Swiss harpist Julie Campiche developed her sound in the world of jazz and contemporary music in a very organic way, focusing on an innate curiosity and desire for new experience.

Be it theatre, jazz festival or contemporary performance, octets or duos, compositions or free-style improvisation, she infuses her music with an urgent fragility.

She brings her long-standing quartet to the UK this spring and joined us to talk about her career to-date…

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Sure, I’m Julie Campiche, a jazz harpist based in Geneva, Switzerland. 

I started playing jazz with the harp 20 years ago when I was 20. Initially, it was a bit strange and felt like jumping into a swimming pool without knowing how to swim, but I enjoyed it. 

The whole time has been an adventure, and I had to be very creative in many ways. From the beginning, I told myself that I would try it out, and if it didn’t work, I would stop and do something else, and that was fine too. But, 20 years later, I’m still here and still enjoying it. For about 10 years, I have been working professionally, touring all over Europe with my own project.

I also enjoy being a sidewoman for someone else’s project. I think it’s really important to switch and change the rules, which has changed my position in music and how I approach the music-making process. 

As a sidewoman, I learned a lot, including being a leader and a composer. I started composing last year, and it’s been a new experience that has expanded my skills. So the next time I am recording, I will come with these experiments and nothing more. Mostly, I work as a leader with my own project.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on as a sidewoman?

I’ve worked with several singers in Switzerland, including Andreas Schaerer and the band AYE. I’ve also played with a cellist named Eric Longsworth in his acoustic trio, and done a lot of music for theater.

Your curiosity comes up a lot in relation to your music. How do you prepare your music for your project so that all the musicians can explore freely?

It’s kind of obvious for me that everyone should be able to give their opinion and explore freely. It’s rare that we don’t agree, but it’s okay if that happens. 

I don’t do anything special to prepare for this, I just work with musicians who have a similar approach. It’s a special type of musician to fit in with that; they need to really invest themselves and be a partner and collaborator.

Can you talk about your latest album, You Matter? Who are the musicians involved and what’s the concept of the music?

The same musicians have been in the band since we started six years ago. It’s not the goal that anyone is replaceable; it’s not the spirit of the band. Of course, there are some moments where there can be a little bit of tension, but that’s Completely normal. We are all human beings. 

We’ve built our vocabulary together and took the time to go deep into the music. We built a repertoire in a year with monthly residencies, allowing us to try things out and grow together. 

The new album was built up more collectively than the first one, and we’re already thinking about the next one. We always want to go further.

We just had our first concert of the year and after two minutes of music, I felt so blessed and so happy to be there with them. This feeling of having something precious in my hand is still here after six years. So that’s it.

What kind of musical influences can people expect to hear in your record?

It’s hard for me to view my own music objectively, but I listen to a very eclectic range of music, including Rage Against the Machine, Tom Waits, Lhassa, Progressive rock, Billie Holiday, and some classical music. 

I don’t think about style, but rather how the music speaks to me and supports me in achieving the intention of the music.

How do you feel about the need to categorise music? Do you think it’s useful or takes away from the music?

I think the need to categorize music comes more from the listener or music industry than the musician. 

Artistically, I don’t care about it, but it’s more of a problem for the business side of things. 

There’s so much music that’s not available on streaming platforms, and I hope people don’t forget to search for music beyond these platforms. 

I’m not against progress or anything like that, but the music world doesn’t stop on Spotify. There is more and just don’t forget to look for more. 

It’s like when you look for something, if you don’t find it on Google, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You know? 

Categorization makes sense for the human brain and society, but we shouldn’t be slaves to these tools.

How do you manage the business side of your career, such as booking tours and managing your projects?

I started managing everything myself 20 years ago when I started my first band. I just jumped in the water and figured out how to swim. 

I learned a lot from watching my boyfriend at the time who worked as a booker and my father who worked in theater. 

I booked my first tour in Germany after receiving an invitation to play at the B-flat in Berlin, and it was a crazy experience that taught me a lot. We received the initial offer and I said “okay let’s book that in one year and book a tour around it. Of course, it took a lot of energy but we were young. You just jump in and you make it work somehow and you don’t sleep, you get bad conditions, but little by little you learn and you grow and you make more contacts.

I still do a lot of booking myself, but I’ve also recently started working with two amazing agencies in Germany and France. It’s very collaborative work

Have you found that gradually building relationships through email is a more rewarding approach to booking, rather than just sending emails and hoping for a reply?

Yes, and it’s interesting to see that people actually read the emails and it’s important to keep your contact list up to date. It may take years for someone to respond, but it’s worth it in the long run.

I am not expecting an answer anymore. Not in the short term or even the mid-term. But long term I know it’s worth it if you have the right email and the right person – keep your contact info up to date can be a boring job but very important too. 

What are some key priorities for your next album release based on what you’ve learned from your previous releases?

I learned that promotion timelines are longer than before. Materials need to be ready six months in advance which is a lot because before I was ready two months in advance and that was good for the jazz world. Now that would be considered late.

It’s also important to separate the tour and the release and to consider when during the year to release the album. 

And of course to have a strategy for mainstream and social media. I collaborate with an agency for social media who do all the posting and stuff like that. For me it made a huge difference. 

Of course, the content is written more or less by me Nothing goes out without me saying ‘ok’. But we plan the strategy together, what do what do we want to, etc. 

Before that, I wasn’t really bad at social media but I was just doing the minimum so I didn’t die. If I would have another job,like a school teacher I wouldn’t even be on social media. I wouldn’t exist on that world. But I am there because of my job and I found it also interesting for some things. It’s part of our society now, so you cannot completely ignore it. 

It’s difficult to delegate when there’s little funding in music, and it’s hard to find someone to do it good for free.

However, I prefer to try to find funding and hire professionals for certain tasks. 

You can hear Julie play live in the UK in 2023: