Lori Campbell is a singer songwriter from Sidmouth in Devon. After playing the festival circuit relentlessly for the last few years, she released her first EP, Seeds, in August 2014. A captivating live performer and a creative songwriter, Lori also recently starred in the independent British film Hinterland. I caught up with her to find out all about how the last few years have been…
Tell me about the film you are in.
Hinterland is an Independent British road-trip film predominantly set in Cornwall. It follows two old friends, Harvey (Harry Macqueen) and Lola (me), over three days as they catch up and reconnect, having not seen each other for a long time. It’s a gentle film about that strange and uncomfortable part of life that exists somewhere between realizing you are not a child any longer and finding your calling. For some people this can last a lifetime.
The title is interesting as a dictionary definition states that The Hinterland is ‘an area lying beyond what is visible or known: the strange hinterland where life begins and ends‘. This is definitely an appropriate description when thinking about the subject matter and action. What I mean by that is that not a lot really happens but the poignancy perhaps lies in what is not said or seen. I would say that if you are looking for sword fights and car chases then this is not the film for you.
And how did you get the part?
I don’t think I believe in fate but there were certainly a lot of interesting synchronicities that led to me being in the film. Harry Macqueen, who wrote the story, directed, produced and starred in the film, was living with Rosie Morris (an old housemate of mine) whilst he was writing Hinterland. He was describing the character of Lola to her when she remarked on the curious parallels he had drawn with an old friend of hers (me), primarily that the character was a sometime-nomadic musician from a broken home that was very familiar with the West Country!
Subsequently they invited me around to dinner so Harry could see if I was up to it. I was under the impression that I was there to discuss working on a soundtrack for a film that an old friend was working on but it became clear later that night or the next day that they were vetting me for the part. Having not done anything like this before, and having conveniently freed up the next three months because of vague traveling plans, I said yes.
You mentioned you are not an actor by trade, so how was it featuring in a film?
That’s true, I’m not an actor by trade but I am a performer, I would say. I am used to being up in front of audiences as a solo singer songwriter and that, to some extent, prepared me for this. However, the differences between live performance and acting for film are stark. The immediacy one gets from singing songs live to an audience is something I am used to. I can improvise and adjust my style and performance in real time according to how the audience reacts to me. Whereas, in film, my only guide in this case was the very small crew. There was definitely a sense of fun, care and togetherness on set that I understand is not always the case. This having been my first experience in film makes me feel very lucky indeed.
I’ve always loved film but the whole experience in general has made me so much more respectful of acting as a profession. It’s not something you can just step into. It takes a lot of dedication and strength.
As well as filming Hinterland, 2014 also saw the release of your first EP. How was that to make and are you pleased with how it came out?
Yeah, I recorded it nearly a year ago and released it last August. It’s a five-track EP called Seeds. It was a lot of fun to make but it was also a lot of hard work and distressing at points. As a musician, releasing your first recording is one of the hardest things you will ever do. The most difficult thing in the process is all the decisions. Who will I record with? Which songs will I record? How long will it be? Will it be solo or should I play with other musicians? Etc…
If you are as indecisive as I am then you will understand why I used the word distressing to describe the process. It really is a wonder that I’ve made it this far! Without the encouragement and support of family and close friends, I really don’t think this recording would have materialised.
The first decision I made was to record with Ben Capp, who is both a wonderful person and a brilliant live and studio engineer. The second decision I made was to use the recording to get playing with other people. I asked Robert Burgess, a drummer I had seen playing with some friends, to join me. Rob then suggested Zac Gregory, a brilliant and lively double bass player who mostly plays with The Carney Villains, a Bristol party institution. The three of us then began jamming out the songs. This was the most enjoyable part of the process, I would say. We had a lot of fun exploring the tunes and messing about. Hearing my very solo musings come alive in that way was really exciting.
Much later on in the process I asked Joss Murray, who is a trumpet player in another Bristol-based band called Babyhead, to lay some solos on the top of the tunes. He brought an exciting new layer to the tunes in place of the trumpety noises I do with my mouth when I’m playing solo. You can’t beat real trumpet, it sounds brilliant.
I am really pleased with how it all came out, considering how little I knew what I was doing! The decision to record all three of us at the same time, live, was a really risky one in retrospect. For example, it meant that when we came to mix the EP I couldn’t redo any of the lead vocals, which obviously has its drawbacks. However, this left me with a really raw, lo-fi set of tracks that I think retain the excitement we felt putting the songs together.
The important lesson learned here is to never put things off using the excuse that you are ‘not ready yet’. You are never ready! If you have the inkling to do something, just do it. The mistakes you make along the way are so much more valuable than any lesson you will learn trying to prepare yourself for any project. Chances are that when you finally begin that long-talked-about project, you will come out the other side saying: ‘Damn! Why didn’t I just do this five years ago?’
The lyrics to your songs are interesting and seem well thought out. How important are lyrics to you in your music and when listening to other people play?
Thank you! The lyrics are really important to me. So important that at times I think I can be in danger of not balancing out the song with the words. Sometimes I find myself with a lengthy, carefully-thought-out set of lyrics and then realise that musically it’s two chords and no chorus!
It’s hard to be good at both, and I think there can be a lot of pressure these days to be doing everything yourself. I’m hoping to do more collaborating this year, and to experiment with different musicians and sounds.
When listening to other people’s music I must confess I usually hear the lyrics first. People like Ani DiFranco really catch me. She comes from a poetry and spoken word background and has managed to merge her intelligent and insightful lyrics with an equally intricate and beautiful musical style. She’s one of those heroes who is doing it all.
And what is your approach to songwriting in general? Do you block out time to write, or do wait for inspiration?
I would love to tell you I have an approach to songwriting, but I’m afraid to say I still seem to be waiting for songs to approach me! I began songwriting when I was young, out of necessity. It’s a brilliant way of dealing with the angst of being a teenage human. I think all young people should be encouraged to express themselves through writing of some sort; the louder it is, the better. I think we would have a lot less depressed grown-ups if free expression was encouraged at a young age. I guess if I ever become a parent and my child wants to learn the drums I will remind myself that I said those words!
Writing for me now has evolved into a much more considered activity. Naturally you start to consider why you are doing something, and that self-awareness can either kill it or it can lead to you realising that there are many ways and reasons to approach making music.
I was looking at Rolling Stone magazine’s top 10 songwriters of all time and noticed that the list contained just one female artist – Joni Mitchell. Do you feel female songwriters get overlooked sometimes?
That is a sad statistic but it doesn’t surprise me. In fact, just the other day my friend launched a podcast dealing with this subject called The World is Listening, which everyone should check out. It’s a music show that celebrates and showcases female musicians and was set up by Nuala Honan who is also a brilliant singer songwriter. It was a reaction to the discovery that a recent survey showed that only 14% of PRS members are women. I attended the panel discussion at the launch, which was titled ‘Where are all the women’. It’s really difficult to say whether they are there and just being overlooked by the media and record companies, or whether they are not encouraged or empowered enough at an earlier stage in their development, which leads to them giving up.
There are a million reasons why this is the case. It’s just a symptom of the bigger gender divide and it’s not just in music that women’s voices aren’t heard. It is really important that equality is talked about and fought for. It’s everyone’s battle.
You are a very engaging live performer – how daunting was it getting on stage for the first time?
Thanks (smiles widely). It’s absolutely terrifying! I think the first time I got up to play live must have been at the ‘Acoustic Cafe’ in Sidmouth when I was about 16. It was started around that time by a wonderful woman called Angie Carney. She’s done so much for the community in Sidmouth. We were so lucky to have a safe and fun environment to experiment in. The first song I played must have been ‘Army Dreamers’ by the wonderful Kate Bush. That or an early song of my own. I remember shaking and playing one song and getting off as quick as I could. Luckily for me, those first experiences were good. People really listened and were really supportive. If that hadn’t been the case, I may not have ended up doing this now.
And how do you feel about playing live now?
I really love playing live. I still get really nervous before I get on stage, except now I recognise it as a positive thing. If I don’t have that adrenaline rush before I play I tend to feel like it’s going to be a bad show! This is not generally true, but sometimes it can be. I guess it’s the not knowing that keeps it interesting.
You have supported Beans on Toast lately; how have you found that?
Really good fun, he’s a great character. There are not many people who can work a crowd like him. It’s part theatre, part comedy, part music and all honest. I think that’s the thing I like most about Beans is the open-hearted honesty and joy that comes through his music. He may be marching on with only a three-chord master plan, but he is prolific, hardworking and full of love for humankind, which you can’t help but admire him for.
His songs are funny, and there are elements of comedy in some of the songs that you have played live – do you think humour is important in music?
I like to work with an element of comedy as I love the way it relaxes a crowd. It’s a great way of opening a dialogue with people. If you’ve got something to say which you think is important then I find making people giggle a bit helps them hear it better. I also just love to see people smiling back at me! It’s probably important not take yourself too seriously, however, there are all different kinds of musicians in the world and not every type of music needs a humorous element. It would be a shame if everyone was doing the same thing.
What’s been the highlight of your musical career so far?
There have been many, all for various reasons. I supported Ben Howard on part of his 2011 tour, which was fun. During that year I watched him go from 5,000 fans to 20,000 fans. It was really interesting witnessing the mushroom cloud from so close up. It’s pretty surreal when that happens. As a result of that year I got to play on the main stage at Goldcoast Festival and Boardmasters Festival even though I can’t surf! I met Seasick Steve at Goldcoast, who is great. He watched my gig and gave me a sweet compliment. That summer was a lot of fun.
Last summer I was privileged enough to be asked to open the 60th anniversary of Sidmouth Folk Festival before Ralph McTell. I played to an audience of 1,200 silent and seated spectators in my home town. I was so nervous but as soon as I got through my first song I was having so much fun that they basically had to drag me off. Ralph played a stunning two-hour set afterwards.
More recently I played a support show for The Blockheads, which was totally surreal and brilliant. I was really impressed, they had so much energy and they were so tight. It’s always inspiring to see a band rocking it out knowing they have played together in some form or another for nearly 40 years.
And lastly, who do you listen to when you’re out and about?
I’m not really a headphones kind of human. I like to listen to music at home. I find the headphones generation jars with me somehow. I feel like everyone going solo in public is detrimental in some fundamental way. I’m not sure exactly what is wrong yet. Come back to me in 10 years and we can talk about it again!
I currently can’t stop listening to This is the Kit. Their new album is coming out next week and I’m really looking forward to having something new from them. In order to save time and avoid me waffling on any more I am going to list the last five artists I listened to on my computer. We’ve got – Sylvan Esso, Nick Mulvey, Sia (elastic heart), Honeyfeet and Sam Cooke.
Words by Adam Rowden
Pictures courtesy of Leo Gorman