In one way, 23-year-old Canadian singer Cole Campbell is somewhat of a throwback to country artists of the past, although you wouldn’t necessarily guess it from his attire, which is more influenced by pop culture than by cowboy culture. But in the sense that he’s a singer who is not exclusively performing his own songs, Campbell’s artistry harkens back to an earlier time in Nashville when songwriters wrote songs and singers sang them. With Campbell, the best song wins.
Campbell is also a little retro in his choice of songs to sing, preferring songs of lost love to ones about pickup trucks and partying. “I got pitched a couple of songs that were about drinking, and that’s just not what I want to say,” the handsome former child actor explains as he relaxes at a cozy coffee house in East Nashville. “There are so many songs that are about fishing and drinking, but it’s really not my thing so I don’t want to sing about that. My biggest thing is I just want to be honest with everything I do.”
Continuing he says, “I really like songs that tell a story about loving her and losing her and figuring all the back end of it out.”
Not surprisingly, “Freedom,” the single from Campbell’s forthcoming EP exemplifies his preference for songs about lost love. The infectious, up-tempo number is written about a man who wanted his freedom so he could move onto greener romantic pastures, but after getting his freedom, realized “there’s nothing free about it at all.”
A native of Cobourg, Ontario, Campbell grew up in a home full of music. His father, Bill, has an extensive collection of vinyl and CDs. “My whole childhood, there was like a backing track to it, of him just like playing songs,” Campbell says. “My dad was always playing music around the house so there was always music playing.”
His father’s musical tastes were broad. “His biggest thing was the British invasion,” he says. “So he was into rock and classic rock. He wasn’t a huge country music guy, but he definitely played the best. He appreciated the really good stuff in any genre.
“All that made me appreciate music, but what made me want to do it myself was country music.”
From an early age, Campbell loved to sing and was drawn to songs with a good story, and he found an abundance of those songs in country music. One of his first loves was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and he would sing along to their records. He also was into a pair of folk singers early on, Donovan and John Sebastian.
By the time he was 15, Campbell had realized he wanted to pursue a career as a country singer, so he booked some time in a local recording studio where some friends of his in a rock band had done some work. “The first song I ever did was a country version of that Jackson Browne song, ‘Somebody’s Baby,’” he recalls, “and the producer was the only person who had ever heard me sing, outside of my family.”
Admittedly, Campbell was really green when he made that first recording. “I didn’t know about finding keys, I’d never had a voice lesson, I didn’t know how any of it worked,” he says. “I think a lot of the reason that I’m still doing it now is because I had a good experience that first time. After that experience, I really wanted to do it.”
Over the next couple of years, Campbell recorded another half dozen songs or so at the studio in his hometown with the same producer, Adam Newcomb, but as he approached his eighteenth birthday, his thoughts turned to Nashville. He searched online for voice coaches in the city, and one name kept coming up. “Keith Urban, Miley Cyrus, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill had all worked with this lady in downtown Nashville, Renee Grant-Williams.”
Campbell made an appointment with Grant-Williams, and he and Newcomb headed to Nashville. “I was freaked out,” he recalls, “because I had never had any direction on how to sing and this lady has worked with everybody.”
Despite his reservations, the first lesson went well, and he was soon making the 13-hour trek to Music City regularly to work with Grant-Williams. “It went from every three or four months to every other month or every couple of months,” Campbell explains. “Then the year before I moved here, I was down here for a month, and then I would go home for a month.”
As he developed as a singer, Grant-Williams began to encourage him to move to Nashville. “She was the reason I moved here,” he says. “She kept saying, ‘When are you going to move here? If you’re not here, no one is going to look for you in Canada.’ She was like, ‘If not now, when,’ and that really hit me.
“Renee made me realize that any opportunity I was going to get or anybody that was going to want to work with me was going to be here.”
So Campbell “got the process going” and made his move to the city official once his visa was approved in September of 2017. After moving to the city, through a friend he connected with Lalo, a rising producer, which began a working relationship that led to “Freedom” and the other recordings that will be included on his upcoming EP.
Although a release date has yet to be set, once the EP drops, Campbell will be playing a number of live dates in support of the record with his new band, which he is really looking forward to doing.
“I just really like the idea,” he says, “of people coming in, you don’t really know how they are feeling, whether they’ve had a good day or a bad day, but everybody gets what they need out of seeing a show.”