Full Power Happy Hour’s Alex Campbell: “We’d be a much more compassionate society if we all listened to each other a little bit better and understood more about mental illness, and the societal and political issues surrounding it”

Original photo: Marnie Vaughn. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Meanjin/Brisbane indie-folk alt-country five-piece Full Power Happy Hour’s songs have beauty and depth. Their self-titled debut album is sublime. Gimmie interviewed guitarist-vocalist Alex Campbell.

Last time we spoke was almost ten years ago! You were doing punk/riot grrrl band Gunk, and Slubs zine. Your latest band Full Power Happy Hour’s alt-country/indie-folk is quite the departure from Gunk’s sound; can you tell us a little bit about your evolution as a musician and towards this different sound? I know that folk and country were your first musical loves when you were growing up.

ALEX CAMPBELL: So long ago! I suppose I ended up in a punk band then, really just because two of the coolest people, Canna and Laura asked me to be in a band and I probably would have said yes whatever genre it was.  But it came at the right time, I was learning to be a feminist and was pretty angry at the world so punk/riot grrrl was a good vehicle for that. 

When my sister bought me my first guitar when I was fourteen, I started off playing folk songs, they were the first songs I learned on guitar, and I was in various choirs as a youngster, we sung Jazz, folk and country. I have always loved a lot of different types of music, so I like writing in different genres. I’ve been wanting to start a folk band for years, and it’s finally happened yay! It’s nice playing gentle reflective music now.

60s folk songstresses like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Peggy Seegar are inspirations; what is it that you appreciate about them?

AC: They are all great song-writers who often got overshadowed by dudes, same old story. I think also, it was because they wrote protest songs, I mean folk and punk have a lot in common in that way, I guess they were just sort of subtle about it sometimes, because maybe they had to be in order to get a platform in the first place in the 60’s as women. I suppose I was just really into their music at a formative time in my life and so they were big influences. 

Full Power Happy Hour have recently put out a debut self-titled full-length, with the songs having been written around eight years ago, many first as poems and then played solo before you had the band together; how did it feel at first playing solo after being in Gunk? 

AC: I used to busk at the markets on the weekends when I was teenager so I’d had some experience performing by myself, but then playing gigs solo as Alekka, it was always pretty scary, and it took me a long time to feel ok with being vulnerable and alone up on stage, singing about personal things… it’s much better having the rest of FPHH with me up there now!

What was it like making the transition back to a band and hearing your songs really fleshed out with FPHH?

AC: It was the best feeling. I’d been trying to get a band together to perform and record these songs for years, so it was kind of a relief. I’m bloody ecstatic that I’ve found a group of deadset legends who just got what I was going for, and are passionate about the music as much as me.

How do you go about capturing various moods and emotions in your songwriting?

AC: Hmm, I write the songs as poems usually, so lyrics first, and that comes about from like writing in a diary, getting my feelings out, and then I just play around on guitar and see what chords and melody I can put to the lyrics and it just goes from there…

Lyrically on the record, mental health is a theme that comes through; are these written from personal experience? Why do you think it’s important that we have conversations about mental health whether that’s in a song or via everyday conversation?

AC: I’ve only really just got to a point in my life where I’m ok with talking about my mental health with people other than my close friends and family. I used to just write cryptic lyrics about it haha, because like many artists I use songwriting as a coping strategy for making sense of feelings and experiences, dealing with trauma. Art has always been great for that, and that’s also why people consume art, because when you can relate to a song, it can make you feel better because the song seems to be about what you’re going through so then you don’t feel so alone. It’s essential that we have conversations about mental health for that reason, to make sure people know they aren’t alone in their struggle, and to get rid of the shame surrounding it.

As a teacher I see my job being a lot about making sure the kids I teach grow into compassionate critical thinkers that will always ask questions about society and the world in order to make it a better place. Learning about other people’s experiences helps people to see different perspectives and realities. I feel like we’d be a much more compassionate society if we all listened to each other a little bit better and understood a bit more about mental illness, and the societal and political issues surrounding it. So many people waste their lives, and struggle to have healthy relationships with themselves and other people, because they don’t know how or are too scared to take care of their mental health. We need to talk about it so we can grow as a society in a regenerative and restorative way. That’s my two cents.

The album was recorded over a few weekends with Nell Forster at The Moon Room in Meanjin/ Brisbane. I understand that she gave you a lot of coaching during that time; what’s some helpful things you learnt from her guidance?

AC: I suppose we learned a lot about the recording process from Nell, and just got some really good music writing advice. She just gave us guidance about how songs would sound better with or without certain vocal or instrumental parts, or like when we wanted to go for a certain sound or mood in a song, she had a pair of fresh ears to listen to our songs and give us suggestions, she was so generous with her advice and support.

Can you tell us about the day making the video for ‘Old Mind of Mine’? Where was it shot? What is your fondest memory?

AC: The clip was filmed on Turrbal, Jaggera, Jinibura and Kabi Kabi country mostly at Loop Growers and lake Samsonvale. Finn made some curried egg sangas, I made some fairy bread, we got dressed up and got to hang out in the countryside being silly. Marnie and Nathan were so patient with us, and did an amazing job capturing this wholesome feeling that we have as a band, because we are all just a bunch of good friends, and so the fact that it looks like a holiday home video of friends is super authentic because that’s what it was.

‘Old Mind Of Mine’ expresses the importance of getting away from the city and having nature in your life; have you always had a strong connection to nature? What’s your relationship to it? Did it grow even greater during lockdown?

AC: Being in natural spaces calms me down but I haven’t always felt this way. My Dad grew up in the bush so we were a very outdoorsy family and were going camping all the time but I had a bit of insect and snake phobia so was always kind of reluctant on these trips. But as an adult that’s really changed, and I’m lucky to live near an area of bushland with a creek that’s really well looked after by the community. Being near any body of water really just re-sets me, when it rains, the creek is majestic. I try to walk down there every day, and during the lockdown I definitely valued it even more.

What kinds of things are influencing the most recent songs you’ve been writing?

AC: On the next record, there’s a big theme of friendship and family, I think I’ve now written a song about every one of my friends (they don’t know which ones though!), but I have a few new songs dealing with past traumas and the relief of getting clarity and growing and making peace with all of that. There may also be a couple about climate justice and shitty politicians…

What’s something you’ve been interested in lately that’s had you really engaged that you’d like to share with us? 

AC: I’ve been obsessed lately with Sydney band “Sunscreen”, The Weather Station’s latest album, Little Simz latest album, and Electric Fields has gotten me through my final prac at Uni. Also, two podcasts I’ve loved over the last few months are Oh My Dog, a locally made dog appreciation podcast, and a podcast called Nothing Much Happens, which has helped me improve my sleep so much this year.

Please check out: FULL POWER HAPPY HOUR bandcamp; on Instagram; on Facebook. Full Power Happy Hour out now on Coolin’ By Sound.