Interview: Campbell / Jensen are ‘perfectly alright’

Campbell Jensen new music

November 3 sees the release of Turtle Cottage, the debut album from Campbell / Jensen, the (very) musical duo of Ashley Campbell and Thor Jensen. Hot on its heels, just three days later they kick off a month-long UK and Ireland wide tour which then picks up again in February 2024.

The new album marries both the pair’s songwriting talents and outstanding musicianship – if you love a banjo, this is for you – showcasing Ashley’s crystal clear vocals with Thor’s seasoned baritone.

Newly-moved to London and enjoying life in both the capital and the countryside (and Hull – of which more later), the couple talked to Six Shooter Country about finding love, making music in Ireland, and why Ashley’s late father, the legendary Glen Campbell, would be so proud of her right now.

Turtle Cottage new album

SSC: Many congratulations on Turtle Cottage, I would describe it as having quite an ‘old-fashioned’ feel to it, I love the folk/jazz elements – it’s certainly a real antidote to country music’s beer-drinking, truck songs. What did you want to achieve when you set out to make it?

AC: Thor and I just love playing music together. Musically, we’re from kind of two opposite sides of music – Thor comes from such a heavy jazz influenced background and I’m coming pretty much from country and folk – you can hear all those elements coming together.

It’s kind of a meeting of two minds and when we wrote together, it just happened very organically. All the songs came from a place of honesty and what we were feeling at the time. Some of the more sweet, romantic songs were coming from the fact Thor and I had just started dating and we were already travelling together and playing music, so particularly a song like Run With You was reflecting that excitement, the lust for life and seizing the moment.

Lead single from the album P&P has already been released – watch the RK Presents live performance of it here

SSC: In terms of seizing the moment, you met because you (Ashley) wanted to learn gypsy jazz. When you walked through the door to meet him, was there a ‘wham bam’ moment or was it more of a slow burn? (laughter)

AC: It was pretty wham bam for me, I must say.

TJ: (laughing) It was a pretty interesting time for me because I had just moved to Nashville, so there was certainly a ‘wham bam’ element to it. When you’re new in a place there’s a certain new kid nervousness to everything, it was also very exciting and there was definitely an undeniable connection, even within that first lesson, it was very easy to communicate musically together.

SSC: I particularly love the song Perfectly Alright, it’s such a gentle song in many ways, it’s saying you’re perfectly alright together and this is what it is. How long did it take to write this and the rest of the album?

TJ: We found a really wonderful flow together, a lot of them were a matter of sitting together and by the end of the afternoon we had a song. Obviously, that wasn’t the case with every song, but it was a couple of months of writing sessions together.

AC: The first song we wrote together happened before Campbell / Jensen was fully formed and it’s nice that writing together comes so naturally. Perfectly Alright, I’m glad you mentioned that one, it’s one of my very favourite songs on the album. A lot of the songs would start out with one of us having an idea…I would start writing a song and bring it to Thor or vice versa.

Perfectly Alright was one that Thor started and came up with…you tell the story about the sweet couple you saw…

TJ: We were playing at The Star Inn in Guildford, and as we were loading our stuff in and coming inside there was just simply a couple sitting at a table. They were each reading a book and not talking, but they both just seemed so contented with where they were and what they were doing. And it just seemed perfect, it was just a good example of things don’t have to be exciting to be great, they were just perfectly alright…

SSC: That leads me on to another favourite, Tank and Babe, you start listening and you think ‘where is this one going’ and they get together and at the end, it’s like ‘they (expletive) that one up’ as you say in the song Ashley (laughter). That’s a great song you really have to listen to.

AC: Yeah, we’re definitely about lyrics that you have to listen to. I’ve always loved songwriting that tells a story and that is literally telling a story, it’s like a tale of Tank and Babe.

A Song By Vampires For Vampires is full of witty lyrics

SSC: You have two instrumentals on the album and I feel that’s quite unusual these days. Do you sometimes feel music takes second stage to the words?

TJ: I don’t think so. I think done right, they reflect each other appropriately. Speaking personally, I’ve never written music first, then words first, or vice versa. It’s always come at the same time and I think if you’re trying really hard, then they both just support each other. That being said, within an instrumental, hopefully even without words, you can transport someone.

SSC: You’re living in London now and you took yourselves off to Turtle Cottage in Ireland to record this album. Tell me about your affinity with Ireland and the UK.

AC: It’s funny because since we’ve moved here just a little over two months ago, people say ‘oh, you’re from America, why did you move here?’, like it’s some terrible place or something (laughter).

I say ‘it’s a little bit of the grass is always greener on the other side’, because like a lot of people over here are enamoured with America and they all want to live there. For us it’s the same, we just wanted something different, we think it’s beautiful over here, we love the way of life, the scenery, the old buildings – in America we’re not used to ‘old, old’ – and just the proximity to Europe in general is so exciting for us. And Ireland, speaks for itself, it’s so beautiful.

The reason we came to know about Turtle Cottage and recorded the album there is that – are you familiar with the documentary about my father Glen Campbell, I’ll Be Me – I became very close with the woman who edited that film, she is an incredible film-editor, Elisa Bonora.

At the end of 2020, she had been living in Los Angeles for over 30 years, but she is Italian and decided she wanted to come back to this side of the world and live closer to her family, so she moved to Belfast. Through some friends, she rented Turtle Cottage for six months while she got settled. She had three cats and a dog, so I volunteered to help her move and get everyone over safely, and I went and lived with her over Christmas for basically a month at the beginning of 2021 and it was the most magical place.

After I met Thor and we were touring, we came through Northern Ireland and we took him to the cottage and we both just went ‘wow, this place is really special’ and we ended up there.

Banjo Ashley Campbell Thor Jensen

SSC: You crowd-funded this album, why did you go down that route?

TJ: Well frankly, it’s difficult and expensive to make records and this way it’s a direct line from us to people who hopefully want to hear it. That’s the main reason we went down that avenue, to just sort of connect with people.

AC: We hope to meet people (who supported the crowd-funding) as they come out to the shows, it was basically a pre-order of the CD and the vinyl, there were different tiers. We’ve also got some unique postcards that we’re going to send out, we had an artist do a rendition of a Turtle Cottage poster, and just little perks and stuff so people still get something and feel they have been a part of it.

SSC: Moving neatly onto your tour, what’s striking is you’re playing lots of small venues, do you see your music as more fitting to smaller venues where people can really listen?

AC: There’s definitely an air of intimacy to what we do because it’s just the two of us and it’s acoustic. Like any artist, we hope to be playing bigger venues as time goes on, but for now, it really suits us and I’d rather have a full smaller venue than a sparsely packed larger venue.

We’re just starting out as a duo, so of course we’re playing smaller venues and hopefully we’ll grow organically with our fan base as word gets out about our music.

SSC: You recently played the British Country Music Festival at the Blackpool Winter Gardens, that is such an amazing setting, was that one of your favourites so far?

TJ: Oh that venue was absolutely spectacular. What a gorgeous room, I just want to go eat lunch there … it was just, you couldn’t get a more beautiful room to play music in.

AC: And the festival was run so smoothly, you never know what you’re going to get with a festival, but they were on top of everything and made it such a pleasant experience for the artists.

Ashley Campbell brought her banjo to The Long Road festival back in 2018

SSC: Talking of festivals, are you looking to do some in the UK next summer?

AC: Absolutely, we have an incredible agent with Willie Kelly at Midnight Mango and he is working hard to get us playing a lot all next year.

SSC: That’s great to hear. So where’s been your favourite place to visit so far?

TJ: The Druidstone in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, is a spectacular place. Our instrumental Edge of the World is name for that place because it feels like you’re on the edge of the world.

AC: Yeah, The Druidstone is definitely up there but also we really love Hull. It’s another thing, we moved to England and people say ‘why do you love it’ and then we say we love Hull and people are like ‘why do you love Hull’ (laughter).

Because Hull is wonderful, there’s this great vibe, it’s so artsy and there’s this beautiful cathedral and this old Georgian sector, all these beautiful buildings and fabulous restaurants. It’s kind of a little hidden gem.

SSC: Does your writing change depending on if you’re in the middle of Nashville or sitting watching stunning views across the sea – I assume you end up with a different vibe?

TJ: Yeah, that’s unavoidable. You are your surroundings, it’s like … Beethoven’s Sixth symphony is called the Pastoral Symphony because it’s the only one he composed outside of the city, so when you listen to it, it sounds like the countryside. You can’t help but be affected by your surroundings.

SSC: Ashley, it almost goes without saying, I’m sure your dad would be very proud of you. What would you say to him if he was here watching you?

AC: I would say ‘do you want to jam’ (laughter). I would love to be playing with him right now. I just think, not to get morose or emotional, but in addition to obviously losing a father, it’s very sad to feel the loss of the musical possibilities as well.

I’m kind of feeling like I’m coming into my own, I’ve met Thor and just all the thoughts of wishing I could be creating music with my father, not just playing in his band, but also … I know he and Thor would have got on quite well, they would have loved playing together and I think he would be proud and I wish he could join in the fun.

SSC: Absolutely. Thank you both for taking time out today – I must give a namecheck to Frodo (Ashley’s do) as it was lovely to say hallo to him too – and we look forward to seeing you on the road soon.

Turtle Cottage is out on November 3 via Vacancy Records. Singles P&P and A Song By Vampires For Vampires are already available to download and you can pre-order the album from here

Turtle Cottage tracklist:

  1. ‘P&P’
  2. ‘At Long Last’
  3. ‘A Song By Vampires, For Vampires’
  4. ‘Edge Of The World’
  5. ‘Run With You’
  6. ‘If I’m Gonna Live A Long Time’
  7. ‘Perfectly Alright’
  8. ‘Exit Zero’
  9. ‘Goodbye Cowboy’
  10. ‘It’s Hard Not To Smile’
  11. ‘Tank And Babe’
  12. ‘Waiting On The Summertime’

3rd – Edinburgh, The Voodoo Rooms
6th – London, St. Pancras Old Church
9th – Brighton, Mid-Sussex Music Hall
11th – Huddersfield, The North Light Gallery (special guests to The Kruger Brothers)
12th – Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Cafe
15th – Bangor, The Court House16th – Bangor, The Court House
17th – Galway, Monroe’s Live
18th – Letterkenny, The RCC
19th – Clonakilty, De Barra’s
21st – Dublin, The Ruby Sessions
22nd – Coolagarrantoe, Mitchelstown Cave (a Wilde Dining event)

7th – Barnoldswick, Music & Arts Centre
8th – Liverpool, Music Room
9th – Kirton, Diamond Jubilee Town Hall
10th – Newcastle, Cluny 2
16th – Twyford, St, Mary’s Church
17th – Ansford, Caryford Community Hall

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