Chicago Rock Soul Band Campdogzz Find Unlikely Companions in Punk

On tour with fellow Chicago bands Cursive and Meat Wave, Campdogzz played at Irving Plaza on Wednesday night. WSN spoke with lead singer and guitarist Jess Price about touring, recording and working with record label 15 Passenger.

Ali Zimmerman
Still from the Campdogzz concert.

The stage at Irving Plaza took on two unique personalities last Wednesday night.

The venue was flooded with emo-kids turned emo-adults, jumping and shouting along with fists in the air. Meat Wave, a Chicago based three-piece group, churned out a tight set rife with raw punk energy. The audience exploded into a relatively tame mosh pit when Cursive took the stage at 10 p.m., fronting alternative punk with a dexterous cellist and captivating guitarist in a blue ruffled dress shirt.

But before the mayhem and the head-banging throngs of tattooed 30-year-olds, the atmosphere in the Union Square venue was calmer, moodier and the room pulsated with a soulful current. Campdogzz kicked off the show at 8 p.m. and though the crowd had yet to fill out the open standing room, those in the audience, including myself, couldn’t help but sway along to the deep melodies belted by the unassuming blond guitar player and lead singer, Jess Price.  

An Oklahoma native, Price first moved to Chicago 10 years ago to pursue filmmaking. She met Mike Russell and Nick Enderle, now guitarists for Campdogzz, filming a documentary about their band at the time.

Price grew up involved with music at church and took some piano lessons, and while she has long written lyrics and songs for herself, she had never thought about starting a band until meeting Russell and Enderle.

In their early days, Campdogzz kept a low profile to develop and overcome the learning curve as a band.

“We really just wanted to keep our heads down and write and record and tour as much as we could,” Price said. “Playing music was new for me and I needed to learn how to do it. Even simple things like plugging in a pedal board and figuring out what tones I like were all new.”

They released their first album “Riders in the Hills of Dying Heaven,” in 2015. Many of the songs on the album were born from demos Price recorded at home.

“The first album was primarily Mike and I,” she said. “We just wanted to get the word out that we were going to be an active band and start playing around the city. Everything was really new and our engineer was also really excited so we just flew through it.”

Joined later by Chris Dye on drums and Andrew Rolfsen on bass, Campdogzz have been playing around Chicago and touring different regions across the United States for the past four years.

“Chicago is a small-ass town and a big city at the same time. I think it might have been easier for us to start there than somewhere else,” Price said. “I feel so fortunate that everyone was supportive and helpful from the start, so we really couldn’t do it without our friends there.”

Campdogzz released their sophomore record, “In Rounds,” this summer.

“We took a lot more time on the second record. It was definitely a lot more collaborative and a different feel from the last album.”

While Price primarily wrote the lyrics, the instrumentals on “In Rounds,” is a more intricate reflection of the different musical backgrounds of each member of the band.

“Mike has a pretty hardcore-punk background like Black Flag and Fugazzi, and Nick was coming from a place of experimental noise that he was brought up around,” Price said. “I grew up in Oklahoma, so I was around a lot of country and gospel in my childhood.”

“In Rounds” is the first album Campdogzz released under 15 Passenger, a record label started by the band Cursive. Aside from releasing their own backlog of 20 years worth of music, Campdogzz is the only other act signed by 15 Passenger.

Following this tour with Cursive and Meat Wave, Campdogzz will take a month off before heading back on the road with Cursive, touring the West Coast joined by Summer Cannibals.

“We have such endless respect for Cursive. They’re just so solid and no bullsh-t. We feel good and at home with them — they have our back for sure,” Price said.  

With their new record label backing and growing sense of identity as a group, Campdogzz have their sights set on making a name for their themselves in the indie rock world.

“We’re in the best spot I think which is the very beginning. We got through the first two records, and I feel like with a lot of bands I listen to, if you can make it to the third record then you’re okay,” Price added.  We’re just getting started so it’s all still new, and now we have the support of 15 Passenger, so we’re looking forward to the future with an open mind.”

Email Ali Zimmerman at [email protected].

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