Sometime in July the calendar went crazy and that wasn’t unexpected. Summertime in Burque always means lots of shows, a plethora of music festivals and just about every musician in town jockeying for position at a starting gate that portends better coverage, greater attendance and even more notoriety that biting the head off of a bat or being able to play “The Black Page” with subtlety and conviction.
That means that the peripheral devices, activities and structures running in the background—at an organization where employees are paid to observe and report on the main phenomenon—get full up. It isn’t improper to carry the summery analogy further on that account. Email inboxes are full, talent becomes ripe and the whole of the scene seems newly fecund as day burns through day in a rock and roll world that seems without end.
Doing something about those natural tendencies the scene has every summer—to come to fruition, to grow to completeness in the cool Burque nights between June and September—means those paid observers ought to be keeping their ears to the ground, waiting for that gentle sound, as someone once said.
I’ll tell you now. The volume is unforgivingly loud. The crackle and hum of activity is relentless. Finding a nugget of meaning residing in all that activity and sound and being can be daunting.
Thank G_d for relentlessness. One time a former art director in these parts asked how I chose who and what to cover, given the awful volume and terrible tenacity of what I had to let roll over me on a daily basis.
Crafty as ever, I lied and said I picked things out randomly, using a dartboard. Of course it’s actually much more complicated than that. I do a lot of analysis, for instance; there’s rarely anything that’s randomly chosen in my work.
Often I look for a symbol to represent something that can stand in for the whole. That’s what I did this week when I approached Jeremy Campos, a young sound engineer who came out to Burque from Gallup, N.M., to hear about his journey making his dreams of succeeding in the music business blossom and bear fruit.
An associate of Campos—and a longtime supplier of leads to the paper, from both work with the ACLU and as a member of the local art music community—called a few times to tell me I ought to talk to Campos about his work out here in The Duke City as an up-and-coming sound engineer.
After some consideration, I decided her suggestion would make a great feature. I’d get to talk to someone making their way—grandly, creatively and with newly acquired gravitas—down the sonic river that courses through this town and through its heart as a symbol of change.
And our readers would dig it, too, I reckoned. So Friday afternoon, I drove out to Campos’ new studio, The Owl, to talk to the dude about music, recording and what it takes to bring those forces to life. As I drove heat shimmered through the Bosque neighborhood nearby and I stopped by the side of the road to by some peaches and corn at a wooden fruit stand.
That stuff was fresh, too, I thought as I entered the gated compound at Campos’ recording studio. Our staff photographer was already there, snapping away. I took a bite of peach and sat down ready to talk.
Weekly Alibi: How did you end up in Burque with this awesome studio?
Jeremy Campos: So I grew up in Gallup. My whole family is musical. When I was about 11 years old, my father built a recording studio near the reservation, before you hit Grants [New Mexico]. Basically where the Red Rock Casino is now. In that general area near Ciniza Refinery, there were two trailers, I remember. My father converted one into a studio.
No kidding? That’s cool!
Basically he started taking appointments using his old Pro Tools rig and tape.
Like reel-to-reel four-track tape?
No, it was ADAT; that was very big when I was a kid. I used to go with him all the time. I was attached to my dad. He was my best friend. And he’s a guitar player, ever since he was about eight. He taught me how to play guitar. He taught me to play every instrument I have here in this studio—pianos, guitars, a drum kit. I’m collecting a bunch of vintage gear. That’s what I’m into. Ever since I was about 11, I’ve liked to record ideas. That’s what I like to do.
Tell me more about that process.
Well, my dad would lay down a riff and I’d be like, “ I wanna record that!” He showed me how to run the board, all of that. But since I touched the board, it was kinda game over for me.
Yeah. After high school, my dad asked me what I wanted to do. I told him that I just wanted to go big on the band scene and do something there. But he’s the who actually applied for me to go to a conservatory in Phoenix. He applied without me knowing. I got a call from Phoenix telling me that they had my application to the recording school. They wanted to ask me a few questions at the Conservatory for Recording Arts [and Sciences] in Phoenix. I was like, whoa.
What happened next?
In 2012, the day after Thanksgiving, I started school. I learned everything from live sound to recording with MIDI and recording with tape—I already knew how to record with tape—but it was cool. You learn [about] the tape age, the digital age, post-production practices for film, video game sound ...
I’ve hard a lot of sound engineers who make their bread and butter with film and video game contracts ...
Book editing has become really big, believe it or not. For audiobooks. Some engineers make really good money doing that, editing audiobooks. I did that when I had my internship in Hollywood after graduation.
Tell me about that.
I moved to LA. I got an internship at Serenity West [Recording].
That’s a pretty happening studio.
Yeah, I got to work around artists like J-Lo, Snoop Dogg and the Backstreet Boys. Aerosmith too. A bunch of different bands, just running patches and cables.
What happened next?
I got into a bad car accident, and I ultimately moved back to Phoenix. Basically LA ate me alive.
The accident was really bad. My ribs and my car were totally smashed. I needed to have a car to get to and from work. So I had to put all this money into my car. I got kicked out of my apartment. I was living in my car in LA and taking showers at the studio. I got caught and they were like, “What’s going on with you?”
That’s a drag, although I’ve heard similar stories about the city. I didn’t do well in LA, that’s for sure. It can be a really hard and unforgiving place.
So I came back to Phoenix and contacted some friends who wanted to build a studio. Since I had graduated at the top of my class, I was able to find work. I couch-surfed and recorded people who needed mix tapes, a lot of hip-hop. I also helped build three studios out in Phoenix. I tried to build partnerships with people, but it never completely worked out to my satisfaction. I knew I had to do it myself. So I moved back to Albuquerque. I didn’t have much trouble in Phoenix, except for finding steady work. Out here, I have family.
So what sort of work are you doing out here in the North Valley?
Right now, I have a day job working with computers, but I’m trying really hard to make this happen 24/7. I’m not just wanting to record hip-hop, either. I want to record everything. But I do get a lot of hip-hop people coming through.
It’s very popular in the Burkes!
[Laughs] I also did some work with Burque SOL, the reggae group. They came in, had a tour, jammed out. I haven’t heard back from them yet. But yeah, I invite everyone to come down here for a tour. Right now I’m recording and mixing people for free.
But it looks like this place is set up to be a profitable endeavor.
Absolutely. I’ve been going to other studios here in town in an attempt to build relationships, partnerships.
What are your impressions of some of those other studios?
I find that a lot of the studios I’ve been in around here are very much genre-oriented. That’s not a negative thing but I always see opportunities for cross-fertilization and collaboration. There’s plenty of creativity in Burque. I’m trying to get everyone to work together. I love so many different genres! I grew up with my dad, loving the ’80s rock scene. When I play guitar, all I can think of is ’80s riffs, like Eddie Van Halen and Slayer. And people end up asking me how I’m into that because I make so much hip-hop. It’s because I listen to so much.
What influenced you coming up, besides your father?
A lot of different guitar players. And in Gallup, it’s this big metal scene. So I was into a lot of rock at 17, 18, 19 years old. I formed a band with a couple of my friends and got into the whole metal scene. But listening to different guitar players introduced me to different genres. First, I got into thrash metal, but because of that, I later learned to appreciate the blues.
Are you playing out these days?
I’m playing in a band with Isaac Aragon [Isaac Aragon & The Healing]. I play lead guitar, we do a lot of soul. I’ve been playing with him for about three years now.
What is essential to a good recording?
I get a lot of people who want to record, but have never recorded. I think an essential is someone who has an idea and has had some practice producing a version of what they want to hear, having it down in a sense. If they have a song, and say, “It’s going to start like this and end like this,” that helps. A good sense of post-production helps with a recording that is authentic. If you have a good song, there’s always something you can add to it in the studio. A lot of artists, even some of the hip-hop artists I work with, approach me and say they have this song, and it has a hook and verse but no bridge. And I’m like, “You should throw this cool idea in here, that’s the bridge, musically and creatively.” That’s when collaboration begins.
Is that the natural role of the producer in a studio environment?
I don’t usually take a producer role consciously, but I listen to so much and so carefully that it’s easy for me to jump on what the next wave will be, or even what’s going on right now as the tape unwinds. I’ve got some great ideas.