By Erin Jardine
VANCOUVER — When Eric Campbell sings, he regurgitates his entire soul and leaves it there for the audience to absorb. He sings in front of his best friends, who also happen to be his band. The Dirt is Campbell (vocals, guitar), Erik Mulder (bass), Colby Morgan (drums), and Emily Bach (violin). Campbell is a songwriter and has written music since the inception of the band when it was just three high school kids (Campbell, Mulder, and previous drummer, Eddie “Danger” Reid) jamming in a basement to pass the time. Reid was a large part of the band’s early sound and came up with the name The Dirt to poke fun at how the music sounded like dirt being thrown into the listener’s ear. “We got way better though,” laughs Mulder. The name stuck however, and with it, so did the greasy image that The Dirt effortlessly upholds. Now, after an extensive Canada-wide tour, Campbell and Co. are cleaning up with a full-length album they are calling Western Violence and Brief Sensuality.
The title refers to the opening screen of the 1968 film Once Upon a Time in the West, which reads “Rated PG-13 for western violence and brief sensuality.” Mitch Ray of the promotion company Art Signified tipped Campbell off to the concept and the name fit the gritty and soulful feel of the album. Eagle Time Records was the backdrop of the album’s recording, an eerie haunted setting that stuck with the band. “It was really scary, we’re all pretty logical human beings, but it was ghost scary. People have been murdered there,” insists Bach. It’s a collision of meaningful social connections that gives The Dirt the powerful performance that translates to a successful recording.
The album is intensely personal. It recounts experiences with other musical partners, hotel rooms, and impromptu studio writing that make for a portrait of a band that has developed a distinct identity within the Canadian rock and roll stage.
“I think [Campbell] writes a hundred songs [for] every one that is brought to The Dirt. He’s a songwriting machine. It’s not that [he] doesn’t want to collaborate with us, but [he’s] got so much ready to go. So anxious to get it out,” explained Bach. The Dirt has evolved into a collaborative group, with Campbell writing most of the songs on the album. One song however was recorded live off the floor. “We were all in onesies, [Bach] had been up for three days straight. We were supposed to record ‘The Rose Inn Motel’ but no one had that energy. So we just jammed it out. Every single person in the band had one part to it,” says Campbell. “It was amazing, really bonding. It’s a joyous song, so much fun to play. Also, it’s called ‘Tragedy,’” adds Bach.
The Dirt exudes the Old West lifestyle, with strung-out stories of extended sets in an underground bar, their tour van being towed from outside a venue, and a haphazard endeavor to get it back. Their energy in telling this story is just a simmering light to what is seen onstage. Campbell is a force beyond his time; he loves being weird, and his booming voice maintaining the tightness of the set while his actions resemble a perfect representation of “flying off the handle.” A stoic crowd does not affect them, and they can play for hours on end.
“We played in this upstairs loft. There was a decent crowd, maybe 40 or 50 people. I don’t know how long it was. By the time we finished, there was no one,” recalled Campbell. Does The Dirt care whom they play for? Absolutely not, but their goal is to play for everyone.
Eric Campbell and the Dirt release Western Violence and Brief Sensuality on April 28 at The Cobalt.BC, British Columbia, Eric Campbell and the Dirt, The Cobalt