INTERVIEW: BC Camplight – Shortly After Takeoff

BC Camplight

We had the pleasure recently of catching up with BC Camplight (aka Brian Christinzio) as he returns with a new album “Shortly After Takeoff”, out on 24th April via Bella Union. Our review of the album is here and suffice to say it is the best of Christinzio’s career. He was just moving into his new place when we caught up with him to ask him about the album.

The press for the album describes it as an examination of madness and loss. The world seems to be in a bit of a crazy place at the minute so do you think that this album has come along at a timely moment?

Hopefully. Then again the last album seemed to come around at the perfect moment and it didn’t exactly go to number one. This album is much more inward looking. This year has sort of been a perfect storm of darkness with me. After my dad died, I was on tour supporting “Deportation Blues” a lot so I didn’t have any time to deal with it really and then I got done touring and wanted to make this record, everything just started to hit me. My brain doesn’t necessarily react to things in a healthy way. I just started getting all these awful symptoms that I see to have back when I was about 27 or so. Lots of red flags. I noticed myself starting to do weird things and acting in weird ways and I thought “Oh shit, I’ve been sort of dreading this moment and was fairly certain that I wasn’t going to be able to get this record out but I guess something in me kind of enabled it to happen.

It’s interesting that you’ve been very open about your mental health issues which is really positive. The stand up routine bit at the start of the “Ghosthunting” track where you tell various jokes and you mention that you’ve got mental illness and there is silence – that’s really uncomfortable on the album. Is that how you experience mental illness with some people and they don’t know how to deal with it?

That was exactly what that means. That song in general, I was trying to figure out a way to put people in an alternate mind space before they actually heard the song. It took me ages to figure out the best way to do it. I thought maybe the easiest was to have this set up where before the song starts I was trying to make the listener have a real shift in their kind of perception. One thing that really annoys me is the narrative trope that’s really tired about mental illness as it pertains to musicians being kind of cool. It’s so boring hearing that. People talk about Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett and it’s all of that ‘mad genius’ thing that people think is quite cool. I’m trying to take an opposite approach. I’m trying to make the conversation about mental illness real. And not this kind of overblown untouchable fantasy thing that people don’t understand. I can only imagine that if Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett had the choice that they would probably opt for not being ‘crazy’.

Back to Work” is a brilliant song on the album. The gear change between the repetitive refrain and the verse is absolutely gorgeous and the change in tempo is amazing – it doesn’t look like the tempo changes at all. How did you manage that?

That’s one of the few times where I had to sit down for a long time with mathematics to make it sound like it does. That almost pushed me over the top. That was a good half a day of going ‘well, if it’s 55.5 BPM and if we’re adding the extra beat and then doubling it, etc, etc’ but it ended up working out. But that song is basically a reflection of my life, where you have things that are going along, almost predictable and almost happening as you would expect them to and then ‘BOOM’ almost out of nowhere, it;s like ‘Fuck, it’s back and I’ve got to deal with this now’ and that’s the ‘back to work, back to work…’

It’s like that repetitive knocking at the door and just wanting your attention and you can’t do anything about it except to deal with it.

Yeah, so I thought it would be interesting to kind of make that point in song form and not necessarily just lyrically.

You’ve always used really interesting sounds and textures and they seem to have got progressively more and more interesting as you’ve released albums. You seem to have really gone for it on this one big-style. Was there something different this time around?

In some ways, the record feels like it’s more lyrically dense and where I was trying to not have the music compete with it. There are people like Richard Dawson where his stuff is so lyrically dense that you can hear him scaling back the production so as not to overwhelm things. There were parts where I had to do that. I think I wanted the sounds that were there to be a little bit more bold. As I’m getting older I’m getting more and more bored with being playful. I don’t have a lot of hate in my heart but I have an active disdain for it being 2020 and there still being twee Indie bands. I’m listening and thinking ‘what are you doing, can’t you tell that the world’s fucking on fire?!’ So I don’t have a lot of time for being whimsical or cute anymore. I want to sound a little bit more desperate and a little bit more immediate.

The album stats off with some Western slide guitar but really kind of nasty sounding and oppressive.

Yeah, I didn’t want to explode in to this record. The last two records came in sounding quite pumping and I wanted the tone here to be a trudge through the wastelands and get everyone to sit down and come along with me.

You can’t see to help yourself though with melodies – the album is full of just really nice melodies. Do you just have a collection all the time of really interesting melodies in your head and then you’re tying to find the right place to stick them in the songs?

I’ll let you in to a little secret. I don’t have a collection of anything. I’ve never met another songwriter like me. I don’t really write songs until I have to. I don’t have song ideas, I don’t tinker, I don’t have four tracks, I don’t demo. I don’t do anything like that. I basically have like a year or a year and a half of anxiety and angry conversations happening in my head where I start to deal with it, visualise the kind of record that I want to make. That’s all I know. And then I go in to the studio to actually record the record before the songs are written and then I take about 3 or 4 days in front of the piano and I just flip a switch and then I wake up with an empty beer can on my stomach and think ‘holy shit’. That’s basically how I make records. I get questions a lot of times about process and things like that. I’m not like that. I don’t really know what that means. I don’t really have a process.

You know the way that some people keep journals to process their thoughts. Are these albums for you the equivalent of that – are they like your journals for processing your thoughts and they kind of come out like songs?

I’m not a big believer in catharsis, at least in terms of how it applies to myself. The things that I do and the records that I make, I don’t think make me feel any better. Sometimes I think what I’m doing now is going to make sense to me 2 years from now. I’m basically just a slave to my brain. It’s hard for me to assign meaning to my albums. I certainly don’t make them to get my feelings out or anything like that. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on exactly why I make music. I don’t really listen to a lot of music either but I think it’s just something that’s going to make sense and something I have to do. You mentioned melodies and I do know a lot about theories. When I was younger I did a lot of studying. But as far as where these melodies come from, every time I listen to a song back that I record on an album I truly don’t where any of that came from. It was kind os always there somewhere in my brain and I just sang them. It’s not really anything that I work on.

Is it a little bit scary going into the studio with songs that aren’t written yet?

It’s not really scary for me at all. Not to be a dead horse here but I find my life to be quite scary. When I’m not thinking about music there’s always something that overtakes my brain in the same way that music does so intensely. So whenever I have the chance to focus on music instead of something else it’s really exciting for me, there’s nothing scary about it. I think maybe on my second record “How to Die in the North” I maybe wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to keep doing this and flip a switch and the music comes out but I think – as this is my 5th record – I’m finally getting confident that yes I’m going to go into this room and something is going to come out. Maybe one day I’ll go in there and be absolute dogshit. I’m really excited about where things are going for the first time in a long time.

So you talk about this album as being part of your ‘Manchester Trilogy’. Is that a real thing or is it that you’ve just got three albums that you’ve recorded whilst you’ve been in Manchester?

I didn’t set out for it to be when I came here. It wasn’t until I recorded “Deportation Blues” that it felt like there was one more so it just made sense to call it that but I didn’t set out to do that. After this record, the sense in my musical soul is telling me ‘this is the story, leave that there, let’s go do something else’. I don’t know what that means. I do know what it means – probably not being in Manchester but who knows? I think I can do a lot more exploring musically as well.

When you listen to your songs and you listen to the music and then listen to the lyrics, there is some really interesting juxtapositions. There’s a kind of black comedy and tales of mundanity that runs right through a lot of this. Do you think that stuff tells a better story than trying to aim for some huge, epic sweeping storytelling?

Yes. I’m not really great at analysing my own stuff but I would say I enjoy black comedy. If you don’t overly draw attention to the fact that it is a funny line or a ridiculous situation. It’s almost like delivering the lines from the movie the Naked Gun or something. Those line are so fucking funny ‘cos they’re so serious. Because the guy saying it is saying it as if he’s in a 1950s detective movie. I think there’s a little bit of that in my music but I also don’t gravitate towards grand, maudlin themes. I think that they’ve been done to death. I think the wider the net you cast the shittier the fish you catch. I just don’t like being broad. It’s probably a detriment to my bank account as I’m sure I could have written a couple of big love songs by now. I had this conversation with my mom “Why don’t you just…” and I’ll say “Mom, you just don’t get it” and then she’ll say “Why don’t be a piano tuner” and I’ll say mom “I’m playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I’m doing something right”.

You wouldn’t be able to write about going and buying tyres on the other side of town if you were doing big sweeping love songs. “Shortly After Takeoff” is lovely how it rises from the verse into the chorus and the really chunky synth sound which sounds like something from the 80s. What’s that song about from your perspective?

As soon as I work my way up, my brain shuts off. The song itself is at least in one of my top two. Originally it was going to be a soul trumpet intro. When I was working out the song in the studio I just put on some 80s synth and put on the horn sound and people were like when are you going to get the real horn guys in and. I said “I’m not”. That’s staying. I love the way the synth sounded and I love the really cool juxtapose to the next section which is very organic.

Was it mostly you in the studio with a little bit of help?

Yeah, I have my drummer Adam. This time I got some band mates to come in to do little bits and bobs here and there. Pretty much on all of my records, outside of the drums, its like 90 something percent me tracking. I have my guitarist Thom come in and do a couple of dive bombs on the guitar and things like that. Francesca Pidgeon, who is in my band, played the sax, helped with acoustic guitar and do some vocals too. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that even though I’m sort of a solo artist, my band has become more and more important to me as friends and people that I spend months and months with on the road so I thought it was about time to get them more involved.

You mentioned ‘the road’. You’ve got a pretty extensive tour coming up. When does that start?

Well, assuming that all of the venues don’t shut down because of Coronavirus (sadly, we know they did!). I just mentioned this to my fiancé – how nervous I am about all of these shows being cancelled. She said that’s the most you thing you’ve ever said. This thing is devastating the entire world and you’re worrying about your fucking shows. But yeah, that starts at the end of April and goes all the way through May. I’ve then got festivals in the summer and then the big tour starts in November and that’s venues like the Ritz and Shepherd’s Bush Empire and that kind of thing.

We really enjoyed speaking to BC Camplight about the new album and the honesty with which he described the impact of mental illness on him as an artist and the approach he takes to making his music. “Shortly After Takeoff” is an album of intense honesty, brilliant lyrics, gallows humour and killer melodies. You will struggle to find a better album this year. You can read our full review of the album here.

You can pre-order “Shortly After Takeoff” via Bella Union now.

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