With new album Something Lovely about to be released (9th October), singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist ASHLEY CAMPBELL spoke with Paul Sammon about the recording journey, maintaining those family connections, and hopes for a special collaboration…
Thank you very much for taking the time. I know you’re busy. How’s things, anyway?
They’re dandy. I’m just hanging out here in Nashville, trying to make the best of it, y’know? I wish I was out touring but can’t do that right now.
We see you’re doing some Stage-it shows online. How are they going?
Really well. I get a pretty regular audience every week so it’s cool seeing people come back every weekend and make requests and everyone on the message board is starting to make friends. It’s kind of like a really cool online community we’re building.
Thanks for the new album. I’m loving it, I really am. It’s quite different from The Lonely One, which was quite pop-infused. This one is quite nostalgic and whimsy. How did that come about?
Well, I just feel like this is the direction that I’ve always wanted to go in. I feel like the more I get to know myself as a person and as an artist, this new album is exactly who I am and who I wanna be for years to come. I’m just super proud of the work we did on it and I hope everyone loves it.
We certainly do. We’ve all got our own favourite tracks. We notice Forever Isn’t That Long is very reminiscent of Patsy Cline. Was that deliberate?
Yes, it was. I mean, it was authentic. It was exactly how I would have sung it but when we started singing it, I was like “Man, this sounds like an old Patsy Cline song” and I’m digging that. The talk-singie part I was thinking of Dolly, she does that all the time. So, I was channelling Dolly on the talk-singie part.
The whole album is very refreshing. How did it work recording it all in lock-down? Did you get to record with Vince Gill? That’s what everybody’s buzzing about at the minute, the single with Vince, If I Wasn’t.
We actually recorded it all in December 2018 so lock-down wasn’t even a thing, so we lucked out there. I wanted so badly to sing it with him live, but, due to scheduling because he’s a big superstar, we had to record him in February of 2019. It was still so special. He came in and was just so humble and kind and like, “What do you want? Is this okay?” I’m like, “Anything you do is okay; more than okay. Thank you for being here.”
When we were listening to Walk On By my other half was like “That’s very Kacey Musgraves,” and it’s funny she should say that, of course. Working with Kai, writing Remembering and stuff… How did it feel doing the whole album together with a friend? (Kai Welch, among many other musicians, has played regularly with Kacey Musgraves.)
It was awesome. I totally trust Kai, his musical intuition. I knew he was exactly the right person to produce the album. His two solo albums are just fantastic, and he worked with Abigail Washburn. That’s how I became aware of him and then I met him at a Bluegrass Jam in one of the first two weeks that I moved to Nashville. So, we set a date to write, and that was Remembering, and we became really good friends after that. I’m a huge fan of Kai and I think it worked out perfectly.
When you wrote Remembering it was there on the documentary, ‘I’ll Be Me’ but for this album you’ve stripped it back and changed it slightly. What made you do that?
Well, I feel like in the previous recordings we didn’t really capture the true vulnerability of it and the simplicity of the feelings. So, especially having Kai produce the album, I was like, “We need to record Remembering together.” So, Kai sings the background vocals on the album and he played the piano and some of the electric guitar. It’s Remembering recorded in the way that I’ve always wanted to record it and, also, it had to be on an album since it wasn’t on The Lonely One and I really wanted it to be part of my album catalogue.
I remember first hearing it in London at C2C and you were playing there with your brothers and pretty much had most people in tears, let’s be honest. It’s a beautiful track and that’s what music should do; it should make people “feel” and it definitely does that. Are any of your brothers on this new album?
Yeah, so, Cal plays the drums on Remembering and Good To Let Go and Good Vibrations, and Shannon played some guitar on those, too and he also wrote Good To Let Go.
Since you’ve brought it up, we know your Dad was an honorary member of The Beach Boys. How did that come about, recording Good Vibrations? Why that song?
I had written out a shortlist of covers that I was interested in doing and I went to Kai with the list and he immediately pointed at Good Vibrations. I kind of saw it as a challenge because that’s a tough cover to tackle, because of the musicality of it and the chord changes and it’s just a brilliant song. The friends that I got to play on it are so talented. So, we got together, and we started playing through the song a bunch of times, figuring out how it was going to sound. After I chose it I remembered “Oh my gosh, I think my Dad played on the original recording.” So, there was a really cool kind of synergy there.
I know you’ve written to Dolly (Parton) and she was really nice but she’s not ruled you out. Would you want to do some covers or some new stuff with Dolly?
I would love to have Dolly on an original song. That’s some inspiration; to keep writing with her in mind. Originally, I was hoping that Something Lovely would be a woman duet with her, but I don’t know, we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll write a song and I’ll be like, “That’s the one for Dolly.” She might hear my album and be like, “Oh man, I really missed out on that.”
It was such a cool thing to open the museum, but it just happens to be the worst year ever to open anything. I feel so bad for anyone that just opened a restaurant or a venue or a museum. It’s been really tough for them but they’re trying to hold on. It’s a beautiful museum. I hope things lighten up. Everywhere’s really hurt for tourism but it’s just impossible to have gatherings, y’know? But the museum is really beautiful. I hope everybody can check it out.
The costume, on the cover of the album, we know it’s one of your Dad’s stage costumes. Whose idea was that?
That was my idea. I was going through my Mum’s extra closet. She’d picked up some of the costumes that we were storing at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I was like, “I’m gonna try some of these on.” A couple of the jumpsuits fit me perfectly and I thought to myself, “I need to do a photoshoot in these.” I called up my friend and said, “Let’s do a shoot.” I brought over these costumes and it just ended up being the perfect look for the album. That was in May this year.
Other than your Stage-it stuff, are you doing anything else in lockdown? Learned any foreign languages or a new instrument?
I’m always working on my French. It’s always been a dream of mine to learn another language. I’m relatively intermediate at French. I’m really passionate about it and I’m hoping to spend a lot of time in Europe next year, really working on language. We have no idea what’s going on with touring so this would be the year to do some full immersion language learning. But, hopefully I can tour while I’m over there as well. I’m open to it all.
What’s your impression of the UK country scene? Not so much the fans, but more in terms of the musicians.
Okay, well here’s an example. I did a show last year on August 30th and I couldn’t afford to bring my musicians out, so I used some of my contacts and I found some UK musicians that I had met through touring and doing other shows. I was so blown away by their musicality. I had never rehearsed with them. I had just sent them my music and the charts, and we got up there to do the sound check, opening for The Bellamy Brothers, and it felt like we had rehearsed for a week. Like, they were so good and on top of it. I was just so impressed. I can’t even praise them high enough.
So, what’s next?
I don’t know what’s next. It’s so hard to plan this year. I would love to go on tour in the UK. I actually just signed with a record label in Scotland, called Vacancy Records, an off shoot of Sleepy Night Records. So, I’m hoping I can come over there and tour and do some shows, whatever ‘shows’ look like, y’know? I miss it so much.
So, did you know you share the same birthday as Sam Hunt, December 8th?
I had no idea. I don’t know what he’s up to. I don’t really keep up with mainstream country anymore. That’s the luxury of losing a little bit of your “Give a c**p” as far as like, being your own person and doing what you like, versus what you think will be commercially successful.
Thank you so much. It’s been lovely speaking to you. We’ll look out for the next tour when we’re all allowed out in the world.
Thank you, it was really nice talking to you.