Amber Campagna is Deep Ellum Royalty and a Boundless Musical Spirit
Photo by Stephanie Hastings
As you've recently read in DC9, Amber Campagna's family is practically the subject of a new documentary on fallen Dallas musician Frankie Campagna Jr.'s local punk assembly, Spector 45. We got a chance to know Frankie Jr. pretty well here at DC9 over the years, as well as his father, Kettle Art Studio founder/artist/muralist Frank Campagna Sr.
Amber, however, has largely remained a quiet anomaly (remember daughter Amy on The Osbournes?) as far DC9 and local press exposure goes. In recent years, as her father has been, she's been living somewhat in the shadow of Frankie Jr's untimely passing and subsequent legacy, and while that legacy is a fine one, it will be told sufficiently soon enough.
It's high time to take a moment to get to know the baby of Deep Ellum's reknowned creative family. A graduate of arts-emphasized Booker T. Washington High School, and a very talented artist in her own right, Amber is largely the reason Kettle Art exists. She may be young, but she's seen as much of the arts scene as most of us absorb in, say, three times the years. When she's not hitting the books for classes at El Centro, she's a big part of the strong pulse of life at the art studio her father built...built for her, really. Not to mention she is a foremost authority on not only local arts, but music.
Growing up in the Campagna house sounds interesting and very musical. Was it?
Growing up a Campagna is like finding a gemstone while making mud pies as a kid. Unnoticed at first until a glimpse of it's beauty shines through. Then it's the next best thing and treasured for all it's worth. There weren't many quiet moments in our household. From The Beatles to The O's, Old 97s to Todd Rundgren, Spector 45 to the Nervebreakers, it was nonstop rock & roll. I was very fortunate to have a loving family who always supported any direction my flittering mind flew me, and a Dad who happened to paint murals for one of the best music venues in Dallas at the time. Ah, Gypsy Tea Room... Any show, any time. If I wanted to go, I was in. Usually with my dad by my side, but that's because we share a lot of the same music taste. Plus, what better way to break the ice when meeting someone in the band by saying, "Yeah, my dad painted that mural of you and this one's for you." while handing over just a little thing hand printed by yours truly. Patti Smith and Liz Phair had the best reactions.
You jumped up on stage and performed with Rhett Miller recently. How did that come about?
YAY! Rhett Miller!!! Singing with him is unbelievable and I'm extremely fortunate to be given that opportunity. I've loved the Old 97's and Rhett for a very long time. I knew some people cause I'm a social butterfly and happen to work with O's member, Taylor, who's quite the knock out sweetheart himself and was allowed backstage to my excitement. Sat down and chatted with Rhett for a few minutes, and he asked for help filling out the rest of the playlist.
I suggested "Firefly," and he said he didn't have another singer before looking at me queerly. Rhett has always been associated with my family for a minute now. I even have a copy of The Believer album signed, "Your dad is cool." He asked if I knew the words and despite that I sang it every day leading up to showtime, the words slipped my mind in bliss. So he wrote the lyrics out for me and we practiced a few times before he was ushered on stage.
Living the dream. I know this isn't the first time you've hopped up to sing with people..who else?
I've been jumping on stages since forever. My earliest memories are of singing, "Sooner or Later" with Rotten Rubber Band or jumping up on the stage at Charlie's, which is now Uncle Ubers, to sing "Ring of Fire". Never had much stage fright, but that night with Rhett surely made me fret.
I'm excited to hear about the documentary coming out, but there's some cool things going in your world, such as at Kettle Art. Tell us about "For The Love of Kettle", for example.
"For The Love of Kettle" is an open-call show where local artists are given a precut board, all the same size and if it sells, 100% of the proceeds go to the gallery. It's also a show that goes hand in hand with "For Love Of Artists," the follow up show in which we show our appreciation to those artists who participated by giving them a chance to receive 100% commission per pieces of theirs that sell. Just in time for the most romantic day of the year, these shows have no theme but to support the local art scene and its artists.
Is there a musical side to the studio? Even if it's an occasional embellishment?
It's rare we have music, though we've had all sorts of interesting bands play through the years like Unconscious Collective, Smile Smile, so on so forth come through. We also are proud to associate ourselves with 45 Fest and Club Dada on a yearly basis featuring complimentary musical concepts such as Art of The Guitar, in which artists were given their choice or electric or acoustic, which we fashioned with extraordinary, uncustomary and uniquely uncommon paint jobs.
Art of the Guitar was a really great and special part of 45 Fest. Really enjoyed the displays.
45 Fest itself is a treasure aimed towards reaching out to nuts like me, or really my brother, in an effort to show support and raise healthy mental stability amongst us crazy artistic kids.
Kettle Art was a father-daughter arts venture?
Kettle Art opened when I was in high school. My dad had been kicking the idea around and viewed it as a good way to get to know his awkward teenage daughter. By that time, Spector 45 had already been off to a great start and a couple records in and he was spending mass amounts of energy making sure they were on the right track to where they needed to go. Naturally, I was jealous. So when he asked me one day while picking me up from school if I'd like to open a gallery, pretty sure I shrugged and said something like, "That would be cool." It wasn't till we walked through an old record shop, soon to be Best Gallery that I felt the warm realization we were about to do something magical.
Being at Kettle has introduced me to some of the best people, our neighbors, and some of the best artists, our crew. Artists Ryan Thies and Richard Ross, both cartoon artists, have completely contrasting techniques, and the best attitudes around for miles. Feeling realistic? You ain't got Jack or Jill on Cathy Miller. Erica Felicella with her strong standpoint, traditional with a twist photography vs Jenice Johnsons cute Gummy Bear Gummy World cameo or Jason Janik, who does the best band photography.
I'm a real fan of about a dozen local photogs, but Janik's work is my favorite.
Oh my... I've got a print he did of the Riverboat Gamblers by my bedside. Then we have the really far out, but nonetheless original Corey Godfrey with her yarn paintings, or Dan Colcer. No one I've seen can touch his line work with a two foot pen and ink. Haha, thanks Dad!
You've been involved in the Deep Ellum Arts Festival for so long now. Lots of fond music/art memories and moments there? Share as many as you'd like.
Oh Deep Ellum Arts Festical: Frankie climbing a stack of speakers, into a tree then judging, "Nope. Probably not a good idea to jump from here while playing a solo for "Playing With the Devil." Top memory along with it freakishly snowing a few years back. Every year, Kettle sets up a tent and we decorate the side walk with chalk. Who better to do chalk paintings than Richard Ross or another awesomely crazy local artist?
Is the DFW local arts community truly a community?
Outside of Deep Ellum, I'm not too sure about how the community aspect applies to arts districts. There's a lot of love where we're from and have learned to let go of selfishness. Egos are kicked to the curb cause even if we've got different goals, we're here, now. Same time and place. Keep your judging outside the box, work hard and we've got your back.
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