INTERVIEW: Doug Campbell on his musical aesthetic, embracing chaos, and fights!

Doug Campbell is the mind behind The Sleeping Bag, a lo-fi indie project that blends the earnestness of Elliott Smith with the melancholia and sense of exploration and vulnerability of Mount Eerie. Campbell’s music is thoughtful and cleverly composed, embracing small and big moments alike, an approach that balances his skill with a punk rock rawness. You can listen to their newest album, “I’m on your side” below, and catch Campbell playing as The Sleeping Bag this Friday, December 1st, at their record release show with Mad Cabin and Spaghetti Western at Spinelli’s Downtown. We caught up with Campbell to ask for his musical resume, his process for recording, and about his first kiss!

Never Nervous: How long have you been into music? Walk us through your musical history. Was it always around when you were coming up? What bands have you been in?

DC: Ever since I was a baby really, my dad always had music playing in the car, in the house, or just wherever we were. Now of course I’ve outgrown some of this music, most of which being, what I would call cheesy 90’s rock. However, I’ve stuck with a lot of his music over time, bands like Wilco, Black Sabbath, and the Drive By Truckers have even gone onto be some of my favorite bands of all time. When it comes to bands I’ve been in, there’s only about 2 worth mentioning. Those being Kim Pine and a new punk band me and a couple of good friends just formed recently called The Explanations who should have a demo out sometime in 2018!

NN: How did The Sleeping Bag start? What went into the name? Is there some deeper meaning or is it just something comfortable?

DC: The Sleeping Bag started in early 2016. I was just a freshman in high school who was obsessed with early 90’s and late 80’s Louisville punk rock, (Solution Unknown, Squirrel Bait, King Kong), but I wanted to do something different. At the time, I was also obsessed with the Post-Rock styles of acclaimed music collective “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” and the straight forward lyrical narrative writings from Jackson Browne. I remember wanting bandmates at the time but at the same time, I didn’t know anyone with the same taste as myself who was my age. So, I went it alone and recorded the first 3 EP’s and an album (that I eventually scrapped) all in my upstairs bedroom at my dad’s house in J-Town.

The name “The Sleeping Bag” is really quite the opposite of something comfortable, at least for me. When I was probably about 6 or 7, I’d come home from school and turned on the T.V. as I often did, but this time I didn’t see anything happy like I was used to. Instead, there was a horror film on and in the scene that I had landed upon, there was a man wrapped in a sleeping bag with a terrified look on his face. Anyways, the scene quickly cut over to a big prosthetic monster lunging out of the woods at the man in the sleeping bag and he was quickly torn to shreds in front of my eyes. Looking back at the cheesy horror film now, it just seems like a B-Horror Film death scene from the 80’s, but when I was 7 that meant something. I cried for an hour after seeing it and I think it contributed to a lot of nightmares I had as a kid. So, now I often view the name “The Sleeping Bag” as something desensitizing, at least to me anyways.

“I’ve always believed that lo-fi is a much more unique genre than anything else out there, not only due to it’s aesthetics, but because often times I find myself simply stumbling upon certain sounds I would never be able to find intentionally or recreate intentionally, and that’s just something that makes the music very special to me.”

NN: You use a lot of stripped down, lo-fi recording techniques and ambient space in your production. Is that a reflection of your available economic restraints, an aesthetic decision, or maybe both?

DC: I would have to say the lo-fi sounds that come across in my music are both because 1.) I do not have a job and 2.) I absolutely love lo-fi music. Bands like Neutral Milk Hotel obviously, Teen Suicide, Daniel Johnston, Cap’n Jazz (somewhat), and Car Sear Headrest are some big names that immediately come to mind when I think of lo-fi influences. I’ve always believed that lo-fi is a much more unique genre than anything else out there, not only due to it’s aesthetics, but because often times I find myself simply stumbling upon certain sounds I would never be able to find intentionally or recreate intentionally, and that’s just something that makes the music very special to me. Knowing that I’ve produced a sound that I most likely will never be able to replicate again really makes me reminisce upon death and missed opportunity more than any sad, angsty Smiths lyric possibly could.

NN: I notice that you play a variety of instruments. What do you feel most comfortable with and why?

DC: I am in fact a multi-instrumentalist but I’d have to say the guitar is currently the instrument I feel most comfortable with. That being said, if you’d have asked me this question last year, I probably would’ve told you Baritone Saxophone, thanks to a “super special” high school band director.

NN: When you compose, what instrument do you gravitate towards? What’s the order of operations for recording? Is it guitar or drums first?

DC: I’d have to say the writing/composing process starts on guitar and everything else seems to come naturally and fall into place from there. Sometimes I’ll have lyrics written first, or I’ll have drums written first, but 90% of the time it starts with me in a room alone with an acoustic guitar.

NN: Relative to that, when do you know a track is done? Is there a clear line?

DC: I guess I know a track is done when it gives me some form of an emotional impact that I hadn’t experienced while writing it. Such as the way the production of a track sounds or maybe how an improvised guitar part resonates over the chord progression, whatever it is, there has to be some form of additional impact other than the lyrics or the basic chord progression that grabs my attention while I’m mixing down a track.

NN: Given the construction of the band, how do you perform live? Do you bring in other people, or is there a stripped down set up?

DC: When it comes to live performances, I’m often by myself playing an acoustic set. That being said, I’ve been working on get some friends to cover drums, or bass on a few songs live, but the December 1st show will be solo.

NN: There is a repeated use of chaos and at times sloppy playing on the album that seems left in intentionally. Now, I mean no offense by that, as I find it charming, but I’m curious what drew you to that technique. How do you know when something is working and when not?

“I’m On Your Side is about the end of an abusive friendship, so I felt dissonance would be helpful in the representation of me and the other party’s disagreements over the years.”

DC: I’m glad you caught it as an artistic choice! I get it when people don’t understand some of the dissonance on Runner’s High or the crazy electronic drums on Alarm Clock, but it is disheartening when people don’t see the intention. I was originally drawn to the idea of dissonance and chaos by the song Misunderstood by Wilco. The sheer explosiveness of the track kicks off the album Being There perfectly and helps convey how destroyed and tortured the character of the song must see his hometown when he returns. As you might know now, I’m On Your Side is about the end of an abusive friendship, so I felt dissonance would be helpful in the representation of me and the other party’s disagreements over the years. I’m often able to tell when an experimental sound isn’t working when I show it some friends or my dad, who are also into experimental music, and they will usually help me deem it too inaccessible or too generic. Honest friends are a great way to keep your signature sound in check!

NN: Who’s side are you on, to quote your album title, and why? Is it possible to ever always be on anyone’s side?

DC: Good question! In the album I use the phrase to represent a drunk driving experience I had with the ex-friend that the album is about. “Oncoming traffic, I’m on your side,” is the literal way I reference the title in the album itself, but the title itself truly represents the last argument I ever resolved with this ex-best friend of mine. It is possible to be on someone’s side but not the way he was. He was very manipulative and was constantly picking sides with the friends who he knew could protect and help him run from his problems.

NN: How do you see yourself as fitting into the Louisville music scene in general?

DC: I’m not too sure how I see myself in the Louisville scene. I love all the up and coming indie, punk, hip-hop, and rock musicians coming out of Louisville right now, but where I stand in the scene is for the people of the Louisville to decide!

NN: Tell us about your first kiss. Where was it? How’d it go down? How was it received?

DC: My first kiss was nothing too special really. I was 13, we were in my bedroom, and I had no idea what to do. I was totally paralyzed with fear and I didn’t even react to the kiss or anything. As soon as it was over the girl just laughed at me and taught me how to actually kiss and things gradually became less awkward for the two of us. She was really nice about it though and we’re still good friends to this day!

NN: Have you ever been in a fight? If so, tell us a good fight story. If not, make one up.

DC: Well, when it comes to fight record, I’m approximately 2-3. I’ve had my ass kicked pretty good 3 times, BUT, I’ve been on the ass kicking side twice. The one that stands out to me in particular though was on the playground, 4th grade, at this Catholic school I went to for a couple years. I remember this 5th grader used to always love fucking with me during recess. So, one day I got him out in wiffle ball or something like that and he got pissed. He tried to hit me but he tripped, and when he did, I jumped on top of him and just totally started wailing. It felt pretty good honestly; needless to say he never fucked with me again and we both got suspended for like 2 weeks.

“I remember this 5th grader used to always love fucking with me during recess. So, one day I got him out in wiffle ball or something like that and he got pissed. He tried to hit me but he tripped, and when he did, I jumped on top of him and just totally started wailing. It felt pretty good honestly; needless to say he never fucked with me again and we both got suspended for like 2 weeks.”

NN: What non-musical things have you fired up lately and why? Have you read, watched, eaten, or drank anything worth mentioning?

DC: Well, I’ve been playing some Punch-Out lately and that’s always a great past time! I’ve also been rewatching some of my favorite movies which include Boyhood, Blue Valentine, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Donnie Darko, Lost Highway, and a few others that I can’t think of right now. Oh, also, I’ve been eating at Bluegrass Burgers lately and their burgers/sweet potato fries are off the chain! I could probably eat their burgers for the rest of my life with no complaint!

NN: What is the best album right now, as of this writing?

DC: Well, I can’t say for sure what the best album out right now is but I can give you my picks for the best album of 2017!

So far I have: