Today’s #FridayFind hails from down south in Fort Worth, TX, but has made his way to New York City more than a time or two. Writing folk songs that elicit comfortable coffeehouse vibes and sprinkling in the occasional electric-backed power ballad, Austin Blair Campbell, or ABC for ease, puts as much passion and humility into his music and he does his everyday life.
Currently performing with two EPs on Spotify and consistently working on new music, Campbell’s riff-infused Americana folklore feels as much like a conscious answer to our dystopian daily news briefings as a comfortable and cozy soundtrack to ring in the autumn months. From love and liquor to passion and politics, Campbell’s lyricism and storytelling are carefully selected and effortlessly convincing.
While listening to the 2017 EP, Uphill Climb, contrasted with his latest two-sided single, Listen Up America, it becomes clear that Campbell’s musical influences run deep throughout his songs. Admittedly, Campbell listened to a variety of different music growing up — from Foo Fighters to Maroon 5 and Natalie Cole to church gospel, his younger influences permeate through the music he releases today as only a younger 20-something.
Since starting to write his first songs at age 15 (about a girl, he confesses), he’s come a long way. Throughout the years, his songwriting has transitioned from conveying his own stories into more of a medium to relay the tales of others, a passage which has led him to deeper topics and more reflective themes. In his latest releases, self-reflection and changing direction are tones that visibly fuel his fire.
On the topic, he confesses that songwriting can be difficult, but that occasionally a notion is strong enough to evoke a song in only a matter of minutes. The B-side to his latest single, “If We’re Gonna Survive” is an objective and uplifting reactionary testament to certain events that have unfolded over the last few years. Thinking back on the song’s origins, Campbell recalls: “I sat down and wrote it right after Tom Petty died and earlier in that same week was the Las Vegas shooting that ruined a bunch of families and lives…something about a legend of music dying and a lunatic opening fire on the innocent just struck me in a way that made me want to say something. That something ended up being a message of love. We need each other. Period. No thing in all of time ever succeeded because of it being torn apart…If happiness and love is a goal we truly want for America and the world, we have to work together.”
In fact, working together and and working hard run deep in Austin’s personality; in his own words, he did not get where he is today without the help of others. His team (slash “best friends”), Ben & Caleb Barnett “are two brothers [he has] known since [they] were all born [and they] take things [he writes] and bring them to life.” Collaborating on every project Campbell has on undertaken since 2010, he is the first to admit how much they mean to his work as a musician.
Then a few years ago in 2016, he came across a like-minded folk-rock singer-songwriter born across the pond, Joe Holt, who has been an increasingly frequent collaborator and co-writer since the two met. “His folk/rock work is INSANE and we became so close so fast,” Campbell recalls. “He is a new found brother and I love him.” With Holt as a co-writer and the Barnett brothers as producers and occasional touring musicians, Campbell’s team is as much family as they are close friends.
As for Austin’s future, his aspirations and work ethic will guide the way. While he doesn’t have any bucket list venues specifically in mind, there is a long list of people he would love to collaborate with, even if that means sharing a stage for just a night. Fellow Texan and Americana artist David Ramirez is high on that list, but it goes without saying that Campbell is endearing enough to work well with anyone, assuming that maybe a cold beer and thoughtful conversation are involved.
Consistently throughout our interview, Austin’s goals and mentality towards his work and the world became increasingly clear. As he confidently states, “Music is 100% made to evoke change. Change in a heart, change in a mindset, change in a culture, change in a life…”. Campbell may only be at the beginning of his journey, but his first steps on the road ahead are steadfast and significant enough that we’ll be walking right alongside him.
*Check out Austin’s site to see where you can catch his next performance, and listen to his full R&B NYC playlist on Spotify below.
Plus, read the full Rhythm & Boots NYC interview with Austin Blair Campbell below, and press play on the rest of our Friday Finds!
Backstage with Austin Blair Campbell:
Rhythm & Boots NYC: Listening to your new track “Listen Up America” I think it’s hard to ignore a bit of ‘90s grunge and early 2000s in the musical mix. What types of music did you listen to growing up, and how do your musical foundations affect the current material you’re releasing?
Austin Blair Campbell: First of all, I love that its hard to ignore the references you’re hinting at and they are spot on. Specifically with ‘Listen Up America’ a more chill Foo Fighters was an inspiration for sure. Also the songs ‘My Sharona’ and ‘Suzie Q’ were vibe influences for the drum groove that Caleb laid down and the production direction instrumentally. Growing up I listened to a ton of different music. The first record I recall my parents buying me was ‘Songs About Jane’ by Maroon 5. I fell in love with it and know almost every lyric. But my parents listened to so much different stuff. Everything from Radiohead to Natalie Cole to Alison Krauss & Union Station to church gospel music. And I will honestly say that every one of those different styles cross my mind whenever we are writing.
R&B NYC: Reading your bio it seems like you grew up with music in a religious setting, and now you’re using your songwriting abilities to effect change in a political setting. Do you think music’s relatability can make it a powerful vehicle for change in any environment?
ABC: Music is 100% made to evoke change. Change in a heart, change in a mindset, change in a culture, change in a life…the list goes on. I did grow up a southern church growing boy. And that has/does impact the way that I experience things of our world today. Politics are inevitably emotional conversations. The two new songs I released were less about trying to be political though and more so about trying to be intentional about people in our world looking at themselves and seeing what they can do to make their world better. Camaraderie, Love, Dropping Pride and being willing to put yourself second and others first….all things I want to be better at and wish our world was better at.
R&B NYC: At your recent performance at Bowery Electric it was just you and an acoustic guitar. When you play bigger shows or record in the studio, are you playing other instruments or is there a bigger band surrounding you?
ABC: You will never hear me taking credit for all of anything. I have a team, that really are just my best friends, who take things I write and bring the to life with me. Ben & Caleb Barnett are two brothers I have known since we were all born. We are family to each other. We have worked together on every project that the three of us have done since 2010. That includes a wide variety of genres from Pop Punk to Indie to Metal to Electronic stuff to Hip Hop to Singer Songwriter Americana stuff. So I owe them a lot. Then in 2016 my path crossed with a UK born, New York living gentleman named Joe Holt. He is a singer songwriter who does folk/rock work that is INSANE and we became so close so fast that we are cowriters together on almost all of our work. He is a new found brother and I love him. That sums up the recording process for sure because all of those gentlemen take part in that process. But Caleb and Ben are both technically in my band. We have only done one live show as a full band for financial reasons. Caleb is my drummer and Ben is my Electric player and both are my producers.
R&B NYC: Now that you’re a touring musician with a mix of various sounds in his library, what would be your dream venue to play and your dream act to open up for? In other words, what would be the greatest gig of your life?
ABC: Venues to be honest I don’t have a bucket list. Anywhere that has good loud sound fits me just fine. I’d love to open for a lot of different people. But it would be a dream to become friends via touring/opening with 3 different guys…David Ramirez, Ryan Adams, & Jason Isbell. You can’t know someone from what you see only, but from what I have read, and watched and listened to from these men, they all seem like people i’d love to get to know one day. So opening for any or all of them would be a lifetime memory.
R&B NYC: Growing up in Texas, do you preach the notion that everything’s bigger down there? What about the Lone Star State makes it different than anywhere else in America?
ABC: Man…..No. Hahaha. I don’t preach that notion at all. I have been here my whole life, and we aren’t better, bigger or cooler. But i’m a different soul. I don’t feel that I really fit into the stereotypical ‘Texan’ mold. I kinda think we ain’t shit compared to what else is out there. We are nice as hell for the most part, I will say that though.
R&B NYC: Describe the assertion “we need each other if we’re gonna survive”. What was your inspiration behind writing this song, and how do you think it’s increasingly relevant today?
ABC: You know….song writing can be a bitch sometimes. Hard to work with, frustrating, and painful. But this song came to me in about 30 min total. I sat down and wrote it right after Tom Petty died and earlier in that same week was the Las Vegas shooting that ruined a bunch of families and lives. I wasn’t hugely impacted directly by Petty by any means but I am obviously familiar with his work. And something about a legend of music dying and a lunatic opening fire on the innocent just struck me in a way that made me want to say something. That something ended up being a message of love. We need each other. Period. No thing in all of time ever succeeded because of it being torn apart. But many things do well by rallying around an idea and focusing a team on an end goal. If happiness and love is a goal we truly want for America and the world, we have to work together. That chorus ended up really banging, I was very unconfident about it when I wrote it but got positive feedback and stuck with it and I am really glad I did.
R&B NYC: Based on what I’ve seen from you, I’m going to drop some “this or that” questions to see who you truly are, if that works for you…
- Green Day or blink-182? Blink!!
- Flannel or denim? Denim
- Bob Dylan or John Denver? Bob Dylan
- Lyrics come first or music comes first? Same time?
- Friday night or Saturday night? Saturday
- George Strait or George Jones? Strait
- NFL or college football? NFL
- MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch InBev? Miller Coors
- Fried chicken or BBQ? Fried Chicken
- Dive bar show or Arena concert? Dive for sure
R&B NYC: In general, how did you originally start making music and how has your music-making process changed throughout the years? Do you bring a pad and paper with you wherever you go, or do you just prefer deciding when to sit down to write?
ABC: The first song I ever wrote I was 15 and of course like any typical 15 year old “writer” my song was about a girl l was certain I was going to spend the rest of my life with. And of course that didn’t happen. But that one song led me into wanting to write more, which makes you want to touch on deeper topics, which makes you want to say things in a way you believe have never been said before, which makes you want to write about things other than just your direct relational interactions which starts a train of you putting yourself not only in your easy to tell stories but also beginning to try to tell others stories through you…..songwriting builds. Not many people start with a revolutionary smash hit. Im sure its happened but I wouldn’t say its typical. I have to work at it. Nothing comes easily. If it came easily all the time it wouldn’t be fun to me. I like the challenge of drawing the thoughts out. With all that said, I don’t walk around with a pad and paper for sure. I’m not that writer. I admire the hell out of those that can do that. I have to block out time. BUT, sometimes a line or a melody will hit and I will know “I need to hash this out now or it will be lost forever.” So it’s kind of a carpe diem of every moment it happens. Don’t let it get lost in the shuffle of your day because often times it doesn’t come at convenient moments. Take the time to work it out if it comes and if nothing is pressing your writing mind then don’t get stagnant, set out the time. That’s what I have to do.
R&B NYC: Speaking to your song “Life & Gin”, do you have a go-to drink no matter where you are or what mood you’re in?
1. Gin on the rocks with a squeeze of lime.
2. Jameson on the rocks.
3. Miller Lite
I could give a long winded answer…but if i’m going out, these are my definite go to’s.
R&B NYC: Finally, the signature R&B question: What are your absolute favorite pair of shoes? This could be right now or of all-time, a specific brand, a general style, just anything that you can’t leave the house without having on your feet!
ABC: I have a pair of cold black boots that I can’t let go of. They need to be re-soled really badly. I need a good cobbler. But the fit of them and the look is super industrial and versatile….I can’t let them go. I have had the current soles glued back on for both boots multiple times. I love them!