K. Campbell’s Pure Pop For Jaded Punks is my favorite album of 2017 that I didn’t hear until 2018 (a unique distinction indeed). Released in August, it’s a lively collection of infectious, hook-heavy guitar pop reminiscent of artists like Elvis Costello and Elliott Smith (who are two of my all-time favorites, so I’m obviously predisposed to loving the record).
As he’ll discuss in our Q&A, Campbell wears his influences (and heart) on his sleeve. Despite some heavy subject matter (loneliness and regret are reoccurring themes), Pure Pop For Jaded Punks has a tremendously fun spirit to it, which I credit most to Campbell’s bouncy guitar style and sound. Overall, the album is extremely well-paced and consistent, and accordingly, I find myself playing it over and over (it was a fixture during my recent trip through the Pacific Northwest).
Pure Pop For Jaded Punks was released via Poison Moon Records, the Houston-based label Campbell started with fellow artist Mandy Kim Clinton of Pearl Crush (who’s also his partner).
We cover a lot of ground in this latest, extended edition of Good Questions — including discussions on influences, music production, Houston, future releases, the label and, of course, Pure Pop For Jaded Punks (which you can listen to at the bottom of this post).
SOMETHINGGOOD: How long have you been making music?
K. Campbell: “I was a full-blown teenage punk. I had already been playing guitar for a few years when I discovered punk rock at about 12 or 13 years old and just dove head first into the DIY scene in Houston, where I grew up. Prior to that a really wanted to be a professional basketball player. This was around 2000-2001 and the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous yet, so punk felt very new and exciting and threatening. I started going to local shows and reading lots of zines. If you heard about a good record, you couldn’t just stream it – you had to send off an order for it through mail or else find someone who could make a tape of it for you. But I felt very inspired by the raw aesthetic of punk, how it functioned as this decentralized network of creative communities, and by the leftist politics it introduced me to. That led me to make music as a way to be a part of it all.”
SG: Pure Pop For Jaded Punks is such a fun album. How did it come together? Where was it recorded?
KC: “I’ve played in lots and lots of bands over the years, and they were all pretty collaborative projects. A big aspect was always just the social element of being in band – hanging out with your friends and making something together. When I started working on Pure Pop I was living in Pittsburgh and was actually playing in a band at the time, but I was writing songs that didn’t really fit that project, which was more of a stripped down punk power-trio. I kept hearing these new songs with more layers and more dynamics, so I decided to write, perform, and record everything myself. There were a couple things I wanted to achieve with Pure Pop: one was to really develop my ability to craft a song. Even though I’ve been coming up with songs since I first started playing in bands as a kid, it was only with this batch of songs that I really felt like I started getting good at it – understanding what makes a good song and being able to conceptualize the approach and structure a song needs instead of just stringing different parts together and forcing it to work. Second, I wanted to get better at home recording. Besides the times when my bands had gone into a professional studio, I’d pretty much exclusively done 4-track cassette recordings and really simply demos on my computer. For this record I got a nicer digital setup and mixed everything with software on my computer. While I love the process and sound of really raw lo-fi analogue recording, I knew I needed to something different to make these songs sound the way I heard in my head. That being said, it’s still a pretty straight forward record, with low production value, relatively speaking. It was all recorded in a bedroom in Pittsburgh and a dingy practice space in Houston with just a few microphones. But it was a step up for me and a learning process too. I think it worked out.”
SG: “Breaking Blue,” one of my favorite tracks on the record, sounds like a long-lost Elliott Smith song. Is he indeed one of your influences? Who (else) do you think has informed your musical style?
KC: “I do love Elliott Smith, so that’s a huge compliment! His songwriting has definitely been an influence on me. I really don’t feel any shame in wearing my influences on my sleeve – records by Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ted Leo have been really important to me. But, I think there is a lot of stuff that I listen to that’s hugely influential on me that doesn’t necessarily paint an obvious stroke on the music I write. So much of the punk and hardcore that I grew up on remains relevant to me – stuff like Bikini Kill and Los Crudos come to mind. I am a huge jazz fan too, and the discographies of both John and Alice Coltrane I would highly recommend to anyone.
“Also, since I came up in a DIY punk scene that was very politicized, music has never existed in a vacuum for me. There is so much injustice and inequality in the world and I can’t separate that from the creative labor I do, nor do I really want to. Music has always been an inherently political act for me. It has such an ability to incite thought and emotion and change. Even if the songs aren’t explicitly political in nature, just how you conduct yourself as a band or artist really matters. The relationships you have within your band, how your band functions within a scene, how it relates to the larger music business side of things – all of this matters a lot to me. Music has always been an opportunity to, if not make a change in the world at large, at least build a community that can function differently than the brutality and inequity of capitalism and the structures of oppression that impact our lives so deeply. That’s a tall order, I know.”
SG: What is the Houston music scene like? Is there a Houston sound? Did you capture it in Pure Pop For Jaded Punks?
KC: “Pure Pop was written and mostly recorded in Pittsburgh, just before I moved back to Houston after moving away for a couple years. There is definitely a bit of Pittsburgh and a bit of Houston in the record for me personally, but my goal was to simply write a record of relatable songs that could hopefully be universally appreciated as just solid pop tunes, regardless of time and place.
“Just like the city itself, the Houston scene is diverse and very wide ranging in style and approach. There is definitely not a Houston sound. There is punk, indie rock, experimental jazz, pop, hip hop…and any weekend of the year you could probably hop around to different shows around town featuring each genre. Honestly, I wish local shows would be a little more genre inclusive, and be willing to take a risk and put some different sounding stuff together on the same bill. So while there is tons of music here, it’s a lot of these little micro scenes that develop and are isolated from one another. It can be a good and bad thing. It can feel fractured and there can be an emphasis on individual instead of collective efforts. But, it’s created a music scene where people have to actively take it upon themselves to make stuff happen – you can’t wait around for someone to book you on a show or put out your record – you book your own show and put out your own record. Houston has also never been a destination music city like New York, LA, Seattle, or Austin and so I think people tend to do stuff here out of sheer passion, not because they have a chance to ‘make it.’ Because it definitely doesn’t seem like anyone is paying attention to Houston. Like I said, there is good and bad.”
SG: What are your plans for 2018? Any chance we’ll hear some new music?
KC: “I’ve been very busy with some other musical endeavors over the past few months – namely, playing lots of live shows for my partner Mandy’s pop project Pearl Crush. Mandy and I run a label called Poison Moon that we have used a vehicle to release our music so far. But, we are looking to expand things a bit this year and so will be working on a handful of releases in 2018. I’ve also been singing and playing guitar in a lo-fi 4-track recording project of mine called Bask. But, I have a huge backlog of K. Campbell songs that I am anxious to start recording. Since Pure Pop, I have continued to learn a lot more about audio engineering and am ready to see this new material push further into better sonic territory. I might try to do a couple of singles later this year, before starting work on another full length.”
SG: What are you listening to these days?
KC: “Pearl Crush has a 12” EP coming out this summer on Poison Moon and I have been jamming that a lot lately. As for other Houston stuff, Mandy just introduced me to this great local artist named Britt. She just released this single called “Handle It,” that folks should listen to because it’s a super catchy pop gem. I’ve been into the new records from Superchunk, The Breeders, and Sloan. I’m still jamming Solange’s A Seat at the Table. Soul Glo and S-21 – both really great hardcore bands from Philadelphia that I’ll listen to when I’m in that mood. Still jamming the SZA record. Salad Boys are a cool band from New Zealand that just put out a record called This is Glue. Amy O’s record Elastic. Alice Coltrane’s 1968 LP on Impulse! Records called A Monastic Trio. And this reissue of a 1977 cassette only release called Wede Harer Guzo by Hailu Mergia, an Ethiopian-born jazz legend who also drives a taxi in Washington, D.C. Wow, that’s a lot of stuff! It’s funny, because whenever I’m at work I can never seem to think of anything to listen to.”
You can find K. Campbell on:
- Apple Music
Listen to Pure Pop For Jaded Punks in full: