Music: Jim Campilongo

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz

EXTRAORDINARY GUITARIST PAINTS ‘ORANGE’

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So when we went to make this record, I knew we had a bunch of great material, but I was really committed to put on only what I felt was stellar, and so we recorded for a couple of days, and we came out with some really stellar stuff as a trio, but there were a couple of tracks that we felt weren’t great, and we wanted everything to be great. So we had room for other options, but the other thing I thought—actually, this is important—I always want to make short records. I’m an instrumentalist. I play the Telecaster. It sounds pretty much the same on every song. Of course there’s dynamics and stuff, but it gets tedious after awhile. I really believe in leave ’em wanting more. I’m never one of these guys who will play a two-hour set. I’m always looking at the audience, and if I see anybody even shift in their seat, I’ll make it the last song.

Anton was really adamant about making it a lengthy record, though, and I was worried about that. But because it’s a lengthy record, it allowed us to put on the two by Leah Siegel, the vocalist. One is much different from the other. It also allowed us to put on an acoustic duet. So it ended up working out, but I was concerned it would sound like a business card record.

You mean like, “Here’s everything I can do?”
Exactly. I call those business card records. It’s “Joey plays Albert King blues. Joey plays Wes Montgomery style. Joey does red-hot country pickin’.” I’m not putting down proverbial Joey, but I feel uneasy during those records. The records I’m usually attracted to are like, it’s a rainy day and it’s dark out, I’m going to put on Joni Mitchell Blue. Or, it’s a crazy day, I’m going to put on Miles Davis On the Corner. I was worried that my record would switch and sway in an unnerving way where you couldn’t really hang with it. But I have to say I really feel differently now. I don’t listen to it a lot, but it’s kind of like an iPod Jim Campilongo shuffle. After one song that’s dark and brooding, there’s some comedy relief now and then, and it worked out; it ended up being a 61-minute journey where you don’t get too exhausted because there are peaks and valleys.

When you were talking about the song “Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful,” you said it was what you used to do, as opposed to what you do now. Could you explain that?
When I first started writing under my own name, I was really influenced by Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West and other hot country instrumentalists, and I worked in a band [Jim Campilongo and the 10-Gallon Cats] that was very much coming from that place. They were versatile, but there was a certain personality that those players had, and myself. And eventually any band becomes bigger than any individual. Even if you’re Frank Zappa and you’re in the Mothers [of Invention], you’re going to have to write a song so the Mothers can play it successfully as a whole entity. That served me very well, and I’m very proud of my first record [Jim Campilongo and the 10 Gallon Cats], but after a certain point, I felt I had changed a bit as a writer, and I did this record Table for One, which is very cinematic, and I think is a beautiful album. I used an organist and an accordionist. I changed and felt I needed to say this other statement, and since then I’ve gone through different changes.

Upon moving to New York and working in the trio, I started using a lot more space—playing minimalistically in some ways and learning that you can really relax in a trio. Sometimes when you’re a guitar player, you’re thought is, ‘How can I sell this or make it sound bigger?’ But I had the revelation that I really don’t need to do that because sometimes it sounds better if I just don’t play. Sometimes hearing a brush wipe across a snare drum, or a cymbal or the growl of an upright bass—there’s nothing wrong with that if you pause for four or five seconds.

I’ve really became committed to that kind of approach, and now it’s 14 years after that first record, and that’s how I meant it when I said, “something I used to do,” in that it was a two-beat, and somewhat whimsical. A lot of my writing on my first couple of records had a lot of whimsy to it. They’re kind of perversely humorous. And so that’s how I mean it, but I certainly wasn’t being cynical in any way. I’m really happy with that track [“Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful”]. I’m glad I had a producer to cajole me into doing something that eventually I thought was a great idea.






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