Interview by One-Man-Zine of Rock n Force
United in the city as well as on the stage, Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell almost naturally found each other to give birth to a rich, varied and terribly bewitching Blues Rock. Navigating with great ease many currents by imposing a style of its own, the STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND delivers its first live album, where we take the full measure of the talent of the bassist-singer and her guitarist-singer husband. Interview with a duo whose eyes never stop sparkling.
Before talking about this very good album, I would like you to tell us about your meeting, both musical and sentimental, in 2012. The band is the result of a very good connection at all levels… Musically and technically, STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND displays great creativity and obvious experience. What was your respective background before founding the group?
Simon : I started playing guitar at 16 and have spent most of my life immersed in music, a passion that has given me a wealth of experience across decades, countries and genres. It was 18 and I got interested in recording and producing working as a session guitarist and loved being on both sides of the fence. The people I learned from were all trained in the 50s and 60s, which gave me great insight into the best way to record in a truly analog way.
I have always written my own music and after the bands ' Whitefire ' and ' Roadrunner ' I signed a major recording contract with Line Records (Polydor Germany) in 1989 with my band 'Little Brother '.
Suzy and I were born in the UK. I was born in Radcliffe, north of Manchester and Suzy in Ross-on-Wye, central England, near the Welsh border. We had both moved to the Isle of Man independently and I first met Suzy in 2011 through a friend who told me about her wonderful writing. Then, Starlite organized the launch event for my first solo album “ ThirtySix ” at the Centenary Centre.
Soon after, I started a four-piece band with Suzy on vocals and acoustic guitar called ' Starlite '. I became the band's electric guitarist and collectively we brought a more Rock vibe to the music. Featuring our own original songs, the quartet scoured the live circuit that included a dynamic ensemble all the way to Manifest , the island's largest three-day outdoor festival.
Suzy : I had studied Media and Performance at Salford University and had been with my own bands, ' Megiddo ' and ' Trade ', touring the UK Folk and Indie circuit in the 90s. When I started working with Simon, we were so connected on so many levels that we ended up accidentally falling in love on stage. After a whirlwind musical romance, we decided to leave the Isle of Man and start a whole new life together. So we moved to France in 2014 with Hummock, Simon's furry beast, a labrador.
It was an incredibly beautiful and romantic time surrounded by fields of vineyards, enjoying the wonderful French cuisine and world-class wines. We started writing songs together, which saw the birth of the synthetic dance project “ Electrolite ” in the 80s with analog keyboardist Mark Cleator. The three track EP was released on limited edition 180g 12″ vinyl and later signed to Ninth Wave Records in New York, USA.
After seven months in the French countryside, we then set off in search of warmer climates and a different cultural experience in Valencia, Spain. That year also changed our lives in many ways: we got married on the shores of Loch Fyne in Inveraray, Scotland, and I became completely addicted to bass.
It wasn't until late 2016 that we decided to form the STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND and co-wrote our debut album " Blueberry Pie " in just two weeks.
You have two albums to your credit. You are both the base of the group with several musicians who gravitate around you. How is the writing process going? Do you all work together, or do you share your ideas after composing on your own?
Simon : Suzy and I write all the songs in the band and have the chance to work with some fabulous session musicians. Sometimes we write independently and other times together, it changes all the time. What interests us the most is the art and the process of writing the songs and meeting the needs of it, so that there is no ego involved. We have very light competitive fun.
Suzy : Since we do everything ourselves, from writing, performing, recording, producing, marketing, public relations or arranging gigs, we tend to set aside time for writing. . We are currently in one of these cycles and are working on new compositions to expand the scope of our musical and writing palette.
– You are from the Isle of Man and yet your Blues does not sound totally English. There are many diverse influences, especially American ones. Usually, the British Blues is very identifiable and often even claimed. Is it a deliberate choice or is it due to the variety of your musical culture to both of you?
Our writing is based on musical influences from many countries. Of course, the United States is the birthplace of Blues, Jazz and Country, which influence most Western music. We pay a lot of attention to folk music from different countries, especially Africa, UK, Europe and of course the Iberian peninsula where we live now! In essence, the ' sound ' of our music is based on a very British playing, recording and production aesthetic.
A word also about the musicians who accompany you. Are they the same in the studio and on stage, because there is a predominant jam spirit in your playing and more broadly in your style? And for that, you need a great complicity…
Simon : A great rhythm section is essential in every band and our go-to drummer for the STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND is Steve Gibson, who is based in South Manchester. Combined with Suzy on bass, I can honestly say this is the best rhythm section I've ever played with, both live and in the studio.
This solid rhythm behind us has allowed us to incorporate a variety of live keyboardists over the years, including Jamie Pipe (Martin Barre, Danny Bryant), Jonny Henderson (Matt Scofield, Kirk Fletcher), Christian Madden (Liam Gallagher Band), Gabriele del Vecchio (Los Perros del Boogie) and Josh Phillips (Procol Harum).
Suzy : Yes, we're having fun!!! The beauty of working with these world class musicians is the freedom to improvise, switch things up and have fun with the audience, plus some cool guitar/keyboard duels. There are never two identical concerts!
In the studio with the STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND, we used Henderson and del Vecchio exclusively, but Madden and Dave Formula (Magazine & Visage) appeared on Simon's first two solo records.
– By the way, you are based in Portugal. Doesn't that complicate things too much to fix the group, exchange between musicians or share your ideas? Or do you submit your songs to the other band members once the songs are written?
Simon : It leads to some complications, which was evident during the pandemic as we all try to record together. Suzy and I have a good idea of the basic tempo and feel of the drums, when we arrange the tracks on our digital audio workstations, namely Pro Tools and Ableton Live.
Suzy : The rhythm section and the basic guitar are laid down at the same time, so we bring Steve in to spend a week or so working on the songs and just finding the groove, and then playing the tracks afterwards. It is very fast and accurate, so we have time to have fun!
Simon : Unless it's a very rhythmic part, the keyboards tend to be overdubs and on our last album ' The Language of Curiosity ' we managed to follow Jonny to Rockfield Studios (the place where ' Bohemian Rhapsody and many other great hits have been created), which is located in Monmouth, Wales and only a few miles from Suzy's hometown. Again, I tend to have an idea of what we want, and when the record button turns red, the true professionalism and artistry shines through!
Let's talk about this third album which is a live recording. To release a record like this after only two productions in the studio is quite rare. Is this a way of saying that STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND is above all a live band?
Suzy : The STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND project is equally at home in the studio as it is on the festival stage. As artists, Simon and I are curious, constantly asking questions and exploring new sounds, ideas and thoughts in the studio. In that sense, we really wanted to capture the spontaneity of a live performance like that of a ' musical polaroid ' before moving on to our next album project.
Simon : The album contains songs from my solo catalog that we presented live. These are totally different interpretations of the originals and very STARLITE CAMPBELL! I think here we wanted to introduce to our audience, who may have never seen the band live, how we reinterpret and add energy and improvisation to the tracks in this live setup.
– You recorded it in England between Met, Bury and The Grange Theatre. Again, this is surprising. Why didn't you keep just one evening on the record? Apart from wanting to keep only the best, of course…
Suzy : Most of the live albums are compiled from a series of parties at the same place, just like Deep Purple 's ultimate " Made In Japan " live recording. All of our recordings were made on different tours at different times when we played in venues one night. So we picked the tracks that really work for our album on three different nights.
In addition to the quality of guitar playing, the incredible groove of Suzy on bass and the singing that you share, there is also a beautiful highlighting of the keyboards and more particularly of the Hammond organ. Besides, there are three keyboardists on the album. How is it possible?
Simon : Thanks for the compliment! As we discussed in the previous question, the recordings were made on different tours featuring different keyboard players. Each has a unique style. It's like cooking the same dish, but varying one of the ingredients!
Finally, I would like you to tell us a word about your cover of Procol Harum's standard, “ A Whiter Shade Of Pale ”, which closes the album. There is the meeting with Josh Phillips who joined you on stage, right?
Suzy : Josh had a slot in Procol Harum's tour schedule which gave us the opportunity to work together and play sold-out shows while touring the UK. We spent a few days rehearsing the STARLITE CAMPBELL BAND set at their studio in the south of England, which was great fun! “ A Whiter Shade Of Pale ” resonates with Simon as it is the second single he has purchased and it was almost a must to play it to close the shows. A beautiful and poignant moment for all of us!
One-Man-Zine | Rock n Force