UTG INTERVIEW: Little Shells Talks ‘5 Deep Under’

Ex-west coaster Conchita Campos recently released her third album under the banner of Little Shells, titled 5 Deep Under, a beautifully smooth, jazzy and experimental effort led by Campos’ ostensibly veteran vocal prowess with a team of talented players providing a strong instrumental foundation that raises the whole affair to another level.

We had the chance to speak with Campos about the album but also touched on her musical past, her various other projects and spending time on both US coasts in two of the world’s best cities. Read through below to get to our entire conversation where you can also view Little Shells’ newest video for her album’s title track.

Hello, Conchita. First off, I usually like to get a sense of someone’s musical background. Were you raised around music as a child or is it something you picked up on your own later on?

I was definitely exposed to a lot of music as a kid. My father was in different bands and wanted to pursue music himself before he decided to go another route. So we had everything from old jazz and bossa nova records to the latest pop records because he wanted to keep up with the times. I think that helped me appreciate a wide range of genres, which I think (or hope) comes out in my music.

And do you recall specifically what made you decide that you wanted to become a musician? Was there a particular moment you recall where that clicked for you?

My brother played guitar in a band in high school and I remember thinking that was the coolest thing. He taught me some basics and I probably started writing (shitty) songs around 16/17. It wasn’t until I got to college that I really decided to pursue music seriously. I took one music class and was hooked.

I live close to SF and really love it there. I know you went to college in San Francisco. Are you from the Bay Area or did you only go to school there? Do you still have any connection to the city or visit it since living in NY?

I’m kind of from all over the place but I think SF is where I really felt at home for the first time. The culture, the people, the landscape – this combination of things really helped ground me in ways I’d never really been before. I guess it was the right place at the right time for me if that makes sense. I still have a lot of friends back home and I’m a hardcore Bay Area sports fan so my connection to SF runs deep even if I’ve now lived in NYC for a longer period of time.

Do you connect with New York in any specific ways that you feel inspire some of what you create musically, that might be evident in your sound or lyrics?

Most definitely. If SF grounded me as a person, NYC really challenged me and I think that helped me grow both as a musician and human being. It feels like there is a constant buzz of creative energy happening around you here. It’s part of what’s good and bad about it. It sometimes helps push you past your limits but it can also break you down if you’re not careful. I also love the diversity, not just in terms of culture but also life experiences. Unfortunately, some of that is shifting because of gentrification. But in general, I think meeting people who are very different from you changes the way you think about and understand the world. I think you can hear that growth happen slowly from my first to second and now third album.

5 Deep Under is really beautiful beginning to end. You have a very mature and sophisticated sound for someone who appears to be rather young. Where does that class and style come from as far as your influences go?

Thank you! I loved listening to the arrangements on old soul and bossa nova albums. And then when I heard Bjork and Portishead for the first time, I was blown away. It was such a beautiful amalgamation of musical pieces. But it was really after hearing Hanne Hukkelberg that I really wanted to experiment with different sounds and musical ideas. My producer, Jon Jetter, obviously had a strong hand in the execution of those ideas but it was a much more collaborative effort than previous albums where I mostly just relied on the producer(s) to flesh out the ideas.

For those who haven’t had the chance to hear your music, how would you describe this record to maybe interest them in checking it out? As far as the music and the lyrical content, what does it offer?

I worked on this record shortly after my dad passed away. I had a lot of questions about what his passing meant and I think both the music and lyrics really reflect that. It was kind of an existential crisis for me, especially since grieving is a very lonely process. Anyone who has experienced something similar can hopefully relate to it and feel a little less alone.

You have a huge cast of talent that helped out on this record. Without necessarily touching on each and every person, how did you come to work with this specific group and how do you decide when you have enough people involved to accomplish your vision?

There were a few people I definitely knew I had to work with on this record. I basically had a sound and feeling for each song in mind and sought out the collaborators and performers I knew would be able to execute it well. To start, I reached out to Jon Jetter, an old friend and collaborator who worked on some of my previous records. I knew I needed someone with his experience and knowledge as a producer and composer. He also has a very open mind and is willing to experiment on things in ways not all producers do. He brought in many of the other key performers on the album. I also reached out to my good friends Live Footage. I’ve worked with Mike Thies (LF’s drummer) many times before for live gigs but was really interested in working with both Mike and Topu on the album’s title track, “5 Deep Under.” The result was absolutely beautiful. For the last song, “Goodnight,” I hit up Randy Bergida of The Letter Yellow. He got the exact feeling I wanted down. I was a little worried things wouldn’t flow because I had so many collaborators but I trusted that it would work out and I’m happy with how it all turned out.

Apart from this project, I read that you’re involved with a lot of other creative vehicles, including things to do with film and video. Can you tell me about anything you have going on now or stuff that might be lined up for the near future?

I just a released a music video for the album that you can check out [below]. It’s an exploration of burden and existence through Japanese Butoh Dance. The director, Mtume Gant, is a long time friend and collaborator. I helped produce his short film Spit, which has been doing well in the festival circuit. We’re hoping to get some funding to work on a feature film sometime in the near future.

And are you still playing around the city regularly? Where are some of your favorite places people might be able to hear/see you perform?

I haven’t performed in awhile. Things have been busy with recording and promoting as well as other projects but hopefully this summer, I’ll get a couple gigs in. I like performing in intimate spaces with nice acoustics. Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village is one of my favorites.

Any touring plans this year possibly?

Not yet, but maybe towards the end of 2015.

And who have you been listening to lately? Any new albums you’d recommend to us and our readers?

The homies Live Footage came out with their album Doyers last year. It’s really good stuff. I also really enjoyed Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead album which had a similar theme to mine. It’s a trip to listen to. My favorite track is “Never Catch Me” with Kendrick Lamar (whose album To Pimp a Butterfly was also one of my favorites in 2014). And I still like going back to Hanne Hukkelberg’s last album. I really hope she comes out with something new soon.

With 5 Deep Under out for over a month now, what lies ahead this year for Little Shells and Conchita Campos?

As far as future projects go, I’m hoping to release a couple more video vignettes for the album as well as produce more indie film projects. Generally speaking, I’m really interested in the combination of music and visuals and would like to explore more of that kind of stuff in the future. So stay tuned!

*Feature photo by Frankie Turiano

Brian Leak
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