Dissected: Camper Van Beethoven (with David Lowery)

A close seven-album reflection on the band's punk-folk-country-prog wackiness


    dissected-logoWelcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Camper Van Beethoven, and with a little help from a friend.

    This is usually the part where we’d say, “Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalogue in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers.” But here’s a curveball for everyone: we’re gonna flip the script and let an actual band do all the heavy lifting. And perhaps there’s no other outfit better suited for this little experiment than California’s own Camper Van Beethoven.

    Formed in 1983 in Redlands, CA, Camper came of age in a time when every young male musician took their unkempt angst and joined a punk band. But before note one on album one, the band transcended such limitations, utilizing the unique station of their eventual home base of Santa Cruz (purportedly the surfing capital of the U.S.) to conquer the seas of many a genre. Punk, classic rock, country, folk, indie rock, prog, bluegrass, Norteño, ska: they didn’t just cite influences; they blended these living, breathing cultures in new and interesting ways from song to song, album to album.


    Along the way, the group experimented with song structures and politically motivated content, displaying a childlike wonder and playfulness toward the ceaseless possibilities of music. While their recorded output may have put them in the category of faceless alt-rockers or jam band nut jobs, Camper Van Beethoven is a rare and mythical creature, with loyalties to nothing but where to go next.

    While their creative pursuits (not to mention inner turmoil) eventually led to their breakup in 1989, the band rebounded in the early 2000s, recording two new records, including January’s La Costa Perdida, not to mention logging countless hours on the road in the last decade. While plenty of fans and critics counted them out, the band is now celebrating its 30th anniversary (breakup be damned). For such a milestone, we recently sat down with frontman David Lowery for an exhilarating six hours.

    During the course of that master class on all things Camper, Lowery discussed the ins and outs of each album’s recording sessions, the band’s personal and political views, their slew of influences, who guided their career (SPOILER: it wasn’t really them), breaking up, getting back together, working with a major label, moving within the music industry itself, and even a history lesson or two. As a reflection of his band, Lowery is poignant and well-spoken, profoundly aware of his group’s oddball approach to music and fiercely proud of their persistent curiosity.


    To Camper Van Beethoven: here’s to a wild and wonderful 30 years. We couldn’t have written it any better ourselves.

    Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)


    The Humble Beginnings: “This whole thing was plotted, in the sense that this was just a side project for everyone. This was much less serious to us. Most of us were still learning our instruments. I had always been a bass player in backing bands in Santa Cruz. We played less serious endeavors, like college parties. We were young, so we had a lot of time to practice around with our instruments. We’d practice every three days, so it was just the sheer volume of it. We would write stuff pretty quickly and try not to overthink it and just got inside of it.”

    Punk Rock Hippies?: “We were very much influenced by stuff like The Fall or Gang of Four. Those straight-up, hardcore bands that were very dogmatic. But were also hippies, sort of fake hippies. And we used this whole project to do what we weren’t doing in other bands.”

    Pacifying the Punks: “Punk covets style above everything. The ska element came in because, if we were playing in front of a punk band, we’d have them skank away to ska as a way to nullify the crowd. Guys like Jello Biafra got that we were not real hippies, but a lot of people did not get it. We were almost offensively putting that ska in. It was confusing to us, just a year-old at the time, of those who were in the business of being punk scenesters. We’re not real business people.”


    Let’s Hear It for the Drummer: “Anthony Guess grew up playing everything: farm-type country, rock, Norteño. Anthony is the glue that holds that first record together. Once he got the beat figured out, we kinda understood what we should sound like.”

    A Little Help from SST: “Ray Farrell of SST turned us on to college radio and helped us to sell albums. He also said, ‘You guys’ songs are so much like Kaleidoscope.’ And when we heard it, we thought they were the ’60s version of what we were doing. So, Ray was making us tapes and it just about changes everything. What we were doing was in a tradition. It was a tradition, not just this wacky thing, and there was an undercurrent or thread to follow. It became more real to us. It was liberating to us. We were also uncovering more stuff, like Country Joe & the Fish and Eugene Chadbourne, that would be more prevalent in the second and third records.”

    Too Young To Sit at the Adult’s Table: “Everything our peers were doing, we were too young to be singing about such heavy things. We were all like between the ages of 17 and 22, so we said, ‘Let’s do things with laden wisdom and insight.’ ‘Sad Lover’s Waltz’ is a simple country song, and it’s almost embarrassing how it’s almost about nothing. With ‘Ambiguity Song’, it’s just simple observations. Asking questions without having answers seemed to fit the spirit of the band. We did realize pretty quickly that we’re punkers living in this idyllic world. Like, ‘What do we have to complain about?’ We didn’t.”


    Getting The Kinks On: “With a song like ‘I Don’t See You’, I had that in two other bands before Camper. And I used to play the riff in rehearsal. It’s in that same sort of garage as early Kinks, that teenage rebellion vibe popular in the ’60s.”

    Prog Rock & Laundry Soap: ” ‘Club Med Sucks’ was something we found written on a Laundromat we used to visit. Musically, I don’t know how we all got there, but we were informed a lot by Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. We also had some private prog tendencies toward Soft Machine.”

    No Laughing Matter: “People definitely called us a novelty band. But it wasn’t really fair, since it’s not like we were ‘Weird Al’ or something. Our peers were talking about smashing the state or something, pretending to have more gravitas. It’s like, ‘Explain to us what part of Camper Van Beethoven are you confused about?’ We have a different attitude than our peers. We just thought that songs should be easy to whistle to.”


    II & III (1986)


    Time Well Spent: “We were kinda screwing around on the first record. But with the second, we had enough money saved up for two days of studio time, and we just did what we could. What happened was that we recorded in one session, then got distracted, played some shows, and then we did the second session a couple months later. With these recording sessions, we felt like we had recorded two albums. Like, two albums submerged together, with the melodies getting weirder and weirder. A lot happened to us in that time: we were touring, playing shows, we even met the Dead Kennedys.”

    Fuck the Man: “Like with Kaleidoscope, what happened was that we got turned on to all this stuff, things like We the People and Chocolate. Our thing was, ‘We didn’t obey any rules the first time, so why would we do it this time?’ And it came out really organic, because we were basically just playing to our friends.”

    Returning to the Fold: “All of our songs feel alien, so we have to go back and get inside of them like you were there. I always try to imagine it’s the first time I’m playing it. It’s almost like you have to be a sociopath and lie to yourself till you believe the lie. Over the years, it sounds quite like it did on the album; it hasn’t changed too much live. You have to respect the audience and do it that way.”


    The Power of Five: “I have a theory, though. You have a kind of rapport while being a group. There’s something that comes from the group, not the individual. Cracker is the same way, but it’s much simpler. It’s me and Johnny answering each other, and that dialoguing makes us write totally different songs.”

    The Literary Period: “With the first album, the reaction was more of a novelty, and it’s in this period that we start to shy away from that. We wanted to be like, ‘We’re like Thomas Pynchon singing about ridiculous stuff, like limericks and stuff. We like the whole Pynchon/Kurt Vonnegut thing, where you can be silly and absurd and still find another way to tell a story. It’s something we’ve done for the rest of our career.”

    Leaving the Pit Once and for All: “We were done with the whole punk rock thing, moving toward more of that pop-rock sound. At that time, it was a preposterous move to make that kinda music, but we thought it was a ridiculous enough goal that we might as well try it. SoCal is sort of known for the surf rock and psychedelic. But people had moved more inland, so it was like we revamped our own culture.”


    BFFs with R.E.M.?: “Somewhere in that second album, IRS Records wanted to sign us. And this was right during their whole alt-rock movement with R.E.M. And we turned it down, because we weren’t sure we could make another album. We should have done it, ’cause our whole pop-rock round would’ve gotten that support. But we just asked, ‘Can we write more songs?’ In a way, it took the pressure of putting together an album. We weren’t ready for deadlines.”

    Making Mooo-ves: “We were making money on a label, which really liberated us. We borrowed some money from some hipster cattle rancher. We just got to make our own album, independently secure.”

    Camper Van Beethoven (1986)


    Let the Drama Begin: “What happened was that the first album was done in two weekends and by the second record we started making money. So the second album we had a couple more weekends, where we could start layering stuff. We had more time and more tracks, and I think we were using two 8-tracks. But it was around that time that tension arose within the band.”

    Death to Posers: “We wanted to disrupt everything. If it’s all punk rock rebellion, then why are there all these rules? Wear these jeans, wear your hair like this. Let’s just stir shit up and be a disruptive force.”

    Exploring the Great Unknown: “Jonathan and Greg were big in that layering thing; they liked to sort of fill in the gaps. For Jonathan, it’s his strengths to the band but also a challenge. He’s a real, genuine ’60s hippie-experimental kinda guy. We were manipulating tape and sound, and we haven’t played that many songs live over the years. The reason is, we don’t know how they’ll come off live or that we don’t understand how to play them live. We were literally inventing who we were as a band, mostly for practical reasons, not necessarily stylistic reasons. We would have done it before on the first album. We embraced the whole west coast hippie movement, blending those roots with the indie and rock. But what we were doing was also sort of protesting the things that ’60s hippies protested.”


    Medicinal Inspiration: “The ‘Peace and Love’ instrumental is one where Victor did that whole thing, but we thought, ‘Nah, that didn’t work.’ So we all sang a vocal part and had it all thrown together. I’m pretty sure we were stoned when we made this record.”

    Thank God for Technology: “We had to re-use tape back in those days. We flipped it upside down, cause someone told us it erased better that way or something. So, with ‘Surprise Truck’, ‘Folly’ comes in backward off the previous record. And it had that backward flute just because it happened that way. And ‘Ambiguity’ is just ‘Five Sticks’ backwards, because there was a piece of something from that whole score.”

    The Dichotomy of Man: “It’s the least consistent and most consistent record. It’s also the most intense and out there, and that thread kinda goes through the whole music. We’ve always had this idea of experimentalism vs. simplicity. We want to have that whistle-y stuff, that really basic stuff. We’re not making music like Sonic Youth, not into that territory, but we do stuff like reimagining parts and 1st chord structures.”


    The Almighty Neil: “Neil Young is an artist who can go out and make that awkward record and then come back and make an amazing record. He can go make an insane record and then go and feel like a total maverick. Our attitude was one of ‘What have we got to lose? Let’s just do it.’ The only thing we were afraid of is being considered a novelty act. We’ll draw the line so that we don’t look like that.”

    It’s the End of the World as We Know It: “We got more into Mothers of Invention and Zappa. We were already pretty political, being from Santa Cruz. There’s a very strong libertarian, anarchist lean where we’re making fun of hippies. But there was also rallying against the whole sabre-rattling, that at any moment the U.S. and Russia could engage in nuclear war.”

    Playing with the Big Dogs: “We were on MTV on regular rotation thanks to ‘Good Guys’ and its simple, crude live video. We were not like the other bands, and there was nothing stopping us from being experimental. We could do any sort of styles or tones, and there was nothing to discourage us. Record labels have great control, but it’s like the whole Smiths line, ‘You could’ve said no if you wanted to.’ Record label guys and the radio guys didn’t have that influence.”


    Anarchy for the Thoughtful and Concerned: “There’s also this streak of people who follow us who are very left and very libertarian. But it’s not something we set out to do, to gain a political following. There’s also a lot of political stuff read into at that time. Santa Cruz had a Marxist mayor at the time, but the federal government was very hawkish. So it was us making observations, and kinda asking like, ‘OK, where are the adults that see all this stuff that’s going on.'”

    Loving the Zep: “The stuff that was coming out of the ’60s rock, like Thompson and the Fairport Convention, was very radical stuff. We even re-evaluated Led Zeppelin, and we got to thinking that stuff was better than it was at the time. Those Zeppelin riffs all sounded fresh to me. Plus, classic rock then wasn’t on the radio yet, there was no format because it wasn’t quite old enough. Yet we started hearing that, and it started to be interesting to us.”

    Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)


    Working for the Man: “We had a major label, so we thought we’d have a more traditional record structure. It was the first record where we started not putting out everything we knew how to do, and there was some focus involved. There’s also kinda two things coming in then: the sort of classic rock mocking and how we start embracing and blending that big rock sound. So many pop-rock songs are complicated in structure  with so many elements collected within. This album has more accessible songs than the other albums because we were weeding out more of the weirder ideas. We sort of went completely mainstream. We didn’t have a cover song on here because it was our first major label LP, and we wanted do it on our own strengths.”

    Getting Cozy with the Boss: “Rarely in my career has someone told me to do something, and if they have, I have said no almost all of the time. I can remember walking down the corridor with (Virgin head) Jeff Ayeroff right after we signed, and he said to us, ‘I’m not worried about you guys having a hit. You write so many songs that you’re bound to make a hit by accident.'”

    Major Labels Are Your Friend: “With Camper, there’s no editing, and we’re actually playing the way we want. And the label’s getting it right by providing us with advances. I go to tech conferences a lot now, and everyone is always ragging on labels. I had a friend once who worked at an indie, not quite large but well-known. And he went to these conferences and took all the name-calling, and people are still lining up to give them their demos. Labels have something people want: the ability to market, the ability to be in the hands of an expert.”


    Turning English: “It wasn’t like we said, ‘Hey, let’s just do pop-rock songs.’ First off, we wrote to please ourselves, and at the time we were listening to a lot of XTC and Robyn Hitchcock. I like to say that this was our English album. The English pop-rock has all these weird time signatures and is all over the place, and we were really into that.”

    Dennis the Accomplice: “The thing about Dennis Herring is that he was another guy that kinda fell into our camp, and we felt relatively artistically safe with him. Dennis won’t like what I say, but we had a huge influence on his style. Before he worked with us, he was doing stuff like the Flashdance soundtrack, but he had this quirky side with a great taste in music. With us, he kinda honed his producing chops and then got more producing gigs. Kinda represents the beginning of what he did with bands like Wavves and Modest Mouse. He sort of dovetails with more my taste, which is to not fill every single hole.”

    Can a Violin End a Band?: “There was a track where he muted the violin on the first verse, and it was kinda controversial. In fact, Jonathan almost quit over that. Jonathan had some solo thing he wanted to do that got voted off, ’cause it didn’t get done on a collaborative front. And it’s not something I don’t understand or empathize with, that undercurrent of being slighted. But, truthfully, it was us, not Dennis Herring, the lawyers, or the record label that said what songs went on the album. If I’d known then, I would have said to just put the song on there.”


    Knowing the Role: “For a band to be successful, to make money, that band has to be self-regulating. What people don’t seem to understand is that record labels are like derivative traders: they’ll lose a lot of money and then make all of it back and more on one album. So, those one out of eight or ten bands subsidize the entire roster; the Nirvana’s subsidize the Teenage Fanclub’s. The winners of the world subsidize and pay for the losers.”

    Just Your Standard Love Song: “‘One of These Days’ was a song that had been floating around since the first album. Again, we really started to embrace love songs, partly because we had found a way to balance more of the weirder aspects. Camper as a whole likes to take normal things and then make sure we added in hallucinogenic drugs, conspiracy theories, and space aliens.”

    Cracking the Code: “We had finally figured out the simpler things, like love, longing, lost love. And we could make well-crafted songs and say things that others didn’t. One of my greatest achievements is utilizing more of that Kurt Vonnegut or Pynchon, who use that weird, wacky voice but still tell a serious story. And we couldn’t do it without the help of Dennis Herring. We got to do songs in that way and still be ourselves.”


    Key Lime Pie (1989)


    Greg and David Sittin’ in a Tree: “Greg and I developed much of the album by ourselves, as we felt we’d be cluttering it up with others there. We took the sheen off the album and got back to a more organic state. It was about embracing our roots and trying to do something here to play up that sparseness. But we were going beyond accessibility. We were almost going Broadway or toward Sinatra. Sinatra’s September of My Years is pretty friggin’ out there, and I was obsessed with it at that time. It’s got this tone or sheen that’s really funny and organic, like a Broadway play. But the whole tonality of it is as edgy as shit. What we did was tracked it at the Capitol, where Sinatra recorded, and had the same sort of reverb from under Capitol.”

    Take It or Leave It: “Jonathan had gone and went to Southeast Asia. Jonathan blamed a lot of it on Dennis Herring and then the label. He refused to do shit, so I went to the rest of the band and basically said, ‘It’s him or me.’ I didn’t know how we’d get through this, because this was not gonna be an easy album to make. The change didn’t come from left field, but the album was gonna be different.”

    Free of the Tyrannical Violin: “Without that extra layer of Jonathan tinkering and fiddling, it required a certain amount of arrangement. But it also broke how the violin directs what should be done. So, the songs relied more on me, which means we had to get the lyrics together and drill down what we were singing about, which was not always clear. We were also making a lot of holes that we loved. We thought that these songs needed more space, because they’d had the same amount for so long. We felt like these songs could now be challenging.”


    The Pop-Prog Connection: “We skipped ahead in albums, to something like super pop. But there’s still some challenging notes in seemingly poppy albums. I was also very into guys like Sammy Johns and Paul Williams that, in retrospect, were great, visionary songwriters, but weren’t looked at that way while recording. To us, we wanted to step away from the whole punk/indie culture. We stepped away from the melodies, words we were writing, and we got pretty prog-y. Pop can be weirder than all those underground acts. Like English Show’s The Prisoner, which has this sort of spaghetti western vibe popular in the late ’60s, early ’70s.”

    Hugging Dear Old Reagan: “‘Sweethearts’ is not entirely an unfavorable critical take on Ronald Reagan. There was a lot of false nostalgia taking off, people pining for a time that didn’t exist. People had this idea of the ’50s as being great and spending time at Woolworths, which was nice unless you were black. So we were taking on a lot of that, but it’s also a snapshot of how I really felt about my own culture, my own time, and my own country.”

    Nihilism for the Late 20th Century: “There is a thread of what I call nihilistic individualism throughout the album. We try to portray everyone sympathetically  This whole album was an odd exception, as I didn’t sing that much and I wouldn’t have written as many melodies and passages, but it was an unintended consequence of Jonathan’s absence.”


    A Trip to the Theater: “It’s a take on great historical dramas, like the Nazis in WWII or the Armenian exodus. We were exploring the whole vilification of others in a way that was kind of misanthropic-humanist. What a contradiction, but it’s not totally unsympathetic. And, yeah, we put saucers in there, but it is still very serious. We were earnestly straightforward, without irony or sarcasm, as to avoid being a novelty band. It was like Pynchon writing as if they’re Busby Berkeley musicals.”

    Writing Rock Music for Dummies: “I’ve never been able to formulate why radical and revolutionary rock has been using the same narrative voice as some 6th grader writing an essay on what they did over summer vacation. Normal people don’t do that at all; my mother doesn’t tell stories like, ‘This happened, then this happened.’ Even something like hip-hop, famous for its braggart, uses different narrative styles.”

    More Mainstream Concessions: “We thought it was a great album, but there was nothing to get on the radio. At Virgin, though, they said ‘Matchstick Men’ might be a nice fit. And it’s a nice counterpoint to the album; even if it doesn’t fit wholly, we made it fit tonally.


    You’re Welcome, Wilco: “I don’t think we would’ve gotten that critical acclaim without the commercial success. Guys like an Issac Brock or Jeff Tweedy, people who followed us, wouldn’t have found us. Issac wouldn’t have heard of us in rural Montana if we didn’t have that song played on MTV. But we never changed our artistic approach, and we did it on our own terms.”

    New Roman Times (2004)


    Getting Back in the Saddle: “When we got the core back together, we warmed up with the Camper Van Beethoven Oddities record, and then the more experimental, weirder side with Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead. We had to rebuild our rapport in the studio, and so we went back to how we used to approach music. Like, on the first two records, we’d say, ‘OK, let’s just try running this tape backwards,’ so we’d mess around while simultaneously recording. It was almost like a return back to the time before the Virgin records, where if we had this ridiculous, weird idea, we’d follow it to its conclusion. And we almost refused to let ideas fail.”

    Breakup, Schmeakup: “We recorded songs before we had the rock opera concept, because we had to learn how to work together again. And when we finally arranged things, there was stuff that could’ve easily been on Key Lime Pie. And we’re pretty proud of that, to sound exactly the same 14 years later. Although, had we not agreed on how to do things, we could’ve easily not continued onward.”

    Comments from the Peanut Gallery: “We definitely weren’t isolated and definitely were working in a vacuum. Fans have way more of an influence than you ever think. We started with a basic run of reunion shows, and there was such powerful momentum that it inspired us to work really hard because people wanted to hear us. But then also guys like Sparklehorse and John Moran were helpful in getting this project out there. They were instrumental in helping us find who we were and pushing us in opposite directions toward the experimental side. Again, there’s not a lot of downside for us going toward the experimental side. People almost always prefer the early stuff of your career. But I think people got excited and were rooting for us, and that’s the unfathomably true spirit of the band. Also, it just strategically worked out for the band.”


    Sitting Down at the Typewriter: “We started with ‘517’ and ‘New Roman Times’. They were the earliest things done that linked the character of this kid being all gung ho and then joining the military, and this is life afterward. Me and Jonathan white-papered a story where we shot lines through email and then filled in the story. We mapped out this version of the world right when the whole red state/blue state concept was popping up, so we made it extreme. It’s kinda classic Camper: we mapped out this world that might not be the most cognitive, then added in genetically modified marijuana and space aliens.”

    God Bless Texas: “I think it would’ve limited our creative approach to have gone through a strict narrative lens. But again, like Vonnegut and Pynchon, we’re trying to tell a story in a serious way, so we’re careful with our sympathies. Obviously, most of them lie with California, but we portrayed the protagonist from Texas in a very sympathetic way. Having been born in Texas, it’s kinda easy to portray that point of view.”

    War, What Is It Good For?: “Fans who talk about the album are some of the more intellectual people from the right. And they’ve said that when they listen to the album, it’s not what they think, that there’s grounds for agreement. That only sort of furthers the subtext that there’s a division between us that only further entrenches those in power. And it’s not lost on us that people are speaking out against progressiveness and libertarianism and against the Iraq War. But we just can’t help singing about whatever we wanna sing about.”


    Go Big or Go Home: “We had to be very over-the-top in our approach, as we had this real inclination to be extreme and experimental. If you’re telling the story of a battle between fictional republics of California and Texas, you’ve gotta be broad and sweeping like that and go as far as you can in that direction. But I think the story is better and more complicated than people think it is. Because we found a way to portray that story where something like TV doesn’t do them justice. There are sorts of details to be found in new ways.”

    The Trouble with Concept Albums: There are rock operas or concept albums where the songs are weaker then the overall concept. But it’s kinda acceptable, because we didn’t write these for us; we just filled them with tiny things that mean more to us. But I do think they’re missing out on what the essence of Camper is. Plenty of bands make great songs, but not enough are making them with the subjects and approaches we are. But as weird iconoclasts, we didn’t hold out much hope of being famous.”

    The Green Day Connection: “Our album and Green Day’s American Idiot really drew on the same kinda thing, and they kinda came out the same time, too. I remember going on a USO tour with Cracker to the Middle East, and we’re driving in these personnel carriers at night, ’cause the U.S. troops were only allowed to travel at night. And then something went wrong, and it got dark out and was really, really tense. But then some young infantry man started singing ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, and it was really kinda carpal. Our character in New Roman Times could’ve easily done the same thing.”


    La Costa Perdida (2013)


    Living Like the Stones: “In 2010, Greg and I came together. We do everything collaboratively, and sometimes I flow out to the west coast or they fly out to Virginia. And it was kinda stupid how easy it was to write and record. We have nothing else to do, so if it takes us twice or four times or eight times, we do whatever it takes to get it done. That big of a gap, though, helps make it more exciting. But I figured out a long time ago that Camper’s the kind of band that can play 30 shows a year and still have interest because we’re not on any sort of production schedule. For better or worse, we can act like some legacy band. We can play shows and go to Europe every couple of years and then tour every four years.”

    Just Like the Good Old Days: “It’s basically like it was in the early days, only Jonathan and I will bully our way if we think it’s going the wrong way. There was something like six passes on ‘Come Down the Coast’, and I still felt like it wasn’t where it needed to be. So finally me and Jonathan finally do something about it. Still, we’re way more collaborative than most other good bands.”

    The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same: “With a song like ‘Summer Day’, it’s actually made of two versions, both using completely different studios and drum kits and amps and energies and everything. The original demo is sort of better, so we took the middle section from the demo and cut it together. It makes for a great pallet change, a nice switch from black and white to color. There were other things, too. Like, with ‘Summer Day’, Jonathan didn’t think the drums worked, so he went in and edited the middle section by himself, which is a crazy edit. And at one point, I was like, ‘Can I please have one verse where nobody’s playing a counter-melody? Give me a minute and a half at least.’ It takes a lot longer to work like this, but the rewards outweigh the work.”


    Progging Onward: “The longer songs were sort of becoming a live favorite for the fans, so we were getting more in touch with and embracing the prog-rock side on a couple of songs. ‘Come Down the Coast’ is a great way to start. It’s complex but very simple, but it’s also misleading as it’s much more different than what we’ve done before. It’s that contrast that makes it fun; it’s that whole thing that makes it more interesting. We’re coming to grips with our unabashed love of classic and prog rock. There’s definitely more reverence, but we’re still sort of mocking it.”

    Ripping Off… Yourself?: ” ‘Love for All Time’ is one of the more strange and intricate songs Camper has ever done. It plays every tone in the scale at some point and was inspired by the ’60s pop of Burt Bacharach and the like. It’s crafted so simple and so complex. But the album’s full of all sorts of similar things coming out like that. ‘California Girls’ has a three-cord change, ‘Too High’ has eight parts, and ‘Summer Day’ may be one of the more challenging songs we’ve done. But there’s also another way of looking at it, that these songs are tied back to our other albums and songs; ‘Too High’ is bits of Sweetheart and II + III, ‘Summer Day’ takes a page out of Key Lime Pie, ‘Come Down the Coast’ fits in and around ‘Sad Lover’s Waltz’. So, in some ways, it’s kinda like a greatest hits album.”

    The Power of Norteño: “I moved away from California so many years ago, I wanted to write about that time and that place. There’s still that nostalgia, though, with me and for Jonathan, who was thinking about going to Sweden. And it’s sort of loosely bound by Beach Boys’ Holland, the Big Sur surf period, and regional norteño music. With norteño, there’s a lot of soul in the music. Having lived in California in the ’70s, it’s all around us. It’s coming from the neighbor’s band across the street or at the grocery store. It permeates our conscious and our geography, and you can’t really escape it. I also got really fascinated by how similar it is to ska and country, like ska is one beat shift away from norteño, which is pretty nutty.”


    Good Vibrations: “In terms of the Beach Boys’ Holland, the track ‘Steamboat’ has all these weird noises and structure, like it’s almost breathing throughout. Our song, ‘A Love for All Time’, makes a reference of that with the waves of the ocean. But it’s also a hippie record, about moving to the country and raising children and just generally dropping out of civilization. But it’s not introspective or misanthropic; it’s kinda like Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, which is all about loving people and loving everything. We don’t always show who we are and what we feel, so we humanized ourselves by embracing that northern California vibe.”

    A Musical History Lesson: “All that stuff is an offshoot of South German music, which is why we have brass and strings in mariachi. It’s that so-called Tex-Czech that grew when Germans entered Northern Mexico in the 1830s-1860s. It’s the combining of two cultures that illicit the same melodies. Camper was informed as much by punk, ska, norteño, country, like we’re building from the ruins of an ancient civilization. There’s bits and elements that we embraced, like invading barbarians, but we made up our own mythology.”

    Looking Toward the Future: “We’re already thinking of the next album, maybe where we take a look at SoCal. Like some chaotic metropolis like Los Angeles, where we can explore multiculturalism and politics and globalization. You know, play up like the Blade Runner aspects of LA.”