Factor of Brilliance has graciously sent us this interview with Eric Campuzano of Lassie Foundation and Prayer Chain fame. This interview is several years old, but contains lots of great information about the various projects that Campuzano has been involved with over the years. Enjoy!
I received a flyer while at Cornerstone, stating the ‘manifesto’ of the group Cush. From the sound of it, Cush was not only a musical group but a political party! I was intrigued by the philosophy behind this band, and I recently had the opportunity to interview one of its members, Eric Campuzano (bass guitar). Perhaps you remember the Prayer Chain, or perhaps you have heard of the Lassie Foundation, Cush, or countless other underground Christian bands that he has been a part in. I was very excited about this opportunity, being a big fan of about everything he has done work in. The following is an edited interview with Campuzano conducted via email.
Factor of Brilliance: The project CUSH has actually been around for a long time in your head. I have seen the name in the linear notes of Bloomsday, Honey, etc. back years ago. What finally led to the realization of CUSH as an actual music-making band?
Eric Campuzano: The concept of CUSH was originally suggested around the time of mercury, as even a record title. The idea is best expressed in the CUSH manifesto that I will forward onto you. In regards for making music, well after the prayer chain Andy was doing the rock n roll with the Violets [Burning] and Wayne and me were doing the lassie f and I guess the time was not right. Andy and myself had been working on music for a couple of years before the record came out. We had about 15/20 cassette tapes of musical ideas, some good, some bad, some even worse. We had a bunch of different people writing stuff with us at the end, even Tim tabor was playing drums on some of the songs originally recorded on the cassettes. So I don’t know it was long process.
FOB: CUSH doesn’t have lyrics or hardly any credits in the liner notes of the new album. You have said before that this is not to be like any common band. What are the ideals of CUSH? Why did you choose this path rather than ones you have taken in the past?
EC: I think this question could be answered in the manifesto. Being in a band is really hard. We just wanted to try something different something that carried little or no political, ego, pride type baggage.
FOB: What is your level of involvement with CUSH? Many of the lyrics on the album remind me of Campuzano lyrics; were they from you? What was the reasoning behind asking Mike Knott to be the lead singer?
EC: I am part of CUSH just as much as the next guy or gal. I did contribute some lyrics to this record as well as Wayne, Mike, Andy, and Snowman. In regards to Mike singing, he is a great singer.
FOB: Who was the main generator of musical ideas for CUSH? The trio of Wayne, Andy, and Eric have produced and created so much music in the past few years that it would seem you would run dry… Were there any songs that didn’t make it on the new album? Possible EP?
EC: I think everyone is the main contributor. Myself and Andy I guess are the facilitator’s of the jive, but everyone played huge roles in all songs. Well, it does seem like you are always dry and yet you get to make a record and you just buckle down and let you heart and ears do the writing. We are writing now. We are slow writers so who knows.
FOB: What is your favorite CUSH song?
EC: Andy’s is the touch.
FOB: I know it is hard to predict the future, but do you think a follow up to the first CUSH album is likely?
EC: We would like to release an album a year and some ep’s in between. Yes.
FOB: Your performance at Cornerstone 2000 was one of the first. It was an amazing show. Are you guys planning to tour, perform live on regular basis? I would think it would be hard gathering that many musicians all together to tour with all that they are involved in…
EC: We would love to tour and perform live. No one has called.
FOB: Compare CUSH to The Lassie Foundation. It seems as if CUSH has the potential to grow into something big, with more accessible music than anything you have done previously. Is that the goal? Is Lassie Foundation on temporary hold?
EC: In CUSH I primarily play bass and the Foundation I play guitar. I think they are different bands. I can’t really compare them to one another other than they both play rock n roll. Andy is a big part of the foundation on the technical side and not on the songwriting side. I think that is the biggest difference. Since the guitars of both bands drive the sound and tone of the music. Andy’s sound is so distinct and has things he does that the foundation cannot replicate and vice versa. The lassie f is still playing and often. Currently we have re-released Pacifico on vinyl and CD through grand theft autumn. Also, in January we will have a new ep coming out again on grand theft. It will be a split with the Duraluxe. And after that we will be having a full length coming out on Anisette in the spring. So the foundation stays very busy.
FOB: What has Lassie Foundation been up too? Is there a full-length anywhere on the horizon?
EC: See above
FOB: Charity Empressa drones project? Dead? Alive?
EC: A little of both. No time=DEATH
FOB: The music of the Prayer Chain and the music of CUSH and Lassie differ greatly. What moved you away from the atmospheric emotional rock of Mercury, to the fuzz pop of Lassie, and the dreamy pop of CUSH? What musical influences took you this way?
EC: I just have a lot of modes. In the Prayer Chain, it was Andy, Wayne, driving the Mercury cruise liner to hell. And it worked. Andy was sort of tapped out during and after mercury, killing himself and his soul in TPC [The Prayer Chain], My brother’s Mother, and The VB [Violet Burning]. Which sort of left me with no one to write with. And he encouraged me to pick up the guitar and write my wn songs. So I went to guitar center and bought the $100 Squire and the Peavey 20 watt. Lassie was born with the exception of a singer. At the time Wayne was going to play the drums because I suck at drums. Our plan was going to have different people sing and then play to vocal tracks with no lead singer. Kind of neat idea, but most likely a stupid one and disaster waiting to happen. So I asked Wayne to sing and he said ok. So I guess initially the Lassie Foundation was primarily my musical vision. One of my favorite bands of all time was the Jesus and Mary Chain. So, the influence is obvious. In regards to CUSH we just decided to attempt to take drones and turn them into a semblance of a song. And then try to make that as accessible as possible. CUSH has no rules or pride you do what you like. I guess right now it is Andy’s and my beast. I think we like to try to get rid of the length and get to pop side of the songs. But for us the jams are the heart of the songs, the moving part. We seem to find our peace in the longer modes. I know most don’t really dig that which I understand there is not a lot of time for you to sit through a 6 minute song especially if the intro is 2 minutes. You just want the rock. I guess that is the selfish side of music. For the artist sometimes what feels right for you is not necessarily right for the listener. So I don’t know, you try to right what is on your heart sometimes it is a success mostly a gigantic flaming crash.
FOB: What Albums are in your CD player right now?
EC: Amnesia, Love and Rockets, Joy Division, The Beach Boys, Built to Spill.
FOB: Are we ever going to hear any more material that further explores the path taken in Mercury and Antarctica? Or does this vein of music no longer hold your interest?
EC: I think you have. The Lassie Foundation and CUSH. Will we write ever with Tim Taber on vocals as The Prayer Chain. No. But God does work in mysterious ways.
FOB: What is your philosophy of music?
EC: I don’t think I have any. But here are my likes and hates that sort of define how I write a song. I like descending progressions. I hate bar chords. I like lyrics that have geographical and historical leanings. My favorite chord is called the outback C# and I use that chord in almost every song I write. I like my bass lines to be simple and to change the chords rather than the guitar to do it. I would rather play one chord or note than 2,3,4 etc. and if I have to write two chords then I would rather play two chords than 3,4,5, etc. I like the linear rather than quiet verse big chorus. I like the Anaheim Angels, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, UCLA football and basketball. I hate the Rams and Dodgers.
FOB: When you say, ‘being in a band is really hard’, in reference to the reasons behind forming CUSH, does this refer to the dissolving of the Prayer Chain? How?
EC: It is in reference to every band I have ever been in. Obviously the prayer chain was difficult and a gigantic pain in the ass that I would not trade for anything in the world. In regards to Cush, I think Andy and myself wanted to attempt something completely benevolent and benign. Was it successful? Probably not, but at least we are trying. We are not selling out to something devoid of meaning and value. Although, the cool police may argue with that. But I can sleep at night.
FOB: What were your best experiences in The Prayer Chain?
EC: The obvious ones are seeing people come to the lord. But personally just the banter between one another. Sometimes, although in the end we hated one another, we had some real funny conversations. Tim was my best friend when the band started and he wasn’t when the band ended. So now I look back and the times me and Tim talked, prayed and joked; I cherish those moments. I wish we could go back to those times.
FOB: Are there any?
EC: Of course there are. But I guess one show in Lexington, Kentucky the power blew out and we were left with no vocals just the music and I guess out of that situation was born was Cush. And then Wayne getting arrested for streaking at the cotton bowl in Dallas for the promise keepers youth rally. I guess that was the end for The Prayer chain, but a great story nonetheless.
FOB: Any shows that stick out in your mind as the best, or which ones did you enjoy the most?
EC: At Cornerstone when Shawl came out. I remember just hearing people singing the chant of Crawl for a long time before we came out. I felt finally we made it. We did something good, whatever that means. I also remember the time we played in Michigan on our last tour. We were the last of about three thousand bands and it seemed everyone hung out till we played and we played for about 30 minutes because we did not want to make anyone hang out longer than they wanted to and we ended the set for the first time with Sunstoned, live. It seemed a perfect night. The night The Prayer Chain hit its mark and then died once and for all. That night we ended with Sunstoned and segued into (via Jermey Woods suggestion) Already There by the verve-the lyric that I think defines The Prayer Chain
“Seen it, I’m already there/save your books and pills/I don’t need them I’m already there/you can do anything you want/all you got to do is try/I thought all my best days have left me/my best years have left me behind/then I felt them come back…If my skin looks old from living/I’ll turn it back and live it again/you better pray when the music stops and you are all/Left alone in your mind…cause I’ll be hearing music till the day I die..
FOB: What were your worst experiences in the prayer chain?
FOB: The music of The Prayer Chain (Mercury era) seems like it was written out of band jams, as opposed to verse/chorus ideas. The choruses and verses blend together in one’s mind after hearing the songs. How were songs for Mercury written?
EC: They were jams. But after we jammed we made a very meticulous map. I think this story has been told many times. Mercury was written over many years. Mostly, TPC got together and hung out at Tim’s house and wrote the music and melody on djembe, guitar, bass. TPC premise was to make a record that came from the earth (I know how contrived, but again, at least we tried) all of our beats and rhythms were derived from aboriginal music, with the exception of Waterdogs and Grylliade. The rest was pure. The only song we copied was Waterdogs-a Curve rip-off that most thought was a crappy U2 ripoff. The rest of the record was saved via Steve Hindalong and Chris Colbert who encouraged us at any cost to make this record. None of us participated much in the recording of anyone else’s parts. We were left to sink or swim on our own. There was no support of anyone with the exception of Steve Hindalong and Chris Colbert. It was not the most spiritual record ever made. It was sort of do or die. I do not think I talked to Andy until his girlfriend and my wife flew in to go to Cornerstone and we had to go pick them up and head out to Cornerstone, of course our van blew up and we had to rent two rental vans and we both got speeding tickets.. Never the less he stayed away from everyone and really talked to no one. He made sure everything was soldiered. But never talked too much. Tim did not come out until the record was pretty much done musically. The miracle of mercury was that musically it was recorded in about 5 to 6 days. It was done before Tim ever showed up.
1-Humb-we had some hours to kill before we had to drive to Cornerstone. We wanted a song, a heartbeat, a truth of what mercury was about, and it was Humb. Chris Colbert taught us the drone. The key of c. Wayne and Campuzano doing their vocal jive and Taber coming and setting the stage for our opus. Out spreads the earth, his love is everlasting.”
2-Waterdogs-a great lyric sunk by a dumb melody. One of the first songs written for Mercury about a year or two earlier. Wayne, Jason 71, and Jeremy Wood introduced me to Curve.
3-Grylliade-One of the first songs written for mercury. Written while Wayne was still going to Pepperdine and right when shawl came out. A song that was derived from nowhere. A pure music idea stolen from nowhere. Although, lyrically, a stolen line “Give me a while and I will show you how it how it feels.” Love and Rockets. The lyric was derived or based on the fact that reunion records wanted us to become the next Petra, we refused it and as such we suffered, as the main lyricist at the time they made me feel like a loser and on top of that they informed me that I was not a Christian and essentially I was going to hell, which our manager agreed because all of a sudden we were going to lose a ton of money, and even a member of our band agreed that I was a lost soul. The result was that I lost all countenance and they have gone too far. The Result: The prayer chain is dropped. I think this is the greatest song ever written by The Prayer Chain.
4-creole-Rrom Hindalong counting from beat one in the song is pretty much math. Figure it out. The song is about identity and death….All the old ghost… a pure pop math song. We thought slow gay was going to be a real controversial lyric. No one cared. We also thought the bass changing every chorus would be real fresh, no one cared. In addition, we also thought it would be real cool that the bass would play the guitar solo. Again no one cared and why would they. Who would want to hear the bass play a guitar solo? We end the song with something Steve put together with his kids that sort of gave a vibe of the old ghosts
5-Sky High-we were asked to record some new jive to make mercury more Christian. We recorded sky high an 8 minute opus, friend or foe, the other side of heaven, and lose yourself. What got dropped off the original record was Antarctica, Loverboy and Chalk.The premise of the record was the front side burden of humanity. The backside was the love songs ending with the ultimate sacrifice, yourself for The Christ., Sunstoned. Again the love songs were not Christian enough. So our ship is taking on water and taking it rather quickly.
6-Mercury- Knew this song was fresh pretty much the moment we wrote it. One of the ones we wrote at Tim’s parent’s house. Although Grylliade I think is my favorite, this is really the best song we wrote, probably ever will write. Apathy.
7-Shiver- I can’t really comment on this one. It hurts too much.
8-Manta Rae-This was supposed to be where the love songs start. Recorded live in one take. One guitar, bass, drums.
9-Bendy Line-Steve Hindalong wrote the lyrics and melody on this one because Tim at the time had difficulty following the time signatures. The melody is a great melody for Tim to sing. He goes from his voice to the falsetto. A very good moment for him. The song itself is disturbing and beautiful.
10-Sunstoned-Andy singing like the angel he is. The end.
FOB: Do you ever get sick of fans bringing up the prayer chain?
EC: No, I only get sick when they ask us to do another record or why we won’t get back together. We broke up because that was it. We did not want to write anymore. We said and did what we wanted to do. We did the reunion shows so that we could bring some closure. The last thing I remember from the last show was me getting in a van to fly out of town on vacation and hearing Tim and Wayne arguing. “Do you always have to be such an asshole?” and “You just don’t get it.” I thought we just needed some closure and after two years we were talking again and I asked everyone if they would be into getting back together to sort end on a good note. I really needed it to happen. It just ended so dark. We did the Chicago show next because so many people were bummed they could not get out to California and so the next year we did the show in Chicago for those who could not get to Cali. That may have been one of our best shows. And lastly, we were asked to do a benefit for Gene Eugene. Otherwise The Prayer Chain would be a dead issue. We don’t want to do The Prayer Chain anymore. Ask us whatever questions you want about songs, about one another, just don’t ask us to get back together.
FOB: In what ways is the Lassie Foundation and Cush more mature musically than The Prayer Chain?
EC: They aren’t. Just different rock.
FOB: Has Cush written any new material since the album release? Or is it hard to get all the members in the same room with how busy they are in their own musical projects and jobs?
EC: we have been writing. We just finished a song, “Jesus is on the Mainline”. But yes, it is difficult. We try to get together at least one day a week to work on music or just to grab a beer and catch up. Andy, Wayne, Snowman are like my brothers. I don’t go too long without talking to them.
FOB: how have the sales done with the cush album? What has been your highest selling album that you have been involved with?
EC: All The Prayer Chain albums have done real good. And Cush is doing good. As good as The Prayer Chain, no, not yet, but hopefully.
FOB: Your stage presence is often very rigid. What is going through your mind while you are playing live?
EC: What is the next chord?
FOB: How did northern records start?
EC: A friend of mine had been talking for a very long time about music and movies. He would always ask about this and that in regards to production, writing songs, how to get a deal, and how to do this and that. And one day he called me up and said I want to do it. And we started a label together. Currently, I have Mike Bridges and The Doc helping me out.
FOB: Where do you seek to go with Northern Records?
EC: I have no idea hopefully to the top.
FOB: Is the distribution strictly to Christian stores?
EC: We have distribution all over the globe. But at most record stores you have to order the record. It is in most record stores catalogs but it is not stocked. It is easiest to find the product at Christian bookstores or online at cdnow or amazon
FOB: Has the Christian music industry as a whole been good or bad to Eric Campuzano and company? Why?
EC: That is sort of a loaded question. So yes and no.
FOB: Are there any mainstream Christian music acts that you greatly respect?
EC: I came to the lord at an Undercover concert. So obviously, Undercover and all the bands from Orange County, 441, DA, Lifesavers, Altar Boys, Common Bond, The Choir, The Violet Burning. Without them we would be nowhere. There would be no Tooth and Nail, Etc… We owe them everything.
FOB: Obviously, reading the Cush manifesto, the project is centralized on god and love. The lyrics lend to this. I have been blessed by the music and words of Cush. How does your faith interact with your music?
EC: It does not interact; it is my music.
FOB: Any final remarks to listeners?
(special thanks to Joel Bennett for sharing this interview with us)