The blue-eyed piano-pop soul trio The Campaign isn’t even a year old, but drummer-vocalist Blaine Crews, lead singer-keyboardist Tyler Wood, and bassist-vocalist Perry Jenkins already have a performance motto.
“We try to be showmen,” said the 22-year-old Crews, a Harlingen native and ex-Austin scenester. “We have three goals: We want to sound as good as we can, we want to act as ridiculous as we can, and we want the audience to leave feeling happy.” A unique and welcome presence on the Fort music front, The Campaign usually fulfills its live-stage promises. Bass player Jenkins, 31, a former Louisiana State University football player, is the cool, stage-strolling straight man, while Crews and 24-year-old Wood, a Fort Worth native, provide much of the manic vibe, which is ironic considering that their instruments leave the duo little room to maneuver. Watching The Campaign perform live, you might wonder how Blaine can stay mounted to the skins, so powerful and kinetic is his stickwork. And Wood — a raspy-voiced, lilting crooner who’s not too cool to say he loves Billy Joel and Elton John — sometimes just kicks his bench out from under him and leans into his Yamaha keys, cooing and belting as if he has only a couple-a seconds before turning back into a young white boy from an old black man.
“We’re never satisfied with a performance,” Crews said. “When we’re driving back in the car afterwards, we’re always nitpicking and saying, ‘How could we have done that better?’ “ The Campaign got started last July via sheer serendipity. Indeed, the band almost never happened. Two years ago, Crews was living in Austin and playing in a band that had just signed a deal with a Los Angeles management company, when the lead singer decided to move in the direction of marriage and family. After the break-up, Crews, seriously bummed and uncertain about his music career, moved here, where his parents live. At around the same time, Wood, who’s been playing piano since grade school, moved from Fort Worth to Austin to try and establish himself in the music capital as a solo artist. Wood began casting around for a drummer to back him up. An acquaintance suggested Crews, and the two, Crews said, “just played off each other instantly” — so much so that Wood moved back to Fort Worth to continue his career here. Jenkins found them through another acquaintance and brought his love of the 1970s peak of disco/funk with him. Part of what makes The Campaign so unusual — and its members so simpatico — is the one other thing they all do well in addition to playing.
“We can all sing,” Crews said. “[Wood] is the lead, definitely, but the three-part harmonies are a centerpiece of our sound. As far as we’re concerned, harmonies are what separate the men from the boys in any band that cares about good music.” Although he doesn’t reject the label altogether, Crews thinks that pop is “a dirty word”: It implies corporate fabrication, market-driven musicmaking, boy-band roboticism, and so on. Crews feels that The Campaign aspires to pop as in “popular,” earning acclaim because they’re conscientious craftsmen of infectious melodies and danceable rhythms. He admits to going through a punk/thrash phase as a teen in which, he said, he would’ve thought a band like The Campaign was silly. “But that was out of immaturity,” he said. “That came from not caring if people knew how to play their instruments well.” Crews doesn’t come across as cocky, just enthusiastic and sincere and very hyped about the future. The Campaign is currently completing its debut e.p., due in July. Their jaunty, literate, keyboard-heavy music is indeed a little out there, even for North Texas, which is why Crews and company are aggressively pursuing connections with other bands. The Campaign is also considering adding a guitarist. (Crews invites interested, able parties to contact him at MySpace.com/TheCampaignMusic.) But the decision to move forward on adding a fourth Campaigner has been a difficult one. “We have argued back and forth over this,” he said. “We’ve started to feel like we’ve hit a ceiling, and we listen to our recordings and think, ‘A guitar part would really fill that out, make it bigger.’ But on the other hand, we have so much chemistry that it’s going to be hard for another person to step in and click. We’ll know [they jibe] when we meet them.”