“We don’t want a traditional record deal,” announces Hope For Agoldensummer front woman Claire Campbell.
It might sound like a strange statement for a band member to make — who doesn’t want to get signed? — but the indie-folk group from Athens, Ga., isn’t interested in cookie-cutter record companies.
“This [new] album we are going to shop to labels,” says Campbell, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Hope For Agoldensummer (affectionately called HFAGS) is finishing their as-yet-unnamed sophomore effort. “Mainly what we want is tour support so we can go farther-away places that we can’t afford to go to. Also, we’ve tried on our own to get big national distribution, but it’s really difficult to convince [distributors] of your worth if you’re not on a label. They don’t believe one small group of five people can have enough publicity power to make it worth their while.”
This might be the case, but HFAGS is not your average band. The group recorded its first CD in studios and living rooms. They did the artwork, the layout, and packaged the discs (in a “superb glue/staple free design so that it is re-recyclable should the listener be unsatisfied,” notes the band’s Web site, www.hopeforagoldensummer.com).
Even before Campbell contributed her molasses-sweet vocals to HFAGS (her previous band was Claire and Baine’s Maple Yum-Yum) she sold discs in homemade felt cases with drawstring closures. Exactly the stuff that label execs shun and fans can’t get enough of.
The importance of being earnest
“People always want to know how the band got started … how we’d describe our music … what our interests are and where we grew up,” Campbell relates. For fans and reporters both, the HFAGS Web site is filled with writings about her diet (mostly vegan), lifestyle (including yoga and tap dance) and politics (“I was just going to remind you of the impending revolution, the over consumption of natural resources, the many ills against humanity, plants & animals … we gotta start trading comfort and hypocrisy for toil and righteousness,” she writes. “Eat yer greens.”).
But as far as a model for her musical quest, this artist is making it up as she goes along.
“The people I look up to the most are the people who ended up creating their own labels and … took the guerrilla-style marketing and heavily touring [approach] to support not only themselves but the label they’ve created,” Campbell reveals by phone from New Orleans.
Now, as cool as being in a band may sound, the reality of life on the road is less than glamorous: It means weeks of sleeping on sofas and floors, few showers, and fast food. “There’s a lot of dead time,” Campbell admits. “You’re in a van or in a club just waiting for a sound guy.
“What wears a lot of people down on the road is money, and it sucks — it’s the part of music that I hate,” she laments.
But despite the fact that a touring musician, if she adds up total hours spend getting to a gig and waiting for the show to start, is making something like 5 cents an hour on a good day, Campbell cleaves to her work ethic.
“Ultimately, what I’d like to do is have my own umbrella [label] for [other] artists that I really like to fall under and not necessarily have them sign away huge amounts of money in order to be in a national distribution catalog, which is what happens often.”
A hooker spurned is a penny earned
To fund her dreams, the musician works various part-time jobs. She’s sold homemade soap to get by, and she’s trimmed her living expenses. “My sister and I live together and we live really simply,” she notes. “Neither of us drinks or smokes or does drugs or buys hookers.”
So much for the rock-star lifestyle. But Campbell’s DIY stance has led her to some interesting side work, most recently composing the score for indie film Off the Black, which stars Nick Nolte.
“My sister … brought her CD collection. Most were CDs I’d heard before, though I finally came to one I didn’t recognize. The group was called Hope for Agoldensummer,” screenwriter James Ponsoldt told Filmmaker Magazine. “The music was exotic, ethereal, fragile — full of childlike wonderment. There were spare arrangements with singing saw, xylophone, clarinet, acoustic guitar, strange percussion, so much reverb that it seemed to be playing in another dimension, and, at its center, one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous female voices I’d ever heard … I listened to the CD on repeat for the next week. I began to hear it in my dreams.”
Inspired by the HFAGS disc I Bought a Heart Made of Art in the Deep Deep South, Ponsoldt invited Campbell to come to New York to write music for the film.
“The night before we went in the studio, the director came and said he didn’t really like anything we’d been doing,” Campbell recalls. She’d been working with two friends on the score, but at the 11th hour she found herself sitting alone with a guitar and hammering out the songs.
“I learned a lot from it,” she says simply. “I love scoring films.”
Hope for Agoldensummer plays The Grey Eagle with singer-songwriter Chris Pureka on Sunday, Dec. 10. The show starts at 8 p.m. $7. 232-5800.