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Exclusive Interview: Dash|Ten Vocalist Sgt. Corrin Campbell

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The popular depiction of music in the military is very limited. There are a lot of marching bands with snare drums and an unusual amount of fifes. Sometimes there are the mournful wails of a bagpipe. For whatever lack of pop music sensibilities that these bands may have, they make up for with matching outfits and synchronized stepping.

Dash|Ten is not one of these bands.

Led by vocalist Sgt. Corrin Campbell, Dash|Ten formed in September 2015 as a part of the Army Musical Outreach Program, becoming the only original music act sponsored by a branch of the US military. In the band’s short career, they have already toured extensively and shared a stage with Less Than Jake, Real Friends, and Wage War at the 2016 Warped Tour kickoff party and will perform throughout the entirety of the year’s Warped Tour on the Full Sail stage.

Sgt. Campbell took some time to answer some questions about music, the military, and that unexpected area where the two connect.

Before Dash|Ten was formed, you spent time in Iraq as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, entertaining soldiers that had been deployed. How would you say this affected you musically?

It really kind of illustrated how much music is a lifeline. There, you’re obviously in a strange country in less than comfortable positions, but also just in, you know, when I came back I kind of applied it to everyday life. I always knew that I loved music and that it was a great escape for me, but what it helped me realize is that it’s not exclusive to being a musician or even a music enthusiast. You may be a casual listener of a band and it will still take away whatever negative things are going on in your life at the moment. That was really well illustrated over there.

So when you’re in the songwriting process for Dash|Ten, does that thought process figure in when you think about how you want to get things done?

I think the Army influence kind of makes my work ethic different from what it would be otherwise, so sometimes I think I can go longer and stronger just from that resilience I’ve kind of built that up thanks to the military, but really most of my songs are really about life in general. The Army has been a part of my life and so the struggles I go through are in it, but I think it’s kind of parallel to what a lot of people feel even if they’ve never been in the military.

What other influences would you say play into the songwriting with Dash|Ten?

The songwriting is really about each chapter of life. That’s one thing that’s really cool about creation, whether you’re in music or art or whatever it is you do. You can really apply what is happening to you right now into your songwriting.

For me, I try to just look at what chapter of life I’m in, what the positives are and the negatives, and just kind of say something that I think I need to say and that someone else might need to say too. I just try to keep it as real as possible to what I’m currently going through.

I never really sit down and think “Okay, I need to write a love song” or “I need to write an angry song now.” I usually start with… I journal a lot, I write lyrics down, little catchy phrases that might come into my head and I‘ll write those down and think “Oh that would be a cool lyric.” What’s funny about that is that hardly any of those actually end up in a song, because by the time I end up writing, they just sound almost rehearsed. So it really ends up being just about what the music makes me feel.

I just really like the idea of a band sitting down and saying “Oh, we only have three angry songs. We need to write another angry song!” (laughs)

Yeah, I think that bands feel a lot of pressure to create. I think right now there’s a wonderful movement that there’s a lot of women empowerment kind of songs.

There was one season of music that I love, in like 2007 or something, when Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” came out and it was this, you know, swing. We hadn’t seen a ton of pops songs that had a swing and then the next thing you know, Pink had one and Katy Perry had one. The radio was just filled with female empowerment songs that had this swing beat to it. (laughs)

I do think that’s kind of the luxury of being an independent musician. The people are invested in the message overall and there isn’t a pressure to create a song that is fulfilling some sort of expectation. You can just put it out there and your fans will find it valuable because they find you valuable.

What exactly is the Army Musical Outreach Program?

(laughs) It is the weirdest and coolest thing. Really, it’s acting like a label without being a label at all. It’s like a production company. We are actually housed in kind of a marketing portion for the Army and the idea is to illustrate soldiers doing something that maybe is unexpected and show how much of us as people go into that and make that successful. I think it’s really just a common misconception that, you know, there are all these soldiers with weapons, going out and doing the things that they’re used to seeing on TV, and really our job is to kind of break down expectations and break down barriers and  just have a conversation about being a person and then how the Army relates to that.

That’s just our job. It doesn’t change who we are or anything. So to be able to do that through music is really a cool thing and right now we are the only original rock band that’s actually made up of soldiers and touring on behalf of a branch of the military.

This year you will be performing on Warped Tour. Do you run into a lot of stigmas that other bands are laying on you? I know at Warped Tour, a lot of bands tend to be very political and very set in their opinions. Are there a lot of stigmas you guys have run into in different environments like that?

Really, I think that more so we hear from fans about, especially negative things. There are just going to be trolls on social media period and there are going to be people who have viable objections to what we do and the only thing you can do is respect other people’s opinions and try to have them see yours. If people aren’t a fan of the military or they are from a pacifist background or whatever, we try to be really respectful of that and just at the same time kind of represent ourselves as well as we can.

We haven’t actually come across a band that’s been vocal at all, negatively I mean. We’ve had a lot of bands be very vocal in a positive way. I actually did Warped Tour as a solo artist last year and had a good response to that and bands like Miss May I and August Burns Red, they all came up and they were very supportive and happy to have us there. I think that it’s really cool to not only get support from other bands but then also when bands come up and they’re like “Oh, you’re the Army girl,” and I’m like “Yeah, what does that mean to you?” (laughs) To me, it sounds like a good thing!

I was looking at your tour schedule and playing on Warped Tour is a very different type of event than what you guys normally at. What’s the main difference between your normal event and the strenuous grueling Warped Tour grind?

Our typical tour schedule is different because we do a lot of different daytime gigs at high schools. We do school assemblies and we perform for the kids at school, and so we’ve got our great lighting and video designer, we’ve got our audio engineer that makes us sound wonderful, so there’s really all of that sheen of a produced show, let alone the fact that you’re just set up and playing and leaving which is pretty easy.

I always say that [Warped Tour] is the boot camp of being a touring band, and I have to say that I think the tour is equally as difficult as boot camp on many days (laughs). You sweat a lot, you drink a lot of water and you try to not pass out while people are screaming.

I think really it’s just that rawness. There’s no lights, there’s not as much production and show going on. It’s more like dudes on a stage playing music and dudes off a stage enjoying music. For me, that’s what’s cool about it. It’s very raw and organic. It’s people sweating and being a part of something they love. There’s no glisten and shine to it as much as there’s just this really great energy and that sustains the whole performance and I think that’s my favorite part.

Yeah, I’ve been to Warped Tour. At every other concert, you have the people who show up and it’s sort of a fashion show for them and at Warped Tour everyone’s just drenched in sweat and gross an hour into it.

(Laughs) Yeah, it’s survival. You really don’t care about that anymore. It’s just more about making it through the day because the band you loved happened to pull the last set of the day and you want to stay and make it the whole time.

What sort of advice would you give to anyone who is considering a career in the military?

One thing that I’m really up front about, because a lot of kids we play for at high schools will come to me, especially about my job, which right now my job playing music that I have written with my band out on tour, we are literally the only job like it, so, you know, I don’t want them to be fooled into thinking “Yeah, if you join the Army, you can do this!” It’s not that simple.

I would say that if you’re considering a career in the military, you really have to figure out if it’s something you want to be a part of. I mean, it’s obviously a commitment. You can’t just give your 30-day notice and head out. (laughs)

It’s not for everybody. I think it’s actually not for most people. You’re not going get rich doing it, but you’re going to be a part of something bigger than just yourself. There is something that makes you feel really good about what you’re doing when you know you’re serving a larger purpose than just your own goodness which, you can pursue that too. I would definitely say that they need to think about what they truly love and want to do and see if it’s possible to do in the military, but if it’s not something that you’re going to love doing or something that you could be doing in the civilian sector, you know, maybe you shouldn’t pursue it in the military.

Yeah, it seems like, and you can probably speak to this being both a musician and an Army person, that both of them, you have to be able to buy into them 100% or it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

I meet some people and I think they’re feeling that they made the wrong choice, and we all learn from mistakes in life, but you don’t want to make it a three or four-year choice that you regret, but I think that if someone is really interested in being an EMT or a nurse, going medical, or going into computer intelligence, [then] there are a lot of really cool jobs that the army has, it could be a great way to get education and experience before you hop out into the private sector to do it out there, but if you know that you really want to do art… (laughs) I think pursue what you love, and if it happens to work out and one of the branches of the military does what you love, then do it.

On Facebook, I saw that you will be “moving on to the next chapter in 2017.” What would this next chapter entail?

The next chapter entails not being in the army anymore. For me, the goal is to do music and I think anyone who pursues music starts off, you know you have to dream big, but you have to be real and you have to know it takes a ton of hustle and some luck to really make it. I’m setting up to try and do music and work in that, but I’ve also got a small business. I’m also looking at working in music marketing kind of in more of a support channel, so I’m just looking at what that stuff is, but the goal is to keep on playing and sharing my story from not within the Army.

The Army has been great, but, and this is what I tell everybody, I’m not going to try to tell anybody to join the Army and I’m definitely not going to say if you come in you have to do 20 years and make a life of it, you know? It’s been great, but I think my life is ready to try something new.

What’s coming up through Warped Tour and beyond for Dash|Ten?

Well, we’re super stoked because our debut album which is kind of a mix of some of the songs that I released as a solo artist before we created this band, it’s kind of a mix of those songs and new ones. That comes out in May. We’re actually going to do a bonus single released on June 5th and that will come with a new video and actually, we’re going to premiere it through the Warped Tour channel because our day (part of the 90 days of Warped) is June 5th so that’s when we get to kind of unveil all of that fun. So then we’re going to keep touring.

We tour about 300 days a year which is more than most bands. 300 days on the road, so that equals like 220 to 240 shows. Not 300 shows. My Gosh, we would die! (laughs) We’ll take a couple of weeks off of work, and then we’ll hop right back into it.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

We’re a no frills… I mean, we love the 90’s and that kind of organic rock sound. You’re going to see and hear three people on stage. We don’t use any backing tracks, we don’t use autotune, not live or on the album. We try to be as real in the recordings and live as we can be.

If you’re into that, come see us.

Written by Nathan Badley

When Nathan is not writing about music, he might be writing material for his often neglected blog at nathanbadley.com. Or he might be writing something else. Or podcasting. Or playing music. Most likely he is just watching TV thinking about how he should be doing those things. You can tweet him @badlandsbadley and congratulate him on his mad 3rd person writing skills.

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