In Watts' words, the Campfire Club is "Midwestistential." "It's like this Midwest and existentialism point of view," he explains. "And some of it's happy and some of it's sad, but all of it's about life and freedom and sorrow, and all these gambits that sort of encompass the Midwest."
It's an ideal that has been well-received in St. Louis. The band took the cake as the "Best Folk Band" in the Riverfront Times' annual music showcase this summer and released its most recent album "Tin Can Telephone" last November.
"The best thing about playing music here is how close of a community it is, Watts says. "It's not this sort of cutthroat competitiveness and I think that's a very Midwestern thing. It's about working together and having a community of artists dedicated to creating and exploring."
A lot of great folk musicians have been birthed from the Midwest, like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. While the band credits some sonic influence to the likes of the aforementioned artists, the Campfire Club will have the opportunity to put their own musical touches on Guthrie's music at "Just One Big Soul," on July 14 at Off Broadway.
Equal parts centennial, birthday party and tribute to Woody Guthrie and benefit for 88.1 KDHX, the event will feature 12 regional artists, including Campfire Club, who will perform three Guthrie tunes, among them one song that was never recorded by Guthrie.
The freedom to pay tribute to Guthrie can be a little bit daunting and exciting at the same time, says Watts.
"I got into folk and country music from a pretty early age, so that was one of the names that came to me immediately and I tried to listen to everything that I possibly could and I still haven't listened to every Woody Guthrie song there is. I want to try to do tribute to his awesome name and not screw it up."
Alongside the other bands and musicians, the Campfire Club will illustrate its definition of folk music and express how Guthrie had seen it.
"It's folk music and it's for the people, and Woody Guthrie was a big proponent for that," Watts says. "Because folk music is the people's music and that's where it should be."
When it comes to their own work, Campfire Club's music fully employs the notion that music is a labor of love that cannot be rushed. During a two-year process from the start of recording to receiving the freshly-pressed vinyl, with a few tape machine breaks and lineup changes in between, the Campfire Club went the analog route for recording "Tin Can Telephone."
"All you can do is scratch a record or break it, but that's a physical thing," Watts says. "And that sound, that dermal hiss, it's like a record crackle when you set it down is worth everything to me."
Watts also says that a record serves as a better permanent source of documentation and something that cannot be lost in an ever incoming stream of music downloads in the age of digital music.
And with the record finished, the Campfire Club continues to play shows and work on honing what Watts calls "struggle music."
"Everybody struggles and understands that sort of actuality of pain," Watts says. "What I've come to realize is you can't understand the actuality of joy without the actuality of pain; they're just as profound as the other."
"The Banjo Song" - The Campfire Club