Valvewire’s Ken Campbell brings swampy blues rock to Spins & Needles

Valvewire’s Ken Campbell brings swampy blues rock to Spins & Needles

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Fuddy – Special guest today, Ken Campbell from Sydney blues music masters Valvewire.

Ken – Good evening Darren, hello Bondi.

Fuddy – Tell us the story about this was all put together. Some special players, lots of trips in and around Sydney as well as overseas to record this.

Ken – This is a new thing for me. I’ve been working for a year and a half with a couple of fellas who don’t live in Bondi, but it was born out of another project I had which was from Bondi. It’s been fun recording, producing and developing it in the rehearsal room. Ben and Soren Hillis are on bass and drums, supporting me on guitar. I write the songs. Ben Rosen in Singapore is another ex-Bondi music talent, he jumped on to help produce it and mix it in Singapore.

Fuddy – You used to play in a band with Ben Rosen didn’t you?

Ken – Back in the late ’90s, early ’00s at the Beach Road on weekends. That was a band called Black Fish.

Fuddy – That was a great band, I remember it very well. I think I mixed you at one stage, at Bar 71. Not going back too far, but we did have a lot of fun didn’t we?

Ken – Good days, they were. I haven’t lived here for seven or eight years. It’s almost unrecognisable.

Fuddy – It’s pretty crazy, but the main thing is that music is still going on and that’s the greatest thing. Unfortunately it’s not the same as it was with gigs and so forth, but people who are into it and believe in it are still recording. How true to my show are you with this vinyl record pressing!

Ken – I knew you did a vinyl specialty show and that’s why I got in touch! Thanks for playing it!

Fuddy – Loving it! We’ll play the other side soon. Back to the record, where did you record it?

Ken – We started at the old Megafon with Shane Fahey, he’s an old Sydney musical legend, going back to his productions with Scattered Order in the ’80s. He’s recorded just about everybody who’s anybody with a successful record out of that studio. Beautiful studio still, which is available. A little under the radar, but an awesome room to record in.

Fuddy – That’s good. There are some spaces around, but I hate to say it – I’ve recorded in some crap rooms.

Ken – The room is the key thing. A lot of people don’t really understand but it’s the sound of the room you sit and play in, emitting those sound waves. It ultimately effects what you listen back to.

Fuddy – Absolutely. Tell us the story about your inspiration to write this music.

Ken – This particular tune, Unforgiven, I took inspiration and reference from movies that I’ve enjoyed. The title comes from a Sergio Leone film and I’ve been a big fan of Ennio Morricone, who did the soundtrack for many of those spaghetti Western films. Took a little inspiration from that sound and direction, although it is an original work inspired by how I felt about writing about a set of experiences I believe most musicians are linked with- artfully and truthfully recording their own experience as they walk the path of life.

Fuddy – You’re playing a gig on Friday night at Lazybones?

Ken – Lazybones is one of the best new mid-sized rooms in Sydney. Fantastic appointment and comfort, run by a very credible person who supports music culture in Sydney.

Fuddy – A nice change, isn’t it?

Ken – It’s one of his priorities to support live music culture, running six nights a week. He pays the musicians pretty well. And insists that everyone who comes pay at the door to keep the culture of Sydney music going. Lazybones is on the corner of Marrickville Road and Illawara Road. It’s a little hole in the wall on Illawara Road. It’s easy to spot. There’s a gold throne at the door with a girl with long blonde hair. Quite well appointed, with short miniskirts. (Laughter) Although I did turn up on Friday night and there was a big boofy bloke with a beard sitting there in that old throne, so he probably mixes it up a bit. It’s a good spot, two floors. This Friday we’re launching our 10″ vinyl single with accompanying video. Supporting on the night are Dave Burgess, a fantastic swampy blues guy. He’s been working pretty hard over the past few years and recording. I’ve seen his band four times now. Fantastic slide player. Opening up the night is young Bondi lad Louis Green, son of a friend of mine. He’s going to be huge. He’s got a fantastic voice and he’s very comfortable with himself on guitar. It’s $15 and starts at 8pm at Lazybones.

Fuddy – That’s like $5 an act. So cheap.

Ken – What do you get for $15 these days? A coffee and a focaccia.

Fuddy – I don’t mind a toasted sandwich from time to time, but I don’t want to pay $15 for a coffee and a toasted sandwich, let me tell you. (Laughter)

Ken – Mate I went to a cafe in Newtown, which shall remain nameless, for now, two sandwiches and two pots of tea cost me $34.

Fuddy – That’s just outrageous. What was in the tea? Were you effected?

Ken – We didn’t even have milk.

Fuddy – Thank God you didn’t ask for almond milk! I’m sure it would have been another $5!

Ken – Oh mate, some of that money went towards the guy’s wax for his moustache I’m sure.

Fuddy – They’re lovely aren’t they. The B-side we’ll play in a second. Different inspiration? Is it a different vibe?

Ken – It comes from a different space. I love the blues, I’ve listened to the blues all my life and it resonates with me. I’ve always been drawn to slow groove tracks. Lyrically it expresses what’s missing from the world, in people’s pursuit of the mighty dollar. Heart and soul. It’s an expression of what lives within me.

Fuddy – It’s quite profound. I like strong thoughts in music.

[Plays B-side, Heart & Soul]

Fuddy – I loved it! There was a sound in there with the vocal, it went from a really rich deep, boxy but bodied vocal sound to another strange sound… could you tell me what that was? Don’t let all the secrets out, but just this one…

Ken – With pleasure. I’ve had for ages in my bottom drawer an old New York taxi mic. Button operated. It wasn’t functional, but just before the studio session I had it wired up. Shane, who engineered the recording, very quickly used compression and a few other tricks. The verse vocal he pulled an amazing sound. It wasn’t just the taxi mic, but that was the basis. Then the preamps and compression. For the chorus there was a different sound.

Fuddy – It sounded like that voice boxy thing, like you’re singing into something. It didn’t sound close-mic’ed.

Ken – It was different for a reason, too. I wanted the verses to sound like they were spoken-word and the choruses, those passages you’re talking about, there’s the sound of a telephone call ringing. I wanted the next section to sound like it was coming from a different place, over the phone from the ether somewhere. In order to achieve that sound I wanted to acquire a vintage megaphone. I bought a $12 toy off eBay. So it’s a $12 toy going into a $400 mic, produced by one of the best engineers in town.

Fuddy – On nice! Wow. I wonder if that’ll be brought out on Friday night?

Ken – I’m going to bring out the eBay $20 vintage version. (Laughter)

Fuddy – You’re a bit of a guitar man. You’re very particular about your sound.

Ken – Totally.

Fuddy – What will you be bringing out on Friday night?

Ken – I’ve got some fabulous items. I’m bringing a 959SLP Marshall amp. Gretsch White Falcon, vintage gold-top Les Paul, hand-wired pickups and bumblebee caps. Transients and articulations are awesome. All that and another Gretsch and a Fender Jaguar.

Fuddy – I love the Jags!

Ken – It’s a fantastic guitar.

Fuddy – I once saw… I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy it – I’m not a guitar player, but for the love of a guitar… there was a 1962 Fender Jaguar in a hock shop on George St in the city for $1500.

Ken – No!

Fuddy – I went to yum cha, came back, made the decision, I rang a mate in Melbourne, said “What do you think?” He said “Buy the bloody thing, Fuddy!” … I got back, and it was gone. Do you think they knew what was there? I’m thinking they just thought it was old, we’ll put $1500 on it… I am kicking myself.

Ken – You can never tell, but you’ve gotta leap when opportunity beckons.

Fuddy – Silly man… anyway… Fender Jaguar. Love the guitar! So is it a Gretsch silver sparkle?

Ken – Yeah, silver sparkle. I bought it four years ago now, as a backup for the White Falcon.

Fuddy – Am I right in saying you’ve had the Falcon for quite a few years?

Ken – I’ve had the Falcon now for six years. Funny story, I was desirous for a White Falcon for quite a long time. It happened after Lucious Boritsch ran over my other guitar in the carpark after a rehearsal one night.

Fuddy – No way…

Ken – It was a pretty rare Greco as well, emulating an L5. Lucious virtually turned it into matchsticks. But the upside of that story was there happened to be a very rare White Falcon on eBay that night with a “Buy It Now” button which I pressed! Insurance paid for it. It was a car accident, so car insurance paid for it. I didn’t realise insurance would do that, but a friend of mine, three days after the hangover of the incident, said “Ken, that was a car accident, has Lucious got insurance?” So I called him and asked “Have you got insurance?” and he said, “Yeah man, I’ve got comprehensive.” (Laughter)

Fuddy – You’ve gotta have it I reckon!

Ken – So after we paid his excess. It was a rare bird story. On this occasion they were very helpful, I’m going to back them. I spoke to a young woman in the office and said “Listen, my guitar’s been run over”. She said “Send me some pictures,” I sent her some pictures. I said “It took me two years to find this guitar in the world, I cannot find another one online anywhere in the world at this minute.” So she did some research, got back to me two days later and said “Well Ken, I’ve called some guitar stores and they’ve given me an estimate, your guitar’s worth about $4500, but because we realise there isn’t one to buy, we’re going to pay you the next amount for the cheapest next Gibson L5 online.” That was $7500.

Fuddy – Thank you. (Laughter)

Ken – They sent me the cheque pretty much straight away. Paid for the insurance, paid for the Falcon. Good on them.

Fuddy – I’m most impressed. Glad to hear that sort of thing happens. It did not happen for a friend of mine, Mark Cuff, who decided to leave his guitar outside next to the garage as I took off after a gig. I normally make sure that everything’s in and he takes his guitar in, but he’d already had a few sherberts and decided he’d leave it out there next to the garage and next morning it was gone. Unfortunately I’ve never seen somebody so stressed out and abuse another guitar. He went and got another Tele. His was a ’72 Tele. He got another one and trashed it on stage because he was so annoyed. He tried everywhere to find one… all the hock shops, but anyway that’s another story.

Ken – Thanks a lot man.

Fuddy – Ken Campbell, absolute pleasure.

Check out the video for Valvewire’s Unforgiven via Vimeo.

Grab music & merch from the Valvewire Bandcamp page.

The Unforgiven single launch is Friday, May 20th at Lazybones in Marrickville. Support from JD Burgess Band and Louis Green. $15 on the door. [Facebook event]

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