From Broadway, cabaret, swing, pop music, television and theatre – David Campbell has done it all. The son of Australian music legend Jimmy Barnes, Adelaide-born Campbell is now heading down a very unlikely musical trajectory – pop. Inspired by the 80s, Campbell's latest album 'Let's Go' is the highly anticipated follow-up to his remarkable streak of four consecutive top 10 albums.
Revisiting such classic tracks as 'Tainted Love', 'True', 'Come on Eileen' and 'Don't You Want Me', David Campbell reinvents the 80s in a live studio setting and makes the songs all his own. In Adelaide last week to promote 'Let's Go', I caught up with David at Adelaide's Intercontinental Hotel for a chat that covered everything – from his famous father, his musical influences and why he just may be the next Tina Turner.
‘I was born in the 70s so the 80s was really where I chose what music I wanted to listen to. Prior to that I listened to my grandmother’s music, which was swing music and Broadway. I guess when I became a ‘consumer’ right when I met my dad at age 10 or 11, it was during the 80s, so that’s where I started to get into that music and choose what I wanted to listen to. It’s important, it’s my teenage years and I’ve never covered that on record before. When people hear 80s they’ll probably think that we’ve tried to do it a certain way but we’ve really made it as sort of ‘me and my band doing the 80s’ as opposed to us putting on electro suits and trying to be all modern and youthful. It was more ‘If we had real brass, real drums and real strings to the 80s sounds, what would happen?’’
How the 80s influenced him
‘The songs were good and the song writing was good, but the singers themselves were amazing. You think of Tony Hadley, Adam Ant, Phil Collins, and Peter Gabriel… that’s just the guys. And when it comes to blue eyed soul, people like Huey Lewis, Darryl Hall, they were incredible singers. And I haven’t even gotten to the Australians. Iva [Davies], John Farnham, my dad. It was a great period to learn how to be a singer. I think when people see me live and then listen to this album, they’ll find the missing link as to why I sing the way I do. I learned a lot from these guys’
‘Automatically we culled the gimmicky stuff, Like A Virgin was never going to make it. We didn’t want songs that would ‘suffer’ if you took out all the 80s sounds; the synths and studio tricks. If you could take that out and there’s no song there, that was that. We realized during the recording process that it was going to be a pop record. It sometimes takes a while when you’re recording to find out what the soul of the album will be and we realized we were a bunch of 40 year old, or near 40 year old guys making a pop album. It’s [making an album] like playing Guess Who sometimes. You have to figure out what the album has to stop being before you can realize what it will be. We demoed 35 songs and recorded them and eventually pared it back to what it is now'
Transitioning from theatre to a recording career
‘I’ve come to being a pop way too late [laughs]. You shouldn’t be a pop artist at nearly 40 but here we go'
But didn’t Tina Turner become a pop star at 40?
‘Well she was in her twenties singing with Ike Turner, but you’re right! She became a pop star in her 40s. I’m just like Tina Turner [laughs]. You should see my legs’
‘In my head I’ve been a pop star for a long time. It was a long time transitioning over to that though, and a big learning process. I think what’s been so great about doing the albums up to this point is that there has been an organic process. Even my last album that was very Broadway. I haven't set out thinking 'I want to be a pop star!', I just wanted to make good music and music that appeals to me, and that I think would appeal to other people. But now my band are saying 'Yay, we finally get to be a pop act!' [laughs]. 25 years down the track, it's kind of like, you're never too late be a pop star. I don't know if it will come to fruition! But they're just very excited to finally be a pop act. And I'll get to dress them in some great 80s outfits… lots of neon, Adam Ant jackets, leather pants, eye makeup. I've been in theatre, believe me eye makeup is the least I've done' [laughs]
'I've looked up to Kate since the 80s. She's one of the seminal reasons I do what I do. Whether she was backing INXS or singing her own stuff, Kate's voice to me is the sound of the 80s. She's so nice, so creative and has such an incredible spirit. And she seems to be infatiguable! She has boundless amounts of energy and positivity. I have nothing but admiration for her, and she seems to turn her hand and be successful at most things she does. Like me I don't think she's going to get into hip-hop [laughs] but we're like souls in a sense. It feels natural handing it over to Kate, we're almost opposite sides of the same coin the industry. If anything, it was a huge relief knowing someone like Kate was taking over'
The future of the Cabaret Festival and performing arts in Adelaide
'We're definitely on the right track. We're so creative down here and I think it's because we are that little bit far away from the East coast. We don't have to be 'cool', it's more about honouring the arts. That was the best thing about being involved with the Cabaret Festival – we could take it back to what it should be and let it grow from there. Not worrying about what was hot and what wasn't, the festival had its own air to breathe and move around in and could grow at its own pace. That's the great thing about Adelaide, and why the arts scene is so viable'
Working with highschool students during the 'Highschool Cabaret'
'I think working with children is vital. It's something we don't do enough. I don't think that shows like The X-Factor count because at the end of the day, those artists go out there having had a very short time to learn and they get thrown into the industry, to the sharks, into the deep end. That's where you see a lot of casualties of shows like [Australian] Idol, lying on the side of the highway, really. I believe in mentoring from a young age. It's something that I'm definitely looking to pick up again in the future'
'The thing was, I loved it! It wasn't a chore. I didn't get paid for it but I honestly loved the work I did. In this industry, we do some much talking about ourselves, sitting getting our photo taken, trying to sell our product so that we can earn a living, but what about giving back? Nurturing the next generation coming up. I don't think enough in this industry do it. And it's not hard to go and give a talk to a school or work with some children'
Performing with father Jimmy Barnes and sister Mahalia
'Working together can be difficult – the project has to be right. We're not about exploiting it, saying 'Okay we're going to make an album and a tour and a TV show, take everyone's money and go'. But when I have worked with my father, it's always been right. And working with Mahalia too made it so special. We thought that we could make it actually mean something to people'
David Campbell's album 'Let's Go' is in stores and on iTunes now. Campbell will perform at the Festival Theatre on February 25, 2012.
Photos by Brent Leideritz – www.twentyfourb.com
Special thanks to Jenny Luders at Sony Music and the Intercontinental Adelaide