The Temperance Movement’s Phil Campbell Talks ‘White Bear’ Album, Playing Live + More
The Temperance Movement recently wrapped a brief tour of the U.S. and will be back this fall for a more extended North American run in support of their White Bear album. Loudwire recently had a chance to speak with energetic Temperance Movement vocalist Phil Campbell about some of the key tracks on their new album and he also gave us some insight into his preparation and inspiration for the band's live shows. Dig into our chat with the Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell below.
I know you guys were out on the road during the recording of White Bear but was there a clear plan going into the album as to what you wanted and can you talk a little bit about how the record came together?
The record was really written in 2014, over that year. If there was any plan it was really just trying to make it more succinct. A diverse rock record. We had got together in 2011 and without really playing any shows, we went into the recording studio and recorded an album of real meat and potatoes rock and roll music. Then we went out and played and we became better musicians. We became a better band. The musicians in the band were all very good. So our first record was fine. Everybody was able to play really well. Everybody had played for years before that record. So that record was good, but the band had never really played very much. So then when we did a couple years of touring. By the time it was 2014, we were doing headlining tours in Europe or in Germany, France, Sweden, Spain and the U.K.
During the time, 2013/2014, we started to jam a little on the stage and there were ideas being sent around on email and things being recorded on soundcheck and rehearsal rooms. And quite steadily the album came together. There was a little bit of a sit down with me Nick [Fyffe] and Paul [Sayer] to try and collate the album. Albums do need a little bit of direction and the original writing partnership from the first album still did their job on the second album, although there was a lot more freeform writing. The album wasn't always there for what what was going on, there was stuff being jammed and sent up to me because I live in Glasgow, they live in London. So, I would try and make sense of things that were said to me or sing some vocals or I would sing some stuff on my own time, or I would sit there with Paul and we would write together. It came together in a slightly different way than the first one. Because it was much more variety of the way it was written. It came together in about 6-8 months. It was very quick.
Does location and environment maybe inform the music at all as well?
To be honest with you, after a while you forget where you are and it all blends into the one hotel room or the one stage. I can’t tell you whether I was in Belgium or in Amsterdam. We all have a different version of what song was what and when we came up with it. It depends on how we're feeling and there was a feeling in the band where we were kind of a bit done with playing the same songs for the first album and we happened to be in Europe then. The album was kind of finished just before we went to America. We were excited about the prospect of going to America last year. So, with this album, because we thought it was gonna be a little bit of a step up from what we have done.
A lot of American fans over here, I think they like to think that it was written when we were touring in America, but it wasn’t. It was written before we came to America. But what we have done with America, is we have enjoyed the confidence that playing rock and roll music in front of American rock audiences can give a band. We've played that album in America, so we've played and we've learned a lot and have been given a lot of confidence from just the excitement that you can get from American crowds.
When I saw you last, you had already gotten into that stage of playing some of the new songs out. I know for sure "Three Bulleits" was definitely in your setlist. I'll start off with that song, if you want to talk about that track and where it comes from? I know the drink, but how did that become the drink of choice?
Bulleit Bourbon, The guys like to drink bourbon or tequila, and it has to be something nice label or whatever. And Bulleit Bourbon was a bourbon that for a time was on the rider. The line in the song was something I came up with, was something that we were jamming. So we were jamming, it was just a jam that we did in Germany or something. And as it is, it came as it was and I start singing, "HEY BULLETS IN THE MORNING," but I was thinking about, you know, conflict on a sort of world stage and whatever I had been watching whether it was Middle East or you know, whatever -- just war I guess, and conflict, but change the scale a little bit to make it a little bit more about us.
We called it "Three Bulleits" with a different spin on it, because it referred to that drink that was on the rider. The song itself is about conflict and religious war, religious hatred, religious bigotry and fights and disagreements that will never, ever, ever, ever leave us, people who will kill each other and kill each other and kill each other forever or things that happened years and years ago and no one will ever agree on.
I wanted to ask about "White Bear," which is also the title of the album and great album art you have from Steven Sebring on here. If you want to talk about the song, where it comes from and a little bit on the recording of the track.
The song was a big riff that Luke [Potashnick] came up with. We recorded it with a different vocal all together that was just a la, la, la, na, na, na lyrics kind of thing. And because I didn't really have anything at the time when we recorded it. It was done at the studio where Queen recorded and Oasis recorded and several of us had recorded in Wales. It was just a crummy old studio and this was something that Luke kind of had just last minute as we were in the recording studio, with a kind of light and shade / quiet and loud, Pixies or Nirvana vibe, probably the heaviest song that we've got right? and I would often try and try to write a lyric and I eventually wrote a lyric about addiction and the falling off and repeated cycles of the behavior, the darkness, the self loathing of that.
The title came from a friend who referred me to a study that was done on mindfulness and trying to ... people with these kind of addictions and you know, issues and their depression over trying to rid their mind of these things and there was a study done where, whenever there was a group of people, whenever they were told not to think about a white bear, white bear represented one of these bad thoughts coming into their head, whenever they would think about this white bear they were given the image of a white bear, but told not to think about it. They had to write down or hit a buzzer whenever they thought about it and it was to try and train the mind to change, right? This I liked because I have to do that constantly in my life because I have to break out of forms of behavior and cyclical and stupidity with drugs and alcohol all my life, so White Bear, it was actually something which kind of completed the idea that I had that wasn't fully formed and it's about trying to change.
Obviously listening, you have some different subject matter in terms of inspirations for songs. It's not all just relationship, guy / girl stuff. There is some deeper thought put into the songwriting. Are there any practices or a mindset that you have to be in in terms of coming up with the ideas for the song? What's your technique?
There's different techniques, because lyrics and songs, they don't always come with a deep meaning. Often, one of the most fun things about songwriting is wordplay. The song "Magnify" has a kind of silly wordplay. The verse in "Get Yourself Free" has a freeform wordplay where I just needed a lyric and just sat with my wife and threw her a few words that were written down on a piece of paper, sort of an old style, my own way of doing things. Mix up the words, and try to write sentences out of them just to try and do something different. That's how the verse's came in a strange way, when your mind starts thinking like that you will eventually tie it together with a meaning, right? Sometimes you can just sit down and be on the corner of two famous New York streets and think of something and start writing. I was on the corner of Ludlow and Houston or whatever and blah blah. I saw this or I was standing next to Katz, or I was outside of the Mercury Lounge and something happened and you go from there. You can have a linear form, which is probably the best way to write a song.
Sometimes when you've got a band, a famous group who have come up - they've been jamming stuff out and need lyrics on the top of it, in that situation I don't always look for meaning, I just try and find the right words and syllables and the right rhythm. For me, singing is as much about rhythm as it is about words. If the chords are slow underneath, the words on top need to be fast. If the chords are fast underneath, the words on top need to be slow. They always need to do the opposite of what's happening and sometimes you can think of the word you want to say or the sound that you want to sing and it doesn't really try to make sense - kind of think of the word for a long time, but eventually it will come. Mick Jagger used to say that about songwriting. He wanted to sing an E sound at this particular point, he had to just make up the word and try and get the lyrics the way he can sing that sound because it sounded the best at that point, rather than any other verbal sound.
One of the places you recorded was a place that Queen recorded. I also saw that you posed at the Freddie Mercury statue in Montreaux and were talking about how a great vocalist he was and an inspiration. How amazing was it to basically not only be at the studio where had worked, seen the statue, and have all these things coming together for you and knowing what an influence he was growing up?
It's very humbling to have basically been on a stage and have that role that he had. He was definitely, for me, the very first rock and roll hero that I had. When I was a little boy I didn't think I had any idea of how I could sing. An actual fact, it takes years and years to be able to sing as powerfully as I can now. I wasn't always able to do that. I could do it a little bit when I was 19 and 20, but strangely my voice didn't fully form until I was a little older. So when I was younger, I wasn't aware of the fact that I was going to sing with a big voice like that. I just had a voice. I liked his voice because it was the entire sum of himself in that voice. If you were watching on Live Aid or Live at Budapest, one of these films that were made of them, you can see with every vein that was popping out of his neck that he was giving everything he had. He also sang in a very musical style. He had a raspy voice that I loved, I love raspy cigarette / whisky voices. From Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, and Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder when I was younger as well, I liked those guys because they had that voice, that gravel voice. I guess Fred had that, but he also had a musicality.
I was a piano player when I was a little boy. I started out as a piano player and I wanted to - I would do everything, sing and learn how to play the piano. Sing at the piano. I had no notion of really being a singer. Just a singer and a microphone. I started out with a piano and then I moved to the guitar, then I was a songwriter, than a singer songwriter. Then I was like Elton John, I was going to be like one of those kind of guys, like the Irish band the Hothouse Flowers because there was a piano player in the band. Eventually I took to the acoustic guitar when I heard The Bends by Radiohead because the brit pop scene, it was cool to have an acoustic guitar and sing.
The initial inspiration of Fred, I was quite shy and behind closed doors I would pretend to be that powerful. Nowadays, I think it's very sweet to see myself at 10 or 11 years old with a little broken down microphone and just in my own private universe copying and trying to be this guy. The thing he did, I think, that I take is that he connected well. He was very theatrical -- He dressed up and all that through the 70s, but I came up when all of that didn't really matter. The thing he did well was he went out onstage and connected with every single person as if he was looking right at you. To me, that's what a singer should do. Rather than be so full of themselves that you can't quite understand or get to them because they keep themselves guarded, because they keep themselves covered and they keep themselves - and even though they're on the f--king stage in front of everyone, they think they are not exposed to be honest about it. To just expose who you are and to be confident and go out and entertain people who paid f--king money to come and see you. Forget about the fact that it's art, f--k art. It's not art, it's entertainment. It's a privilege of a privileged society to go on a stage and sing, and be applauded for it. I think, as I've grown older, that's - picking up on the Freddy thing and the statue in Montreaux, the band has taken me to that place where I kind of, I'm beginning to salute the guy and say thank you for being that inspiration in my life when I was so young.
The show I saw, you were in the audience during the opening act and you were dancing along to everything they were playing. Your energy is on from the moment you walk in the door. I saw your posting about your wife, talking about how she inspired you and basically "knocked the Morrissey out of you," which I thought was a great line. Seeing you now, it's odd to think that you weren't always as confident onstage. Can you discuss a bit more about your wife inspiring your stage presence?
Absolutely. There's a combination of my courtship with my wife came at a time when the band was just beginning to start moving. I just started to have fun with being a singer because I had shed the guitar, I didn't sit at a piano and I had to do something other than just stand there. I felt it in my bones that I could move a little bit. So my wife would give me confidence and tell me I looked cool when I did that, it was great! My wife is a dancer and she takes great interest in whatever we're watching where there's dancing, because we see eye to eye on the whole entertainment thing. She's a brilliant dancer, anything from ballet to hip hop. She studies and she's a fantastic, brilliant dancer. [laughs] But I would do these head shakes or a knee up kick and I noticed in myself, I have a lot of rhythm in myself and it would help me to sing sometimes and to move as well as sing.
The dancing before the shows, dancing to the support bands, is to try and get my heart rate going before I go on the stage. It's to try and get me into the mood, to also try and feel the atmosphere in the room before I go onstage so I don't go onstage too nervous and not knowing who is out there or what it feels like. If you're in the crowd beforehand, and you're watching the other band you forget about yourself and try and enjoy what they're doing, you get into the night. You get into the night the audience is into, because it's all about them, really. Knowing how they're feeling before you come on is going to make a difference.
That was not always how I felt, it was always about the words when I would talk about Morrissey and it was an inwardness that I had. It was a very tragic sadness, or self loathing or guilt, whatever. I was so sincere in everything that I'd be doing and singing. The difference is quite clear. There's lots of things on YouTube of me when I was younger, but i'm tied to this guitar and tied to this conviction of wanting to be heard and taken seriously and to be respected. I love Tom Waits. Jesus I just want everyone to f--king see that. I was angry.
Then with the passing of the years of The Temperance Movement, I've discovered it's much better to just let go a little bit and have fun because you cannot hate from an audience. An audience wants you to have fun so that they can have fun. If you go onstage and you're not having fun, they don't really know what to do. What happens is your control because they'll start telling you to come on, raise your game! Or they'll laugh at you or they'll just be kind of numb because it's up to me to entertain them, [laughs]. My wife has given me confidence in who I am as an individual and also as a performer.
I know this may change for you, but maybe a favorite song to play live off the new record at the moment, and if you can talk about why that song stands out to you?
My favorite song from White Bear is "Get Yourself Free," in the same way my favorite song from the first album is "Ain't No Tellin'." Those two songs, to me, are kind of brother and sister. They're the same bloodline. They have a certain decor of southern blues element to them and the riffs. There's rhythmic wordplay, and there's a positivity in what's being said. "Ain't No Tellin'," when the storm comes but the sun still shines through, and "Get Yourself Free" is sort of a cry to just get on with your life. Get yourself right, your own problems, no one else is going to do that. Keep on living, keep on doing good. Keep on living well in life, even though it's s--t, even if it's all s--t around you. Even if it's f--king Trump on the television, and it's all gonna come to s--t all over Europe or whatever back in the U.K. Keep living, keep living, keep doing good. Those two songs are, I love singing because of that.
You had a chance to open for The Rolling Stones. To think at the beginning of last year, you're going from small clubs and then next thing you know you're opening for The Rolling Stones on one of the biggest stages. That's awesome. Can you talk about what that experience was like for you to get a chance to play a show with a band like that?
It's unbelievable. That's exactly how it felt to me. We were playing in front of maybe, 100,000 people, which was as big as we have got in stages around Europe. Then we were playing in front of a crowd that was assembling slowly of 50,000 people in a stadium in Zurich, in Dusseldorf or Berlin. We got four shows with them in Europe and one show with them in Orlando, Fla. the next year. It was an absolute dream.
The thing I learned was that the Rolling Stones are genuinely larger than life. They're just normal people when you meet them, and they work very hard. Being able to still tend to that with all of lesser mortals. The fact is, the stage they play on is enormous. I find myself feeling very, very small because there's a stagecraft involved in what Jagger does and I have absolutely no idea how to do. There's a stagecraft in playing to 50,000 that you just - it would take some time to learn how to communicate with that many people. It's difficult to hear everything, it's difficult to see everything. The things that I have relied on, being able to see the front row or being able to see the guy over there or the girl over there, that helps me to communicate. You don't have those things. You can't see the back of the venue, it's not dark. Maybe during the day, maybe the sun is in your face. There's massive screens, you're aware of the fact that everything that's happening and everything that you're doing is being put out on a massive screen to everybody. Also, you're aware of the fact that everybody is there to see the greatest rock and roll band that's ever been. So, you cannot actually imagine that - it's a very humbling experience. I suppose, if anything, I thought yeah, I would love to do that. I would love to have assembled this many people to come and see the music that I make.
Our thanks to The Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell for the interview. You can pick up the band's White Bear album via Amazon or iTunes. Keep up with the band's upcoming tour dates, both in North America and Europe, at this location.
The Temperance Movement, "White Bear"