William Campbell is the Indiana Jones of Quad-Cities music.
By day, he’s a mild-mannered professor at St. Ambrose University.
But by night, he takes on far greater adventures.
During his nearly two decades behind the desk at St. Ambrose, he’s compiled a stunning resume of work, including two Academy Award Nominations (in 2019, and 2021); an Emmy Nomination (in 2020); an Iowa Motion Picture Association Award for Best Film Score (in 2020); a Kennedy Center American Collegiate Theater Festival Award (in 2019); and an International Luminous Frames Festival Award for Best Original Score (in 2021).
He’s hobnobbed at Oscar parties with celebrities like Elton John, walked the red carpet at international film festivals, and, for good measure, scored a holiday horror flick, “Cadaver Christmas.”
However, echoing his calm classroom demeanor, in talking to the courteous, humble Campbell you could never tell he’s ascended to such career heights. Despite his massive achievements, he’s down-to-earth and veers from bragging about even those Oscar treks.
That humility and positive vibe is reflected on his new album, “Together We Rise,” which will be released on Bandcamp April 28, and other music forums the day after, April 29, when he’ll take the stage at 7:30 p.m. at the Galvin Fine Arts Center, Davenport, to play selections from “Together” and his earlier catalog, which includes his 2021 album, “All In Due Time.”
“Together We Rise” is 44 minutes of anthemic, intricate tracks and virtuosic compositions intertwining piano and electronics. Bringing together aspects of his film scores and solo piano music, Campbell weaves together a unique musical experience, a concept album based on current societal themes.
“This music was created in my hope that we can all work for the common good and justice for everyone within our society,” Campbell said. “It’s a concept album intended to inspire strength to move forward in confidence, rising up and lifting up others.
“After the covid pandemic began, I wrote a piano piece that I titled ‘Together We Rise,’ which was this really anthemic, driven piano piece that could’ve been for a rock band or a jazz band, it was very inspirational, based upon people coming together,” Campbell said. “Based on that idea, I wanted to create a whole album based on that idea, of being collectively minded and listening and understanding what each other says and understanding each other’s point of view.
“As the album evolved, as I was recording it, I also realized I had this other album I wanted to do which was this idea of a sanctuary of where we can go and find ourselves and find our place in this world,” he added. “The concept behind it is that we should come together for the common good. We can do a lot individually, but together we can do so much more to make society better.
“You have this idea of going out and doing good work in the world, and the larger community, but you also have to be right by yourself and finding your own personal strength. And that’s how those came together, and it became this whole enmeshed concept.”
The record was born out of a flurry of creative activity for Campbell, and it took him a while to stand back and see the big picture of his frenetic artistic journeys.
“I had very different pieces of music that I wanted to put together and they just didn’t seem to fit, so I took some time to step back, and it all sort of came together,” he said. “The way I use the piano and synth is very orchestral, because that’s just the way I think about music. A lot of these compositions involve going back into nature. It’s all about working together, even with the natural world, and moving together that way. I believe in progress, I’m forever an optimist, and I think we can do that.”
Campbell’s upbeat nature traces back to his beginnings as a musician, growing up in Tucson, Arizona. He started playing as a child, falling in love with the piano, and keeping that affair going throughout his teen years in various bands.
“This is really kind of a return to my roots, because when I was a kid I would hole up in my room and just play all these keyboards and put all these strange compositions together,” he said. “I’ve been composing for many years with piano and keyboards for soundtracks and this is just a reflection of that.”
The album has the same sophisticated melodic spark and rising orchestral mood of his lauded soundtrack work. Campbell began working on film scores when he lived on the west coast, and continued as he moved to the Quad-Cities nearly two decades ago. However, it was an old friend from the coast who opened the door up to his greatest successes.
“I’ve written music for a number of films, and one of my longtime film directors who calls me a lot is a friend named Sky Fitzgerald, he’s a very well-known documentarian. He and I met at the University of Oregon and have collaborated ever since,” Campbell said. “The two films that were Oscar nominated, ‘Lifeboat,’ and ‘Hunger Ward,’ were his two films. They’re both really hard-hitting films. The scores are a combination of orchestral scores and synthesizers and electronic music, so that fits in with what I enjoy doing. There are moments in any film where the music has to carry the emotion forward, so that’s always a challenge, but it’s also a wonderful thing.”
Also wonderful were the Academy nods for both records.
Campbell was able to attend the 2019 Oscars, after his first nomination for scoring the short documentary “Lifeboat,” about a group of North African refugees trying to make it to a new frontier in Europe despite incredible obstacles.
“It was a lot of fun, I’d like to go again sometime soon, it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced,” Campbell said. “It was a way for all of us who worked together to get together and celebrate the work we’d done and the success we had with it.”
As for the Oscars experience, Campbell said, “Boy the energy there was amazing. The company that produced it picked us up in a limo, we did all the things. My wife got to go to the Elton John Oscar party and got to be right next to Elton John and his partner, it was amazing.
“For me, I really wanted to meet Brian May of Queen, because that was the year when ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ got a bunch of awards, and unfortunately, I never got to meet him, but I did meet a few other celebrities.”
One of those was Venus Williams, which was heaven to a major tennis fan like Campbell. The two of them ran into each other outside of the Academy Awards ceremony at one of the many concession tables offering espresso and donuts.
“It was a real treat, but it was just a real treat to spend time with everyone who worked on the film, and it was a lot of fun to be there,” Campbell said. “It was an honor just to be nominated, and hopefully it’ll happen again sometime.”
Campbell’s 2021 nomination was for the soundtrack to the short documentary “Hunger Ward,” although he wasn’t able to go to the ceremony due to the covid shutdown.
“That was disappointing,” he said. “But it made me all the more grateful that I was able to go to the previous ceremony.”
Campbell’s latest work is a science-fiction film soundtrack for “American Xeno,” and once more it merges electronica with more organic keyboard sounds.
“It’s very dark,” Campbell said. “It was a way to do something a little bit different.”
Another different tangent Campbell took was in scoring the horror film “A Cadaver Christmas.”
“It’s a fun movie, it’s produced by a local duo, and it was just a hoot,” he said. “I really needed it. I needed to do something light and fun. I had just finished a really difficult soundtrack assignment, and I needed something that was going to be more fun, so I did this zombie monster movie score and got to do a lot of unusual things on that.”
Campbell’s resume also includes various other eclectic treks into choir and chamber music, symphonic music for orchestra, and songs inspired by nature, some of which will be featured at his concert this weekend.
The show is a bit of a farewell for the musician to the area. Campbell and his wife will be moving back to the west coast this summer, heading to Portland.
But, until then, the Quad-Cities own musical Indiana Jones will continue to venture upon exciting musical paths, and you can join him by picking up a copy of his own “short round,” the new disc, “Together We Rise.” Get it on Bandcamp and at www.williamcampbellmusic.com.