Interview with Felecia Campbell
The Mind Behind Felecia and the Dinosaur
Felecia Campbell of Felecia and the Dinosaur is pleased. The release of her new album, In The Key of Victory has gotten a great response and the release party at Slabtown last month gathered a goo 2000 d sized crowd. The album is set to go on iTunes any day now, but right now, she’s really excited to be eating pie for dinner.
“Otherwise it would just be cereal,” she says as she digs into a slice at Random Order Coffeehouse on Alberta.
In The Key of Victory is a turning point in Campbell’s career, she says. In this album, Campbell leaves some of the angst of her previous work behind. “I made a connection the other day that my first studio album was more about physical illness and my second was more about emotional health,” Campbell says. “This one is the most optimistic thing I’ve ever written. So I’m really excited.”
Battling illness has become a major theme in Campbell’s career, something the first Felecia and the Dinosaur album, Music Infusion, refers to in its title. “It was a play on words because I came of age really sick,” Campbell reveals. “I was getting these infusions every six weeks and giving myself injections once a week. Really overly medicated. So a lot of the album was talking about my experience growing up chronically ill.” Diagnosed with fibromyalgia and a rheumatoid auto-immune disease, Campbell says that her “path was a little different than other folks who play music who are young.”
“I’m probably going to have to have to depend on things from local musicians, Internet presence, visual art, things like that,” she says. “I can’t just pick up and go tour. I have to work for my health insurance. When I do tour I plan it very carefully. I make sure I have places to stay and rest.”
While dealing with sickness has become a major occurence in her career, Campbell’s passion for music surfaced before the illness did. One of her first memories is attending a Three Dog Night concert on her mother’s shoulders. Not long after, she was experimenting with her own songwriting. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing music,” Campbell says. “I didn’t have access to instruments. I had an old Casio I would play around with. I remember calling friends when I was four or five years old and playing them songs. As soon as I learned how to write, I just started writing songs. I couldn’t read music for the longest time so I found my own ways of writing out the notations. I have journals from the second grade that I’ve held onto and they have songs in them”
Campbell soon started a string of bands, her first one in third grade. It wasn’t until high school that these ventures lead to shows. Happy Apathy, a pivotal band of her adolescence, was formed in 2004 from the remains of her previous group, Big City Sky. “We played everywhere. That was the best part of growing up -- playing with that band,” she recalls.
As with Music Infusion, playing with Happy Apathy was a therapeutic experience for Campbell. “I was in a psychosis most of high school so I was really glad I had my band,” she says. “I was kind of an art geek. I would stay out and play shows late at night and then get up at 6 am to go to jazz choir. For as rebellious as I thought I was, it really wasn’t that bad. I'd skip class and go to the art room and paint. Go smoke cigarettes behind the Mormon church next door.”
As musicians came and went, Happy Apathy transformed into a band called Blonde Murphy, which eventually became what Campbell refers to as “The Dinosaur project.”
Felecia and the Dinosaur has taken Campbell through bouts of illness and an “alcoholic flare-up.” However, playing with David Evan, who has produced, mastered, and engineered her last three albums, has also allowed her jazz, punk, and soul influences to surface. “I am kind of at the point where I will play anywhere I can and if I can’t get a band to back me up that night, I’ll just play by myself,” Campbell says. “But most often it just winds up being me and David. And I play only acoustic and he’ll do some brush snare, which works out really well because I feel like a lot of my influences stem from punk rock and a lot of jazz too. So the brush snare with the combination of the guitar styling infuses those two things.”
The Dinosaur project has also allowed Campbell to meticulously craft her albums as well as work with themes and subtle imagery. As you would expect, In The Key of Victory, explores the idea of victory, but in ways that perhaps will be missed upon the first listen.
“Every album I make, I make sure there is a pretty hidden theme,” Campbell says. “The last one was water and the one before that there were a lot of wine glasses. So its pretty subtle, and you don't always notice they are there until you tie everything together. But this one was an idea rather than something really tangible. A lot of the songs lyrically are connected. I planned it out pretty meticulously. I take chord progressions and then modulate them and then cross riffs to make sure that each song has elements of another one and are moving in a direction.”
Campbell also uses album artwork to express ideas and themes. The album art for In the Key of Victory features images from two very different photo shoots. “There’s this agnostic gospel I’ve always loved that says that you have to know the dark mother before you know the light mother,” Campbell says. “That was in the back of my head the entire time we were doing the album.” To convey this idea, Campbell did one shoot in a cemetery and one in a lavender field. The stark contrast is readily apparent when the CD case is opened. On the cover, a blonde Campbell seems to spring up from a crop of daisies. On the inside, she has Crayola-red hair and is crouching in front a backdrop of tombstones.
Campbell explained that making the music video was one of the best experiences she’s had with The Dinosaur Project. “I had never done it before. It was a good excuse to have all my friends over and have a dance party. Got to go to all my favorite places. My cat, he's a rock star.”
Even more so than cats (and she has one of her cats’ names tattooed on her wedding ring finger), Campbell is passionate about creating meaningful music. “I want my music to stay socially conscious,” Campbell says. “A lot of the songs on this last album are inspired by this suicide by cop epidemic in Portland. [There’s] a lot about mental health stigma as well. I come from a long line of successful suicide attempts. A lot of the stuff on there is about how I have tools but people in my family didn’t have the 1b4d same tools.”
Campbell has many goals for her music, including a new desire to support herself with the band. She hopes to be signed to a label and would like to have more time to tour. However, in the long run, she would like to use her experiences and her music to help others. “I want to make music that points out to people that they can feel empowered by things like illness: physical, mental, spiritual sickness. There are ways to be fulfilled despite those things,” she says.
In They Key of Victory is available now on the band's website, and she and her band play the White Eagle this tomorrow night with Paper or Plastic and Northeast Northwest @ 8pm for FREE!