A good album title is one that sparks instant intrigue. It invites and entices. And perhaps most of all, it conveys a relatability to the average person.
Nashville Neo-Americana songwriter Campbell Harrison is one such artist whose music matches the intrigue of the title of his approaching EP, Lyin Cheatin Gettin By, due to hit streaming services Friday February 26th.
But what is “Neo-Americana” you may ask?
Well, in both talking to Harrison and listening to his music, it’s an amalgam of various genres molded into one engaging sound; a sound Harrison seems to create effortlessly. There are plenty of artists who fit snug into select genres, but many defy genre, and in my humble opinion, those are the ones that stand out among the crowd. And with Lyin Cheatin Gettin By, Harrison offers a gambler’s choice of classic rock n’ roll, folk, Americana, and more off-shoot genres.
Lyin Cheatin Gettin By arose from the ashes of 2020 and it’s punishing negativity. It’s a precise compilation of tracks that pokes fun at pretenders and hypocrites, while simultaneously shedding light on the small things that enrich our lives. “The EP is indicative of my headspace and the mood of our country last year,” says Harrison. “I tried to make these songs lighthearted and fun, while still being rewarding for those who really dig into the lyrics.”
Harrison recorded the album with Chris Mara at the historic Welcome To 1979 studio and a team of all-star team talent, including Ted Pecchio (Doyle Bramhall II, Susan Tedeschi, The Codetalkers) on bass, Benjo Markus (Dee White) on electric guitars, Hayes Smith Jr. on drums, and Aubree Riley on background vocals.
We had the chance to dig a little deeper to learn more about this multi-faceted Nashville songwriter, the new EP, what the future may hold, and much more.
So you are mere days away from releasing your new EP, Lyin Cheatin Gettin By. As we inch closer, do you find yourself fighting the urge to tweak a few more things, or are you fully content and ready to cut it loose?
Absolutely. The urge to keep tweaking is always there. I can’t necessarily speak for other artists on this, but I know that I could easily go down that rabbit hole and keep messing with my songs indefinitely. At some point though, I feel like you’ve just got to get the songs out there and let them be what they are. There’s a point of diminishing returns where you’re just spinning your wheels and making yourself crazy without really improving the tunes.
Is there a collective theme or inspiration throughout this collection of songs?
This is definitely a theme album, although I didn’t necessarily plan it that way in the beginning. We started recording the EP during peak COVID lockdown, when the world was chaotic with politics and pandemic, and that energy seeped into my subconscious. About halfway through recording, I realized that the songs I had chosen all had these underlying motifs addressing hypocrisy, self-worth, and the internal struggle toward finding something real and genuine. When I realized that, I decided to add on the two acoustic bonus tracks, “Call me on a Monday” and “Small Things”. It was apparent that I had something intentional to say based on the songs I’d been writing and it just took me a second to recognize it myself. That speaks to the explorative nature of songwriting as well. You’re learning more about yourself and what you feel through the explorative act of creating.
What was the most challenging aspect of recording this album? (I guess a bit more than just “Covid, duh.”)
Obviously COVID made it very difficult because we all had to wear masks and be careful about distancing while in the studio. That in and of itself threw a monkey wrench in the recording process because we kept having to step outside for “oxygen breaks” because it’s hard to expend that kind of energy when your breathing is restricted.
Other than the obvious COVID struggles though, I found it challenging acting as both band leader and leading co-producer. Sometimes as the songwriter and vocalist you’re just too close to the music and you need someone to step in to give you fresh ears on the material and help you separate from it a bit. My buddy Hayes Smith Jr. co-produced it with me and he really helped in that regard. You’re playing a lot of mind games with yourself when it’s your songs that are on the table, and so it’s nice to have people to help carry the load.
And how about the writing of the album?
Songwriting has always been far less challenging than recording in my experience. It’s the opposite for some people, but I feel most comfortable when I’m by myself and taking the time to experiment with different progressions and ideas. I spent a lot of time last year sitting around and thinking, and so I wasn’t lacking in writing material. I guess that the hardest part was just finding the motivation to actually DO something. When the world is falling apart, it’s easy to get an attitude of “nothing matters” and just devolve into inaction. I’ve had to focus on keeping the fire lit and keep creating even when conditions aren’t ideal.
The record seems to have a balanced, varying mix of Americana, folk, classic rock n’ roll, and other like genres. Is this something you strive for, or do you find it comes natural?
It’s kind of funny you mention that. I naturally write a lot of different kinds of songs in many different styles, and it’s simultaneously my greatest strength and greatest weakness. As an artist who’s trying to make a living, it’s important to identify yourself with a solid brand so that people can figure out who you are and what you do. It’s hard to build a fan base if your potential fans have no clue what your style is, or what to expect from song to song. However, the flip side is that having a broad palette of musical capabilities also prevents you from being a one-trick-pony and it gives you more ammunition to pull from when songwriting. Personally, I listen to lots of different kinds of music and find inspiration in all of those areas. I pull rhythmic elements from funk and R&B, lyrical inspiration from southern rock and folk, melodic inspiration from pop, and so on and so forth. It can make your music very interesting if you can find a way to synthesize all those influences into a signature style that says “this is me”.
How challenging is it to decide on the order of your songs, and just how important is that to you?
To be perfectly honest, I have put almost no time into decisions like that because the album usually arranges itself naturally and tells you how it wants to flow. You want to start strong, and then build and release tension throughout the record to tell a story of sorts. There are a few basic sequencing principles you want to follow but it’s by far the easiest decision you’ll make that day.
I see where you said you wanted the album to be “lighthearted and fun.” How important do you think humor and not taking yourself too seriously is when it comes to making music?
I think it’s important to take your art seriously, but not take yourself too seriously if that makes sense. Many artists tend to develop a savior complex and feel like it’s their sole duty to change the world. Obviously, I think affecting positive social change is a good thing, but it’s important to keep love and joy at the center of what you do because that’s most likely why you became an artist in the first place. I started playing music for the love of the craft, and so I want that same joy to come across in my songs. I may deal with heavy and sometimes dark thematic content, but I usually make an effort to juxtapose that heaviness with more lighthearted and fun melodies to keep it accessible. I don’t want people to feel bad after listening to my songs.
“When the world is falling apart, it’s easy to get an attitude of “nothing matters” and just devolve into inaction. I’ve had to focus on keeping the fire lit and keep creating even when conditions aren’t ideal.”
What does a day in the life of your average songwriting process look like?
There really hasn’t been an average day for me lately. I may go for several days without even touching the guitar, but then again I may sit down and spend the whole day making music with friends or writing feverishly by lamp light. I’ve found that I’m most productive when I don’t burden myself with schedules and just follow my gut. I write when I feel like writing and when the muse isn’t there I just walk away. I’ve written some of my best music after not playing for a week or so and just letting all of the inspiration build up until it explodes. There’s nothing worse than trying to force a song into existence when it’s just not there. Writing should be an act of discovering something that’s already there, not trying to convince a song to be a song.
Do you have any kind of livestreams or anything planned for release night or soon thereafter?
Honestly, I’m the world’s worst self-promoter. I hate social media with a passion, and so I tend to avoid being on camera (much to my management’s chagrin). However, I will be doing some livestreaming here around release day, and I’m also going to do Behind the Song breakdowns where I play my songs and dissect them on video to give people insight into my writing.
While the future is still quite murky, are you putting feelers out for possible tour/show dates come spring or summer?
Yeah I’m definitely looking to get back out there and play some shows as it becomes safe and appropriate. Touring in the spring and summer probably won’t be possible just because the dates aren’t there, but it should be possible to start piecing together some semblance of a musical calendar going into the fall. It’s obvious at this point that COVID isn’t really going away and none of us can really afford to put our career on hold for two years.
What else might fans expect to see/hear in the months following the release?
As soon as this EP comes out, I’m getting right back to work and going to keep creating. I’m writing some of the best music I’ve ever written right now, and I’m constantly checking my own pulse to see where and how I can continue to develop my musical identity. I’m planning on getting back out there with a band as well because that’s something that I haven’t been doing as much since I moved to Nashville a few years ago. It’s a whole different experience when I’ve got my guys on stage with me, and I can’t wait to show my fans that side of me.