Following the release of a string of impressive originals, we caught an interview with artist and composer Chet Decampo – otherwise know as Hong Kong Stingray – to find out more about his creative process, his journey so far as an artist, and his plans for the coming months. Here’s how it went.
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Hey, thanks so much for the interview. For those new to your work, how would you describe your approach to making music?
It’s fishing. Sometimes they’re biting, often not. Just gotta keep on moving around the Stream or come back another day.
How did you come to choose the alter ego Hong Kong Stingray?
When I was making the first HKS record with Kid Congo Powers we were sitting in a diner taking a break from tracking. I had a National Geographic in my bag for some reason and there was a picture of a stingray in Hong Kong I saw in there. I asked him what he thought of the name Hong Kong Stingray. He liked it. As did I.
What first inspired you to start making original music?
I guess being compelled to dig up something that you’d like to hear that you haven’t quite exactly heard before. I mean other than insecurities, seeking validation, ego, megalomania etc of course.
A recent release of yours is a beautifully immersive Lee Hazelwood cover. What was it about this song that drew you in, was there a topical relevancy to the past twelve months – these cold hard times – and what do you feel your version changed or reinterpreted about the original?
Thank you. Well other than being a big fan of Lee’s, there was no doubt a recognition of a topical relevancy to the past few years. It just seemed like the right thing to do when I realize not too many people have covered it seemingly. I always think a cover should be significantly different than the original but, I put it all together pretty quick and intuitively. Hopefully it’s a worthy attempt.
What’s your go-to instrument as a songwriter and performer?
Whatever is compelling in the moment. Although often guitar, sometimes piano sounds or synths lately. Experimenting a bit on an MPC 3000 has been fun lately.
Are you a regular live performer, and if so – how have you filled your time and overcome difficulties throughout a largely locked down 2020?
I haven’t been doing a lot of live stuff in the past five years or so. I guess I’m compelled to treat every song like a little mini movie in and of itself. I’m also fortunate that I’ve put together a pretty nice analog studio with some cool gadgets. So I tend to wanna not let this stuff collect dust.
Live hasn’t been my strength in the past. Maybe re-approach it again sometime soon with the perspective of a little more life confidence possibly.
What can you tell us about the releases you have planned for throughout 2021, what can we look forward to?
Ah, well that’s what I’m excited about right now. There’s this collaboration project I’m a part of with Heyward Howkins, Charlie Hall and Robbie Bennett (from the War On Drugs) and Karl Blau singing. We’re working with Karl right now and things are going really well. It’s just a joy and I’ve simply been stoked about that. I’ve also been toiling away mostly on my own trying to get a new HKS record together. It’s about 75% there. As well, Heyward Howkins and I are putting out a few tracks of our collaborative thing’s name …”Later Fortune” in mid 2021.
What’s your song-writing process like – where do you begin, and how do you know when an idea or feeling has been expressed to the point that a song is finished and ready to be shared?
It really just depends. Could be a musical thing, a phrase or a line. Just operating from an instinctual place. Often just trying to slip yourself up into something worth exploring that you haven’t mined ad nauseum previously. It’s generally finished when digging any deeper down into the wormhole is only going to hurt it.
If you could sit down and record a new track with anyone at all, past or present, who would you choose, and why?
Tough one. Well in my fantasy world, and just off the top of my head, Louis Armstrong, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Gigi Masin, Patti Smith, Dusty Springfield. Heck you get the right people in the room at the right time along with any of those kinda folks and you’re bound to stir up something shiny.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given as an artist?
John Hartford once told me, just do what you love. Also FM Cornog (East river pipe) once said re; music, seek to move yourself.
What do you feel is the best song you’ve written so far, and why?
I honestly couldn’t say. I feel like it’s for others to judge. I’m not sure there’s a best, or worst.
Who or what do you find yourself listening to for escapism lately?
Hmmm… Harold Budd, Urbie Green, Roy Ayers, Otoboke Beaver, Yoko Ono, the Flamingos, Ennio Morricone, Perez Prado…
Are there any other genres or creative realms you’re yet to explore but would like to?
I’m very interested in doing some more ambient instrumental kinda stuff. Exotica type stuff is also of interest. I’m a sucker for Asian like Japanese, Chinese or even Vietnamese instrumental stuff. But that’s a whole different vocabulary instrumentally.
What’s the best way people can support you and your music making right now?
Is there anything else we should know?
I have no idea but… I’ll share a fave Albert Camus quote:
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
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