting out. After a couple of albums and quite a lot of touring the music business essentially collapsed. The help stopped. Because I was an entitled spoiled little brat I put the piano down (figuratively) and started, almost actively, sabotaging my career and my life. I was disenchanted. I didn’t want to make music if no one was going to hear it. So just about every shitty thing someone can do to themselves and their friends I did between 2009 and 2011. I got back into session work in 2011 and played on a shit ton of records, most notably Sharon Van Etten’s Epic. I remember waking up one morning, as problems continued to mount in my life, and thought “holy shit, I really might never make my own music again. I might actually die!” I sat with my eyes closed and asked whatever celestial/spiritual being may have been listening to tell me what to do. Something whispered to me to leave America and come to Manchester. Four days later I showed up in town knowing only one person, a fan Mark Powell who was instrumental in me adjusting to my new life. I’m as confused as everyone else as how it all happened… Say what you want, it worked. I’m back at it. Finishing a record which is clearly the most significant work I’ve done so far.
– In that time you’ve recruited a new band and recorded your first album since 2007’s ‘Blink of a Nihilist’. Is it safe to say that these grey Northern skies have inspired you to write again or have you always had stuff on the back burner ready to record?
Every note on this record was written after I moved here. I love the shit weather. It brings everyone down to my level. There is an energy here that I’m feeding off of big time. And it’s not a “scene” thing or because I’ve been accepted here. Anyone who knows anything about me and my history knows I don’t give a wet fuck about that. However, the actual city, the environs have become a part of me and are part of my newly found creative force.
– The Philly scene is quite incestuous. What is your connection to The War on Drugs?
The USA version of BC Camplight and The War on Drugs shared some band members. That’s over now.
– You seem to be at The Castle pub on Oldham St. every day, Guinness in hand living the dream. From what I can gather the new band are regulars too. Can you remember when you first stumbled upon the place and realised it was a fertile recruiting ground for kindred spirits and/or alcoholic musicians?
I remember the first time I walked in. I didn’t like it. Thought the staff were rude. What I didn’t know was that some of those churlish gals would become some of the most important people in my life. Virtually every great friend I’ve made here I’ve made there. And yes that includes my entire band. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t walked in that door…probably singing for winos on the canal.
– Can you talk us through who’s in your new band?
I wanted real Mancs. People that had been through some shit – people who had nothing other than music to wake up for. I found some tremendous dudes…and lass. In my head it is the best band on the continent. Jonno Prestbury and Robbie Rush (both also of Kult Country) on Guitars and keys, Stephen Mutch on Bass, Hattie Coombe on bvs, Michael “Woody” Woodward on drums, and me on piano and lead vox. When you come to a BC Camplight show you remember it.
– Have you any plans to tour and if so where and when?
I plan to tour when the record is released. So sometime in the fall. I imagine I’ll spend a lot of time on the road this year. At least I hope to.
– For me, your first album ‘Hide, Run Away’ wore it’s influences on it’s sleeves whereas the follow up was a lot more unorthodox in terms of instrumentation and structure. (The bizarre barbershop beauty of ‘I’ve got a bad cold’ and the unhinged instrumental ‘Werewolf Waltz’ both spring to mind.) What can we expect from your new LP ‘Grim Cinema’?
Blink of a Nihilist was the beginning of me becoming distinctive I guess. It showed my personality at the time more than Hide, Run Away had. Unfortunately for my personality, and to the benefit of the record, this meant Blink was more fractured. It was creepier and unsettling. I don’t listen to my stuff often but I listened to Blink a couple months ago and by the end of it I had felt like I was insane. Grim Cinema carries over those unorthodox elements but is being created by a man 5 years older who had been to the edge and back. It will be a beautiful record.
– Where did you record it and how did the process compare with previous recordings?
EVE studios in Bredbury just outside of Manchester. I met the owner of EVE, Martin King and the Engineer Henry Broadhead and within minutes knew it was where I wanted to resume my career. The studio is old, sprawling and creepy. I swear I see things in the basement vocal room. Working there is easy and the vibe is creative and spirited. I am excited to be making this record and feel that energy. Blink was produced in a more catatonic personal state.
– When is it released?
The first single is released on April 23rd and the LP early fall.
– How long are you going to leave it till the next LP?
There is a good chance the follow up will be recorded before 2014.
– Was there a song or artist that made you want to play the piano or was it forced on you as a kid?
Yup. Whole Lotta Shakin. Jerry Lee Lewis. All of my siblings took lessons as well but weren’t that interested. I start playing piano when I was 4 and haven’t looked back. I love my piano. My black and white 400 pound girlfriend.
– Do you play any other instruments?
I do. I play a variety of instruments and try to pick up more stuff all the time. It means I don’t have to pay as much for session musicians.
– From what I can gather, you used to be a semi professional boxer and were quite prominent on your school football team. Has music always complimented your involvement with sport or has there been times when you’ve felt yourself spread too thinly?
I was the captain of my High School football team and did try a little boxing. I sill try to box about once a year. I have a ridiculous capacity and ability for gaining and losing weight. Sometimes I’ll schedule a fight just so I have a reason to lose 40 pounds. I absolutely love sport. I love basketball. I love being able to compete and win against superior athletes by out-thinking them. I hate violence and have never been in a fight out of the ring but I love the beauty of boxing. I figure I may only have a few years left of being able too get in a ring and not get immediately destroyed. That saddens me.
– You performed a secret cover song at your last gig. Are there any surprises you’re willing to disclose or hint at for this Saturday’s gig at the Deaf Institute?
I always close with a cover. Sometimes I let fans submit suggestions and I’ll pick one. I’m happy with the one we have coming up for Saturday.
– Any plans to play some more Nilsson shows?
That was a one off experience. In a way it was partly responsible for getting me back in gear. Playing a show as Harry Nilsson and pulling it off…that was fucking fun, man. I had such a great time. But that is over with. It’s good to be me again.
– Why do you sing in falsetto?
Misconception. I don’t sing in falsetto. I sing high. In fact, I don’t have a falsetto. I only have my modal voice. I can not break it into falsetto. I was just born a weirdo. My voice gets a little higher every year. This is disconcerting as I am now terrified to ever be 50. Maybe I’ll just do a tour as Kate Bush.
– Can you see yourself composing more lavish instrumental or even Avant Guarde music for orchestra or are you only interested in the medium of the pop song? (Albeit the freaky bastard son of the pop song)
I do what I do. I don’t find it rewarding making weird music without structure. I find it boring and easy. Anyone can take a piss on a snare drum and record it backwards. 9 out of ten times people will think it is art, it is genius. But try doing that and then have people whistling it on the way home. That’s real art. I know you’re saying “how do you whistle piss on a snare drum?” You know what I mean.
– Finally, earlier you mentioned the apathy you felt when you realised the music industry was fucked but you soon realised the need to create and leave a legacy was more important than financial reward. How important do you think it is for there to be a commercial incentive for the ‘starving artist’?
That’s a good question. I suppose eventually writers write. Maybe it’s good there isn’t much fiscal incentive nowadays. It means more and more the people making the art are the people that have to and not just the people who wanna quit their day jobs.
BC Camplight plays this Saturday 6th April at the Deaf Institute in Manchester. Support comes from Lowline who play their first gig in ages so get down early. Tickets available from Piccadilly Records, Deaf Institute and from the following link;