He took on the fragile egos of the Australia’s Got Talent judges and endeared himself to the nation with his incredible voice and guitar skills. Benjamin T. Jones catches up with Canberran musician Owen Campbell on the eve of his U.S. tour.

WHEN YOU MEET Owen Campbell, he comes across as a typical Aussie bloke. Usually sporting two day stubble and unkempt hair, he has a laid-back, friendly manner about him and speaks with a broad Australian accent.

But when he lays his trusty Maton acoustic across his lap and starts to sing, everything changes.

Close your eyes and you are transported to the blues heartland in the U.S. South. Just listen to the new single, Breathing Bullets.

Campbell is a local legend in Canberra. On any given day you might see him performing at the legendary Phoenix Bar or just busking around the city. Like the experiment where violin virtuoso Joshua Bell busked at a Washington train station, I wonder how many Canberrans have briskly walked past Campbell without realising they were being treated to one of the nation’s top slide guitarists.

For many, Campbell is best known for his appearances on Australia’s Got Talent where his larrikin nature and lack of reverence to the B-grade celebrity judges created headlines. While he doesn’t like dwelling on the incident, his performance of Sunshine Road showcased his raw ability to the nation. As a result, the album, also called Sunshine Road, dominated Australian iTunes Blues chart.

 

I had the chance to ask Owen a few questions as he embarked on a U.S. tour in support of his new album, Breathing Bullets. For interested Aussies, the local album launch will be at the German Harmonie Club in Canberra on September 10. Other Australian dates are available on his website.

Benjamin T. Jones:

Owen, kind thanks for your time. You have just landed in LA and are about to embark on a U.S. tour. As a blues musician, do you find there are any differences touring the U.S., the home of the blues, to Australia?

Owen Campbell:

It’s a lot more competitive here in the U.S., so much music going on so I've really had to work for it here, which is good, keeps me on my toes.

Benjamin T. Jones:

We are all excited for the release of your new album, Breathing Bullets. How would you say this album differs from the very successful 2014 work The Pilgrim?

Owen Campbell:

The new album feels a lot more grounded and better arranged then previous efforts. Devon Allman who produced the record really helped create great arrangements and it’s had a huge impact on the finished product.

Benjamin T. Jones:

Do you have a favourite song from the new album, and why?

Owen Campbell:

My favourite song changes with every listen, at the moment the 2nd track "On My Knees" I’m really loving how it builds and builds in intensity. Really gets the blood flowing!

Benjamin T. Jones:

You are largely known as a blues man and slide guitar specialist. Personally, my favourite song from new album is Eagle Man which has more of a country, soulful feel. Who is playing cello? It is gorgeous!

Owen Campbell:

Forgive me when I say I can’t remember the girl’s name who played it. She literally came into the studio for 30 minutes, played and left!

Benjamin T. Jones:

As CDs really are an outdated technology, you had the great idea of selling a download card for the album and a beautiful decorative scroll. How successful has this project been and do you think it is the future of music?

 

https://youtu.be/iFVVe_1QKyg

Owen Campbell:

The scrolls idea hasn’t really taken off to be honest. There are people who still love buying CDs out there, but with time and awareness I think it will be more appreciated. So long as streaming sites like Spotify grow, the future of music sales are grim which means the future for songwriters is grim. Buy the music people! Spotify is a great platform but it’s at the expense of the musicians who create the music!

Benjamin T. Jones:

One of the things I really admire about you is your commitment to helping others. You are far from a millionaire rock star but you have used your music to help orphanages in Nepal and workers in Indonesia. What motivates you to help others and what causes are close to you at the moment?

Owen Campbell:

No I’m far from a millionaire. I help people because it’s not enough for me to just go round, self-promoting. I wanted to tackle some bigger projects and global problems. Two-thirds of the world live in abject poverty and that just doesn’t sit well with me so I take on projects to alleviate that problem. Every little bit helps.

Benjamin T. Jones:

You have toured the U.S. and Europe before but, of course, some of your trips have relied on busking to get by. Now that you have big shows lined up at some very cool venues, do you feel like you have arrived as an international artist?

Owen Campbell:

Things have certainly gotten better in terms of international touring, but I still go and busk from time to time when the need is there. Busking is cool, you get to chat with people and create a bit of a musical backdrop for the every day. I didn't think at 32 I would still be doing it but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Benjamin T. Jones:

Your reputation is definitely growing but many Australians will remember you as the guy from Australia’s Got Talent who took Brian McFadden down a few pegs by stating "my aim isn’t to be in a boy band, chief". The quote even appears in one of your teeshirts! How has your experience on Australia’s Got Talent either helped or hurt your career and aspirations to be a legitimate musician rather than a pop star?

Owen Campbell:

I try to avoid talking about that experience but I won’t deny it led to a lot of people discovering my music. It was a crazy ride but I’m grateful I did well out of it.

Benjamin T. Jones:

On a personal level, the biggest change between your last album and this one must be the birth of your first child. How has your son’s birth changed your life and has it had any impact on your approach to music?

Owen Campbell:

My son’s birth has made a monumental shift in me. It’s made me very happy to be at home, changing nappies and making him smile. It’s made me less enthusiastic to continue my music career. It’s been a really tough couple of years up to now and now he is here. I’m wondering if I really want to continue, we shall see.

Benjamin T. Jones:

I’m sure I speak for all Aussie music fans when I say we hope you do continue to make music in one form or another. Lastly, and most importantly, where can Australian fans buy the new album and when will we see you next touring Australia?

Owen Campbell:

You can get my album from my website owencampbellmusic.com or at my shows, hope to see you at one soon. Cheers.

Dr Benjamin T. Jones is an adjunct fellow at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney. You can follow Dr Jones on Twitter @BenjaminTJones1 or on his blog, Thematic Musings.

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