No matter which college you attend, it seems like going to small gigs done by up-and-coming bands is an essential part of the experience. And if you go to the University of South Carolina or Clemson University, you may have gotten the chance to see the blues rock three-piece, Bull Moose Party.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Campbell is joined by drummer Ian Wallace, along with guitarist and occasional bassist, Jackson Bailes. The three are sophomore students split between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, drawing the attention of Midlands music lovers. Their self-titled EP was released last year, and I sat down with the guys to talk origins, inspirations, and future plans.
JE: So, tell me how y’all got started.
Ian Wallace: We started playing at a Freeway Music showcase [Freeway is a music school in Columbia], and Ben and I just had a lot of fun with it. Ben and Jackson were already friends, so Jackson kind of got brought into it.
Jackson Bailes: We were messing around and just decided to make it official.
Ben Campbell: He liked all the same music as us, and it started kind of slow, and then we just started writing and made it official.
JE: Jackson, since you go to Clemson and Ben and Ian go to USC, how do you practice as a band?
BC: We don’t. We don’t get to practice as much as I’d like to.
JB: I have to come home when we practice, my family’s in Columbia and we’ve been there for about five years.
From left to right: Ian Wallace, Jackson Bailes, and Ben Campbell
JE: Is your name, Bull Moose Party, a reference to Theodore Roosevelt?
JB: Yeah, actually! So here’s the story – should I start from the beginning? The first show we ever played, we didn’t have a name, so the guy introducing us just made up something, so we were “Ghost Swagger” for a few months – it’s a terrible name. So when we decided we wanted to be for real, we sat in this pizza place for three hours and settled on that, since we’re all such big history guys. And it’s cool when people get the reference.
BC: And if you remember the Bull Moose Party and their impact, it’s kind of like that for the band, we just show up and mess things up. So it doesn’t hurt the image of Teddy Roosevelt any. We’re trying to think of something that will match the music thematically, that kind of Americana feel.
JE: Tell me about your creative process. When you’re writing new songs, does the music come first or the lyrics? Or does it depend on the song?
BC: Since I write all the songs and everything –
IW: You might want to mute Jackson for this. [Author’s note: This interview took place over a Skype group call.]
BC: It doesn’t really happen spontaneously, usually we have to have lyrics first since I like to focus on those.
JB: A lot of the time, it’s lyrics first, and then we kind of build a song around those.
IW: Usually Ben comes with lyrics and a general chord progression and we just kind of jam off of that.
BC: The first part is very thought out – I feel like lyrics have to be thought out – and then I bring it to these guys and the rest of it comes organically.
JE: What sets you apart from the other up-and-coming bands out there?
BC: I mean, we’re one of the only bands that kind of has stuff in a blues format, like more so than psychedelic or classic rock. A lot of the bands in Columbia, they’re kind of doing a new thing too, and I like that, but we kind of stick to the blues thing, which is rawer. I feel like nobody else is doing that.
IW: Especially with three people, it has to be rock since we don’t have all the people to fill out the instruments other than guitar, drums, vocals, and sometimes bass.
JE: Who are your biggest influences?
BC: Well for sure, for sure, I guess we have to say The Black Keys first. Like, a lot of my ideas just kind of come from their stuff. We’re definitely closest to The Black Keys, since they kind of embody that new style of blues, which we’re kind of trying to emulate. It’s the closest to our tone. And then, a lot of other blues artists too.
IW: Like, the second song on our EP, “All for You,” kind of has an Alabama Shakes-y kind of feel to it, but definitely still more of a soulful feel with blues chords. And the fourth song, “Sweet Seventeen,” is very B.B. King-ish.
BC: I feel like when we write songs, we’re not trying to go for a specific sound, and when it comes out, we’re kind of like “oh, this sounds like that band we listen to all the time.” But most of the time it’s after the fact.
JE: Who would your dream collaboration be?
JB: I think mine honestly would be Stevie Ray Vaughan. Given our type of music and the way he did his, it would be Stevie for me.
IW: I would definitely second that. That would be pretty incredible.
BC: I feel like we’d have a hard time keeping up with him – it’s because I play guitar, I’d probably just sing for that song. Gosh, who else? Led Zeppelin? Even though they have so many different tones, they did a similar thing with blues where they made it modern and worked into one of their other songs.
IW: They did this with “The Lemon Song;” pretty much took that song, made it their own, and that’s kind of what we did with “Sweet Seventeen” and B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get” in terms of lyrics and chords and dynamics.
BC: When you talk about a supergroup, that’s them. There’s not a Zeppelin song I don’t like. I feel like we could kind of weasel our way in there, hypothetically.
JE: You released your debut, self-titled EP back in September 2016, is anything new in the works?
JB: Yes…a little bit, yeah.
BC: We’ve got things planned for sure, absolutely. I guess the next thing to look forward to – that we’ve been telling our fans about – is the shows that we’re trying to plan. We might get a show in Charlotte soon.
Photos courtesy of Jackson Bailes and the band’s Instagram account.