Chris Campanaro is No Starving Artist

11 Apr

Chris “Cecil” Campanaro is an artist, but as a bassist in three bands, including Terraplane Sun, and a successful film and TV composing career, he definitely does not file himself under the starving artist label. “I enjoy it,” he says of what he does and the amount that he does it. Campanaro says of the balancing act, “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been good.”

Starting out, playing shows was the only vision Campanaro had. He didn’t even realize or see that there was a whole other side of the business as far as composing and writing and the ability to make a living while still doing what he loved, “It was all about play, play, play when I thought about being a musician as a kid.” While he loves playing and performing, he says, at the same time, “I wanna be able to eat.”  So at around the age of 21 or 22, he began composing, and it was a career path he fell into.

While rooted in San Diego, California, he made a solo record of what he labels, “weird, abstract sounds – recording microwaves.” A friend of a friend got a hold of his record, he relocated to Venice, California, which he was looking to do anyway, and composing snowballed for him from there. He didn’t know much about that aspect of the industry, at the time, and was very fortunate when people took the time to teach him and expose him to that industry and give him lots of opportunities to grow and show off what he could do.

That included the album, American River, which he co-composed, arranged and produced and went on to gain a Grammy nomination in the New Age category, “Which is funny because if you know me you think, ‘what the hell is he doing in there?’” Campanaro laughs. He was 23 and thought, “What am I even doing here? It was a trip.” He didn’t win the award, but the old adage of it being an honor just to be nominated rings true for Campanaro, “We got robbed!” he jokes, “No, we definitely won. Shit, I won. That was one to show the parents, for sure.”

In addition to composing, Campanaro is always playing in one band…or two or three. He’s in several bands at the moment, including Taxi and playing with Matt Ellis from time to time, but Terraplane Sun is taking up most of his focus these days. The band has been out on the road recently, which included a month long residency at Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan club. “It’s been really great. The Cosmo is a really cool spot.”

The club, which opened last November, is located near the Hard Rock Café. The Cosmopolitan, however, is less concerned with filling their venue to capacity just to fill it and more concerned with putting on shows that make people feel creative, to keep up with music in the current times. “It was a good scene, good exposure, good reaction,” Campanaro says.

Terraplane Sun formed a few years ago after Campanaro and singer Ben Rothbard kept crossing each other’s paths on the LA music scene. They played together a couple of times before realizing they should play together on a more consistent basis and formed a band. After a number of lineup changes, the Terraplane Sun that exists today and has been playing together for a little over a year, consists of Rothbard and Campanaro, guitarist Johnny Zambetti, Scotty Passaglia on drums and Gabe Feenberg on keys. Campanaro says, “There’s a good energy with these five guys.”

Influences as individual band members are all across the board. “The other guys are more old school, like deep, gritty blues and old folk, whereas I’m more into punk and Motown.” As a band, Campanaro thinks their sound probably comes more from the folk and blues place, but says Terraplane Sun is a crossbreed of everything into one.  

The bluesy influence is definitely easy to spot with a nice mix of rock and folk blended in. Their remake of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” is great, and they fit in nicely with the current musical climate alongside bands like Cold War Kids, the Black Keys and Cage the Elephant. At the same time, though, they stand apart from all the others by doing things the way they want to when they want to do it.

Terraplane Sun has finished their second record, and now, the focus is on playing and even more recording to keep themselves out there for people to hear. The goal is just to keep on their own schedule and their own path, “We’re doing our own thing as a band, we’re on our own trip. None of us are overthinking it.”

Campanaro’s instrument of choice is the bass but plays everything else “poorly,” says he. “I can get what I need to hear out of what I play.” He used to play solo, but not so much anymore. His other band, Taxi, is a three piece featuring two bass players and a drummer, “All my thoughts are thrown out there with that band, and it’s so fun for me to do that. It gets to go in whatever direction it’s gonna go in. And I get to scream and sing, which is great.” For now, though, composing and Terraplance Sun are the priority, “It’s been a good trip so far.”

Campanaro says he never had his “a-ha” moment where he just knew he had to play music, either that or he says it hasn’t happened yet, nor does he know if it ever will. “I was terrified as a kid trying to be a musician. There’s definite unpredictability going down that road,” he says, “I wasn’t gonna back out, but it was tricky.” And when the writing opportunity opened his eyes to a whole different side of the music industry, the fortitude and luck of his career trajectory are far from lost on him, “I’ve just been grateful.”

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One Response to “Chris Campanaro is No Starving Artist”

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