When the allure of a big city calls, many musicians tend to answer. With major record labels nearby and streets crawling with label executives, the opportunity to make it big seems that much closer. Artists ditch their hometown roots, hoping the move will pay off with cross-country tours, a growing fan base and songs that connect with listeners.
Lincoln singer-songwriter Andrea von Kampen has achieved all of those things, but she did it from her home state.
She released her debut EP “Another Day” in 2015. The next year, von Kampen released an NPR Tiny Desk contest submission of her track “Let Me Down Easy” from her second EP “Desdemona.” The video gained a lot publicity when NPR tweeted it, naming her the artist of the day less than 24 hours after its release. The singer has millions of streams on Spotify, and her songs take her across the country.
Last month, von Kampen released her debut LP “Old Country,” which features tracks that engulf listeners in smooth vocals that hum about different aspects of life, like art and literature. Many of the tracks are narrative, which von Kampen said is of value to the folk genre.
“A great melody is important — and good storytelling, and not using the same cliche ways to explain things,” she said. “It’s getting that different way of speaking I think is so important.”
She began tracking the first song in February 2018 at Roxi Studios with audio engineer Lucas Kellison and her brother, David von Kampen, who arranged all of the tracks and played keyboards on the record.
David von Kampen said it was a challenge trying to add texture to the tracks without getting in the way of the composition.
“Her songs are so strong, and they really stand on their own,” he said. “The worst mistake I could have made on these songs was to over-score them and try to do too much and write a lot of parts that get in the way of the song.”
The three found musicians from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other local instrumentalists to play on the tracks with Andrea von Kampen. She described the tracking process as writing a book. As with any rough draft, there was a lot of editing involved. But, ultimately, the final copy was worthwhile for von Kampen.
“I feel like we were able to get almost every song exactly how we envisioned it,” she said.
As for how she envisioned tracks, Andrea von Kampen said her other brother, Paul von Kampen, helped her think more in-depth about her songs.
“I started to write more complex and longer songs and think about ‘What does this song need?’” she said.
Andrea von Kampen’s work has paid off. According to her brother David, she’s one of the best songwriters he knows, and it’s not only because they’re siblings.
“Andrea has a really intuitive sense of melody. I think there are so many songwriters and a lot of songwriters, in terms of popularity, who don’t write the kind of melodies that stick in your head, that have an inherent singing quality, and hers do,” he said. “I think it’s something that’s very hard to teach; it’s something that comes naturally to the best songwriters, and she’s got it.”
Melody isn’t the only intuition of the folk singer. Andrea von Kampen said she can tell a track’s quality based on whether or not it lands with an audience. She experienced this last summer while on tour and working on “Old Country” with her Bob Dylan cover “If You See Her, Say Hello.”
“After I got home, I came back and listened to what we had recorded before I left, and I just could tell I had become so much more comfortable with the song that we ended up re-recording the whole thing,” she said. “Playing that on the road really works out the kinks in the song.”
Andrea von Kampen is currently on the road playing a collection of songs from her discography. Even though her album has only been out for a month, she is already looking toward a second album but said nothing is solidified yet.
Other than writing album tracks, Andrea von Kampen is writing songs for an independent film and a production of “Romeo and Juliet” that will be performed in 2020 by the Lincoln’s Flatwater Shakespeare Company.
“The projects are so spread out. There’s a lot of well-plotted out times, and then when you’re home, you have a lot of time to do the things that no one sees, like the emailing, the writing, so it’s not too terrible balancing-wise,” she said.
Ultimately, Andrea von Kampen’s musical journey is what she was meant to do in life.
“I can’t see myself do anything else,” she said. ‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Through the release of her EPs and her first album, Andrea von Kampen has shown that location doesn’t matter when it comes to making an album — the content that resides within the tracks does.
“You can make music from anywhere. You don’t have to be in a hub to make really great music.”