Mind Bending and Circuit Bending with Scott Campbell
The New Orleans-based designer, musician and inventor brings emotional resonance to entrepreneurship
When Panos Panay and I launched Two Beats Ahead: What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation we commissioned artist and entrepreneur Scott Campbell to create a mini-poster as a thank you gift for pre-orders. Scott’s superpower is synthesis — making disparate elements work together as single ideas. His distinctive approach to design utilizes montage to create surreal environments, a technique he also uses as a musician.
I interviewed Scott to learn how his musical mindset is informing his work as a designer and entrepreneur.
RMH: I first met you as a graphic designer. What are some of your favorite gig posters or album covers—aside from the poster you made for us? Just kidding…
SC: Favorite posters are for Portugal. The Man, My Brightest Diamond and Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory. I got heavily into isometric illustration in 2014 and feel like it added a new level of depth to my work.
As for album art, Generationals’ Heza was the first time I used a neon spot color on a project and it blew my mind. Also My Photos from the Flood cover. After being a fan of experimental photography for years this was my first attempt at it. I felt it really captured the emotion I wanted to convey.
Yes! I love Photos from the Flood. You also produced a booklet and art prints with this record where your visual sensibilities and music sensibilities really came together clearly. How do you think about the relationship between visual art and sound?
Visual art and music have been linked for me for as long as I can remember. When I’m working on music I often draw inspiration from art, and when working on art or design I get inspired by music. When working on Photos from the Flood, I knew that any emotional resonance in the music would be deepened by a visual component. I’m drawn to art and music that tells a story, evokes emotion or memory, or builds a momentary world to get lost in.
And you’re an inventor too. I’d love to hear some background about how these identities merged. Did one lead to the other?
I’ve made art since I was a kid, started playing music at 15, began tinkering with/building/modifying electronics in my late teens, and got deeper into design in my early 20s. For a long time I would jump from one discipline to another when I got bored or felt stagnant. As I progressed, these fields started overlapping more and more, and I figured out ways to strengthen one with another. The entrepreneurial aspect of my personality comes from always wanting to work for myself in order to retain creative freedom and have free license to experiment and try new things in my work.
I love your Onde Magnétique and was lucky enough to get one last year. What was its origin? Was it an outgrowth of your own musical pursuits?
In my early 20s, when I first started wanting to make electronic music, I couldn’t afford any of the gear, so I started experimenting with modifying cheaper gear and thrift store toys—circuit bending—in order to have access to unusual sounds. Cassette players were easy to come by and cost nothing at thrift stores back then, so I spent a lot of time trying to derive new ways of using them for music creation. Fast forward 15 or so years, and I built a little cassette synth prototype to use in my own music. I posted a clip on Instagram and got a lot of interest, the rest is history.
How do you think your musical mind — from inspiration to development to arrangement to mixing — has transferred to your other creative pursuits or even to being self employed and running your own business?
Whether the business or creative aspect of my endeavors, both require self reliance and problem solving. Having a creative mind can come in handy when trying to market my business. My analytical mind can come in hand when learning a new tool or software for creative projects. Its also nice that when I’m not feeling especially creative, I always have business related tasks I can take care of that don’t require the right-brain.
I keep a log of little ideas, inspiration, or techniques I want to try. When starting a new piece/project I can pull from these to use as a seed for a bigger idea. I think there’s a lot of overlap in creative process regardless of medium.