Improvijazzation Nation # 150 “retro” INTERVIEW with Don Campau
…..now carryin’ on th’ “tradition” I’m trying to establish as a regular part of this ‘zine, a few questions/inputs from a LONG time “I.N.” friend, DON CAMPAU, who (as you shoud be aware, if you’re at ALL in to D.I.Y./underground) does the show “NO PIGEONHOLES” on KKUP, in Cupertino, California – featuring the musics of a WIDE variety of hometapers & ‘underground’ artists from ALL over the world! He’s also known (to many of us) as the U.S. contact/distributor for the Kentucky Fried Radio effort (if you haven’t checked THAT one out, be SURE to get hold of him – GOOD prices, GOOD improv – all with some comeback to the ARTISTS themselves). As with most interviews currently in “I.N.”, this was done by mail during June/July – we zurely APPRECIATE Don takin’ time out from his BUSY schedule to provide these insights into HIS efforts & commentary on the “scene” in general – THANKS, Don! Here goes…
Z: I remember reading aeons ago that Zappa was a prime influence for you; how has his death affected your music or thought chains – or HAS it?
DC: I s’pose in a way I haven’t completely accepted Zappa’s death yet. It’s hard to imagine living in a world without the snide remarks, committed fatalism, political perspective and musical genius that Frank provided. However, for me, Zappa’s influence was stronger much earlier. Although technically his recent music was remarkable… because I had an early exposure to good jazz I could tell how lame most guitarists were and I knew Zappa was cooking. I think it is pretty obvious that Frank Zappa was the most important American composer of our time, perhaps of the entire 20th century.
Z: In recent discourses/interviews with other improv artists/D.I.Y.’ers, I’ve noticed a feeling among some that today’s “underground” is a “sign o’ th’ end times”; too “chaotic”… you’re surely in aa position to make some kind of judgement on that… is that just paranoia, or “real fear”?
DC: …not exactly clear what you mean. Politically or commercially? I would offer that you can still do whatever the hell you want in your bedroom studio (as long as you don’t step on somebody’s big toes somewhere). As far as I’m concerned, music is a fun thing only and although I do sell my tapes, the main reason I do it is for enjoyment and the overwhelming feeling to try to be creative. Yes, many hometapers labor under the illusion that someday they will “make” it. Hey, if you want to live that nightmare, it’s OK by me. If you really want to be involved eventually in the “music industry”, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Don’t do it. Get a goddam job at a grocery store (like I did) and push out vegetables and get good health benefits. The Mafia controlled “entertainment” bizness has never been concerned about your (or anybody’s) art. Plain and simple; the business will fuck you over EVERY TIME. Ask Martin Newell. He’s one of the greatest home tapers and a savvy guy, but even he thought he could make it doing his fantastic music. He finally threw up his hands at the whole lot. Ironically, Andy Partridge of XTC heard him and produced his latest CD. So everything I just told you was wrong, if you have friends on the “inside”.
Z: Do you think review ‘zines tend to “pigeonhole” what they hear? Does/can radio do any better a job at that?
DC: Depending on their slant I’d say they all do it. By their very nature, editors make decisions like “sticking to the point” or “just tell them what it sounds like”. Not many publications are lucky enough to have writers talented enough to be able to create imagery or to have interesting angles, other than saying “it sounds like U2″, or it “reminds me of Stockhausen”.
As far as radio being better… I doubt it. Even non-commercial and college radio gets bogged down “in it’s format” most of the time. There are, however, quite a few selected shows throughout the world that do play outrageous and homespun music. Even non-commercial stations are “bottom line” oriented. I suppose it has to be this way.
Z: Something many of us in th’ “scene” (whatever’n’l THAT is) today often run in to is a SCHEDULE glut; how do you work around/through that? Is it all “worth” it in the end run? If it is, WHY?
DC: I deal with it by getting up at 4 a.m. to do my day job. Since I’m a single father with 3 kids I like to be able to be home with them as much as possible and at the same time be close enough to the tape decks that I can be dubbing and doing the laundry, dishes lunches/dinners and endless homework. I do truly get a kick from listening and playing music and I love corresponding with people all over the world. Don’t forget – ANYBODY can do it. Write somebody today. Heck, if I can crank it out, I know anybody can.
Z: There was a LOT of talk about three years back on the indie/taper “glut”; some of it was probably justified (in this interviewers mind)… has that gotten any better, Don? Is it worse? Name just one/two/three “jewels” that stand out (from the rest in this perceived “glut”) for overall production/creative ability, if you don’t mind!
DC: I’m not sure I agree with you about a so-called “glut”. Remember, even if you and I are in touch with hundreds/thousands of people, we are still only seeing the tip of the taping iceberg. I will say I’ve received thousands of tapes from around the world and there are plenty of standouts. Of course, that’s my judgement; you might think the same stuff is shit. Recent highlights for me have been releases by Screamin’ Popeyes, Rudy Schwartz Project, LMNOP and also Russ Stedman. Contact me for the addresses if you desire. I like a lot of different styles… that’s why I call my radio show “No Pigeonholes” – you send it, I play it. I just try to pick your best track.
Z: Talk a bit about the KFR & Loose Caboose labels you work with/on… increases in distribution? A lowering of interest? If it’s lowered, could this be due to an increased amount of networking/trading goin’ on today?
DC: KFR is a distribution service I provide for home tapers. You send me your master and I put it in my cheap little catalog and peddle it to the world. Never been a tremendous interest in KFR sales-wise, but I don’t really care. Just happy there’s an outlet for this stuff.
Loose Caboose is a “bootleg” label. I don’t specialize in every live tape – just the ones I like. I do have some cool stuff from some of your faves though. Oh yeah, send blanks (and postage please) for anything from any of my catalogs or radio show, for that matter. The radio shows are excellent compz, if I do say so. (& ZZAJ sez so, too… sort uvva’ whozewho of D.I.Y./underground) …word of mouth sells a few & I get to make new friends. I hope people don’t give up on “underground”, because they are not “making it”. That’s not the point. The point is to make human contact with somebody, stir up dialogue and maybe hear some interesting sounds. Sure, you’ll wade through shit to get there, but do it anyway. You need to be humbled. If you’re in this to get rich/famous, get out now and send me your extra blank tapes. Also, don’t believe you have to make a CD to be “legit”. If you’re not already “legit” in your own eyes, perhaps you should examine your motives.
Z: What about a comment on those just starting out who see indie/D.I.Y. as a path to the “top”? Or, better yet, IS there such a thing as the “top” in this arena?
I think I answered that a minute ago… Record and play your music for the love of it, the love of being creative. If that’s not good enough, don’t bother staying in the underground. You don’t belong there. Talk to somebody ELSE about the music biz, ’cause I don’t have an interest. That doesn’t mean I don’t like some commercial music, because I do.
As far as the undergound having a “top”, I don’t think that term applies here. I do think there’s a certain heirarchy, as in any subculture. There are certain people who’ve been around a long time and relative newcomers who make a splash because of hard work/talent. Word-of-mouth circulates after a period, and you become known worldwide. The beauty is – anyone can do it. There are radio shows throughout America/Europe that’ll play your home tape. Lord Litter even has a show on Radio Marabu that broadcasts to Europe. Of course most of these shows are late and low power. Still, there’s access. Even a growing video underground, because the technology is so available.
Z: What about your own tape/sonic projects? Anything you think might be of particular interest to “I.N.” readers?
DC: As always, I’m working on new things. Releases seem to come more slowly, but that’s OK. If I can do one or two tapes a year, I’m happy. Recently, I completed my tribute to Tim Buckley, GOODBYE AND HELLO. I cover his LP from 1967. I am also at work on PEN PALS 2, sequel to a 1988 tape. It’s a massive mail collab. rock/punk/pop oriented. Currently, I’ve been recording with Charles Laurel and Eric Muhs. They’re talented and funny guys. I have several others in mind too, but I’ll let them evolve as time goes by.
Z: Is there any possibility that today’s D.I.Y. will become tomorrow’s SCHLOCK?
DC: It’s already happened, because it was schlock to begin with.
Z: Does “No Pigeonholes” use CD’s? If not, why not? Is the DJ preference for CD’s on “college radio” a real danger for those of us sticking with the tape format?
DC: Only if you care about “making it”. You always have the option of trading/corresponding with all sorts of people. You’ll have a good time making friends who are into something similar. Sure, I play CD’s on my show. My show is NOT strictly home cassettes. I decided long ago there were too many gray areas. I do prefer home tapes – but small, creative studio projects will always get airplay. I’ve never turned a tape down for content. However, most DJ’s have no idea what it is to play all tapes. It’s a real technical challenge at times. I’ve messed up in every way imagineable.
…well, maybe, Don; but your efforts will go down in the annals of “this” hometaper as “monumental” – NON-MAFIA, NON-corporate & REAL! He wasn’t kiddin’ yer’ ’bout those showtapes, either – SEND Don a blank tape (& a coupla’ buckz/mailer) – he DELIVERS – EVERY time. & (unfortunately) that’s not sumthin’ you kin’ SAY ’bout a lotta’ volkz in some areas of the “underground” these days! Rotcod Zzaj