Jason Campbell isn’t alone anymore. And he’s glad — because for two years, he spent much of his time locked away by himself in his Olympia, Wash., studio writing the music in his head.
He’d bounce ideas around with a friend and, on the occasion that he’d get the opportunity to play live, he’d teach people the basic structure of his songs and hope for the best.
Sometimes it would work, other times it wouldn’t. Back then, Mirror Mirror was a project that revolved around Campbell. Today, it’s a band. And, rather suddenly, it has become the perfect artistic execution of Campbell’s lonely songs.
“I really feel like [these songs are] like the strongest work I’ve done so far,” he says. “It feels like a lot of people are agreeing.”
In fact, in the six short months that Campbell, 38, has lived in Spokane (and the four since Mirror Mirror played its first show in April at Mootsy’s), the band has seen more than its fair share of attention — and not just locally. Campbell says he gets two or three calls each week to play shows here in town, from car club events (they’ve played two) to bar shows, but he’s also watched downloads of the band’s records spike online in Russia, Germany, France. Several fans have sent him them their homemade music videos set to Mirror Mirror’s echoing, vintage rock.
And at some of the band’s most recent shows, they’ve experienced something else, something none of them quite know what to do with.
Drinking a beer in a booth last week at Neato Burrito, Campbell and bandmate Ben Robertson start laughing suddenly as they explain.
“People were romantically dancing to our stuff. It’s been happening,” Campbell says. “They were sexing it up.”
“It was classier than that,” Robertson says. “Yeah, it’s not ridiculous,” Campbell says, agreeing — still giggling. “It’s kinda what we want,” he says. “I like kind of romantic themes and making them into dark rock songs — tragic love songs.”
“It’s pretty f---ing sexy music, you know?”
A lifelong musician, Campbell never expected that moving back home would help his music take off.
He shakes his head: “All the time I spent alone doing this thing — and all of a sudden I come home, and it’s like this. I’m really happy. I’m really pleased.”
Back in Spokane, he joined forces with Robertson, a longtime friend and fellow musician, who is playing drums. Robertson, 31, had also recently moved back to Spokane from Western Washington to complete a graduate degree in music composition at Eastern Washington University. A software programmer and instrument builder who has written music for chamber groups and orchestras, Robertson had spent a lot of time playing music alone, too. He’s a noise musician who played the Spokane stop of last year’s International Noise Conference.
Robertson recruited two students from EWU to round out the lineup. And Campbell says the chemistry — unlike with anyone else he’d collaborated with — was immediate.
“We haven’t been together that long,” Campbell says. “This all fell together really quick. … These guys who I’m playing with, man, we’re all equals. Finally. When I’m playing with these guys, I don’t worry at all.”
With the full force and power of four excellent, educated musicians playing his music, the essence and sheer drama of Campbell’s solitary songwriting shines through.
Mirror Mirror plays rolling storms of hazy rock ’n’ roll, overlaying 1960s garage rock and washy, surf guitars with a gothic, 1980s post-punk sound. Driven by guitars and organs instead of vocals, the band seems to be nodding to the best revival rock bands — Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Dandy Warhols’ earliest — and the detached, viscous sound of goth, post-punk and shoegaze bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Ride, My Bloody Valentine.
What comes out is something theatrical and morose, like a black-and-white French noir or pulp crime plot. Songs are dark and moody as Campbell — almost out of earshot — sings of burning desire and a deeply broken heart. He says that many of the songs are fictional but were inspired and written when his life was “a bit of a mess.”
But now, with the most stable band he’s ever been in, he has seen his ideas take on new life. Deep behind Mirror Mirror’s wall of guitars and organs and melodrama, Campbell sounds detached and faraway, glassy-eyed and more alone than ever.
This time around, though, loneliness is just a sound. And it’s exactly what Campbell is going for.
Mirror Mirror plays with the Camaros, Cyrus Fell Down and Mecha Shiva • Sat, Aug. 13, at 8 pm • A Club • $5 • 21 • 624-3629