“It was always a big part of me and it remained a big part of me when I got here. Eventually, it had got to be such a big part of me out here that I kind of had to pick, ‘Am I going to focus on this music stuff or focus on the job?’ And I picked the music stuff when I was twenty-nine years old.”
Scheduled for release this upcoming October 2nd, Jeff Campbell’s latest record, The Kitchen Sink, embodies the California-based songwriter’s life-long devotion to music. Floored by the sounds of his parent’s vinyl record collection as a kid, the now thirty-six-year-old Philadelphia native spent his early years learning piano, drums, and guitar, planting the seeds that would eventually compel him to pursue a career as a professional musician. Recalling his most recent projects and his musical childhood, Campbell spoke about absorbing the albums at home and how music, “was always a thing in our house.”
“I knew my dad was a drummer because all he ever talked about was this high school band that he was in then, and he would always beat on things and then I would always beat on things, so then I wanted to be a drummer, but my mom always wanted me to take piano lessons because I would fiddle around on the piano. She made a deal with me one Christmas: they’d buy me drums if I took two years of piano lessons. I said yes and they did, and I ended up taking piano lessons forever. Then I picked up guitar after I learned piano, just because my mom had an old acoustic in the closet. All the kids in my neighborhood were all musically oriented, too. A lot of my friends growing up that I met through various channels, are now powerhouse, driving forces in the Philadelphia music scene.”
Although after later attending classes at West Chester University and subsequently securing a career in finance, Campbell was forced to split his attention between the working world and his passion for songwriting. And while he would never stop writing or performing, the thrill of each eventually placed him at a crossroads. Reflecting on how his career as a musician had ultimately proved to be inevitable, Campbell explained that looking back, “Everybody that I knew loved music more than anything in the world so it was pretty clear that I was just kind of going to fall into it.”
“I guess I was averse to college when I went to college. I think I was just too young, and ended up not sticking with it, and ended up having to get a job because I needed to pay the bills and stuff, I didn’t come from money or anything. So I went to work at the Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester when it opened. I was there for a couple of years, but one day I waited on a pair of ladies who were in there eating dinner, and they asked me if I would come work at their company and I said, ‘Sure.’ I ended up going and working for Hartford Insurance and Investments for a long time and it ended up kind of becoming a career. They moved me out to California in 2005 to run the Bay Area and that’s how I got here. So I came out here on a job transfer, but I still played music.”
Soon after quitting his job, the now professional musician learned first hand the expectations and realities each individual faces when they combine their passion with their need to make a living. Acknowledging how a lot of those ideas often leave out how much work goes into it, Campbell explained how, “the actual concept of making it big is a ridiculous concept.”
“The one thing that I learned from a lot of people that I met out here in California, is that you either are or you aren’t. If you are, then this is just who you are and this is your life, and you’re going to do it because this is what you do. And you’re not going to run from it when it gets hard, you’re not going to be mad because you’re not achieving grandiose levels of success, you’re going to enjoy the smaller levels of success that you happen onto. And if you’re a musician, then that’s just who you are – that’s your trade. And then I saw all these people out here making a living just being musicians. Then I started to tour and I started to get to know other musical scenes like Nashville and Austin and Los Angeles. I realized that there’s just a whole freaking world of people that are just musicians and that’s what they do, and they don’t care if they’re big or famous or household names or what. They’re just happy to be able to make a living at this and that’s just what I wanted to do. I wanted to be one of those people. So when I was just south of thirty years old, I said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to do it.’”
In 2013, Campbell’s manager entered him into a songwriting competition organized by Guitar Center. Announced as the winner a short time later, he received national press, performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and recorded an EP, In Spite of Everything, with Grammy award winning producer John Shanks. Debuting at number one on the iTunes Rock Charts, the making of In Spite of Everything and the experience of working with Shanks would leave a heavy impression, significantly altering the way Campbell thought about recording. Making the EP in the same room “We Are The World” was recorded, Campbell recognized the process as not just a chance to get his music heard by a larger audience, but as a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with one of the most well-known and respected producers in the music industry. Arriving to the studio open to new ideas, the songwriter described how the sessions were, “the first time I was really produced, like I had a guy that was massively successful telling me what to do, and I just listened, instead of being like, ‘Nah, that’s not the way I want my songs to sound.’ I kind of wasn’t hanging on to my artistic wants and needs as much as I was just trying to listen to this guy that was super successful.”
When asked what elements carried over to the recording of The Kitchen Sink, Campbell talked about how working with Shanks taught him about the importance of arranging and how to keep personal songs relatable to an audience.
“At the risk of getting super technical…when to layer things and when not to. When to take one guitar part and record it four times so it’s thick, when to stack vocals and when to keep it raw, you know? When to stick something way out front so it stands alone on its own and when to wash it with other instrumentation. And how to sing – keep the lyrics in mind. You’re writing songs for yourself but you’re also writing them for a potential audience and as many as you can conceive, so keep the listener in mind when you’re writing words and don’t be super vague and super artistic.”
Beginning work on its follow-up, The Kitchen Sink, this past January, the musician entered the project with the goal of recording quickly. After a successful Pledge Music Campaign, Campbell and his band began work with the intent of completing the album in just seven weeks.
“I self-produced it. I took what I learned from John and what I knew I already wanted and went into the home studio of a friend of mine in the Bay Area who I have a lot of respect for, and we produced it ourselves.”
With just a short time to go before The Kitchen Sink’s release, Campbell’s fondness for the new songs was apparent, symbolizing the experiences of the last few years while also standing as a culmination of a life guided by music.
“The reason it’s called The Kitchen Sink is because I threw all the ideas that I had, for the most part, at John and I had a handful of stuff laying around. We toured so aggressively last year that I just didn’t write as much as I normally would have. So I just kind of picked up all the ideas I had laying around and threw them together. There’s that expression, ‘Everything but the kitchen sink.’ This is everything and the kitchen sink.”