Five Questions for Christina Campanella
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I was born in Washington Heights near 181st Street and grew up in New Jersey just over the George Washington Bridge. There were a lot of art-makers in my family; I’m sure that’s what led me to where I am now. My mother was an actress and opera singer before she married my father, who was a plumber (and the best storyteller ever). His side of the family (my Sicilian side) was a sprawling clan of actors, musicians, filmmakers, instrument builders, and others. I learned from them that there’s nothing precious about being an artist. Making art is a job like anything else—and you have to work really hard to get good. There was also a lot of laughter and warmth. I was a dual major at Bennington College where I studied theater (acting) and modern-classical music (singing and composition). I’ve always been in New York save for a year in L.A. I spent the first half of my professional life pursuing straight theater and film but kept getting cast in things where I would inevitably sing or play an instrument. Soon that just became my thing. I started playing in bands about 15 years ago, and making my own works about 10 years ago. Now I’m working hard to create something that rolls all it together: theater, bands, film/photography, music, and the feel of a family.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
Robert Frank’s photo Sick of Goodbys and much of his later work: you see how the emotional content of the gesture pushed him outside the confines of the medium (where he began scratching words on the negative, painting on prints).
Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata: the combination of unbridled emotional ugliness with the most pristine and delicate simplicity; his creation of a music that sounds like awe.
The Brothers Quay’s film Street of Crocodiles: my first big light bulb about how choice of materials and the history of an object can be employed as narrative tools; wordless storytelling.
My experience working with Richard Foreman in Benita Canova: many things about his artistic practice, but mainly his adherence to the trail of his subconscious. For myself as a performer, that was where I first understood the idea of allowing an audience to ‘hear your thoughts’, by working with a lot of stillness, vocal control, and close-microphone technique.
Tom Waits’ Raindogs: this was the first I’d ever heard junkyard percussion, plus Marc Ribot’s angular guitar melodies, the use of marimba and other atypical instruments, this opened up a world of sonic possibilities for me. I started getting the idea that some music has theater already in it.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I wish I could dance; I just really can’t dance at all. I’d also like to be more balanced, less extreme—more slow-burn, less white-knuckle.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I freelance, although I try to do jobs that don’t require a uniform or too much personae modification. I check coats at a fancy restaurant, coordinate events for a catering company, do private parties and such. I staff and do the scheduling for both so I have some control over my time. I usually “go to work” 2-3 days/week—the rest I do from my iPhone in between and around everything else. I also handle a lot of the producer stuff for Latitude 14 (my company with Mallory Catlett, Peter Norrman and Stephanie Fleischmann). I pulled the band out of Red Fly and have been working with them as a separate, stand-alone entity called Kill Dull Cares (me, Chris Lee, Jesse Hawley, Sam Baker, and Erich Schoen-Rene). I’m in the throes of writing new songs for them, so I try to hole up in my studio as much as I can. A normal day: tomorrow I have to do 2 new mixes of one of the songs for Tinder (we’re doing two shows at HERE on Friday the 8th & Saturday the 9th at 10pm: here.org/tinder) and ftp the files to my sound guy, practice accordion, schedule a piano tuning, create a Facebook event for Tinder and follow up on a few emails to presenters, pay some bills, invoice the catering company, have a quick music rehearsal with Chris at my studio, then see a friend from England play at the Mercury Lounge.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
Yes definitely. I’ve lost stupid amounts of money because of the life I’ve chosen, but what can I do? For a while I worked at a boutique executive search firm talking to Wall Street guys on the phone. It was weird, but I was strangely good at it. It would’ve been easy at the time to drop out for a few years, focus on earning money, and later return to the arts. But I couldn’t survive a life like that, even for a few years. I quit when I got cast in Benita Canova. It’s never been an option for me to not do this, whether I’m performing in other people’s work or making my own. I always find a way to make money when I need it, but there is not an unlimited amount of time in which to make art: it is finite, and I have a lot to do.