CAMPFIRES is Jeff Walls from Chicago. He’s a one man band, a star in the play “The Future of the Music Industry,” (ok, I made that up, but he does have an interesting view on the subject), and a cassette tape enthusiast. He makes and records all his sounds himself. He works at a museum.
Walls’ songs are fleeting feelings, passing waves of emotion…They are reverb heavy. Some feature vocals, some don’t.
Read on for more from this brainy fellow. Also, Walls gave MME “Rustic Arcadia,” never before available for DLOAD. Keep reading.
When did you start making music as Campfires?
I’ve been recording music for a long time, since I was about 16 or so, and it just sort of eventually grew into being something with a name and all that. It has always just been something I love doing on weekends or in my spare time so it was sort of a gradual glide into what it is today. I guess that you could probably draw a line somewhere around the time I got my own drum kit, about a year ago, where the whole “Campfires” thing started taking shape, but it’s a blurry line.
Tell me about your 3 upcoming cassettes. What’s on each one, who is putting them out?
I’ve got one coming out on Leftist Nautical Antiques that will hopefully be done in not too long. Then there’s one on As Above, So Below Tapes which is a small local sort of psychedelic tape label. There’s an additional one on my friend Dustin’s label that is going to be a split with someone I’m pretty excited to be sharing tape with. I’m not supposed to talk about it until all the details are settled but it’ll be cool, I think. I’m excited for each one in a different way. There will be a chance to run the whole gamut of what I like doing, from abstract-ish tape collage type stuff to more standard songs, and everyone at all the labels are very, very cool so it’s just fun working with people like that, who are excited to find and share music.
Is it overwhelming to have so many things going at once?
Yeah in a way but it’s a huge amount of fun too, to be engaged with this kind of stuff, so it’s fine. If there’s anything in the world I’d like to work hard on its music so it can be absorbing to have all these different things going on. Sometimes it’s tricky though, and it is a drag balancing it with a 9-5 type job because there’s just not enough time for everything and I don’t want anything to be rushed. Today in particular was a little overwhelming, a ton of the practice spaces in my building got broken into in some sort of massive heist so I was trying to record but kept getting interrupted by like the cops and people finding out that all their stuff was stolen. It was hard to concentrate.
How did this all begin for you? Playing music and then also getting your music out there?
I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, since 6th grade maybe, so I guess it started back then. I started recording in high school and have been in love with that whole process since then, just layering things on top of each other and listening back and finding out about how the whole recording thing works and the “happy accidents” that happen. I taught myself drums starting in college (University of Michigan), when I was playing with other bands, and really as more of a hobby just started putting songs together on my own. I would play my little experiments and sketches for friends sometimes and eventually, thanks mostly to a few people encouraging me, decided to try to put the music out there for the world at large. I put the songs online at the beginning of August, I think, so I guess that’s the start of the “public debut,” so to speak.
Do you feel you’re part of a digital community- made up of blogs, small record labels and similar bands?
Oh yeah definitely. I mean, like anything else there is an upside and downside to the whole online music world, but as far as I’m concerned it’s mostly fucking splendid. Mainly just because you have this unprecedented and ever increasing ability to find all this awesome music, and tap into a group of people who just eat sleep and breathe music without any real prospect of there being money in exchange for it or anything like that, which I think is great. I’d like to think of it as more of a community who happens to communicate through digital means, though, rather than something that essentially depends on computers or the internet. A lot of these same people would’ve been making music or writing reviews for whatever zine or student paper or whatever, but now it can all be shared to such an extent that, with an open mind and some trial and error, you can experience the broadest world of music that there’s ever been. I think that’s pretty exciting.
What’s your setup, do you play all the instruments?
Yeah I play all the tracks. Usually there are two or three guitar tracks and one or two drum tracks than vocals and maybe some shakers or tambourines or whatever else. I generally start with guitar and then layer over that. It sort of depends from song to song how it all comes together.
Why cassettes? Will digital downloads be included if someone buys a tape?
I’ve always loved tapes, and it makes sense because they are easy and cheap. I know it’s a pain in the ass for people who don’t have tape players but those things are like 5 bucks at a garage sale, so maybe more people will get them if the format is more common. I just have pleasant memories of tapes because that’s what format music was on when I first started really listening to and falling in love with it when I was a kid. Like on family road trips when I would listen to “Sgt. Pepper’s” 45 times in a row, it was always on a tape. I think that tapes and downloads or, even better, records and downloads is the ultimate way to buy music because you have the best of both worlds. I think that might be out of our immediate technical abilities right now but maybe not. I’m gonna try to figure that out soon.
Do you self record? Do you think you’d be able to be making all this music if it were a different time, when you needed an engineer, and needed to tour before getting an album deal? How does that affect how you work?
Yeah I self record. Everything is performed, recorded, mixed, etc by me. I’ve thought about paying my roommate to help me just keep all the cords and everything straight while I’m recording but up until now I’ve been flying solo. I think about that a lot actually. One of the books I always try to have around is the official EMI recording history of all the Beatles sessions, and it’s funny reading how at the beginning the engineers even wore lab coats and stuff, like that’s how serious and official the process was. I guess I sort of try to take something from that. That sounds backwards because I think most people would think my music is pretty low fidelity but I guess back then their limitations were just technology and what could be done with the equipment at the time, and for me the limitations are money and trying to find a good space to record in and stuff. So they both require a certain amount of flexibility and experimentation with how you go about it, just for different reasons.
What are some of your favorite bands or musicians?
My favorite bands ever are the Kinks and the Velvet Underground. I love all the British stuff from the 60s and Bo Diddley, Pavement and Elephant 6 stuff like Olivia Tremor Control. Also, I’ve always been into more straightforward punk stuff, like the Oblivians or Television Personalities. Stuff that you don’t have to think about why you like it, you just do. There’s a lot though. Really early Devendra Banhart stuff was really big for me too. The song “Pumpkin Seeds” gives me shivers. Of the current crop of stuff, Times New Viking is far and away my favorite. I think “Presents the Paisley Reich” is one of the best albums that has come out in my lifetime.
Do you want to make music full time? I know you also work at a museum in Chicago.
Yeah I would love to. That would be a dream come true, if I were able to even just for a little bit or something. But I think its important to be able to deal with the reality of everything, like feeding and sheltering oneself, and not let that fuck with what you really want to do. So even though I wish I had more time for it, I can keep on with working to live and then playing music whenever I get a second to do it. The museum job is alright, I get to check out some pretty cool art, but it’s still a 9-5.
What inspires you?
My friends, watching storms come in over Lake Michigan, people who really are into something honestly, the Upper Peninsula, rusty empty factories.
How would you describe your sound?
Like when you are on the beach with your friends at night and walk away to go take a piss and can sort of vaguely hear the music that is playing on the radio back where your friends are but you are barely even aware of it because you can suddenly see tons of stars. That’s what I hope my sound is like someday, anyway.
Campfires: Rustic Arcadia