Static and Surrender: Navigating the Evolving Music Industry
Big Smile Magazine met up with Adam Schuman, John Schuman and Jeff Campbell of the Bay Area's Static and Surrender. The Schuman brothers have been playing in bands together from very early ages, most recently playing in a band called The Trophy Fire. The very first show that long-time singer-songwriter Jeff Campbell ever played in California was as an opener for one of the Schuman brother's previous bands. Since then, Jeff and the brothers had watched each other from afar, someday hoping to work together. During our conversation, we discussed the band's origins, the experience of working with music producers, and how the band has navigated the changing music industry.
Photo above, from left to right: Adam Schuman, John Schuman, Jeff Campbell, Big Smile Magazine writer Matt Montañez.
When did the conversation about playing together start?
John Schuman Adam and I discussed working with Jeff about a year before we got together. Adam had mentioned that Jeff Campbell was looking to move on from his solo work. At that same time, Adam and I were talking about different styles of rock that we were interested in. We were wanting to do something different because the style we had been playing was very keyboard-ish. We wanted a break from it.
Jeff Campbell I had been doing a solo thing for about three years at that point. After my last band had petered off, I got picked up by a Guitar Center label. They really pushed me for a year and a half. It was great and fun, but I wanted to be in a band. I didn't want to be a solo artist. I got tired of driving around the country by myself. I mentioned all of that to Adam and we decided to start bouncing ideas off of each other.
I didn't want to be a solo artist. I got tired of driving around the country by myself.
Jeff Campbell We started recording at a friend's home studio. The stuff that we were creating was good but it wasn't great. I felt that as good as these guys are and for as much as each of us has accomplished in other projects, the shit that we were doing together should have been better than it was. Something was missing. Then Jim Greer, the producer, came in, and it turns out, he was the thing that was missing.
Had you guys ever worked with a producer in that same capacity?
Jeff Campbell I had, yeah. On the record that came from that Guitar Center deal, I worked with John Shanks, a six-time Grammy winner who had done everything from Miley Cyrus to Van Halen. Great guy, great experience.
He was a producer that basically wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer, and he had like 50 number one hits so I couldn't really tell him 'no'. I got used to following the lead of a producer. So when our producer Jim stepped in, I actually found myself trusting him which was great.
Adam Schuman It's really important to have somebody who has the outside perspective. The unsung hero in a lot of the bands is the crap-o-meter. The guy in the band who can say, "Yeah that's pretty cool but what else you got?" And, not only somebody who can be a crap-o-meter but also somebody who catches you when you think you want to throw something away. They can say "No, no, no. That's the essence. That's the diamond." So having that perspective is invaluable.
You had connected with Jim after he had heard your music?
Jeff Campbell Similar to the way I connected with Adam and John, I'd always watched them from afar and thought, "I'd love to work with these guys." It was the same thing with Jim and I. We'd always watched each other from afar and thought, "I'd love to work with that guy." And then we did, and we made a record that got us signed to a label in L.A.
Is the name Static and Surrender a reflection of where you felt your careers were at the time that you formed the band?
Jeff Campbell Adam came up with that name. When he said it, I was like "Yeah, that's it." Because I was 36 or 37 at the time. I've had a really good run. I've sold a lot of records and been on TV a bunch. If this was the best it's ever gonna be then I'm okay with that, but I definitely achieved a level of bzzzzz. And I kind of surrendered to it. So when he said that name, I was like "Fuck." Nailed it.
They talk a lot about that in different religions: surrender in accepting what is and what will be. I like having a piece in that sort of ideology.
Adam Schuman I like names that can be looked at a couple different ways. Double entendres. It could be like static in your life and surrender to it. It could be a military thing like radio static and surrendering. It could be a spiritual surrender. They talk a lot about that in different religions: surrender in accepting what is and what will be. I like having a piece in that sort of ideology.
Do you still feel that the name is still applicable now that you're building momentum as a band?
Adam Schuman Yes, I'd like to think that everybody is going to feel this at various points of their life: static and surrender. It's a constant battle that most people are going to have. It's when things don't go your way and it feels like everything is coming down on you. Accepting that there's always going to be things that throw a wrench into your engine, surrendering to that, and being able to deal with it.
John Schuman Static and surrender is also the foundation of how this project began so absolutely it's still relevant. We are where we are today because everything happened over weird circumstances.
Adam Schuman Yes, essentially our lead singer went with the guitar player from Dredge and the drummer from a band called Far. So he left and did his thing and I basically had a bunch of old demos. But I had a panic. Like I got all this stuff, what am I gonna do without a band? I felt really lost at that point. I hate not being in a band. That's when I decided to contact a singer that I really respected and who had great lyrics, too.
John Schuman So we called this guy Mark but he never showed up. Jeff was like number 8 or 9 on the list.
Jeff Campbell Hey 8's my lucky number!
You've recently launched your first full-length album as Static and Surrender. What was the process like creating and producing the songs on the album?
Jeff Campbell Well we made the record in four days. It was like three days of preproduction and four days of actual tracking. And then it took the mixer like four months to mix it. And then it took us 18 months to get it out.
Everybody was playing at the same time in different rooms. Drums were in the big room with the bass player. Adam and I were in the control room and our amps were in iso-booths. The plan, if you've made records, is to get drums and hopefully bass and maybe some rhythm guitar on the first day of basic tracking. At the end of the first day, we had ripped through four songs really quickly. We were walking out of there the last night like "Really? Did all of that really just happen?" Thinking that we were gonna come back in the next day and it was all gonna sound like shit. Then the same thing happened the second day.
Watching him play is neat because it takes the pressure off of me as the singer. I don't have to do backflips off the drum riser because there's this dude playing drums like he's going to die that day.
The third day was just Adam doing his mad scientist shit with all his guitar stuff. And then I came in on the fourth day to redo all the scratch reference vocals that we had recorded and Jim was like, "Dude, I don't think we need to redo any of this."
John Schuman Yeah, he started doing doubles and I was confused: "We're doubling his scratch vocals?" Jeff killed it.
Which aspects of your music define the character of your band?
Jeff Campbell John really. He's the whole show, or like most it. Adam and I are just two guys that love to play guitar and sing. But, watching him play is neat because it takes the pressure off of me as the singer. I don't have to do backflips off the drum riser because there's this dude playing drums like he's going to die that day. Every time. Also, I think the harmony thing is cool. I've never been in a band with two other guys that can sing as well as they can. Our live bass player Lauren sings too. So there are times where four of us are singing, so that's cool.
John Schuman Jeff's unique voice, Adam's unique guitar playing.
Jeff Campbell And Adam's unique voice. Adam has a really cool like backup vocal timbre. He was warming up in the car today and I was like "Fuck dude, this is awkward as hell that you're doing this in the car but it sounds really good!"
Who do you consider being an influence on the style of music that you're creating now?
Jeff Campbell We all listen to a lot of the same stuff but a lot of the music that I listen to when I'm left to my own devices at the end of the day sounds nothing like the music that I make. Not even a little bit. I like either really sludgy post-hardcore (Shiner, Sunny Day Real Estate, Traindodge, Quicksand, Failure), indie rock, 90s hip-hop or really hardcore shit. But I think we're finally finding current bands that are new that we really like: Band of Skulls, AWOL Nation. And we all love U2, Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots. Steely Dan, oddly enough.
Adam Schuman Our dad played guitar so he introduced us to a lot of the sixties rock like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd and that sort of stuff. And then I really got into using pedals, and you can probably hear that on the album quite a bit.
I love Billy Corgan's stuff and Radiohead guitar parts. One of my favorite albums of all time is Ziggy Stardust. Mick Ronson's guitar parts were influential somewhere in there. Siamese Dream was the album that made me want to go out and get a bunch of pedals and effects and try to experiment. That and OK Computer.
Who are some of the hip-hop bands that you're really into?
Jeff Campbell Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Beastie Boys, Gang Starr, EPMD, Eric Sherman, Red Man. All the shit from New York in the 90's. Illmatic and Midnight Marauders were like two of my favorite records ever. Beastie Boys Check Your Head, their third record, I can't live without it.
The one thing that I've always wanted to do, and I will do this shit one day, is I want to play bass in a hip-hop band. I come up with bass lines in my head all the time and I try and write rock songs to them and it just doesn't work.
Are there local Bay Area bands that you play with or are part of a similar scene?
John Schuman If you get a chance check out Forrest Day. A great friend of ours. It's kind of hip-hop rock. He's kind of made his own style. It's amazing. A little bit of rap, a little funk, and a little rock.
Jeff Campbell Megan Slankard is a fucken badass from San Francisco and she's like a solo artist but she's a rock solo artist. Goodnight Texas is a really good band from San Francisco. There's a ton of amazing singer-songwriters. Built for the Sea is Lia Rose's band, they're great. They're like supercomputer pop, but they're fucken badass. It's just Lia, a drummer and a guy that plays keys and guitar and computer at the same time.
Adam Schuman Soft White Sixties just moved to Los Angeles but they got kind of like an R&B soul sort of thing and I think they're really good.
Is there any kind of cohesive scene?
Jeff Campbell There's like a hipster singer-songwriter scene. I go away a lot; I split my time between the east coast and west coast and I'll be gone for two months and I'll come back and shit will just feel different. It's really weird.
Adam Schuman Well tech companies are buying up a ton of stuff so the environment's changing.
Jeff Campbell The clubs man they don't make it easy in San Francisco anymore. I have friends that can put 350, 400 people in a room and the clubs know it but they'll still bump them for a touring act. It's just not what it used to be.
You guys are essentially touring through California right?
Jeff Campbell Our manager just wants us doing that right now which makes a ton of sense. He wants us to go to places where we can go make an impression and then come back. Rinse, repeat. As much as I think we would all love to be all over the country, he's right, it makes sense. So that's what we're doing. He's now telling us to start branching up into Portland and Seattle.
Does your manager plan the tour for you?
Jeff Campbell In California, you can't do that legally. You can't be a manager and a booking agent at the same time. We're trying to get a booking agent now. If you're reading booking agents, we're trying to get a booking agent. I'm doing it mostly. These guys both, whenever they can, they book a show.
Are you going to continue adding shows to your current line up?
Jeff Campbell Yeah. We bought a big ol' 15 passenger Econoline van and rigged it so we can keep our gear in there safely (as it sits in a parking garage right now full of our shit). We're out, we're in it once a week at least or a couple days a week all over the coast. That's the thing about touring on the West Coast it's like every town is at least three hours apart and on the east coast, you hit a new city like every 60 minutes.
Adam Schuman If you tour the West Coast you lose a ton of money because you spend a bunch on gas to get from place to place.
Do streaming music platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music help or hurt musicians?
Jeff Campbell Both. They help us. They just don't pay us. It's basically free exposure. But Pandora was the thing where most people would find me when I would tour. My buddy Joe Marson is based in Los Angeles and between Pandora and Spotify, it's his career. He's in South Korea right now playing all over. Because he has so many Spotify fans over there, he couldn't afford to not go.
How much is chance involved towards success as a musician?
Jeff Campbell All of this is a combination of: you gotta be good at this, you gotta work, you gotta be dedicated to it. You gotta put your 10,000 hours in. You gotta be at the right place at the right time and meet the right person. If all of that shit doesn't happen, then you're just down to dumb luck.
I think the days of "I have a feeling about this band and I think it's gonna work are gone." Nobody wants to stick their neck out that way.
Adam Schuman In the old days of buying CDs and cassettes, the record companies were making more money and they were taking a lot more chances on new guys and now it seems like you need to have some sort of numbers and a PowerPoint presentation to show that you can make money. I think the days of "I have a feeling about this band and I think it's gonna work are gone." Nobody wants to stick their neck out that way.
John Schuman Nobody touches you. "How many Facebook likes do you have? How many on Instagram?"
Adam Schuman "Well, call me when you have 'this many' on these platforms."
Jeff Campbell And 'this many' is like a hundred thousand. I know people that are Instagram celebrities for no good reason. Like beach body coaches. I have this one buddy that is a very successful financial adviser which really pisses me off even more, and he's got this YouTube channel called The Plant man where he shows you how to like re-pot aloe plants and stuff like that. Motherfucker makes like six eight hundred bucks a month on average just from "Hi, here's the plant man."
The tastemaker is dead. You have algorithms now but you used to listen to a DJ like Wolfman Jack. People would tune into that guy's station because he would keep his ear to the ground.
Adam Schuman I do believe a problem is that the tastemaker is dead. You have algorithms now but you used to listen to a DJ like Wolfman Jack. People would tune into that guy's station because he would keep his ear to the ground.
He goes to the record store to listen to stuff and people would listen to him because they knew that he was out there looking and trying to find good music. With so many radio stations being bought out by huge communications conglomerates, they're not looking for the tastemakers. They're looking for, you know, statistically speaking what's gonna get them the most listeners.
I think a lot of times things happen in pendulum swings. Perhaps, that will make way at some point for somebody who has a really good ear to say "I just have a feeling about this band."
What is an effective way to make money as a musician?
Jeff Campbell Licensing: getting your song in a movie or TV commercial or at like the closing credits of Sons of Anarchy or something. That's the quickest way to turn a paycheck and get exposure.
What lessons have you learned from your past musical endeavors that you're leveraging now?
Jeff Campbell We did everything backward in this project. We made a record before we'd ever even played music in the same room for the most part as a band. Before we had one rehearsal, we were in a recording studio. Just because that was the original intent. "I got some ideas," Adam says, "Will you sing on them?" And he sent me these demos. I was on vacation a couple of years ago and he had sent me this Dropbox folder with like 50 ideas.
I just went through and I listened. They were all like a minute and a half long: two guitars, bass, drum machine, two or three riffs crammed into a minute and a half. I would listen to them like, "This one speaks to me, this one doesn't." I had marked like 20 of them that I liked. Every morning, when I was drinking my coffee, I went down and put headphones on and I'd pull up a track in Pro Tools and just started singing a melody. I wrote down like six or eight lines worth of the first lyrics that came to my mind, and then I sang those lyrics and then I sent them back. That's what ended up basically being our first record. I used so many of those original lyrics and original ideas. Yeah, I mean everything was backward.
It was really funny because when our manager heard it and the label heard it the first time he was like "It sounds like you guys made this record like on a computer."
Show up on time and don't be an asshole.
John Schuman I mean honestly, it's just the lessons of going through the motions and figuring shit out for yourself. With any experience that you have you learn from it. Obviously, we're still alive so we lived out of it. As far as business relationships are concerned with the music business, for me, I'm just experiencing now with the management labels. The nice part about this band especially is there aren't habits we have to be self-conscious of and try to break. We're just ourselves anyway so it doesn't matter.
Adam Schuman I'd like to think that most people just get better at dealing with people and understanding how people operate and knowing the best way to navigate those waters.
John Schuman Show up on time and don't be an asshole.
What advice do you give to musicians that are just starting out and want to grow their music careers?
Jeff Campbell Be a dork. Be a big dork for music. I mean, it's all I give a shit about. I'm a big sports fan but that's it. I watch sports and I play music and I listen to music.
John Schuman Get your social media pages up. Even before you have a band just start working on it. Create a false band when you don't even have members yet. Just start working on it.
Whenever you write something you know god-damn well you're sittin' there thinking "Does this suck?" Or even if you think "This is awesome", is it though? That's when friends that you trust can tell you that it is awesome or no that's actually pretty fucking terrible.
Adam Schuman I think it's a very vulnerable thing when you're creating music and art. You have to be able to express yourself and you have to be ok with just letting everything out. You want to make sure that you like whatever it is you're creating, so you might think, "I don't know about this, but I'm gonna show it to the guys anyway." Or, "I really like this, I'm gonna show it to the guys." And sometimes they're gonna like it, sometimes they're not going to. When everybody is super comfortable in that way, it helps everything. There's no ego involved. It promotes more artwork happening, I believe. Being ok with, "Hey this isn't your best stuff, what else you got?"
Jeff Campbell Whenever you write something you know god-damn well you're sittin' there thinking "Does this suck?" Or even if you think "This is awesome", is it though? That's when friends that you trust can tell you that it is awesome or no that's actually pretty fucking terrible.
Much thanks and appreciation to Static and Surrender for taking the time to meet with us. Catch the band out on tour throughout California and check out their music video for "Fall On The Balde"!