The Campbell Apartment, named after a bar hidden inside New York’s Grand Central Station, is the brainchild of Russian born singer-songwriter and oil painter Ari Vais. Ari’s new Sundogs EP is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a modern rock scene obsessed with superficialities. No such issues with Vais and his straightforward musical agenda. The songs take top priority – memorable melodies and relatable lyrics – clothed in classic pop-rock arrangements and instrumentation. Tracks like “Something in the Way” and “Heroic Audio Display” hearken back to a kinder & gentler times (the 90s), the last hurrah of the Pop Underground, where thought and effort are put into communicating a genuine emotional resonance through words and tunes. By the time one gets to the music hall jauntiness of final number “What Do You Think Of That”, it’s easy to feel a sense of regret that there isn’t more. But that’s the harsh reality of releasing marginalised forms of music in 2014. So if you love songs that balances intelligence with musicality, support The Campbell Apartment and the Sundogs EP! Find out below how and why Ari Vais does what he does!
How did you start writing songs?
I must have learned how to play guitar well enough as a 10 year old to learn a bunch of Beatles songs by the time I was in high school, and then Floyd, Zeppelin, finally some REM and Lou Reed songs, and then around 16, a slew of my own songs where the burst of writing didn’t cease until recent years. I still write but not as prolifically. I guess when I started as a teen, the tunes were based on traditional chords, as well as chords that I had no idea what they were, where my fingers were just doing some formation that happened to sound cool and go with the song, because I still didn’t know my way around a guitar that well, and trying for clever words or earnest poetic ones, hopefully with a tiny dash of humor, and a strong melody. The last bit was the most important, and very much still is.
What inspires you to make music?
Knowing that I’ll continue to be influenced by people, not just as a young kid who was floored by the Beatles for a great many years, but as a teenager by other rock giants like U2 and REM, the Velvet Underground, and so much other stuff in high school – went through a heavy punk rock phase, was a bit into metal too, loved Ozzy. In college, the world just exploded and I consumed and was influenced by so much music. Since then I was knocked out by what Nirvana briefly did, and that opened up a whole world of underground rock for me and I got into everything from Sonic Youth to the Vaselines, and then Pavement and Weezer, more recently the Strokes, and Mac Demarco and Foxygen. It’s incredibly inspiring because, as songwriters, we’re all trying to “crack the code” and write that perfect song, and hearing others do it or come close to doing it is unbelievably inspiring. Because you not only love the song and can’t stop listening to it, but you’re also saying “why didn’t I fucking write that??”. Trying to keep up with new music in order to keep getting inspired by stuff works on both levels, competitively as another songwriter, and it melts me because I love a great song. It’s actually a pretty good combination for creativity.
What are the records you listened to growing up?
I’m not too adventurous, once I discover an artist I love, I stick to that artist and things very much within that world. I listened to the Beatles like a complete fanatic, a “complete-ist”, including all their solo work. There were others of course, I listened to the Repo Man soundtrack endlessly in high school and was hugely influenced by every song (all by a different seminal underground punk artist). I listened to a ton of The Cars, and even their solo guitar player Elliot Easton’s solo album “Wearing Down at the Wheel”. I think if you’re talking about vinyl specifically, before I switched over to tapes, and then in high school CDs, it was strictly the Beatles, and their solo records. I may have had the Ziggy Stardust record, and a few other classics like the Kinks record that was big at the time that had “Come Dancing” and “Don’t Forget To Dance” on them.
Do these records have any influence on your writing?
Of course they do, if you listen to something alone in your room over and over, because it makes you sigh and feel stuff, or makes you wanna smash stuff, and at the same time you’re a budding songwriter in your own right, there’s no way to NOT be influenced why what you’re listening to, it’s all you’ve got! Presumably your friends aren’t going to influence you because most of them are too young to be songwriters or will never be songwriters, it’s what you hear, what’s on the radio. In grade school, before I got into a bit of metal for a minute (Quiet Riot, Ratt, Ozzy), I went through an Adult Contemporary phase, where I listen to a ton of soft hits, like Gordon Lightfoot. I wasn’t into any really cool music like Husker Du in high school in the ’80s, definitely did not know my underground scene, what would become “indie rock”, until Nirvana, and then everything changed for me again, Guided by Voices are still making my jaw drop – it’s like a performance art piece, that guy doesn’t stop writing and recording, and has like a zillion songs and a new album out every few weeks. Who does that?? It’s so anti commercial it makes me giddy – especially when there are a few good songs on all those albums. So yes, I’m very influenced by the music I listen to.
Do you believe that the ‘classic’ pop song style is still relevant in 2014? Why?
I believe the style never can “go out of style” because you either have a great song on your hands or you don’t. A classic pop song that is not memorable because it’s not doing or saying anything that hasn’t been done before, that’s already out of style. But taking the form (short song, strong melody), and doing something original with it, that’ll make people’s ears stand on end a little, and will make them want to play it again, that can never go out of style. “Beginning To See The Light” by the Velvet Underground was written 50 years ago!!! But it would sound cool and relevant if it came out today, it is in no way dated sounding. A great song is a great song – forever. That’s what we’re all in pursuit of as listeners, and as songwriters.
Listen to the Sundogs EP at Spotify.
Then purchase the Sundogs EP from iTunes.