Campo describes how Berkshire Hounds died just as it was gaining steam. The band was opening for some big regional names, had played their first SXSW shows, was getting noticed by Indie Garage Rock label Burger records and was the house band for the Austin music industry awards, but after a few promising tour contracts fell through, the seven piece group – “big band style, with horns, and congas and all” as Campo puts it - crumbled under creative tensions it had long been shelving.
And so Campo, feeling, as he says that he would “lose my goddamn mind" if he didn’t have another band began to pick up the pieces and start a new project. After some initial growing pains – losing a drummer who didn’t love the small gigs that come with being a new band – Campo had put together a solid lineup of like-minded rock and roll warriors.
Where in Berkshire Hounds, Campo’s songwriting took some cues from the more professional/session musician types in the horn players, his new project cuts out those elements and gives him creative liberty to make the kinds of “get your rocks off” straight up rock and roll tunes that he’s all about.
Campo readily acknowledges his love for old (60’s and 70’s) pop and the inspiration he draws from tunes of that era with their big bright chords and perhaps cheesy tales of unrequited love. Indeed his lyrics focus quite a bit on lost love, with three of the five songs on the new MROT EP centering on one particular ex-girlfriend of Campo’s. On the track “Where Have you Been?” Campo sings out a spell of bitterness towards this ex, ironically offering “where have you gone/ its of no consequence to me,” and telling her to “move back to LA and fuck all the artists that [she] meet[s].”
This sourness is, of course, fleeting as the next song, entitled “My Heart Still Belongs to Another” (the country track on the EP, featuring a superbly tear-jerking lap steel and lonesome harmonica accompaniment) has Campo shirking a current fling while longing for the same ex at whom he was previously seething. Campo extols this songwriting approach of capturing transient thoughts and feelings and then singing or screaming them as if there the only thing that’s true – “You know that Weezer song, ‘Tired of Sex’? Well I’m definitely not tired of sex, but you know, I’ve felt that before.”
As it happens a lot of the thoughts and feelings of guys Campo and, incidentally, my age have to do with love, sex and both those things in conjunction with ex-girl or boyfriends. Though at one moment Campo tells me he would like to “try to move away from writing about girls,” at many other points embraces the cheesiness of this subject territory. Ultimately the ethos seems to be if you just “commit to it” with loud over-driven guitars you can break out of the cheesy mold.
And the guitars are indeed loud and fuzzy throughout the EP, but what really saves MROT from falling into the trap of cheesiness is the tight pop sensibility of the songwriting and Campo’s well-honed pop-rock croon. In both “Nightcap” and “Cure my Eyes” simple but driving chord progressions flow into each other with tasteful noodling and Campo’s ear-wormy vocal melodies nestled perfectly in with the band.
In an indie rock scene where many groups are now trying –given incessant exposure to wildly diverse sounds made possible by the Internet– to sound like everything at once, Campo’s songwriting is refreshing in its confident embrace of a tried and true rock and roll swagger. And even in the one track on the EP that strays from more traditional rock sounds - “Shake These Blues” - Campo manages to knit together high pitched screaming verses and an off kilter lullaby-like breakdown into an epic riff rock anthem that feels anything but forced.
With the tracks from this solid first EP offering and a few yet to be recorded tunes, Magic Rockers can be found “getting their rocks” most weeks at venues around town. With the alternating grind of a day job and writing and/or singing about the pains of twenty-something love most nights, Campo is exhausted but content. As freeing as it is in certain respects, starting a new project from scratch inevitably comes with shittier smaller gigs in what Campo calls the “music sweatshop” of the oversaturated Austin live music scene. With most gigs at this point paying “20 bucks and free beer tickets”, smaller bands can often be stuck in a cycle of waking up with hang overs and no financial means of skipping work that day. Still, Campo says, “I hope never I get big monetarily… I want to get to where I can shop at Whole Foods and be able to buy big fish.” The millennial rock and roll lifestyle.
Photography: Sophie Weiss