Apr 10, 2014

Summer Institue in Balinese Performance

For anyone who is out there and interested in Balinese gamelan and dance. Dharma Swara, the gamelan I am in here in NY is hosting a summer institute, bringing over to the east coast master artists from Bali for a week-long workshop. AWESOMENESS!

Sep 18, 2013

Coming your way, Australia!

I will be heading back to my homeland next month (how did that come up so quickly?), and am playing a couple of shows. I hope I will see you at one of them! Home shows are always pretty special.

Friday October 25th
Ellington Jazz Club

Wednesday November 6th
Paris Cat Jazz Club

EXCITED to see you all soon!

Jun 25, 2013

recording snippet!


I have had a few years now to get my head around this project, about what it means that I am writing an album based in music that is not my heritage (gamelan or jazz!) and what it says & means when people write new material based in a culture that is not their own. There were times when I felt so 'malu' to do this project, like I didn't understand enough, like I didn't belong enough, like I didn't have the right. But, one of the things that I love the most about music, and musicians, is that a lot of us don't see the world in that way. Music is inspiring, and can often say so much more than words. It can create emotion and feeling that is incredibly powerful. And through sharing these particular musical explorations of what a childhood in Bali and 'belonging' somewhere mean to me, I hope to reach other people who don't feel a real sense of belonging anywhere. The ones who moved around a lot, who grew up in another culture and who don't feel like they belong in the place they grew up nor in the place of their citizenship. Or you belong in both. Everywhere!

I couldn't have kept going with this project without talking a lot about it and listening to many perspectives on life and our world. Thank you to all of you....

Above is a little snippet of our recording...  you'll have to hang out to hear how it all turns out!!

Here are the lyrics as a teaser!!..

Breathe My War

Frangipanis, papaya trees
A house that lives by the sea
Waves that crash and whet our hearts
Can never set us free

You are there
You always are there
The only ones
When darkness comes
Breathing in my peace
Breathing in my war

Smoke-drift temples, banana leaves
Sleeping under a balmy breeze
Lizards chirp to bring us luck
That gets lost upon the seas

You are there
You always are there
The only ones
When darkness comes
Breathing in my peace
Breathing in my war

May 9, 2013

the path has been long and sweet...

....and filled with many beautiful, giving & supportive people and sometimes a morning view just like this one. I am so lucky!
Have I ever told you the story?
Six years ago I found myself in the airport in Bali, flicking through a book on Gamelan wondering how on earth I had gotten that far in life without being curious about the music that pervaded my childhood. At that point this little seed of an idea that I would write something inspired by gamelan & jazz started to grow, and when I got back to NY I started jotting down ideas and thoughts. Since then, I have released two albums, both very different from each other, but the 'Bali album' never went away. It just went from something vague to being very focused and something I had to do.

It got bigger, too. At first I thought I would just use the sounds and scales of gamelan in a jazz setting to tell my story and try to capture what Bali meant to me. But, then I started imagining how amazing it would be if I actually wrote for gamelan! Of course, it was so completely laughable that I would do that. I didn't know how to write for gamelan, or even really understand how it worked. So, I found Dharma Swara, a Balinese gamelan here in NY and joined the group so I could hopefully learn more.

Things, as they do, got out of control. After being in DS a few years, I applied for a grant to write an album that fused gamelan and jazz with the desire to explore what community, culture and music means as an Australian-woman-who-grew-up-in-Bali-but-now-lives-in-NY-writing-jazz-songs - and I got it. (Thank you Australian Arts Council!!). But, it didn't stop there. I was petrified at the thought of sharing my work with a group of 20+ people, - What if it wasn't good enough? What if people thought I was being disrespectful of a culture that wasn't my own? What if jazz & gamelan didn't work together? What if my piece was too easy/hard/slow/fast/boring/clunky/western/modal/not jazz enough....

Exhausting huh? (And something I will definitely talk about in a different post!). 

So, there was a point where I really didn't want to share it with anyone, and I wondered if I would get this project done.

But, I had to lay all my fears on the table and put it out there we have been learning my piece. I have been terrible at leading & helping people learn it! I haven't had to really read music in a long time. That understanding never goes away, but to write it was easier than to teach it. But, everyone has been so patient with me, and helped me to teach it and each other to learn it that that in itself has been a great learning curve. To let go, and let other people help. I am one of those people who never wants to impose on anyone, or bother them with my projects. But, the feeling of being a part of something of this scope, as in the 'we're all in this together' -the gotong-royong, is awesome. This project has given me far more than I could have imagined.

THANK YOU to everyone involved in this project. You know who you are - love ya's!!

Mar 21, 2013


is that a look of intense concentration? you bet ya! photo by my friend Nick Anderson 2011

So, as some of you may know I have been dreaming up an album that combines jazz & Balinese gamelan for some time now. In fact, the idea first germinated after a trip to Bali in 2007. I hadn't been there for 22 years, and found myself quite nostalgic for it (after having spent a lot of my childhood between Bali & Australia) and wondering if I shouldn't learn about the music a bit. Well, that launched me into writing some songs that were based in Balinese scales & sounds, with lyrics that explored how I felt about growing up between two very different islands. Wanting to understand a little better, from there I joined Gamelan Dharma Swara here in NY in 2010. (Addicted!!)  And in the past year or so I have been really working on combining those initial song sketches into songs that are written for gamelan and a jazz group and explore different cultures and places and a search for my own identity - Australian, growing up in Indonesia, learning jazz and moving to New York. Belonging and being 'from' somewhere are always interesting things to me - sometimes one means the other. Sometimes they don't mean a thing. It is all in the heart, and my heart is in more than one place. 
It has been so much fun, and such a learning curve for me. It is great to be able to push the boundaries of my own self, especially because I get nervous about sharing my ideas, so anything that makes me scared I am (mostly) happy to embrace. Especially where music is concerned.

I have had such support and encouragement from my fellow musicians, family, friends - There's been lots of talks about music, expressing ourselves, honoring the past (interesting conversations including both jazz and gamelan) and creating something true. It really has been a most wonderful winter - I think the first where I have truly enjoyed holing up and getting down to work. Yay!

Feb 18, 2013

Winter Shows are the best

Winter is the best time to cozy up at Rockwood and listen to live music. Hope you'll come along!

Jan 16, 2013

Surrounded By Water

As I was walking to my little work studio today, I was wishing it were warmer so I could sit in the park by the water and eat my lunch, like I do in the warmer months. The LED sign said 1c at 4.26pm, brrrr! I should consider myself lucky that I am surrounded by water. I always feel, living here in NY all-the-way-from-Australia, that I miss the water. But this is ridiculous, Manhattan is an island, NYC is surrounded by water. And while the vistas are spectacular in Perth, Western Australia, this little view always warms my heart. Trying to find things to smile about in winter.... (the realisation of this view worked quite well!). 

Dec 3, 2012

Blue Shadows out now!

Well, after more than a year of planning, fundraising, recording and sorting all sorts of things out Blue Shadows is available worldwide! I am really excited to share it with you, and hope you'll love it. (iTunes here and physical album or mp3 here) -- Have a listen, share it with your friends, let us know what you think!

Last night we launched the album at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side of NYC. It was a celebration, and also a goodbye. Over the weekend we have been moving apartments, from our tiny LES tenement apartment (ahem, if you can call what we lived in an apartment!! We actually referred to it the last two years as our clubhouse!) to much more spacious living quarters in Brooklyn. So, no more will I be able to roll around the corner to Rockwood, but I hope to still call it my musical home.

What a nice way to say seeya to a neighbourhood I have had a lot of fun in over the last two years. Don't worry LES Taqueria, Gruppo & Blue Bird Coffee, we will be back to visit you often. (But can't say I am gonna miss my bathroom-in-the-kitchen or all the noisy buggers on the weekend!!).

Here's some pics from last night (thanks Jay!) - the guys were AWESOME, the audience were super and I loved playing in that nice big room at Rockwood.

Nov 5, 2012

Turning Off

being 'off-the-grid' in our tiny LES apt post Hurricane Sandy

Last week I had a forced week of being 'turned off'. Hurricane Sandy blew up the power plant right near our place in the Lower East Side and we went without electricity and most phone service for 5 days. I actually loved it. It was like glorified camping for us, while unfortunately so many others are still going through the devastation that hurricanes can bring. Having spent some time as a kid in Australia's North-West I am no stranger to cyclones, so perhaps this is why I am always so blase about these kinds of things? (Tornadoes though? I am FREAKED out about!). Although, it's just a bit weird to be going through hurricanes in NY. Just the same as when the tornado blew through a few years ago. Weird weather. 

But, lucky me, a week off-the-grid. Home cooked meals by candlelight. Billie Holiday. Quiet fall days. Remembering how much I loved my summer away from being 'plugged in'. I literally felt myself relax. I don't know how I will be as a person in ten years if computers and social media and keeping up to date on everything related to being 'successful' revolves around being online. I just want to write music, man! It was so nice to grab my notebook and a glass of wine and start sketching out some new ideas post-storm. My new resolution is to spend more time offline. One day I may wish I had kept up a little more, but that's ok. I will be a much happier person this way! (And hopefully much more productive, too!)...

What do you like doing when you've been plugged in too much? 

Oct 20, 2012

Blue Shadows December 2nd release

Blue Shadows
December 2012

  Nerissa Campbell’s triumphant third album opens with the song “Bottle Notes,” which greets listeners with a little over twenty seconds of acapella before being joined by a motley assembly of voices and musicians. The song, unexpected and stunning, weaves us through a drunken evening of rapture and desperation. It closes with “four o’clock in the morning and your life has been spared.” Luckily for us, Campbell has spared us neither pleasure nor pain, firmly setting the soundscape for Blue Shadows as a spectacular treat.

The album is built on the tension of dreams and desires, exploring the stark realities of devotions left unrequited. Similar to Sherwood Anderson or James Joyce who turned their respective cities into characters, Campbell has created an album with New York City as its predominant character. What follows the opening song is “Canal Street,” referring to one of New York City’s vibrant cultural centers, flamboyantly showcasing Campbell’s raw and expressive voice.

Campbell knows the truth contains shadows of darkness. So when she sings of these shadows encompassing the emotive range from despair to tenderness, we are pierced with the poignancy of our mere existence. The album reaches its emotional height with the moody and evocative “Leaving N.Y.” Quiet piano and soft brushes on the cymbal, followed by the bass, lay down the foundation for Campbell's sultry croon “After you where do I go?” Campbell and her band capture the struggle, the desperation, and the anguish of all who have come to New York with dreams of artistic freedom, only to find themselves fighting for survival while the dream remains tenuous at best.

If one thinks Blue Shadows is only a melancholic affair, simply listen to “Powder Burn” or “Don’t Look Back” where Campbell’s voice mischievously coos in simple abandon as the upright bass makes it impossible to resist finger snapping. She coolly sings “let those black birds sing” – but I say silence those black birds and turn Campbell's music up all the louder. The recording is pristine and in those silent moments we begin to comprehend that Campbell has given us a complex and unforgettable album.                    

~Steven Karl

To pre-order your copy of Blue Shadows cd (limited ed.200), please click here Pre-order Blue Shadows. Pre-orders will be sent mid-November 2012