“I feel I’m a musician and the harp is the instrument.” Following her online gig at the EFG London Jazz Festival, Julie Campiche spoke to Alison Bentley about her Quartet’s new album, how she got into jazz and a new project with a trapeze artist.
London Jazz News: You started out studying classical harp?
Julie Campiche: Yes, I did for a while, but I never thought about being professional until I discovered jazz. I was in my 20s and it was just by accident. I went quite a long way in the conservatory but I didn’t fit in very well, so with consensual agreement it was like, “Okay, that’s enough!” [laughs.] It was really not a big deal for me. When I came back from travelling for 3 years, I started to take some private lessons. My teacher gave me the gigs she couldn’t do and that’s how I arrived in a jazz big band. I had absolutely no idea what jazz was, but I did the rehearsals and concerts. I discovered jazz onstage- how the musicians interact and how your role as a musician is very different from the classical way of doing it. It’s in the moment, and you just have to jump in- there’s a part where you don’t know what’s gonna happen. I wanted to learn and thought that could be my job- then I discovered that jazz harp was not really a thing! But I tried and that was the beginning of it. I don’t feel I’m a harpist- I feel I’m a musician and the harp is the instrument.
LJN: It’s really interesting what you do with the sound electronically. Sometimes you sounded like a Japanese koto or a Chinese erhu.
JC: I’m absolutely not a specialist, but I listen to a lot of traditional music so perhaps that’s it. But I never do it consciously. Everything that happens to you when you listen to different music just comes out.
LJN: Which jazz albums have especially influenced you?
JC: Changeless by Keith Jarrett. He is absolutely one of my main influences in jazz. I’ve mostly heard his solo and trio music and compositions. Joe Henry’s album Scar, with Brad Meldhau, Ornette Coleman, Marc Ribot, Meshell Ndegeocello.
I have a list of musicians who’ve inspired me but they’re not jazz, like Tom Waits and Lhasa, a Mexican singer.
LJN: Tell me about your different projects.
JC: My main project is the Julie Campiche Quartet with my new album Onkalo. We’ve been playing together for three and a half years now. We did the first rehearsal and the sound and energy was really amazing.
Manu Hagmann is my partner and he’s a wonderful bass player. I knew the drummer (Clemens Kuratle) from a few years ago. I was in a trad band at school with the sax player Leo Fumagalli – I really liked the way he behaved with the music. If the music is asking you not to play, you shouldn’t play, even if you want to. It’s the most important thing, but not all musicians think that way.
I’m starting a strings project with [bassist] Jasper Høiby, but it’s a bit complicated because of the health situation…I have to be patient.
LJN: I enjoyed listening to Mirjam Hässig singing your setting of Blake’s The Sick Rose on your LJF gig.
JC: I thought that as I couldn’t play with the quartet, and I don’t have enough solo material, let’s take a different approach and show different sides of my composition and music- solo electronic, solo completely acoustic, trio improvisation and also song writing. That’s something I do really enjoy.
LJN: Your film for the LJF had a very strong sense of theatre.
JC: My father is a storyteller so I guess my link with the theatre is quite strong, The music is like a story, sometimes with words, or sometimes I just have a feeling. My language is not words- it’s my instrument and compositions.
LJN: You have a new project with a trapeze artist, Vanessa Pahud?
JC: That’s something I’m really enjoying. When we went to the studio near Avignon to record the quartet album, we hired someone to make a video. I saw his film of the trapeze artist and it really touched me. A year later the image was still in my mind. I discovered she was living in the same town as me, in Geneva. We’re telling the same story with different languages We’re on the same page.
LJN: Are there any stories about the tunes on your new album, Onkalo ?
JC: Flash Info was inspired by the rhythm of the media. When you’re listening to the news on the radio, you go from tennis to Iraq and France and then a story about a star. It’s like being washed in emotion. Onkalo is a place in Finland with the first permanent nuclear waste disposal area. We don’t know what will happen in the future but we can be sure this waste will still be there. Lepidoptera is about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly: something can be really ugly but something really beautiful can come from it. To the Holy Land is the drummer’s composition and it’s inspired by the conflict in the Middle East. Dastet Dard Nakoneh is Farsi.
In Iran, they have a lot of different ways of saying thank you, and this is one of the biggest thanks you can have. When I play live, I always want to say thanks to all the people who’ve made the event happen, from very personal stuff to political decisions that support culture, and all the people who stay in the shadows.
LJN: The Swiss government seems to be very supportive…
JC: If you compare with other countries we’re very well supported. But inside the country, if you compare it with other styles of music for example, or some other performing arts, we’re one of the worst. I’m really grateful for the support I receive but I still think we can improve!