This month, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams issue their self-titled debut album on Red House Records. While this is a debut album, both Larry and Teresa have done their time on the road and in the studio, touring and recording with the likes of Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh, Little Feat, Paul Simon and the inimitable Levon Helms. Their new album was recorded at Levon’s Barn, located in Woodstock, NY. Pro Sound News took a time out with Larry and Lisa to talk about their latest journey in the studio
ON MOVIN’ ON AND UP:
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams Larry: I left Dylan’s band at the end of ’04—and soon after started working with Levon. That was a really cool thing. Teresa and I had been singing together on her farm down in Tennessee with her family, and that was sort of the beginning of our collaboration. When I started working with Levon in Woodstock, Teresa ended up joining me up there, too, and things really started to gel. So we began concentrating more on songs that we could sing together and still perform in Levon’s band.
I had just gotten off of being on the road for eight years with Bob, and I wanted to be with Teresa—I thought that our ability to create music together was amazing, and what a great opportunity to be able to do it with Levon and the whole band. So about this time, I started writing some songs, and we performed a few songs with the Levon band. It all happened very organically. Eventually, we realized that we had to do a record. That is the short version of how we got here.
ON PLANTING SEEDS:
Teresa: All along, Larry had been touting that we were working on a record on the air since before we started working with Levon, and right after he left Dylan. But when people like Levon, or Jorma [Kaukonen], or Bromberg called, Larry would drop whatever he was doing to produce them. Who wouldn’t? So we were just rolling along, like the shoemaker’s children have no shoes, if you will. You think you have plenty of time to get to your own record, but it takes a lot longer than you might have imagined. But the seeds were planted and slowly growing in and around all that though. These experiences ended up really contributing to what finally came out on the record.
ON DIVING DEEP:
Larry: My career over the last several years has been backing up and producing other people. Songwriting is very difficult for me, and nothing ever comes easy. So for this, I really had to dive deep to get these songs out. Above all, our record was a natural avenue of expression— I never want things to sound contrived or formulaic, yet I always wanted to find the feeling in my writing. It’s unexpected, because you are really spilling your guts.
ON SHIFTING FROM PRODUCER:
Larry: Normally, I am the guy that is supposed to provide objectivity and be there for the artist. I realized that when you are trying to do that for yourself, it is nearly impossible. I would go from thinking, “you know, this stuff is pretty good” to “who the hell am I trying to kid here, this is nonsense.” And normally, when you go through all these emotions, the producer really knows what is happening and calms the artist down. Teresa was great in that regard. For example, I could not have done my vocals without her because she provided some objectivity that I needed. There were many things I was trying to do that I shouldn’t have been trying to do—and she helped through some important musical decisions.
On the technical side, Justin [Guip] was invaluable as an engineer. I would describe what I wanted the record to sound like in abstract terms, and he busted his ass to come up with templates that might represent what I was talking about, and we finally got there. He is a brilliant engineer.
ON SURVIVING LEVON:
Larry: The first couple of tracks we did for this record were with Levon, because while we were recording Electric Dirt, we had some downtime at the studio. At the time, I asked Levon if he would play on a couple of tunes that we were thinking about recording; this was around 2007 or 2008. One of those tracks survived, and ended up on the record with him playing drums. That was when we put a foot in the water for getting the entire project done. Soon after he died, Teresa and I realized we had to make some decisions about what we were going to do. That’s when we started to focus on getting back to the record. Byron Isaacs has played bass with the Ramble Band on the three Levon records that we did— he’s a great bass player. Justin, our engineer, is also a great drummer and we have a real chemistry. When we started everything up again, I asked him to do the rhythm section and everything was coming out beautifully. Finally, Teresa and I had been working with Little Feat a bunch, and Bill Payne became a great friend. We were working on project with Bill and at the time, he graciously offered to add piano to our record. What better than having Bill Payne playing piano on your record? I am really proud of everybody who contributed to this record.
ON THE 10,000-FOOT VIEW:
Larry: As I have had time to get away from this record and listen to it with objectivity, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is everything I wanted it to be. Our idea was to just follow the path of that reaction. If 10 people are interested in it, well great, I’m glad it moved you. If more people like it, then we will follow that path. This road is getting longer, and we’re going to take as far as we can take it.
Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists that occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org.