Monday, May 6, 2013

#KickassKleveland - Camille Champa

I tend to gravitate towards people with a growth mindset. These folks are constantly trying new things, experimenting with life, taking risks, and DOING. At the other end of the spectrum lies the fixed mindset; people that “can’t” or won’t try as they believe they are what they are and things will never change. I’m inspired by people with a growth mindset and saddened by and for those with a fixed mindset.

My #KickassKleveland guest is a person with a growth mindset. I met Camille six or seven years ago.  She is a woman that seeks out new challenges, all of which would be considered trivial by those that believe being an artist is not a “real job”. As we began talking, I quickly realized that Camille’s grandmother planted the seed, telling her granddaughter that it was fine to do what she loved.

Allow me to introduce you to Camille Champa. Rocker. Fangless vamp. Yogi. Can a zombie cry? Let’s find out…


J: Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

C: I grew up in Cleveland, in Euclid.

J: You and Tim Misny.

C: Did Tim Misny grow up in Euclid too? That’s awesome. The only other place I’ve lived besides Cleveland is Athens where I went to college. I’m a Cleveland person with the Cleveland accent and everything. My parents are still married. Family life was pretty stable. We lived a mile from my grandparents. My dad’s mother was awesome. She was the person who was always like, “You do whatever you want to do. If you like music you do that.” A lot of people think you can’t have an artistic goal in life. It seems like people tend to say, “Oh, you can’t really do that for a living.” I think I was told that by a few people that were close to me. But my grandma kept saying, “If you want to do, that then go for it.”

J: Was she an artist or a creative type, a free spirit? 

C: I think so. She’s the person who taught me how to sew. I could never be a clothing designer but I love clothing design. She’s the person who showed me how to sew and I started making clothes with her help. She was just more open minded I guess.

J: So she was an inspiration to you early on?

C: Yes. She wasn’t the typical person at that time. She was more strong willed and she got what she wanted in life.

J: Interesting.

C: Inspirational.

J: Well you and I have crossed paths a number of times. The first time we met you were auditioning for my band at the time. You had just bought an amplifier. I think it was a Vox?

C: Yes, I had a Vox.

J: It was still in the box I think, literally.

C: Yes, it was brand new.

J: You picked it up on the way to the audition?

C: Yeah… [laughing]

J: And now you’re the guitarist for Blacklight Betty. I was wondering if you could talk about that journey?

C: When I auditioned for your band I hadn’t been in a band before and I had been trying since high school. I had friends who played bass or guitar or whatever. I wanted to form a band but nobody ever really got anything together. I had been trying and trying and meeting with people. Some people were good but they were better than me so that’s probably why I didn’t get the gig. Or they sucked and I didn’t want to be in the band. That was early and I was still learning. I think I could play guitar well but I wasn’t used to playing so much with other people. I started playing guitar when I was 12. I was always playing at home by myself to records or learning from tabs or sheet music. So that was early on and I was trying to latch on to my first band. It was a struggle and I got frustrated. Blacklight Betty just had a show this past weekend and for me it was one of the first shows where I felt like it was fun. I was comfortable and not nervous about playing. I messed up a note here or there but it was fine. It was a high-energy show. I think when you first start playing any instrument you’re concerned. You think you have to make sure everything is perfect and you’re nervous about messing it up. But sometimes mistakes can turn out to be the best part. I feel like I’m finally got to the point where I’m comfortable on stage, I’m comfortable playing with other musicians, and it’s fun. I think anybody who is just starting should go play with other people because it will take your playing to the next level.

J: Blacklight Betty is really steeped in 70‘s classic hard rock, kind of ballsy. Do you feel additional pressure being a female guitarist playing that genre of music?

C: Not really because it’s always what I’ve loved. I started out listening to the Beatles. George Harrison is the reason I wanted to play guitar. Then in high school I started listening to Led Zeppelin and I said, “Holy crap this is amazing!” I still love the Beatles to this day but I started getting into the heavier, bluesier side of rock-n-roll. I’m reading the autobiography of Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart and I thought it was interesting that when they were kids they had their guitars and were pretending to be the Beatles but their friends wanted to pretend to be the Beatles’ girlfriends. They said, no, we want to be the Beatles. They wanted to be the band. It didn’t matter that some of their heroes were men, they were all musicians. I kind of had the same feeling. I never really felt I couldn’t rock because I’m a girl.

J: Full equality rock, right?

C: Yeah! [laughing]

J: You have other artistic endeavors in addition to being in a band, such as photography. What makes a great photograph?

C: It creates a feeling. You see it and you feel something. That’s what I strive to do. Photography is relatively new for me but I’ve been an artist since a young age so it’s another kind of visual art. I look at photographs and I try to study different photographers and there are just certain ones that make you feel a powerful emotion even if it’s not something specific.

J: Is there an element of luck to that or is it framing the shot in a way that elicits that response?

C: I think a lot of it is composition. There are obviously a lot of technical aspects to photography. I have a friend who has been a photographer for 30 years and he’s like an encyclopedia. Someday I’ll know half of what he knows [laughing]. For me I think its composition. A painter would sit down and have a certain idea of what they wanted and you can do that as a photographer too. You can just take a whole lot more pictures in a lot less time!

J: Do you have a personal favorite of a picture that you’ve taken?

C: Maybe a favorite style? When we had our gig last weekend with Blacklight Betty and we knew the band we were opening for so I took my camera and photographed them while they were playing. That’s one of my favorite things to shoot is live music, live art, just capturing the moment.

J: You’ve done that for Threefold Law on a number of occasions. Anyone that has seen my Twitter or Facebook avatar should know that it’s your photograph. The lighting and composition within the moments you’ve captured are fantastic (photo of Threefold Law performance by Camille).

C: I’ve done a couple things for my current job where I went to events to shoot. We went to the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, which I’m sure, a lot of Cleveland people know. It’s great and it’s another one of those things that’s totally different than doing a live show but it’s similar in the way you’re capturing a live event. People are outside having a good time, people are selling their wares, and everything is moving. So you’re going out there and capturing a different side of it, a different side of the human experience, or whatever you want to call it.

J: Zombies or vampires?

C: Zombies, lately. [laughing]

J: Why?

C: Because I’m obsessed with The Walking Dead. I just like...I don’t know. It’s a hard question.

J: It is a hard question.

C: I have to choose whether I was going to be a zombie or vampire?

J: Yes. Which would you rather be?

C: Vampire because I wouldn’t want to be walking around like a mindless...aaahhh! [marginally scary zombie voice]

J: What’s cooler?

C: I think vampires are cooler.

J: Even after Twilight, you think they’re still cool?

C: I can’t get down on Twilight. I’ll admit to you that I’ve read all the books.

J: I can scratch that from the interview if you want. [laughing]

C: One of the other things I’ve tried is acting which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and another one of those, “Oh you can’t do that, other people do that, but not you.” But when I see things like Twilight, and somebody’s going to get mad at me for this, but some of the acting is hideous and I think I can do better than that.

J: Haven’t you been involved in some vampire movie making?

C: I know a local photographer who’s venturing into film making. The project originated as a photo shoot he did with a couple of models and it was a vampire-themed shoot he decided to make it a film. We’re shooting a short film, a B-movie type of thing. We shot a couple of weekends ago with the fake blood, and teeth, and everything. It’s great and a good experience to be working with other people who love that medium. It’s called Vade Macum Vampirium, which is Latin for something. I’m not sure if it exactly translates to “book of the vampire” but it’s about a book about vampires and their secrets and the struggle to keep it away from the people who might want to hunt them.

J: Did you get to wear fangs?

C: I have some fangs but I’m not a special effects person and didn’t get them to fit quite right so I didn’t put them in for the shoot because I knew one of them would probably be falling out while I was acting!

J: Where did you shoot?

C: We shot some scenes at the Cleveland Photographic Society. The film maker is a photographer and he’s a member of the club so he rented it out for a day and set up a vampire lair. At this point we only have a few more scenes to shoot.

J: What’s in a vampire lair?

C: Daggers and a lot of red things. [laughing] I got to work with some people who I’ve heard a lot about. I didn’t realize there was such a film community here in Cleveland.

J: Is there a possibility that the short film will end up in the Cleveland Film Festival in the near future?

C: I don’t know about the film festival but I do know they’re planning a premier at Atlas Cinemas in Euclid with a couple of other short films.

J: Have you done other film projects?

C: I worked on a few student projects with some awesome students from Cleveland State and I was so impressed with how professional they were.

J: Do you have to study vampire characters in literature and other films?

C: I’ll look at classic movies. I’ve read Interview with the Vampire but I’d never seen the movie so I made a point to watch that. It’s interesting to see how different people portray vampires. I had a small role in something that’s still in production. It required some crying and emotion and that was tough. I had never done method acting before but I spent the day trying to get into a sad mindset that would make that easier. I’m still trying to learn different techniques. I’ve been reading and watching interviews with actors checking out their techniques for getting ready for a role and that helps. It’s similar to playing a show with a band; you have to get into the mindset.

J: So you feel a correlation between what you do on stage and what you do on a shoot?

C: Yeah, it’s funny because right now I still work a 9-to-5 job. We had a show on Friday with Blacklight Betty. I came home from work and I had to transition from working in an office to playing a rock show. So it’s a similar thing. Working on a film you have to go on set and transition into being a vampire in a vampire lair or whatever type of character you’re playing at that moment.

J: Do the people in your office know that you’re rocking out on the weekends and that you’re wearing fangs?

C: Some of them do. [laughing] I have a coworker who I also consider a friend that came out to see Blacklight Betty on Friday. She came out with her husband and they were great. She came back to work and she was like, “Yeah, you were rocking out!” I work at a rock radio station so I think people are more open to that kind of thing.

J: How does a guy join a yoga class without appearing creepy?

C: I’ve been doing yoga at lunch with a couple people from work. We’ll take our lunch break and go to this yoga studio across the street from our office. The other girls in the office and I keep trying to get this guy to come. We’re like you gotta come with us, because we’re buds and guys do yoga too; there’s even this thing called bro-ga. He was like, no, I don’t want to do that either because it’s going to be a bunch of guys doing yoga. [laughing] I’ve been to a studio called Cleveland Yoga which is awesome and there are a lot of guys in those classes. Yoga’s a lot more intense than people think. I think some people think it’s a thing for women to do, which is ironic because women weren’t allow to do yoga for a long, long, time. It’s an ancient Indian tradition and it was only males of a certain class that could learn it. If a guy is going to come to class and make creepy comments, that’s a problem. But if you’re acting normal and there for yoga I think women are totally fine with having guys in class.

J: I know you’re studying to become an instructor so you know what real yoga looks like. I’m assuming it’s not like Namaste Yoga where all the women are in Hawaii doing yoga under a waterfall in very little clothing?

C: No, no, no. [laughing] At Cleveland Yoga where I go sometimes, it’s a heated studio. They keep it at 85 or 90 degrees and it is an intense workout. Everyone is sweating and we don’t exactly look glamorous!

J: Is it the common misconception of yoga that it’s a Zen-like meditation practice rather than a workout?

C: I think so, but it can be meditative too. There are so many different styles of yoga and there are so many different facets to yoga. Meditation and the Zen aspect are important but there’s also the physical aspect. If you look into B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, which is amazing, it’s pretty much a manual of how to do all yoga poses. There are pictures of him doing all of the poses and some of them look crazy! There’s no way I can do some of those things. There’s some misconception that you have to be flexible and bendy and only women are like that, but this guy from India, an amazing yoga guru, is doing all these things I can’t.

J: Beyond the physical workout, what is another benefit to yoga?

C: I think a huge benefit is your mindset. My wonderful teacher has been listed as the best yoga teacher in Cleveland by Scene Magazine and she’s amazing. I’ll go to her class and she can use her words and her inspiration to make my day so much better because she has such a deep knowledge of yoga. She offers this amazing experience that goes so far beyond a workout.

J: Can a zombie cry? You can answer that a number of different ways so I’ll let you think about it for a second.

C: One of my theories, after watching The Walking Dead, is the difference between old zombies and what I call newer zombies, meaning people who have just been bitten, died, and comeback recently.

J: Newly turned?

C: Newly turned zombies, yes. One thing I’ve noticed is that they seem faster which makes sense because they’re less decayed. On this season of The Walking Dead Merle had just turned and it was almost like he recognized Daryl. He starts walking towards him like he kind of knows who he is. Thinking back to season one when Amy, Andrea’s sister, was bitten and she stayed with her all night and when Amy turned, it almost seemed like she was still a bit human and could see Andrea there. She didn’t immediately turn; she was kind of looking at her. So if they could cry it would probably be in those first few moments of becoming a zombie.

J: Like the, “Oh, shit. I’m a zombie!” moment?

C: Right. “Oh, shit. I’m a zombie and this sucks.” [laughing]

J: Why Cleveland?

C: I like the attitude of the people. There are people who like to get down on Cleveland but we’re past that whole “burning river” thing. There’s a lot going for Cleveland now especially downtown. I think people here realize that there are a lot of scenes. We have amazing clubs like the Grog Shop and the Beachland Tavern that attract national acts. I’ve seen some great bands in these clubs.

J: These clubs are fifty-seaters, for people that aren’t living in Cleveland. These are intimate venues.

C: This is not a House of Blues or an arena. These are small clubs that also support local bands. We can play there too. One of the other things I learned that I didn’t even realize because I grew up here is the quality of our local theater. We have Playhouse Square, the second largest theater district in the United States, second only to Broadway in New York City.

J: Most people would assume that would be Chicago or L.A.

C: Right, because they call Chicago the second city but Cleveland’s got the second largest theater district next to New York. I think a lot of the rankings of cities are hype but you can hype up a city or you can hype it down, if you will. I think Cleveland’s been hyped down.

J: Anything else you’d like to share tell people that might surprise them?

C: I think some people might already be surprised. [laughing] I had somebody at work the other day ask, “You’re in a band? What kind of band is it?” I said we’re garage, rock, blues, raw, loud rock-n-roll. “Really? Really? I wouldn’t expect that at all.” She was genuinely surprised and excited.

J: And meanwhile you’re thinking, “Thanks grandma.” Because you’re the one on stage instead of saying that to someone else.

C: Exactly.

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