Camp Spain (C’21, second from the left) performs with The Bloody Mary Situation at Fish for Change. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Blackford (C’21).
By Lilly Moore
Camp Spain (C’21) doesn’t know exactly when the blues bug bit him, but it left a permanent mark. Though he played tennis in his earlier years, music is Spain’s pièce de résistance.
“As someone who’s not exactly ‘athletic’,” Spain joked, “I had to put in a lot of work for [tennis] just to stay afloat. I had to work really hard to be good at many things, but for whatever reason the guitar just kind of came together for me. I was able to see the fruits of my labor in a way I never had before.”
Spain grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, influenced by jazz and blues artists that drove him to pick up the guitar for himself. Led by artists from Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix to The Grateful Dead and Phish, Spain found his groove with ease, describing his own personal sound as “a healthy mix of improvisational funk-infused jazz blues.” He went on to play in the band The Talisman throughout high school and quickly found himself in love with his art.
Though Spain began with playing covers, performing with The Talisman allowed him to grow in his art form and begin writing his own music. Camp’s inspiration is eclectic, derived from musicians he loves and his own life experiences, but is always rooted in the sound. Having to have a tune or a riff in mind before he can start crafting lyrics, his first thought is “how do I best serve this music with lyrics, what poetically makes sense?”
“The Funeral” is an original song that Spain and his present group, The Bloody Mary Situation, have been performing of late. “It was one I wrote with my pastor from back home,” he said, “after he wrote the lyrics actually. It’s a true story about a guy who… was using some newfound money to buy an abandoned fire station and make it into a strip club.”
Recently, though, Spain’s music has been inspired by his own writer’s block. He says that “the whole ‘being at Sewanee’ thing,” “kind of now being on my own,” and having once had a group of best friends who he wrote with often contributes to a full wastebasket, full of rejected notes and lyrics.
“I went through big periods where I wasn’t writing anything at all,” Spain said, “but then with The Bloody Mary Situation, when we all came back from abroad, we were kind of thinking that we wanted to take the whole ‘student band’ thing up a notch and start to put some original stuff out, so I dunno, a lot of it comes from getting over writer’s block and not being scared about what people think about the music I write.”
Performing, though, is the greatest aspect of his craft, according to Spain. As both a student musician and a member of the University Jazz Band, Spain gets the full extent of what being a musician is to him, which is “being a part of the music itself.” He calls The Bloody Mary Situation and Jazz Band polar opposites. “When I’m sitting in St. Luke’s chapel performing jazz, I really have to be conscious of every single note, whereas with Bloody Mary Situation and when I was with The Talisman, I couldn’t care if I missed notes or a change or whatever, what matters there is the energy that we’re getting back.”
It’s a labor of love being a member of a popular campus band. There’s the dichotomy of wanting to perform as much as possible without becoming passé, becoming the same group of guys playing music on the weekends. One thing Spain does appreciate is the intense community support. “The community is fantastic, a great support system,” he said. With the student population being so small, Spain feels he gets honest feedback and the benefit of a decent audience for almost every performance. “We [The Bloody Mary Situation] feel really appreciated here, it’s something we feel really thankful for.”
The only disadvantage Spain feels, in regard to his archetype of “musician,” is the lack of understanding for the hard work he and the rest of his bandmates put towards their art. “I mean, if we’re playing like a Saturday night show,” says Spain, “we’ve gotta be there setting up at least four hours in advance.”
Between keeping their own equipment and stage accessories, working as their own roadies, writing their own music, and performing with the energy to keep a 3-hour set full, Spain says it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed. “It’s an adrenaline rush, it really is. Pretty much every time after we play, especially the ones that get kinda rowdy, I usually have to spend at least ten minutes by myself to decompress a little bit.”
“I think we’re experiencing a bit of a revolution right now,” Spain says. Comparing the rock and roll scene of today to that of the 1960s “without the counterculture aspect,” Spain feels lucky to be a musician at this point in time. Looking towards some solo projects and recording work with The Blood Mary Situation on the horizon, Spain feels infected by music, in the best way possible.
“Music is an art form that elicits certain emotions that I don’t think a lot of other art forms are capable of,” Spain says. “Especially now that we have it at our fingertips, it’s incredibly accessible. Because of that, it’s the world’s duty to produce musicians and it’s the musician’s duty to produce good art.”