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Q&A With Camp Bedford

By Christopher Treacy & Camp Bedford

Photo Credit: Yekaterina Gyadu

A New York based trio with a sound like a well-tuned rally cry, Camp Bedford is here to offer us something both skilled and passionate. Bonded by enduring friendship and a gift for hair-raising harmony, guitarists Roxanne Quilty and Mariela Flor Olivo and cellist Tallen Gabriel throw down a sound reminiscent of Joseph or maybe First Aid Kit, but their tone is their own. Some of that is due to the way their voices blend, and some of it is Gabriel’s cello—by and large, the gamechanger.

Though they released a solid EP with a slightly different lineup, their new single, “2AM,” also our Song of the Week, premiered exclusively in the latest CQ Roundup, indicates a notable shift. As they describe below, their forthcoming collection, ‘So Often & So Sweet’ (out March 31), is a watershed moment where they express ‘the big emotions,’ and “2AM” is a cathartic release of frustration like we seldom hear in folksy circles. While it’s most certainly a collective effort, Tallen Gabriel’s cello provides the driving motor.

Tell us about realizing how your voices blend together. Was there a big “ah-ha” moment? They complement each other well, but it’s a different sound than the sibling synergy of of Joseph or The Roches. Did it happen organically or is it something you’ve had to really work at?

Mari: First of all- thank you! We love the blend of our voices; it feels truly magical to sing together and even we have trouble telling them apart in recordings from time to time <laughs>. 


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Rox: I think the answer is sort of two-fold. Some of it’s luck—Mari and I happen to have voices that are complementary. But we also both come from long histories of studying voice, and performing in all different musical styles since we were children, so we’re pretty adept at stylizing and blending our voices into whatever/whoever we’re singing with. So, yeah, a little nature, a little nurture. And it did feel organic from the first time we sang together—we call each other ‘vocal soulmates.’

Regarding “2AM” – we’ve all grown up listening to elders tell us about how life isn’t fair, but nothing prepares us for the special kind of unfair, frustrating, rip your hair out feelings of watching former partners pair up. Was the song inspired by actual events or just by the need to properly articulate the frustration? Jealousy and frustration are the catalysts for countless songs, but they’re often veiled in a revenge fantasy or self-pity. There are less songs that simply give voice to the emotions.

Tallen: It was inspired by an actual event, ha! I went through a breakup right as the world was re-emerging from the strictest COVID lockdowns. It was just time for us to grow separately, and I understood that a lot of their ability to show up in new ways for someone else was circumstantial—the world was open again, and this person went from being in a 6-month intense training program where they had no time to suddenly having lots of time and money to spend on new love interests. It still just sucked, and made me feel baaaaad, and I wanted to scream about it. So I wrote a song where we could all scream about it, since we’ve all experienced versions of, like you said, that pure jealousy and frustration. (I’m screaming on the cello.) 

Can you tell us a little about the differences between ‘So Often & So Sweet‘ and the previous EP, ‘The Beast of Camp Bedford‘ ?

Rox: Our first EP, The Beast of Camp Bedford, feels like a whole lifetime ago. When we recorded that project, the band looked very different—we didn’t have Mari yet and were working with our wonderful friend Vinny. So, sonically, ‘Beast’ is drastically different without Mari’s contributions. A little Easter Egg: Mari sang backing vocals on “Won’t Look Back” so, technically, she’s on that EP… which we love.

So Often & So Sweet in many ways feels like our true debut. This EP is a representation of the sound we’ve found as a trio… layered harmonies, beautiful, nuanced guitar, and cello taking a front seat. The project also honors one of our strongest values as a trio: voicing the big emotions—anger, lust, longing—that women and femmes are often taught to keep quiet.

Having a dedicated cello player in the trio definitely sets the sound apart. Can you articulate what it brings to the table, musically, from your vantage point?

Tallen: I’ll jump in here, as said dedicated cello player! First of all, I’d love to just say that I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to make the music I want to make with this instrument and these folks. I put down the cello for many years because I didn’t see a path for myself as a classical musician, and once I saw some other cellists playing non-classical music in bands and solo, my world exploded open. 

I think it’s a really fun addition because the cello can both act as a grounding bass instrument, and/or another voice. There are times when I feel I can express myself better through the cello (whose name is Sage, by the way), than my own human voice. And as a cellist I’m just personally such a sucker for a strings part in any song, so I love being able to provide that for our tunes. I think of the cello as a very romantic instrument, and I am a very romantic person, so I like to think it adds an extra level of  depth and feeling to our sound.

Please tell us about where the name Camp Bedford originates. 

Rox: Tallen and I met working in a different band in 2018. When that project dissolved during the pandemic, it was never a question that we would keep making music together. We wanted our new name to be an ode to that old project (whose initials were CB) and capture our vision for this new era: intimate storytelling, like the kind you do around a camp fire. We’re all Brooklynites so it’s a cheeky reference to our hometown as well. We love how nostalgic and communal our name feels- we hope our music and live shows have those same qualities. 

Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.

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