Music was a prevalent aspect in Matt Campbell’s life. He remembers his father’s extensive record collection and his mother’s fascination for what is now considered to be “classic” country music.
“That kind of stuff was always on in the house,” Campbell recalled. But chances are today’s style of country music would rarely be heard in the ol’ Campbell household.
That older style of country music “has disappeared” from the mainstream. But Campbell has been trying to keep it alive for the past 10 or so years as a country musician. The self-taught guitarist and singer-songwriter seeks inspiration from the likes of Woody Guthrie, the kind of musician that does not exist for the current country music audience, according to Campbell.
“Where is the Woody Guthrie today? Where is the folk singer today who stands up, raises his hands and says, ‘Hey, I actually think something’s wrong and I actually have something to say,’” said Campbell. “It’s becoming harder to find those people today I guess.”
Part of the reason, he said, is due to the limited number of options available when someone turns on the radio. Switching from one country music station to another “isn’t going to be that different.”
Campbell calls it corporate or commercial country music. Musicians like Jason Aldean, Eric Church or Jake Owen “all kind of look and sound the same” and “the message is the same.”
“In no way am I trying to harp on someone’s success in doing that,” said Campbell. “They’re certainly successful at doing that. Whether that’s the best thing for the audience is an open question.”
Today’s music, he said, is watered down, especially country music. The music industry may take some of the blame.
“I don’t think the music industry, overall, wants to empower its listeners,” said Campbell. “It just wants its listeners to be consumers. The more they can feed them junk, the more they’ll think this is actually country music.
“In my mind, when you’re speaking down to your audience, I think that’s something that wasn’t always prevalent in country music. I feel like country music used to be more respectful to its own audience and speak about adult themes and tackle highly personal and social issues.”
Today’s country music, he added, doesn’t reflect a lot of personal or social topics. For instance, someone in a rural community might think their whole life is supposed to revolve around “driving a truck and hanging with a girl wearing cut-off shorts, drinking Fireball whiskey down by the creek.”
With those common themes being constantly played, Campbell looked to start a campaign tour with the slogan “Believe in Country.” He calls the catchphrase “specifically ambiguous” so that “someone can see it and start formulating their own opinion.”
Combining elements of storytelling and “thoughtful lyrics,” Campbell looks to bring audiences a new voice and sound from today’s country music. Some songs, he said, speak more directly to specific issues but provided a more “open ended view of the world.” In other words, there’s more to life than just trucks, dogs, creeks and whiskey.
“I think I speak intelligently with the audience,” said Campbell. “I say exactly what I want to say in songs. I trust the audience enough to be able to understand what I’m saying, not feel the same way about it, but to paint a vivid enough picture that they can reach their own conclusion on it and to provoke some thought.”