Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with David Campbell

Australian actor/singer/director David Campbell, whose recent CD On Broadway is fast approaching  international success, was in New York this past weekend as an ambassador for G'Day USA and to promote his family album Floodlight to be released in stores in Australia February 1 and already a hit on iTunes. The album is a $4.95 contribution to aid the flood victims in Australia. In our conversation Campbell talks about the album, his background and his busy schedule in Australia as artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed your performance here in LA in November at the Catalina Jazz Club.
Thank you. I had a great time doing it, and I'm going to come back within the next year or so, in more of a cabaret room.

You might like the Inner Circle of the Magic Castle for its size and Hollywood location.
I know, and it's got my favorite...magic. I wish I were a magician.

Oh, yeah. I think magic's really great, and now I have a kid to learn magic. A lot of kids have fathers that are singers, but to have a father that does magic, that's a singular thing, really cool. So maybe I'll try and get some tips if I come back there.

You're in New York to sing tonight (January 28) at G'Day USA. Tell me about that.
It's sort of an Australian/American tradition now that helps get Australian people together here. I've done this a few times here...we've done it at Carnegie Hall, at Lincoln Center and now we're doing a smaller version at Cipriani's. It's myself, the cast of Priscilla (Queen of the Desert), and also the Qantas Choir is performing as well. 

You'll be singing selections from your album On Broadway?  
Yes, a song from my 60s album Good Lovin' with the Qantas Choir, and I think we're all singing "I Still Call Australia Home" together, another Peter Allen song.

Let's talk about the Floodlight album. Terrible tragedy befalling Australia!
Yeah...obviously, these terrible things happened...and for an Australian performer...we go to those areas that were affected by the floods all the time. Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Maribor, Ipswich. The mayor of Ipswich sent my wife (formerly Lisa Hewitt) and me towels. I have all these gifts from him. He's a very generous man; it's a great town. These are all really good people that support artists going through there touring, and my father (Jimmy Barnes) and I felt very strongly.

I was performing at a telethon in Australia for the flood victims; I was singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" and he called me up that night and said "Announce on TV that we are going to release an album!" We had nothing. We had no agreements from any record company or anything like that. But I announced it and within a week we had it on iTunes and within 24 hours it was Number 1. It's 16 tracks from all of our albums. I have many family members and in-laws that perform. So, we all put tracks on the album. It all goes to the Flood Relief Victims. Both record companies got all the rights waved, and we made it very cheap so that people can get 16 tracks. It's done very well, and we're releasing the CD. The interesting thing on there from my dad and I... He, myself and my sister (Mahalia Barnes) did a cabaret show at the Festival in our first year (2009). My dad, in an acoustic mode, sang things like "Around the World", the old Matt Monro song and "Love Me Tender". You get to hear us do harmonies and live stuff together, special stuff that you can't get anywhere else. We just took it off a desk tape and mixed it. But, really for us, it's about giving back to these people who support us around the world. A lot of people tour through there, so I think it's very important that we are there for our fellow people. Queensland is a very large state, the second largest in Australia, and 75% of it was considered a disaster zone.

Being Jimmy Barnes' son, how did you get the name David Campbell?
My maternal grandmother, who brought me up, was married to a man named Peter Campbell, her second husband. I was a kid and he was only around for 4-5 years. He left before I found out who my father was. I kept his name, and when I found out who my dad was in my teenage years, there was a lot of talk of whether I should take his name. It didn't feel right; I had grown up as David Campbell. I guess in a way it's kind of a stage name really; I have no emotional connection to it. My grandmother never had any emotional connection to it, but it felt right and I never changed it. Now it seems great, like starting my own legacy. How many times do you get the chance to do that unless you're making up a name completely for yourself?

Tell me more in detail about the variety of music you grew up appreciating.
I didn't know about my mother being my mother. I thought she was my sister for 11 years. When I found out about my father, I found out about my mother. I was brought up with all these older women. My grandmother was very English, but she loved Nat King Cole...Johnny Mathis is a big favorite of hers. She loved Scott Walker; she loved swing singers as well. And she loved the old movies; we used to watch movie musicals, so I had this sort of connection to that as a kid. And my mother and her sisters would come in on a Saturday night and bring in some wine and would play Motown and the popular stuff of the day, 80s tracks. And I grew up in a very rough area and with my dad being a very rough rock 'n roller too, I had to have all of that as well. It's a really wide gamut of music that I love and listen to. I guess Johnny Mathis was a big vocal influence on me when I was starting out in cabaret. Watching movie musicals, listening to people like John Raitt, Gordan MacRae and hearing that sound a lot - to my grandmother that was the proper way of singing - these are the people I look up to. As I got older into cabaret and found my own voice, I found Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr. Peter Allen, the sort of big showmen that I have an affinity to and work hard to aspire to.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival is a very popular event. You and your wife Lisa are currently artistic directors of it. Tell me more about that.
It's in its 11th year this year and takes place in June. But we work on it all year. This is our third and final year as artistic directors. Last year we had Natalie Cole, which was wonderful and Bernadette (Peters) the year before. We get big acts like that and we also create a lot of young cabaret. It's been very difficult in Australia, because cabaret has sort of painted itself into a corner. People just doing regular shows like a Cole Porter show, and no one really wanted to see it anymore, and when we got to the Festival, the numbers were dwindling, they were not reaching out to big people anymore, so we were very cognizant that we wanted to change it. We wanted to bring cabaret into the 21st century, make it relevant. While we were bringing in Bernadette Peters or Donna McKechnie or Liz Callaway to do that classic New York cabaret style, we were also bringing in fabulous French performers from London like Sarah Louise Young or Frisky & Manish (School of Pop), and then going to Australian performers and saying "Give us something different!" like doing a show with my dad and making him sing something he'd never do live or going to other Aussie rock performers and saying "Do your shows, but do them in cabaret style!" Everyone would embrace that and then that would filter down to really young artists now, from drama schools or musicals. We have this girl who's the lead in Xanadu, Christie Whelan who's incredible. We approached her and said "Britney Spears and cabaret: perfect for you! We're going to get a director. Let's write it and do it." She's done that all over the country to great acclaim.

We try to encourage and build shows around people. We've gone one step further. Last year and this year, we're going to high schools, teach kids about cabaret and I direct two high schools in their professional debuts of cabaret. We're seeing kids that are relating to shows like Glee and dip their toe into this musical theatre/American popular song. I try to make it relate to them, make them tell their stories and we get through it. It's emotional, dangerous, but so exciting to be out there introducing it to the next generation. There was certainly a time when I was coming up, where I didn't feel supported. The support that I got in America I didn't have in Australia when I was staring out. Now the new generation's coming through, as it is here, making it their own.

You are so funny on stage. Is there a role that you really yearn to play?
(laughs) I don't know that there's anything funny that I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to be goofy and wacky on stage. Actually, the less I try, the funnier it starts to get. But I'd love to do Carousel and the other classic musicals. They don't write men's roles any more. Outside of cartoons or people flying around the room... (we laugh)

David Campbell will find an original of his own, he's so creative and fun. Don't miss him when he plays LA, New York, San Francisco in the future and order a copy of On Broadway @ It's a must for serious theatre lovers. And listen to Floodlight on iTunes!

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