11 Questions: Devin Champlin
Each month I have the pleasure of asking 11 questions of a special someone in the music community. This month it’s Devin Champlin, a member of The Shadies, Gallus Brothers, and Country Hamms as well as a luthier at Camplin Guitars, his guitar repair shop. Devin is one of those guys that everyone just loves – no one ever has a bad word to say about Devin, nor should they. He’s immensely talented, kind, sincere and always has a smile on his face. So let’s find out why.
Tell us about yourself. What’s your background?
Born and raised in the city of Chicago, Illinois. My Mom is a visual artist, a spiritual seeker and the prettiest woman in the world. My Dad works on computers for an insurance company, plays in a Chicago Blues band, and was a member of a psychedelic rock band in SF in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and he’s the smartest guy I know. My older brother wears a bunny mask, strips to his underwear, and throws himself around on stages across the world singing catchy love songs in his band Nobunny, and he’s definitely the coolest person I’ve ever met. That’s the family team that I spent the early years with. I fell in love with a skateboard when I was about 12 and spent a decade in that violent love affair. During the high school years I got into going to shows and playing in bands. I spent many nights at the Fireside Bowl, which is an old bowling alley that hosted all ages punk shows. Through the hardcore scene, I was introduced to political activism, and attended rallies protesting social injustice, and police brutality. After high school and a year of gas station attending, I drove to Tucson, Arizona and decided to stay for a while. I lived in the desert, where among other things, I worked for a nudist landscaper, ingested a few psychedelics, and got bit by a rattlesnake that was under my pillow. I found that I love to travel, so my flying shoes took me all around for a while. Eventually I found myself sleeping in the bramble next to the tracks in Fairhaven and I decided to settle. I think.
Along with being a musician, you make guitars at Make.Shift. What is your favorite aspect of making the guitar? Can you tell us how you got into it?
In 2006 I had been working as a carpenter for a few years and doing woodwork at home for fun, making the occasional cookie tin banjo and whatnot. I had never gone through college, but I started thinking I should check out trade schools for fine furniture or something. I came across Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix where they teach you how to build and repair guitars. It seemed like a great idea, so I went, learned, graduated, and then continued with my education by working on every instrument I could get my hands on. After a couple years of that, I got the opportunity to apprentice with a guitar builder in Wisconsin, Todd Cambio of Fraulini Guitars. He builds older style acoustic guitars using traditional hand techniques and materials, and working with him really helped focus and develop my own skills. I really love every part of the building process, from bending sides, to carving necks, to French polishing, but I guess the best is stringing up a brand new instrument and playing it and listening to it start to come to life!
What is the last book you read? What are your thoughts about it?
I read a lot of non-fiction about guitars and woodworking and whatnot, but the most memorable book I read lately was The Wind In The Willows, and it was absolutely wonderful. Also the stories of Breece Pancake. Besides having a most enviable last name, he was an astoundingly beautiful and dark writer.
Describe your ideal Saturday in Bellingham.
Wake up early and eat some sourdough pancakes made by my lady Katy, row my boat, then wander around downtown, work a bit down in the shop, then walk over to Aladdin’s to chat a minute and hopefully find a really great record or two, eat lunch at El Tule Taco, wander more, hopefully run into lots of people, tell some jokes, play some tunes over at Andy’s shack, eat some ribs, wander more, stop by the Deacon’s, drink some fine sipping coffee with Mr. Jones, make some art, some harmless trespassing, pipe of doom, lots of laughs and a good walk home.
Who was the first live band you saw? What do you remember from the show?
My brother took me to a Los Crudos show when I was 14. It was fast and loud and passionate, and I loved it!!!
Why are you so drawn to music from the 20s and 30s?
When I was a teen, at a time when I was pretty much playing and listening to just punk and hardcore, my dad gave me a tape with Doc Watson on one side, and Tom Rush on the other. This was some of my first exposure to folk music, or whatever we call it. Inspired by that stuff, I turned to playing acoustic guitar more often, and started teaching myself how to fingerpick and play banjo. That led to me seeking out more music and eventually discovering some really amazing old music that kind of got me spellbound. Recordings of string bands and blues musicians from the late 1920s are particularly cool, because before that time, they had not been recorded at all. The only records being cut were of the urban pop music of the day, or classical stuff, and then record companies realized they could be selling in the rural market. Suddenly they were sending out mobile recording units into southern cities, and all these musicians would come from miles around to make a record, make a buck, and maybe get famous. There’s a lot of really raw music that came from that period, and it moves me. Lots of those musicians fell back into the same obscurity that they came from right after recording. Some like Mississippi John Hurt got “rediscovered” by urban college students during the folk revival in the 1960s. If anyone’s interested in some great old music, I recommend checking out the Anthology Of American Folk Music.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise even your friends.
I used to be on the solidarity committee of The National Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement.
You’re a fixture in the Bellingham music scene. What about the town has kept you here?
As a musician, I’ve always found lots of support here. It’s hard to say what has kept me here though. It’s part luck, part fate, and part breakfast restaurants.
What do you remember from the first time you picked up an instrument? How old were you?
When I was really little I used to pluck one string on my dad’s electric guitar and listen to it and watch it vibrate till the note died away. Then I’d do it again. I was about 10 or 11 when I started strumming chords on a hand-me-down 1/2 size classical guitar.
Who is your hero in life?
Kermit the Frog.
If you weren’t making music and creating/fixing guitars, what would you be doing?
I’d probably draw a lot more. Maybe I’d build boats instead. It’s hard to picture not making music. I’ve always daydreamed of opening a diner. I like to cook hash browns and waffles and pancakes. A lot.
If you could travel to any country and play (and study) music, where would you go and why?
Maybe Romania. To learn some gypsy fiddle.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Today it’s strawberry.
What’s next for Devin Champlin?
Hopefully every day is just like that ideal Saturday described above. I just want to keep building guitars, keep playing music with friends, keep eating pancakes, and keep on with it all!