(all photos by Rick Rodney)
When I was in high school I started an on-going document of all of my most favorite sad songs (yes, a document, this was pre-playlists, I actually carved it into several slabs of stone and they were very heavy especially when I had to carry them to school barefoot in the snow). It got up to over two hundreds songs by the end of college and basically documented my emotional growth (or lack thereof), from Bruce Springsteen (“I’m On Fire”) to Bush (“Glycerine” kills me still) to Modest Mouse (every song ever). This anecdote has essentially nothing to do with this interview, but it seemed like a good intro to a piece that basically reveals how a 31-year-old person has spent the better part of the last month listening/crying to an album that was made by a 16-year old in his bedroom. That 16-year old is now 21, his name is Sean Solomon, his band is Moses Campbell (and now includes far more people than it did five years ago as you will learn in vivid detail later in this interview), and I invited him over for a veggie burger and some conversation about the evolution of his band, his day job as an animator for ADHD, and how he is better at life than me.
How’s it going?
S: Good. Is this going to pick up what I am saying? (points at my iPhone)
S: It’s that good?
It’s pretty good. Usually works for me.
S: Cool. I feel like I’m on speaker phone.
Do you have a smart phone?
S: I do. I record demos on that sometimes. I use that app.
Shout out to the voice memos app.
S: This is all going to be in the interview, huh?
This basically will be the interview. I think we’re done now. Do you feel comfortable with that?
S: Yup. Go iPhone apps!
Just kidding. Sean, tell me about Moses Campbell. When did you form, how did you meet, what is the mythology?
S: Ummm when I was 15 I started recording music in my bedroom. Actually, the first album I recorded in my bedroom. I saved all the music as “Moses Campbell” so that no one could find it on my computer. I went to Taft High School in the valley, that’s where NWA started by the way. And Ice Cube came to my senior breakfast and spoke. So when I was 16, I met Pascal in high school, who plays bass with us. He was really easy to spot, because he was wearing skinny jeans. And I knew that he didn’t listen to gangsta rap. There was something about him that said that. So we started hanging out and I convinced him to play bass with me. I asked him what we should call the band, and he said, “This is fine, let’s just call it Moses Campbell.” So we kept the name. I met Miles who plays with us still at Tiny Creatures in LA, which doesn’t exist anymore. We were these 16 year olds who kept seeing each other at shows, so he finally came up to me and was like “I saw you at XBXRX and I saw you at this show” and I was like “I saw you at The Mae Shi show and I saw you at this show.” So we started hanging out. We were playing a show with Calvin Johnson, and our violin player couldn’t come, so I asked Miles if he would play guitar and play the parts that she played, but instead of doing that he just wrote a bunch of new parts, so he joined the band. This is too long, I’m sorry. But we had a different drummer, and he got really busy with school, and there was this guy Andrew who was coming to our shows, and liked our band, and he played drums. When our drummer couldn’t come on tour, we brought Andrew because he knew all our songs. It was like a bad MTV movie or something.
So Andrew still plays drums with us. Our original violin player moved to New York, and we met Pauline, who plays violin now, at Pehrspace. Our original violin player was from high school and didn’t even really play violin, or like she used to, but I made her be in the band because I wanted to have the biggest, most complicated most hard to organize band in the world. We played at Pehrspace a few times after she moved, and Pauline who organizes stuff there was like “where’s your violin player?” She joined the band not knowing we were all ten years younger than her. And that’s everyone.
Long story long. So where did the name Moses Campbell originally come from? Was this your alter ego?
S: A little bit. I actually always thought of it as a band. I didn’t quite know what that meant though. I didn’t know if it was me with a bunch of people, or me with a bunch of toys. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just kept trying a bunch of different things. And then it became a band when Pascal joined. It’s pretty funny to have my high school band still. I’ll run into kids from high school and they’ll be like “Oh what are you up to?” and I’ll say I’m playing music. And they’ll ask what my band is called and I sat Moses Campbell, they’re pretty surprised. Or they’re like “Of course, you guys are so famous! I bought all your records.” Which actually never happens.
Do you think that you’re as sad now as you were when you wrote that first album in your bedroom?
S: (Laughs). Oh I’m definitely sadder than that. But that record was little teen boy emotions. We play completely different music now. I feel like when I was a kid, Miles and I were the 16 year old kids going to shows at The Smell and Echo Curio and Pehrspace, and now people that come to Moses Campbell shows are this huge group of fifteen and 16 year old kids who are seeing us play live and play these new songs, but they keep rediscovering the old album and relating to it, even though I can no longer relate to it.
What do you think it says about me, a 31-year-old, that I relate to that 16-year-old-bedroom-kid music?
S: There’s definitely something wrong with you. (Laughs). The song “Wallflower” on the first record, that’s the earliest one I wrote and recorded, and that was when I was fifteen. And the newest song on the album was “New Country” which I wrote when I was seventeen, and then the album came out on my 18th birthday. And we’ve just been playing live since then, and we’re just now finally about to put out a second record.
And you’re now 21? So it’s not been that long.
S: Yeah it’s been like three years since the album came out. And we lost the whole band because they went to school. I actually only went to school because all my band members went to school. Since Pascal ended up going to Cal Arts and so did I, we ended up taking it more seriously. So we need to put out an album soon because it’s been so long, or else it gets kind of goofy.
Yeah it’s kind of like if you’ve been in a relationship for six or more years and you’re not engaged yet, it gets a bit questionable. Or so I hear.
S: Yeah. You’re pretty good at this whole interview thing.
Thanks. How does the forthcoming record differ musically from the last one?
S: It’s completely different. I don’t know that it’s that I’m writing different songs. I might be writing the same songs and the people playing on them are completely different? But the songs are shorter and faster. And even this new record is old. The newer songs are more relevant to us now. The songs are becoming more apathetic.
You’re aging. Welcome.
S: (Laughs) Yeah I feel like they’re more mature. For the first record, I didn’t really understand music, so I was like let’s layer as many different instruments as possible because I think they all sound and look cool. The new record is more about how can we make this sound good. The first record I recorded myself, and this new one Steve from XBXRX, he mixed it. And I feel like he almost mixed it like it’s a noise record, but I’m writing pop songs. But pop songs with distortion and weird sounding violins and things like that.
Does the new album tackle the same subject matter?
S: Oh, I don’t know. I feel like my band was rejecting songs for a while, and I felt like it was maybe because they didn’t want to talk about my feelings. But I’m not really sure. My band actually asked me to also stop talking between songs. It’s very awkward. But I don’t listen, I still talk in between songs. Someone at work told me “I really like your awkward talking in between songs; you’ll say something that doesn’t make any sense then let it hang for a very long time.” I think whatever you say in between songs is going to sound stupid, so I don’t even try that hard.
How does it feel for you now to play those songs live that you wrote five years ago?
S: Well my band doesn’t want to so we don’t really. I’ll do a solo show and play them every once in a while. I recently played a solo set, and there were all these little kids that were singing along, and that’s when I think I realized these kids were rediscovering that album. All my friends make fun of me for that record.
I love it and I will cut them.
S: Hahah okay! Yeah they all make fun of me and call me emo, but all these kids really relate to it. I don’t hate it! I just feel silly because it’s like a time capsule of really awkward teen years that you try to forget , and The Smell decided to release it on vinyl.
What do you listen to when you’re on the bus or at home getting ready for work or whatever?
S: I don’t know, I don’t want to sound pretentious or anything. My alarm right now is Lightning Bolt, because I have trouble waking up. And I just saw Brian Chippendale at The Smell with his new thing Black Pus. I like that scene. I really like Broadcast. I like Grass Widow. I don’t know, the bands I listen to are so weird. I really like Future the rapper right now. And of course I grew up listening to Nirvana, and like Daniel Johnston.
It’s interesting that you grew up listening to Nirvana, and I am ten years older than you, and I also grew up listening to Nirvana. I think teenagers might ALWAYS grow up listening to Nirvana, which is sort of crazy.
S: You’re supposed to, or there’s something wrong with you.
So when does the next record come out?
S: This summer supposedly. But we have stuff now that we are getting ready to just put out. We have a music video that stars Charlyne Yi and Martin Starr and Ron Lynch, my favorite voice actor. He was in Home Movies and Adventure Time and all these things. They all play space men and me and my band are aliens. It’s live action, and we made the costumes. The next step is to put that out and then the record. Then after this record comes out, I really want to put out something for free. We sell records but I feel like we’re cheating people when there’s so much free music online.
(My brother Sasha walks up) Sasha, this is Sean. He’s an animator too.
Sasha: Oh cool, what do you do man?
S: I work for a company called ADHD.
Sasha: Oh yeah that Friends Night thing. What do you do for them?
S: I’m like an animator and a designer. I move around a lot. But I started there when it was like only 30 people and now it’s like 150.
Sasha: Cool! Yasi can I borrow you car?
Sasha: Good meeting you. Has the show started?
S: It starts in July.
And back to the interview. What else is coming up for MC?
S: I don’t really know what the next thing is. We might put out a 7-inch. Since it’s been three years…not that it took three years to record the album, but it took that long to get a band together and then make the album. We have the cover art done; it was done by Ben Jones, who is the art director where I work. He has an art collective called Paper Rad, and he had a show on Cartoon Network called Problem Solvers, and he was awesome enough to donate this cool art to us.
And you have a bunch of shows coming up?
S: Yes. We’re playing Jubilee at 4:20 pm on Friday June 7th. We requested that time. That’s what we’re telling people anyway. We’re also playing Viva Pomona (on July 27th), and we’re playing The Smell July 2nd with Defiance Ohio. They’re really cool. Every time we have played with them the venue has sold out. They have this cult following of kids that sing along.
Let’s wrap this up. What advice do you have for all the sixteen year old boys currently making music in their bedrooms.
S: Don’t release it. All your friends will make fun of you.
You can find Moses Campbell on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Twitter. You can find Sean riding the LA city bus, drawing cool stuff and listening to music you’ve probably never heard of. Catch Moses Campbell this Friday at Jubilee. Tickets are still available HERE.