Joe Camerlengo's band gets a sendoff album and show before being reborn as a children's music project
Joe Camerlengo wants to teach your kids about drugs.
And about personal hygiene. And breakfast. And how everyone can be a true artist, regardless of audience size or the level of income generated from the work.
“We were raised very poorly to think that you're not an artist unless you've proven it. And I think people think the only way you prove it is by validating yourself with outside approval or by financially ‘making it,'” said Camerlengo in a mid-January interview at an Olde Towne East coffee shop. “For example, if somebody isn't a writer for a paycheck, they usually don't call themselves a writer. I think that that's very sad for everybody. I think it's why people drop out of music when they get in their mid-20s or mid-30s and then just keep it in their bedrooms, because they feel like, ‘I didn't make it. This was fun in my 20s, and now guitar is just something I do on the weekends.'”
For Camerlengo, music is something he pursues most hours he's not working as a nurse. He currently plays in five bands, including Van Dale, Mary Lynn, Brat Curse, Blanket Boys and Classical Baby, the latter of which will be performing a release show for its new record, It's 11:11 & I'll Always Love You, at Dirty Dungarees on Wednesday, Jan. 30, after which it will be converted to a children's recording project, which is where those lessons about hygiene come in.
The reasons for the conversion are myriad, including Camerlengo's interest in expanding beyond the 20- and 30-somethings who currently make up much of his audience. He's also drawn to the immediacy and wonder with which children relate to music — a quality that tends to dissipate as people age.
“There's just something about how kids absorb music … that's almost like believing in Santa,” he said. “The way that kids hear music is like believing in magic, and once they get to the age where they know what's cool, and they know what Pitchfork is, and they know what local bands have had reviews and been to South By Southwest … some of that is lost. … I think there's something really cool about the way that kids hear music and all they know is if it makes them jump.”
Camerlengo initially launched Classical Baby as a more immediate, stripped-down outlet for his rawest musical ideas. Like most everything he's ever done, though, the project gradually increased in scope, with Camerlengo organically adding musicians to help flesh out the sound. (He'll be supported for this release by singer/multi-instrumentalist Maddy Ciampa, guitarist Carly Fratianne and drummer and fiancée Courtney Hall, who collectively make up 2019 Band to Watch wyd, as well as friend and former roommate Corey Montgomery.) At their core, however, many of the songs remain rooted in this initial concept; album closer “Sweet Irene,” a gorgeous deathbed lullaby, centers on an emotionally raw vocal take Camerlengo captured on his cell phone.
Moving forward, Camerlengo intends to continue recording in Classical Baby alongside Ciampa, Fratianne, Hall and others. According to Camerlengo, the songs will still be “wild as fuck,” even if the future language for describing them might not be.
And while the music will be geared toward the younger generation, Camerlengo is certain adults will be able to pull meaning from it, as well. Returning to the idea of artistry and fame, Camerlengo lays out his idea for one song, which will include three musicians who have impacted his life, even at varying levels of celebrity: John Lennon, Daniel Johnston and Columbus' Mary Lynn.
“I'm going to talk about them in the exact same way,” he said. “All Johnston ever wanted was to be a star on MTV. And more or less he's a laughingstock to people that take music seriously. Even the people that are touched by his music, they're like, ‘Oh, and by the way, he's a total freak,' which is sad. The truth of the matter is he is not the rock star he dreamed of being his whole life. So did Daniel Johnston fail or did he succeed? And it's this idea that is so heartbreaking, because clearly he's the fucking best.”