Mai Gilmore Campbell, a philosophical yet punk producer, sound engineer, and musician sits at her kitchen table, wearing high-waisted, acid washed, boyfriend jeans and an olive green tee that perfectly compliments her dazzling, green doe eyes. She periodically runs her hand through her jet black hair she cuts and colors herself. Music is playing from her laptop, and as she goes to turn it down, I jokingly tell her leave it on and do whatever would help with being a human. She laughs. “Music is good for being a human, because otherwise I usually turn into some weird lizard.”
Music is a driving force behind Mai’s life and passions. She talks of the evolution of her style, which is largely influenced by music. “In my junior year of high school, I sort of decided I was gonna stop trying to be like everybody else, and so that summer I chopped all my hair off. I was really into The Horrors and Robert Smith, and My Bloody Valentine, and shoegaze stuff. I sort of adopted the whole garage, gothic punk look, because at the time I was really living inside my own head and they were really inspirational to me.” The Horrors is a gothic, grunge, shoegaze-punk band formed 2005 in the UK.
Mai’s philosophical retrospection of her old style is laced with humor. Later, she shows me remnants of her old style she gracefully incorporates into her everyday look. “Every morning I would put like a shit ton of gel in my hair and like, stick it up all spikey like Robert Smith and shit.” She demonstrates with her current hair, gesturing a sort of all-over mohawk. She laughs. “And you know, I’d never shop in mainstream stores, and I’d only wear like black or like ripped things or things that looked like I was kind of scary.”
She crosses her legs, exposing her bare feet with dark, crimson toenails and takes me through to her present day style. “And then,” she continues, “ I made a deep connection with somebody my senior year, and he sort of opened me up to the music he was listening to. He had done a lot of research on different bands and genres like shoe gaze and stuff, and he made music as well. I really didn’t know anybody who made music, and I was sort of void of any sort of human interactions that were relevant to my interests, so I made a strong connection with him, and it became like I didn’t really need to try that hard anymore.”
Regarding how her style has been influenced by her diversified music exploration, Mai offers,“I’ve been getting a lot of old clothes from my brother and my friends who grew up in the 90s. Their youth was the 90s, and so I guess I’ve sort of adopted the grungy 90s look. Like I’ve got really, ridiculously high-waisted military pants that I wear with like,” she looks down her front at her current outfit and laughs, “no bra, and that awkward like, straight across tank top or shit like that. I guess style for me has almost been like you know, a nostalgia thing, or what your happy place, you know?”
Mai stretches and crosses her long legs pretzel-style in her chair. Her unusual mix of grace, height, and body awareness were attributes that made her an absolute dynamo to shoot in the days following. “It sort of became a huge hobby of mine—finding music through musicians and stuff. Once you start being able to collaborate with other musicians, it becomes really liberating.”
There are various speakers and gadgets sitting on the table where we are talking, which inspires me to ask Mai about her recording process. “I love effects. I want to build petals! And I want to build electronic instruments. I play bass and cello, but I really like using my voice as an instrument, as sort of an extension. The way I make music is really layering and looping, so I’ ll think of a bass line, and I’ll be doodling on the base or something, and I’ll record it, and then I’ll build on top of that.”
“What do you see yourself doing in the future?”
She laughs. “Shit. Well… well, well..”
I articulately rephrase: “Or your dreams or whatever?”
Her eyes light up. “Ooh, my dreams, that’s a good one. Cause you know, I can’t really predict whats going to happen, but I can tell you what I’d like to happen. I’m in the process of studying with a producer. I want to be a musical engineer, so I want to do production work, and I’ve been playing recording engineer for a lot of his artists, and just learning as many instruments as possible. So I guess I’d like to be a producer, but I would be cool with working on a label. I would be cool with starting a band. So really anything in the music realm, I just love every aspect of it.”
A few days later, Kelly O’Meara, a fiercely intelligent and boundary- pushing, jack-of-all-trades musician ,with the charcoal hair of Robert Smith and the distinctive features of a Gray wolf, sits at the same kitchen table of Mai’s apartment.
He is wearing a grey tank top, dark-wash blue jeans, and boots. He has the effortless look that lends itself to grunge, punk style. “I just try and be comfortable I guess, and uh, I don’t see much value in spending too much time and money on my clothes, I’d rather just get out of the house, you know?” Kelly posses the put-together, yet carefree look Urban Outfitters prides itself on producing, but without the effort.
Kelly has three tattoos— one on his left shoulder/arm, and two on his chest. I ask him if he tries to show them off as a part of his style and identity. “Yah!”, he exclaims. “I guess the one the arm, and that is why I got in on the arm, because I want it to be visible. My mom’s artwork has meant a lot to my family, and the opportunities that we’ve had. Ultimately, I did them for myself. But for me, it’s artwork, and I like having art on the body […] It’s making it my own.The tattoo is really the one way you have to make a conscious decision about how you want to present yourself. Physically, to the world.”
Kelly shares the meaning and origin of each tattoo: “My mom’s a children’s book illustrator, and […] when I started to realize I had always kind of wanted a tattoo conceptually, and when I realized I could have my mom’s artwork on my body, which means a lot more than any type of symbolism, I got enamored with the idea of getting a tattoo. So that’s where I got the one on my arm from. My mom drew up the whole thing.”
Next, he pulls down the strap on his tank, exposing the tattoo next on the left side of his chest. It is a picture of record player with the number ’45’ on the record box. “This one, on the chest. There’s an Elvis Costello song, named “45”, and it’s kind of about a son and a father- about the way the bonded through music and this life-lasting thing, this connection that stayed between them. I heard that song, and my dad pointed out the lyrics to me one day and I was like, ‘shit, that’s really great.’ So I decided to honor that.”
Kelly shows me the other tattoo on the right side of his chest. “And this one, this one’s the newest one. I got in Mexico, and my mom did most of the design, and then I let the tattoo artist sort of have at it. I want something sort of Latina or Hispanic on me. Cause it’s not something that’s externally recognized, so I thought it would be nice. Its pretty art, and its also a nice piece of recognition to the culture.”
In response to whether his Hispanic background has any influence on his composition process. He puts his hand to in front of mouth to think, and replies, “Yah, I think so. I was born in Mexico, and I never spent that much time there aside from visiting family in summers and winters, but there’s a whole style there in Mexico, where my family’s from, in a region called Son Jarocho. It’s very folkloric, but it has a little bit of flamenco style with its own regional twist. I actually learned a lot from those guys about using guitar as a rhythm instrument rather than just as a melodic. One of things that they do is when is when they strum, they make it a whole [flourish] that involves all the fingers.”
He demonstrates the flourish with a graceful gesture involving all five fingers. “If you put your fingers over the strings and just listen to what they were strumming, it sounds like a dance, and I think thats been very valuable to me; turning something that I’m not used to into something rhythmic.”
He is a bassist, a guitarist, and a vocalist. “It’s different from song to song. Over winter break in Mexico, I was sitting down at my laptop and all I had was a guitar with two strings and just my laptop. I had all the sounds on the laptop, and I would give myself two or three hours to finish a song, and once two or three hours were done, I was done. I would literally start with just building drum sounds over and over again. So I would have like four minutes of drums, and then force myself to put something in there and work around it. But that was something that I did to change the way I work, ‘cause I’m used to sitting on the music. I have some songs that I’m still working on that I can track all the way back to freshman year. So I think there’s value in learning to work in ways that you’re not comfortable with, and forcing yourself to try things in a different way. Because you never know what could happen.”
Kelly’s motivation and desire to challenge himself inspires me to ask him about what he sees himself doing in the future. “Shit! I don’t know,” he exclaims. “Music has been always been my dream. I think politics is something that I’m passionate about and that makes me angry, which makes me realize that it is important, but music has always been the big dream. I would love nothing more than to have some type of band. And maybe not even a band, but something where I could play live music for people.I love recording. It’s like a big puzzle. It’s like fitting all the pieces together, because it’s one thing to have good music, but it’s another thing to have good sound. I am such an asshole about that. I can’t stand it when I listen to something with speakers and it doesn’t sound right. So I guess, I would really love to be a live musician, but if that doesn’t work out, I love producing. I’ll see where the wind takes me.”
The jumps that follow are links to Kelly and Mai’s respective Soundcloud pages.