Sunday, May 15, 2016

Libby DeCamp (Interview)

The way Libby talks about music it’s as though it had personage, sentience, benevolence, even…it’s almost corporeal, a friend she grew up with… Actually, maybe it was more like a beautiful specter, a guardian angel-type entity. I could go on, because Libby’s songs are just that hauntingly evocative.

Libby DeCamp comes from the village of Romeo, way up Van Dyke; sutured into a family of musicians, singers and, well, lots of drummers actually. But Libby plays the banjo. The noble, quirky instrument called to her, almost… In fact, not to get too supernatural, but Libby says she’s felt a lifelong draw to music, she “…grew up close with it…and made a best friend of it, pretty early on.”

But back to that banjo… “Banjo…there’s always just been something about it, for me. Sometimes people laugh when you say ‘banjo…’ All these people…naming their dogs ‘Banjo’ because it’s a funny sounding word… But I just felt like it was the right thing when I played it. I always keep coming back to it, whether it’s just it’s just a frequency I like to hear, or whatever it is… I just feel I’m able to connect with those older era’s that I’ve been drawn to with the banjo, that’s why I love it so much.”

For much of her albeit young life, she’s felt an ineffable draw to the old world, to a time long before the information age, before highways or jets, before televisions… Libby harkens back to a time of storytelling, of busking, of almanacs and field recordings, to when jazz elements like trombone and upright bass began to interlace with country twangs from acoustic guitars, banjos and the honeyed harmonies and warbled intonations of the vocalist.

Libby’s music is for waltzing and for toe-tapping blushes of chivalry, for revelatory moments of pause and deep sighs of the soul. Minimal and melodious, plucked upon a skeletal lattice of banjo and a splendid, trilling vocal, with enticingly trudge-and-shuffle drums and slaloming bass plucks. The simple swell of songs like “Black Suit Man” are indicative of capacity for delightfully dark-ish, gothic Americana-crossed with gypsy-jazz incantations. But then she can bring it all down to a dreamy lullaby like “Charlie…” The hub of these cross sections is her sense for minimalism, giving space for a melody to breathe and providing just a candle-light’s worth of radiance.  

“Arrangement-wise,” says Libby, “it is a little more hemmed-in, more focused, with fewer instruments, maybe, but the most intention possible. I want to emphasize the direct storytelling aspect of (the music), whilst still creating an interesting sonic landscape.” The banjo, she acknowledges, is her most clarion connection to the old world, to traditional folk, to “old-time music…” But she’s always been very passionate about creative writing. “The roots of American folk, in general, really…particularly with writers like John Steinbeck, who’s one of my biggest inspirations out of all the creative fields.”

The way she tells it, since she was a teenager, she’s been seeking the great American historical aesthetic, to resurrect the soul of its folk music and particularly embody the aspects about it that she considers the most valuable, its intention. To sing, to write, to play with intent, to be fully present… Libby’s not naïve. As I said, she’s had music as an invisible/imaginary friend her whole life, and she’s grown to appreciate its potency.

 “I try to be as cognizant as I can of why we’re here,” says Libby, referring casually to, just, ya know, the tremendous scope of human existence… “And what can we be doing to continually connect with other people? And be present with everything that’s happening to and with other people that we’re connected to…I mean, not just people, even, but animals too…and our surrounding environment.”

Originally, Libby had been in a folk duo prior to essentially going solo as Libby DeCamp. The previous project was in its early stages of expanding into a four-piece with Brandon and Adam Schreiber (from  Jack &The Bear) serving as rhythm section, when a falling-out led to the band fizzling away. 

The Schreiber brothers stuck with Libby, though, and the trio started performing just a little more than a year ago. Early in the summer of 2015, Libby was at a house party hosted by said-Schreibers, where she met singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Olivia Mainville, who leads the AquaticTroupe over in Grand Rapids. Before she knew it, she went out on a tour with Olivia; she’s been in the Troupe ever since!

“I’m thankful we all found each other,” Libby said, referring to Mainville, the Schreibers, and others in their close-knit collective of songwriters and music-makers, such as ISLA (formerly known as Air Is The Arche). “There’s lots of musicians out there you can connect with, but I feel that we all specifically resonate with each other on a matter of purpose…”

“When I perform music (for an audience), I can still feel pretty shaky, sometimes… Because for so many years, (performing) music was just an experience that I had kind of as a treat just for myself; a way to connect with myself, also, as if it were a little religion. So that makes it almost feel…I dunno, embarrassing, to play for people. But the goal of it all is to reach other people and hopefully they can connect with it…”


“Because it’s so worth it to do this,” she says… “Because I feel a need to be close with music and to say what needs to be said.” She doesn’t mean that last part lightly, you can anticipate Guthrie-an esque social commentary across her lyrics, with even more pointedly topical, yet old-world-tinged verses to come on future recordings.

Libby will sing what needs to be said… “As much as I can do that, even if it means doing the opposite of what’s comfortable for me. I’ve got to…So, I hope to get better every day and play honest music with as much purpose as I can…give it as much integrity as I can while still making a career out of it… The goal is to emphasize the messages of it all, as much as I can.”

Libby DeCamp performs Saturday
at the Cadieux Cafe
4300 Cadieux Rd - Grosse Pointe

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