Interview with Hilary Alexander of the Campus Five

This is a little interview I did for DCLX with Camp Hollywood founder and songbird Hilary Alexander. They will headline DCLX this year, and are hands down probably my favorite live band to dance to, with the possible exception of the corpse of Chick Webb propped up on a chair. If you are in the DC area April 9-11, GO TO DCLX.

When did you first begin singing?

I always sang & danced as a kid, but didn’t sing in front of anyone until Camp Hollywood ’99 when I sang “Ten Cents a Dance” with Bill Elliott.  The Campus Five formed in 2002.  My motto as a singer is “first, do no harm”.  My main goal is to not annoy people when they’re trying to dance.

Who are your biggest singing influences?

Definitely Anita O’Day.  I grew up listening to her, and even though I know I don’t sound much like her, her style is still imprinted on my brain.

Does being a dancer effect your choices as a singer? If so, How?

We always try to pick good solid danceable tunes for the band, so I would say yes, Jonathan’s and my experience as dancers definitely affects our choices.  You won’t hear me singing “My Funny Valentine” any time soon.

From other bands trying to capture the spirit of the original swing groups; how do you think yours and Jonathon’s group approaches it differently?

I think most of the popular dance bands have a similar goal – we’re all trying to play music people want to dance to, and want to play old favorites mixed in with some more obscure tunes.  We try to play slightly later than some other bands – as in, post WWII but pre-50s; although in the last few years we’ve expanded that range a bit.

If you had to pick one song to sing, what would it be and why?

I have to say my favorite song to sing is when our big band does “I’ve Heard That Song Before”.  It’s really different from most of my other songs – it’s kind of sweeping and romantic and causes me to sing in a different style, which is a good challenge for me.

Southern California was a hot spot for swing back in the original day and again in the modern swing era, producing great dancers and bands. Why do you think that is?

I think in the original swing era it had to do with the movie industry – they always needed background dancers and feature dancers, and the local kids rose to the opportunity.  There were also great bands coming through, Los Angeles being a major city, lots of giant ballrooms, and WWI babies looking to meet up.  In the 90’s it had a lot to do with the Derby and the popularity of “Swingers” – LA really lends itself to any kind of “retro” movement because people are so style and image conscious here, and for many of us in the mid-90s a love of mid-century style lent itself to “hey, we might as well learn this lindy hop thing, too”.  We were also fortunate to have so many inspiring and still active “old timers” who loved to share their knowledge, and still do today!

Haven’t almost all your members danced at some point?

It’s been just me, Jonathan, and Josh, but as far as most bands go that’s a pretty decent ratio.

What do you think is missing from the modern swing music scene?

Vintage clothes!

My girlfriend wants Josh’s phone number, I imagine so that she can propose to him. Do you have his number (the answer is no).

Well, Josh is happily married, but I’m sure they can be friends.

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