Artist Interview: Rising folk songstress Andrea von Kampen

Imagine a young woman steeped in the study of hymnody, gifted with a background of musical ability and a family to nurture it. That’s the life of Andrea von Kampen, an exquisite talent who has given the world some really fantastic music already with an immensely promising future.

Von Kampen’s arrival on the music scene was announced with a submission to NPR’s Tiny Desk concert. It was so beautiful that the NPR staff chose her as a top 10 candidate. Although she did not win the contest, it brought her the right kind of attention, especially through Spotify playlists that helped to get her music in the ears of many music fans.

After learning a bit about her story and hearing some amazing music from her articulate, compelling vocal style, I reached out to von Kampen for an interview. My first question about her background brought enough content for a full interview. She started playing, like so many iconic artists, in church. She quickly discovered that she could make more money doing local gigs in high school than a dead end part time job, so she continued to hone her craft while making some side cash. It wasn’t until college at Concordia University that she sat down to develop her true craft of songwriting.

Here’s what I love about Von Kampen’s story. When I asked her about songwriting she said, “I do it for the music. I had no intention of anyone ever hearing it.” That was such a powerful sentiment and it rings true in the music; confessional, moving, and full of emotion, von Kampen’s compositions are rich with depth both in characters and in musical complexity.

Some of that comes from her brother, a PhD-wielding composer, who helps with finishing off some of the tracks. But the inspiration and the core of the song comes from Andrea von Kampen’s own well-worn pen. She explained some fascinating influences – very different than most artists in her field let alone age demographic – such as Tennyson poetry, old school hymns, and Will Cather’s literature. Her ability to dissect relationships in literature comes through in each track. With a flippant expression, she explained, “I just don’t have enough personal experience to be writing albums.” Ah if all songwriters were so humble.

I asked about the process of putting together an album and von Kampen talked about how much work it is. Not only is there the initial songwriting, but the recording and several rounds of editing take a long time. She said, emphatically, “So. Much. Editing.” As a writer, I could immediately relate to that process. But she went on to explain plainly, “but good records are intentional.” That point shows the true artist in Andrea von Kampen; she’s not looking to make it big for something flashy and empty. She’s making good art and understands that it takes time to build something with meaning.

One of the recent songs from von Kampen that we’ve featured (and is a quick-rising favorite) is “Portland.” She explained that it was written in one of her morning sessions and came out of an obscure thought about escaping. It’s not so much about where you’re going, but that you want to get away. That emotion of “idealistic escapism” is one that listeners can all connect with, whether or not we want to go to Oregon or somewhere else. The inflection in Von Kampen’s vocal has the conviction of a gospel track and the sincerity of a Dylan folk ballad. It works.

When I asked her about historic influences and other musicians she enjoys, von Kampen explained that she loves the minimalist approach of many artists. Bob Dylan, of course, came to mind. But then she mentioned some vocal jazz classics like Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James. Unsurprisingly James Taylor received a mention, but Paul Simon received a special shoutout for being her favorite writer of all time. His “intentional lyrics” represented for her a “natural way of doing music.”

Von Kampen’s accessible and sincere style is what got us interested, but her humility is what keeps us here. When asked about her “dream gig” she didn’t mention some big time act that would launch her career to stardom. She said, calmly, sweetly, sincerely, “a show where people are listening, with my family on the set, and a really good string section.” Again, for von Kampen, it’s about the music.

Andrea von Kampen is exactly the kind of artist we love to support with EarToTheGround Music. Her quality is evident. But beyond that, her sincerity makes the songs even more meaningful. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with her and felt that we were kindred spirits in our attitude toward the “music business” in emphasizing the music over the business. If you haven’t heard her music yet, we invite you to check out her recent single “Portland” as well as her breathtaking cover of “Dink’s Song,” readily available online. After you fall in love with her music, too, be sure to share her work with friends.

Photo credit: Andrea von Kampen IG

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