The last time Nick Campbell came to San Diego, he set up an innovative sound-art installment at Space 4 Art as part of the fourth annual San Diego Experimental Guitar Show.
The installation, called PERSONO, was a sand and motor-driven conceptual art piece that used gravity and motion to create improvisational music.
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On Friday, May 30, Campbell returns to San Diego to play as Wages at Whistle Stop alongside locals Manuok.
Sounding nothing at all like his motor and sand experiment, the three-piece Wages is something not of our time. There’s a feeling of ‘70s psych revivalism (you’ll quickly liken it to Dungen, the Beatles, Love, and hints of Jim O’Rourke and Stephen Malkmus) on their 2011 LP Drowning in Sun, Sunshine. The sound gets further glazed over by shoegazey honeyooze in their most recent release, 2013’s Shady Chamber LP.
“Ideally, I'd love to bring these two areas of expression together more in the future, but it's not always easy to accommodate things like falling sand and spinning motors in a traditional live music environment,” Campbell writes via email.
“For me, the main difference between the two approaches is that an art piece tends to have more of an intellectual angle to it, trying to make some defined point in a fixed way that can exist on its own, while composed music is more about expressing raw emotions and being inspired by the process of creation with other great musicians and people.”
Wages’ early recordings were done while they were signed to label Echo Mountain and working out of a Grammy-winning studio in Asheville, NC.
“While that was a great experience, it did tend to push our music in a more traditional direction,” Campbell writes. “The label went bankrupt (the studio is still doing very well), and we were forced to find more creative means to make the music we wanted to make. By default I feel that led us to think more outside the box about how to create beautiful sounds without the aid of any piece of studio gear we could imagine, and that's partly what you hear in the newer recordings.”
Musically, Shady Chamber was heavily informed by the fact that Wages was a two piece at the time, just Campbell and James DeDakis. They will be appearing at Whistle Stop as a three piece with the addition of Dustin Robles.
“To create the space of a bigger band, I started playing with vocal delays and effects to augment what I was doing on guitar. This also opened up a lot of space for James to get more experimental, and if you listen critically to the drums on Shady Chamber you'll hear how unique a lot of the drumming is on the album, which adds a really special and spacey dimension to the whole thing.”
“In terms of themes, I didn't consciously create a theme for the entire thing lyrically,” Campbell continues. “However, the songs do seem to tie together around a feeling of distance and disappearing — not necessarily in a depressing way, but a bittersweet way. In ‘Eternal,’ the second verse starts ‘Bring me an endless dream of other worlds / Infinite colors lit like a forest in the Fall’ — and I think those ambiguous words about a lonely sort of beauty encapsulate the feeling I was going for while we wrote and recorded these songs.”
The same bittersweet dissociation is captured by the music video for the single “Pull Through” off of Shady Chamber. The live visual performance took the artist Yarrow several days using different types of ink and other materials to create scenes and patterns underwater.
“The whole thing tells an extended story,” Campbell says.
Watch it unfold in the video, and live on Friday, May 30 at Whistle Stop with Manuok.