About 35 miles east of Atlanta lies the small municipality that is Covington, Georgia. While many others cities with a population under 15,000 might not have much acclaim, Covington is a hotbed for notable film and television productions, with big time movies like My Cousin Vinny, Remember The Titans, Doctor Sleep, and perhaps most notably, Jason Lives: Friday The 13th VI being filmed there. And from this town steeped in various creative productions, hails Neo-Americana songwriter Campbell Harrison.
Now a Nashville resident, Harrison was brought up and inspired by local music legends like Donna Hopkins, Ralph Roddenbery and Caroline Aiken to name a few. His sound has evolved into what he dubs, “Neo-Americana.”
Harrison seamlessly blends elements of Americana, rock and roll, soul, and folk in one uniform sound, thus making it difficult to pigeonhole him to just one genre. And in my humble opinion, that’s what makes a memorable, original, and intriguing artist.
His first studio EP, Behind Glass, dropped in 2015, which boasted a heap of respected veteran artists, most notably the late Kofi Burbridge (Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit). Since shipping north to Nashville, Harrison has spent more and more time getting acquainted in various studios, and had two live EPs produced in 2018.
At the dawn of 2020, when masks were more of a Halloween novelty than a daily necessity, Harrison hooked up with the engineering maestros at Welcome to 1979 studio to record “The River.” It was this foot stomping, barn-burner of a tune that reaffirmed his reputation as a fresh new sound, untethered by a conventional genre. He would follow the success of “The River” with the diligently crafted track that is “Soul To Keep.”
“Soul to Keep,” which features the talented Ted Pecchio (Doyle Bramhall II, Susan Tedeschi, The Codetalkers) on bass, is an unorthodox tale about a selfish man who takes advantage of others all his life, but always thinks he has time for redemption- until he doesn’t. It’s as good of a song to sing along to when driving as any, with a steering wheel-tapping melody, and poignant and catchy lyrics. Harrison’s natural ability to craft a song is omnipresent in his latest single, and it’d be no surprise to see him firmly entrenched within the “Americana” circuit in due time.
We caught up with Harrison to learn more about the single, what’s to come, and much more.
So you put out your newest single, “Soul to Keep,” at the end of September. Was this track more of a bear to write, or did it come to you pretty quick?
“Soul to Keep” was one of those songs that took a while to develop and fully realize itself. Sometimes when you write a tune it comes out as one perfect, cogent thought and it’s finished in 30 minutes. Other times, you might spend 3 weeks reworking the lyrics trying to figure out what you want to say, and then messing with the melody and rhythm until you’re blue in the face. STK was one of the latter. I was still tweaking that song a year after writing it.
I can imagine you’ve written your fair share of songs. What made you choose “Soul to Keep” as a single release for you?
Over the past few years, I’ve gone through a rebranding phase where I’ve found myself naturally slipping into the Roots/Americana genre. I think “Soul to Keep” is a perfect representation of that new identity for me, and so it was a natural choice for a single as I present myself to Nashville in this new way.
You describe your music as “Neo-Americana.” What does that term mean to you?
As nebulous as the Americana genre is, it carries with it certain connotations. Most people think of Americana as either a Jason Isbell-type of southern singer-songwriter, or they assume you’re alt-country or folk. While I do fit roughly into all of those baskets, my sound is and always has been a bit different and difficult to pin down. I brand as “Neo-Americana” because it establishes that I live in that Americana realm but there’s still something unique that separates me.
What is your songwriting process like? Can you describe a day in the life of Campbell Harrison The Songwriter?
My inspiration comes in waves. I may not even attempt to write a song for weeks if the spark isn’t there, but then I may pop off and write 4 songs in one week if the energy hits me. I’ve learned not to force it, because I know that the bottle is still full, and the songs will come spilling out when they’re ready, but the timing isn’t necessarily up to me.
And you have an album being hammered out due for winter 2021 is that right?
You bet- I’m super proud of this EP that I’ve been working on, and I can’t wait to finally get it out. I’m not too keen on dropping a new body of work amidst COVID19, election anarchy and the holiday chaos, so we’ll just have to wait a little while unfortunately.
Could you talk about what that will entail?
It’s going to be a 5 or 6 song EP, and it’s going to be an eclectic mix of tunes. There are many different incarnations to me as a writer, and so I want to demonstrate those multiple facets of my musical personality within this EP. I always love listening to those albums that throw you for a loop, and so I wanted mine to be diverse in that way as well. Hopefully there will be something for everyone on this one.
Where was the album recorded and who helped it come to life?
For the past year or so, I’ve been working with Chris Mara over at Welcome to 1979 studio. Chris and his team are so cool, and have created the perfect vibe over there and it’s the first time I’ve really felt comfortable in a recording setting. It’s kind of become my home base. I also pulled in my buddy Hayes Smith Jr. as kind of my wingman in the recording process. He’s been an incredibly valuable asset and has been the other pair of ears that I needed to bring some of these tunes to life. The EP also features Benjamin “Benjo” Markus who is an unbelievably intuitive guitarist, Ted Pecchio of Doyle Bramhall II and Susan Tedeschi on bass, and Aubree Riley who is an upcoming songwriter in her own right as a backup vocalist. I’m incredibly honored to work with this amazingly talented group of artists and the chemistry is evident upon first listen.
What do you find to be the most frustrating part about recording a song?
My own limitations and insecurities, definitely. I’m most comfortable playing my songs around a campfire at the end of a long night, and so I’m constantly fighting against the sterility and high-pressure nature of studio work. I’m neither a perfect vocalist, nor guitarist, and so when you combine that with the fact that EVERYTHING you do is being captured, perhaps permanently, then that is an anxiety storm for someone like me who is not an entertainer by nature. Luckily, I’ve found the right studio and personnel and so I’m getting better each time.
Do you have any pre-recording or pre-show rituals that you feel get you focused and ready for action? Any little superstitions?
I like to exercise before I perform because it helps me warm up my lungs, and it’s also an ego-booster. It gives you the little bit of fire that you need to crush the gig. Other than that I don’t really have much in the way of ritual.
What does a dream gig look like for you?
A small to medium-sized listening room where everyone in the audience wants to be there and is as obsessive about the art as I am. I also enjoy playing in larger, more social venues, but it’s very easy for songs to lose gravitas where you’re having to sing over top of a hundred screaming college kids.
What top three Nashville establishments can/could Campbell Harrison be found at on the regular?
Well right now you can find me on my couch due to COVID, but normally I’d be hanging out at Dee’s shooting some pool or maybe grabbing a beer somewhere in East Nashville. I’m not really a “strut around downtown” kind of guy in general.
How would you define success as a musician or a creative artist?
I’ve asked myself that same question many times, Paul. I suppose it depends on what your goals are. Some musicians want nothing more than to create music that makes them happy and they’re not concerned whether anyone ever hears it or not. Others want to walk across the stage at the Grammy’s and accept their award. As long as you’re making the music that you want to make and you feel fulfilled, then that’s your success. No one can tell you that you’ve been successful and absolutely no one can tell you that you’ve failed.
Do you have the wheels in motion for beyond this upcoming record release, or are you taking it one project at a time?
I’m always thinking about a year ahead and trying to keep a rough outline of what’s coming up. That being said, I think there’s value in keeping yourself open to opportunities without having everything so structured that your music becomes more about business than art. That balance of business to art is emblematic of the music industry as a whole.