Tuesday 5 February 2008


On November 22nd 2004 I was lucky enough to spend a few hours interviewing Camper Van Beethoven for the magazine Comes With A Smile down at the Shepherds Bush Empire proir to their show that evening. I had interviewed both Victor Krummenacher and Jonathan Segel before but this was my first time with David Lowery and what a superb interviewee he turned out to be. So sitting in the dressing room with Jes, Victor and David and i hit the record button....

Let’s talk about the reformation--
Lowery: That had something to do with Martin Luther, right?
Segal: Can we just talk about the Church of England? That part of the reformation?
Lowery: Cromwell, right? We’re kind of in our own Cromwell time actually, in the United States right now.
Krummenacher: What did Cromwell do exactly?
Segal: Heads on stakes, y’know. They tried to eliminate the monarchy.
Lowery: But it was also this religious-- Catholics versus the Protestants, y’know?
Segal: The Puritans, also.
Krummenacher: What we’re seeing in America now is trying to impose the monarchy.
Lowery: Yes, it’s sort of a reverse.
Krummenacher: Cromwell in reverse. It amazed me that the two of them, Bush and Kerry, are, what, sixth cousins?
Lowery: And they both were members of the Skull & Bones Secret society at Yale.
Krummenacher: Now there’s all this implication that Kerry threw it in the press--
Lowery: The paranoid press, the tin-foil pact. I think he really wanted it. Theresa wanted to be first lady. But the reformation of the band happened when-- I’ve been using this quote a lot but I really think it’s apt. Listen to me, I’m sounding English already, I’ve only been here three days. ‘Apt’. But, um, my mother is English. Actually she’s English. There was this magazine in New York for a while, sort of a competitor to ‘The Village Voice’--‘New York Press’--and the music critic in there was interviewing us about ‘Tusk’, and he said, “the strange thing about you guys doing ‘Tusk’--the Fleetwood Mac album --is that Fleetwood Mac exploded in this fireball of flame and wife-swapping, animosity and all that stuff, whereas you guys disintegrated like a urinal cake.” And, speaking of running processes in reverse, which is a very Camper Van Beethoven thing to do, there are lots of backwards things on our records, that’s how we get songs, we listen to melodies of other songs backwards.
Segal: That’s where we get our dance moves.

I’m glad you bought up ‘Tusk’ because I think we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes over this one.Lowery: That’s a joke within a joke. Little pieces of us got back together, with me and Jonathan working. He was a session musician and I was producing with Magnet, and then I sort of hooked up with Sparklehorse of and on, and was really the producer on their first record, although I’m called ‘David Charles’ on that. And on the second record there’s two songs that I produced although I’m barely credited. That was the first bit, and then Victor began to sub on bass for us, in Cracker. And then we would do these shows we’d call ‘The Traveling Apothecary Show’ where we would have guests sometimes if we were in New York or San Francisco--some special city, right?--and sometimes there’d be Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, or Steve Wynn, or my friend LP, but we also did them where Camper would be guests, and we’d incorporate seven Camper songs into Cracker shows. We were sort of afraid of the ‘R’ word--‘reunion’--but, eventually…this has been about four or five years this process takes, we did these real reunion shows to celebrate the release of ‘Tusk’--I’m getting back to it--in 2002 at ‘The Knitting Factory’, in New York. My main concern about it, and I think we all discussed this, was that we were going to sound like some sort of Vegas Revue, ‘a tribute to Camper Van Beethoven’, and the songs would be kinda odd playing them in this context.
Krummenacher: Like ‘Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey play the songs of The Who’.
Lowery: Yes, but we played the shows and the songs seemed oddly relevant. For three reasons. One was that we could play better now, and could actually realise the songs better. And that was really interesting. Two, the songs seemed relevant politically because we had another Bush in the Whitehouse. We’d always put politics or social commentary at least in the background of our songs, or approached a political topic…not backwards but maybe sideways somehow. And, finally, it was like our early stuff seemed to have a commonality with the New York anti-folk stuff. People like The Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis who I know is totally influenced by us--
Segal: Plus there were a slew of new bands or bands in their middle period making records who claimed they were influenced by us.
Lowery: And the later Camper Van Beethoven had a lot in common with where the alt.country was ending up. Things like Canyon and stuff. I don’t want to say Wilco because everyone says that.

And Richmond Fontaine, who do Campers songs from time to time.
Lowery: I didn’t know that. So there’s that. The first thing we did with ‘Tusk’ was we told everybody that-- The Strokes were massively popular at this time and I’d just happened to have used this last publicist -- and I consulted with my attorney and I said, “what’s gonna happen if we send out four songs from this record and say, look The Strokes, y’know, let’s take a little pressure off. What’s the drummer’s name? I dunno, he has the best name, so we picked him. Fabrizio Moretti has got them in the studio and they’re doing these Fleetwood Mac songs that he loves, and it’s him singing? And I’m gonna send it out on Big Hassle Publicity and send it to these journalists. ‘Here’s a sneak preview’.” My attorney said, “No, I don’t think you should do that but you could tell people you did that.” So, when the ‘Tusk’ record came out, we told people we did that. And that was printed in some places, but we never actually did it so we were legally safe. And then we had this whole elaborate story that we purposely disagreed upon when the record was recorded.
Krummenacher: We did several interviews as a trio where we tell the story of how we did ‘Tusk’, this elaborate tale.
Lowery: But it was all fake. What it really was is we just started telling people about two years before that that we’d found the ‘Tusk’ tapes, that we’d recorded ‘Tusk’ in its entirety and it was pretty screwed up, we’d have to put it in Pro-Tools and try to fix some stuff.

It was found in a wardrobe right?Krummenacher: It was in Greg’s parents’ store. Greg’s parents own a art gallery in Santa Cruz called Artisans with a huge basement which is Greg’s father’s wood shop and storage. So that was where we said the tapes were. What’s funny is that we did say this so often that it got disturbingly easy to tell this tale.
Lowery: And with a straight face. Because every Camper record has to have a story to go with it.
Segal: The thing is there were no civilian casualties.
Lowery: Nobody got hurt. ‘Camper Lied, No-One Died.’ There’s a bumper sticker in the US, ‘Clinton Lied, No-One Died.’
Except Fleetwood Mac shelved their version of ‘Key Lime Pie’.
Lowery: Right. But we waited and it was really supposed to be a trilogy, until it got to the point that people said, “they really can’t have lost the tapes this many times.”
Krummenacher: I still think the Camper Van Beethoven dub album is not out of the question.
Lowery: So we just lied and people printed that. And so the magazine that we chose to break the silence with was ‘The Onion’. Are you familiar with ‘The Onion’? It’s like the modern-day ‘National Lampoon’ except it’s a weekly. This magazine has figured out the problem of being a weekly in a mid-sized city in the United States which is, basically, nobody reads the articles and they flip to the entertainment listings. So they have these fake news stories, they’re just so good. Brilliant political satire, as good as the ‘National Lampoon’ was in its heyday. So they had this section called the ‘A.V.’ club, which is usually some legacy artist who never quite got their due. And so I broke the silence about ‘Tusk’ to ‘The Onion’. I told the truth, it seemed appropriate.Because my wife’s got family connections to the CIA so she taught me how to do this disinformation thing. So we got to ‘Tusk’, which was a test to see if we could get our rapport back together.
Segal: It was number two, the first of which was ‘Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead’.
Lowery: A lot of that stuff is new. Or sort of new, it’s made out of things that were never finished.
Segal: We took tapes and remade them into new things. That was our first studio practice session.
Krummenacher: That was a weird one too because David was still under contract to Virgin for Cracker.
Lowery: So we had to pretend it was old material and stuff. It was fun.
Krummenacher: It was fun. I got to roll around in an empty beer keg as an overdub which was a first.
Lowery: Tape-Op magazine asked what mic we’d used. They identified it as a beer keg.
Segal/Krummenacher: It was a U-47! [laughs].
Lowery: Do you know Tape-Op magazine? It’s become kind of a music review magazine but it started off as almost like a pamphlet or newsletter that a friend of ours started about how to record cheaply at home and indie recording. And now there’s a Tape-Op convention, it’s become this…it’s as cool as the A.V. section of The Onion. So the fact that they reviewed our record and its recording is very good for us. We can retire happy now.
Krummenacher: And then ‘Stereo Review’ reviewed ‘New Roman Times’ and gave it four stars for sound quality.
Lowery: Yeah, they always do that. In fact that’s why we’ve gotta put it on vinyl and then they’ll use it for testing turntables. ‘Cause when Cracker’s ‘Golden Age’ came out, ‘Stereophile’ used that for about five years after that to test turntables. I’m sorry, did you want tangents?

You’ve been touring quite a lot…
Lowery: I’ve got two kids and a family and I live in a neighbourhood I probably can’t afford.
You’ll turn up with Leftover Salmon or someone.
Lowery: Well I enjoy playing music and I don’t want to go back to being a civilian ever. Y’know we tour a lot and it is kinda insane but have you noticed it’s always a weekend-home-a weekend, and then maybe two weekends strung together. And then just play all the time. And this avoids the thing I hate most in music -- rehearsing. We never rehearse, we just sound-check. [gets up to go to the fridge.] I’m sorry, I’m gonna have a little… [pours drink]… it’ll help me lie better. Either that or it’s truth serum. So, the new record. I think it started with me writing Fifty-One Seven and Jonathan writing the music that’s New Roman Times, in ‘Misem’ just a little midi-program. But it’s a beautiful little thing that owes a lot to the ‘Key Lime Pie’ sounds and owes a lot to, kinda our when we dabble in the Sparklehorse sort of--
Krummenacher: We had a couple songs sitting around, like Liquor which we did last year on tour. We were gonna do a cigarette commercial.
Lowery: We did quite a lot of commercial work in the last couple of years, so some of the things that got rejected well, fuck, that was a good little thing, let’s make it into a song.
Krummenacher: Uzbekistan was one, which was slated for the anti-smoking thing. And Hippie Chicks we wrote in my living room, or came up with the chord-progression there. That was July 2003. And Unibomber came out of that.
Lowery: But it wasn’t a concept record yet. They were all just floating around this, sort of, soldiers…nothing to believe in but God and country, this notion that-- Apparently forty percent of the United States now believe that God has blessed the United States specifically. Weren’t we in Seattle, when I said “If we keep having these Bushes as president, in ten years we’re gonna be a cross between Brazil and Iran.” [laughs]
Krummenacher: They can’t run Neal, though right? He’s too fucked up.
Lowery: Neal’s too fucked up, Marvin is kept completely hidden away.
Kate Bush might be good.
Krummenacher: What happened to her? She’s about as Iran as Anne Briggs.
Segal: The thing is if they repeal that ‘you have to be natural-born’ law then Schwarzenneger gets in. They’ll find paperwork.

You’re playing a lot of ‘New Roman Times’ live.Krummenacher: Pretty good for us. I don’t know if Campers ever really played more than half a record live anyways. ‘Our Beloved’ we played everything on that live. ‘Key Lime Pie’ some things we tried but we were so young as far as just musicianship. We could do Jack Ruby now and probably do Borderline, but they were hard songs structurally.
And you still can’t do Processional yet?Krummenacher: You know what? We tried when we first got back together, to rehearse it. They had this live structure that I have to go an listen to a live version of it, to figure out what we did. I wouldn’t mind bringing that back. But it’s always this kinda mission to bring things back, y’know? You have to emotionally commit first, like ‘I will do this’, and then keeping David focussed is a job unto itself.
Monks Of Doom
Let’s talk about the Monks of Doom why we’ve got the chance.Krummenacher: Yes please. The covers album’s finished-- One thing we talked about doing was seeing if we could get Chris [Pederson] out of Australia and just go in the studio. Because we recorded a bunch of stuff live for this covers record and it came out really well. So we just record old songs new live. I’m always into when people revisit stuff when they’ve gotten older and richer and better. Some people I know-- Dave Alvin did that and I really liked that, I thought the new versions were better, more realised.
How did the reformed concerts go?
Krummenacher: They went really well last year. We did a week of shows, we just kinda did it really quickly and it went really well. We did a week of shows and a day of recording where we just went in live. David brought CDs and I brought CDs and we just said, “well I want to do this Bert Jansch song, it goes like this.” Just kinda figure it out and just do it. And then we learned a Pell Mell song that way, the Neu thing. And Cavalry Cross is the first time we ever played it. The first time was in the studio and it came out really well. I really like it when you can do that. That, to me, is the essence of the whole thing.
Yes, your last solo album is basically live the studio.
Krummenacher: Yeah, there was just three vocal overdubs and the pedal steel and the piano and maybe two or three guitar solos. The rest was all live. You can cut between versions. In Pro-Tools you can cut between anything, between snare tracks. I just basically would record four or five takes, listen to them and figure out which was the master and figure out what was flawed in it. Then find those elements in the other takes and fly it in. It worked really well.
And is the solo career on hold?

The Bittersweet Band
Krummenacher: It’s kinda on hold right now. I’ve been writing but I’ve been so busy that a song gets half-done or completely done and then it just sits. I’m about halfway there. I know what I want to do but it’s just money. My goal for the year is to see if I can find someone else to pay for it, rather than me.
Segal: That’s kinda the problem with solo records, which is why I only put one out every three years.
Krummenacher: It’s hard enough to make money with Camper, it’s like pulling teeth. How many labours of love can you have? Like going and buying a house. I’d work on the house and feel almost as contented in a certain way, as I do-- I don’t like anything about touring other than playing. There are places I like to come to, like London. But being stuck in the English midlands for twenty hours was not really a high point, nor was having our guitars stolen [in Canada]. None of that I enjoy. So it’s interesting. Basically what I’ve done solo for the last year is… well I did that Bucketfull of Brains thing last year and soon after that I was asked to do this song for author Dennis Cooper's compilation, where Dennis Cooper wrote this short story and he asked people to read it and then write a song based on reading the story. And for some reason or another, he knew about my solo stuff and he really liked it. There’s the gay connection, but he’s always like interviewing Courtney Love and people like that, more ‘Interview’ magazine, that trampy queen side, and I’m just like a gay guy who plays music. I wrote this song for him and they were really floored by it, “we’re surprised you came up with something so potent.” Well it’s not that hard to do, the story had a certain resonance that was kinda easy to work with. And that was supposed to be out almost a year ago and it’s still not out. And I’m like, ‘what’s up?’ ‘Cause it’s a great song and I’m contractually obliged to let them release it first, but at this rate I’ll release it first. And then I got hired to do this Fahey thing for Vanguard, that’ll be Bruce Kaphan and myself and David Immergluck, with, I think, John Haynes who’s been drumming for me solo off and on for a while. John’s from Pearl Harbour & The Explosions, he’s been around for a while. Worked with Henry Kaiser, Etta James, all these kinda wild people from a different world. That’s gonna be interesting because I’m not really a fingerpicker like John Fahey, but I kinda want to do-- you know that Tom Verlaine record, ‘Warm and Cool’? We’re doing two songs off of ‘Days Have Gone By’ and I want to do the first one like ‘Warm and Cool’ and the second one more like Led Zeppelin. Just to do a really interesting twist on Fahey. They’ve got Wilco and M Ward and Devendra Barnhart, all these people committed to it. I’m kinda stoked that’s my project for December. And then we go out again, I think we’re doing ten days in January and then we’re still figuring out February and March but I think we might be coming back here at that point. If I can get the time.
CrackerWhat’s it like for you being in Cracker?Krummenacher: You know what, it’s been really good for my chops. It’s sometimes a little more work that I want to do. I’m gradually realising that I’m becoming a misanthropic homebody and liking it. Unapologetically [laughs]. I prefer to be at home a lot of the time. But it’s been really good for my playing because they’re really quite different bands in a lot of ways and I hadn’t really spent a lot of time doing things other than things I’d been immediately involved in writing. I mean I had worked for people a few times and done a lot of session work, been hired a lot to do small records for friends. But I’d never been in a situation where I was playing with this other band which had a legacy of other bass players. It really kinda turned my head around in a certain way because Davey Faragher--who’s now playing with Elvis Costello--was the bass player on those first two Cracker records and I always admired Davey’s playing but hadn’t had to crawl into the nuance of it. And when I did it was just frightening, y’know? The guy’s phenomenal. So having to learn his stuff was a good challenge as a musician, put me in a good place. It’s funny because so many bass players have come and gone in Cracker and a lot of them…I mean David and Johnny Hickman are pretty relaxed, they let you do it your own way, the pocket and the groove kinda changes depending on who they’re working with and I think they’re used to that and like that. It gives the band this unique kind of looseness that’s-- ‘cause like Cracker has much more improv in it than Camper, which people are always surprised by, when I say that, but it’s true. Because structures change and it’s looser, it’s drunker. You just don’t really know where you’re gonna come down. So on a certain level it’s been really interesting as a learning experience. But there are days when it’s like ‘why did I agree to do this?’
It must be hard when one band’s supporting the other.Krummenacher: Yeah, for me that’s really hard because whoever’s getting the first show gets the better show from me, like almost always. Camper’s very kinda ‘thinky’. [points at single shot of Glen Moray in his cup] This is about as much as I can drink before a Campers set. Whereas with Cracker you can have a couple of beers and you don’t really have to worry about it. And it’s taxing, it’s sometimes three or four hours on stage. I’ve gotten kinda used to it but when we first did the Apothecary stuff, I was opening with Jonathan and Greg [as Magnetic Motorworks], then playing Camper and Cracker songs. By the time I was done it was three and a half hours on stage. And you’re just done, there’s nothing else you can do. When you’re in a situation where they’re asking you to, like, go and do an in-store or a radio performance and play those shows, it’s just brutal. I don’t mind doing those double-headers from time to time but I don’t like doing a lot of them. [To Jonathan] How long was that tour we did in February, two or three weeks?
Segal: It was most of the month of February, probably three and a half weeks.
Krummenacher: Of two set shows. I was toasted. I was done. And then we went to Alaska, and Alaska’s brutal because you have to get up at six in the morning. It’s kinda like going to Spain on Wednesday. You get up and fly then sleep for a while and go do the gig. I don’t live that way anymore. When I’m home I get up in the morning, go to work, go to the gym, eat well and sleep and spend time sitting around.
It’s more of a teenage lifestyle being back on the road.Krummenacher: It’s definitely a lifestyle for younger people. That’s why older people who do it… It’s interesting, I had this gig where I got hired to interview all these people for this, not specifically, Bluegrass Festival they have in San Francisco. I mean the people I was really enchanted with interviewing, like Nick Lowe, Geraint Watkins and Emmylou Harris and a lot of songwriters. But it really started as a bluegrass festival so I interviewed Ralph Stanley and some folks who’d been really on the bluegrass circuit for like forty or fifty years. And they have no tour bus, they do it like we do it and they’ve been doing it for a long time. But it’s strange because they’re all really religious for the most part, because they’re Appalachian American. It was interesting talking to them because they’re like, “well, y’know, music comes up through you, it’s a voice from God.” It’s a different spiritual trip. And then I talked to Steve Earle for a long time. He was basically saying, “I’ve given up relationships. You’re gonna turn fifty and die in the back of a tour bus.” And I got this cold chill because I knew it was true. I just don’t know.
Or like Richard Buckner who’s just got a lock-up somewhere and is just on the road constantly.Krummenacher: Yeah, Richard never gets off. He’s got that truck he’s had for years with three-hundred-and-sixty-thousand miles on it or something. He just keeps driving and driving and driving. And he got music in a VW commercial recently and I was talking to a friend of his in Los Angeles and I said, “I see Richard got music in a VW commercial, that must have paid well.” And she’s like, “Yeah, well it got him out of debt, he’s still broke.”

Whereas Teenage Fanclub covering Take The Skinheads Bowling on the soundtrack to‘Bowling For Columbine’ must have been good for you.Krummenacher: That’s how I got my house. It wasn’t it, I’d been saving, but that final ten thousand dollars or whatever it was. Some of it probably bought a guitar or a pre-amp or something fun and the rest of it went on the house. It was a great windfall for me, it actually did lift me up a level. And that’s the hardest thing about doing this. Occasionally you get this windfall and you’re like ‘wow, this is great’ but then other times it’s like-- well I’ve still got my day job and I have to. There’s no way I can make enough money from this to pay for everything I need to do. The real irony is that I can probably make more money from staying at home. I don’t want to stop but the juggling gets really intense sometimes. It’s an interesting game and I don’t know what keeps drawing us back, but I like music, I like playing.
When I first interviewed both you and Jonathan, Campers seemed like a lost love.Krummenacher: It was really a lost love and I really didn’t think we’d be back doing it like this at all. Never, ever. When we broke up, even when we reconciled and were doing those Cracker shows, we really didn’t think that it would come back to this. When David called and said “you want to do some Camper shows?” and I said, “how many?” and he said “three, let’s do three.” And that’s what we did, at the Knitting Factory and it went really well. You get that adrenalin thing. That’s the thing. I swear to you that’s what everybody gets hooked on in this business. You get that adrenalin rush and you come out and you get all these endorphins rushing around and you just feel really great, y’know? For some people that rush lasts longer, or it’s more addictive than others. That’s just the way it works. It was pretty potent and then we played shows in San Francisco and those were really good shows, and we had Chris Pedersen and were just pounding in a really good way. And then we didn’t do much. I think Cracker went out in the Fall and then we went out in early 2003, the last time we were here. And we did really well financially, a lot of people came. Now it’s funny because I think that first batch of people were thinking “it’s the reunion tour, let’s go see ‘em,” and I think a lot of people didn’t think we were going to try it again. People were surprised we actually made a record. I kind of assumed that if we were gonna go ahead and make a tour out of it, that we might as well make a record. We record all the time anyway, so for me it was a matter of like, ‘let’s just do it.’
I heard a rumour right back then that the idea for the record was that you’d all bring stuff in from your solo records, but redone as Camper tracks. Any validity to that?Krummenacher: That was a rumour, but it was basically insistic Camper freaks, who were like, “well, that’s what you should do.” That’s kinda how Civil Disobedience got into the mix. That 2003 tour we were doing Sink Every Ship and Little Blue Fish. We did Guarded by Monkeys a few times, and we did that Ike Reilly thing, Duty Free. We’ve definitely done some Cracker stuff and some of my solo stuff, some of Jonathan’s. I think we picked out some of Greg’s songs once or twice, so yeah. And that’s always kinda game. This is something I’m always finding [on tour], you get into this regimented mode where, with Camper, we have little four or five song ‘pockets’ that work and get interchanged, but we like to throw in one thing to screw ourselves up. Always trying to keep it alive as we can. It’s a difficult job.
I remember when you played the Queen Elizabeth Hall and seemed to respond to the audience, especially those at the front.

Krummenacher: People were cat-calling and we did the long two-set evening that night and people were screaming “we wanna dance!” Like, “well, why aren’t you dancing?” “We can’t, we have to sit down.” “I don’t think you have to sit down, I don’t think they care.” And then we went back between sets and I was talking to one of the house managers and said, “Do you care if people dance?” and he said, “No, I don’t care at all.” And then the audience just kinda took-off. That was a really good show. The really interesting thing is that even though it’s harder for me to do it, we’ve had some of our best shows in the last two years. That Queen Elizabeth Hall show was really good. There were a couple of Chicago shows that were insanely like, “wow, what is this band?” y’know? I was always really sceptical of bands who had a life of their own; “y’know it’s a specific chemistry,” but now it’s irrefutable to me. There’s something about what we do to each other that just creates this thing that’s larger than any of us individually. It just is.

The first time I saw Campers, that was the moment that I realised “yes”. You could only do it with those people.
Krummenacher: Right, it doesn’t work otherwise. And then it just kinda goes, it’s funny. I’ve played with other people and-- the last solo band I had, I mean the reason we made that record was because when we played we were like, “wow, this has a really good groove to it,” which was something we really didn’t expect. Because I was really prepared to go and do the songs for ‘Nocturne’ as I’d done it before. Hire this kind of drummer for this, this kind of drummer for that, this guitar player, I’ll have Immergluck here… and just put it together like I normally would put it together. We played a few times and it just seemed like, well if it works like this we should just do it. But still, as good as that was, I didn’t grow up with those guys, with Campers I literally did. I’ve known David since I was sixteen or so, twenty-four years or something. It’s a very long relationship and a very intuitive means of working. It makes things natural and it’s really interesting because I find myself in this supportive anchor slot in the band. But it’s the way ideas get actualised. With David you just let him fly and that’s kinda how ‘New Roman Times’ happened. We had a lot of ideas around, we’d done a fair amount of sitting as a group trying to come up with chord progressions and things but it wasn’t really going anywhere. And then, by December, he put Fifty-One Seven up on the ‘George Bush Is Not President’ site and just said, “listen to this.” He said, “I don’t know what it was, I don’t know if I got my medication right but I just started writing like crazy. A bunch of things started coming out.” So, suddenly, we had tons of MP3s sitting round and it just kinda coalesced. And I think they did a white paper where they actually came up with the whole concept of the record. That’s where it coalesced. So, suddenly we had a theory.

[David rejoins]
I suppose we should narrow down the new album in terms of what it’s all about; the parallel world with--Lowery: The lowest form of fiction. The alternate realities. ‘History science-fiction’ as one critic called it. But what better for Camper Van Beethoven? There were three things that were totally out of fashion when we began to make this record: Saxophones, peace and democracy, and the concept record. So we chose the concept record.
Segal: We were gonna do an all-saxophone record.
Krummenacher: That’s one of the great interior jokes to the record, for me, that there’s all this kind of prog-rock--
Lowery: It’s more like Hatfield and the North prog-rock. It’s like late-pop prog-rock, like late Cambridge-scene, right? Or, it’s the very early Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, moving a little bit closer to Jethro Tull, but not quite at Jethro Tull. Or Jeff Beck right before he became jazz-fusion. Those points there are almost like, um, acupuncture points for rock. [laughs]
Krummenacher: I should have played jazz-bass with a pick.
Lowery: And, of course, Fred Frith and Henry Cow after punk-rock happens when they start doing the Art Bears stuff, where it’s the Morris dancing stuff mixed with the nu-music kinda thing. So there’s those acupuncture points of prog-rock that we touch upon, but we’ve always touched upon that as well as the Zappa, Beefheart stuff. Camper is really from the Inland Empire, which is an area about eighty miles east of Los Angeles and, when we were kids growing up, it was still a separate area. Dairies, farms and orange groves, but they also had the steel mill out there and several military bases.
Krummenacher: And really bad air quality.
Lowery: And it was also one of the locations where the great exodus of the dust bowl, where the Southerners went. In fact, when I came from Spain I saw so many confederate flags on people’s cars when we were driving around I assumed it was called Southern California because the state had somehow divided and been on the side of the South in the Civil War. But, out of that mass exodus of people from all over the country, you got the surf bands first, because that’s your folk music for a culture that doesn’t exist. A fake ethnic music. You then get your surf music crossing into psychedelic, like West Coast Experimental Pop Band, Kaleidoscope, Captain Beefheart and Zappa. And those are the other two acupuncture points for prog-rock, that have always been in the Camper Van Beethoven sound. And so that was the musical legacy of the Inland Empire. And also that was where John Peel started, in San Bernadino, in the Inland Empire. That was probably in the blues, R’n’B--
Krummenacher: That’s what the guy was saying, that’s actually where he picked up on Beefheart and Zappa, when he was down there at that time. So what I surmised, when we were talking earlier today, was that there was this huge black influx into Southern California--
Lowery: The mills and the military.
Krummenacher: And there’s this whole, heavy-duty blues scene--
Lowery: And a hillbilly scene too. That’s the Kaleidoscope guys, although Solomon Feldthouse was from Turkey. He was one of the main fiddlers in that band.
Krummenacher: That blues scene, that’s where Dave and Phil Alvin got all that stuff.
Lowery: It’s also where the Hell’s Angels started.

So you picked up O, Death from Kaleidoscope?
Lowery: Yes, we did, we picked up that version-- I’d heard maybe an early Ralph Stanley version, not the one on ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’. My grandfather was actually kind of a hillbilly picker. He came from Arkansas and he played fiddle and guitar until he cut off his thumb. And then he played harmonica. He taught me all these dirty, double entendre hillbilly songs, y’know? “Let me be your salty dog…” So, anyways, it’s out of tradition I think.
Krummenacher: Yeah, that’s really true, Camper is out this tradition. Strangely.
Lowery: Although we came out of punk rock, really.
But there was also that Pink Floyd element to you, especially on the third album. The Barrett Floyd.
Lowery: Yes, we all wanted to be Syd Barrett, when only Chris Molla really could be.
Krummenacher: ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ is one of those things, it was always a good punk rock record anyway. You could listen to that record in the punk rock scene. Y’know ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was absolutely forbidden, but ‘Piper’ was OK. That’s just that strange thing. But I actually think ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is alright.
Lowery: But oddly for us the influence is more from the middle period, the ‘Meddle’, ‘Atom Heart Mother’ era and then there’s all this English punk, or post-punk, like especially The Fall. Is Blurt English? Fucking great record. In Santa Cruz everyone went crazy for that record. A friend and I were going to start a Blurt cover band. But it was saxophone, guitar and a drummer. Krummenacher: The illegal instrument, the saxophone.
Lowery: I bought a saxophone because I think, by the time the next record comes around, I can play it.
But you have to have two saxophones like David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator, because he’s the only true ‘rock’ sax player.
Lowery: Oh my god, what a prog reference. Gong would have been a big influence.
Yeah, but that’s just a sax player with a rock band. You have to listen to David Jackson if you want to know how to play rock sax.
Lowery: Who’s the guy who played with The Damned and stuff like that.
Lol Coxhill. But he’s a jazz player.Lowery: But, see we came into the punk-rock scene and we were tired of the dogma of it. But that first record is all stuff we could play to punk-rockers. To the hardcore scene that was building up around Longdale, SST Records and all of that stuff, where we might get our asses kicked but, usually, by the end of the set they sort of got the joke. And if it seemed like it was getting ugly we’d just play like a really fast, Eastern European Ska thing and they’d just go nuts for it. We’d calm them down, just throw a little red meat to the lions, basically.

“That gum you like is back in style” - that’s a Twin Peaks reference, right?Lowery: Yeah, but I didn’t do it quite right because I hear David Lynch is… litigious, I think is the word. So I changed it a little bit. I think it’s “coming back in style” so it’s slightly different. Um, that’s the cryptologist making a key for something, a special quantum encryption that these grey aliens have taught the Californians using alternate universes. And one of the best ways to do it is take minor celebrities and measure the differences between their lives and their career paths.
Segal: It’s actually a pretty simple key because you just superimpose two realities and pick out celebrities where they are in the different--
Lowery: So, the Beatles didn’t have George in it, it had [actor] Keenan Wynn and they were a minor garage band that he was obsessed with, so he’s building this key based on the Beatles. And he’s building a key based on the Leonard Cohen song… Unmade Bed [sic], is that the name of that song with the Chelsea Hotel? But he doesn’t get laid in the reality of the record. I don’t know why, I just liked the word Quebecois, y’know?
Segal: Because Quebec is a set of keys unto itself.
Krummenacher: Because maybe you knew Quebec would have a certain resonance with us later…
Lowery: Yeah, where we got all of our gear stolen. And then, That Gum You Like is actually the giant and the little person from ‘Twin Peaks’, in this reality, had a spin-off show that only lasted four episodes.
The soldier who narrates Fifty-One Seven also narrates other songs, right?Lowery: Yeah, it’s a trick that I have always used, to make up a character and let them speak. I had a professor who told me--I can’t imagine learning anything like this in college, it was just a good, fucking, basic trick--he said, “You write good characters and then you try to put your story on top of them. You should just let the character speak.” So, that’s what I do. Fifty-One Seven was just one night I came up with that and he’s all through the story. What’s interesting was making him change because, by the time you get to New Roman Times which Jonathan had done the music for, I realised we had this great piece of music and I was just staying away from the words, because I didn’t know what to do--
Segal: But we actually had the title before the words--
Lowery: Yeah, because we said, “this has to be the transition.” This has to be his transition from the last vestiges of-- his belief in his way had to fade right here. And then, of course, he sells out on Long Plastic Hallway. That’s why I have that Hunter S Thompson reference there. Shall I give you the full quote?
Lowery: I think I can give you the full quote… “The music business is a shallow money trench, a long and plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free, where good men die like dogs. And then there’s a negative side.”
Segal: You’re ready for a Burns Night, you got it right there.
Lowery: So that’s him selling out because he gets a corporate defence job. Texsecure and Telecorp Doo dah. We need logos, that should be a shirt. And he goes from there to [I Am Talking To The] Flowers and now he’s just getting high, hanging out with Mexican drug dealers because they have connections to the California underground --which is the CVB, we never explain what that stands for, because we couldn’t think of anything [laughs]--he’s getting high all the time and that’s why he’s so fucked up. And then, of course, we go into the Steve Reich song--
Segal: In our reality of this record Steve Reich is just a pop composer who wrote hits.
Lowery: Yeah, there’s a style of music that’s completely repetitive with guitars, like The Rolling Stones [laughs], and so that song--
Krummenacher: It’s one of my favourite pieces on the record because it started with this weird-- we were ending a song and Immergluck just kinda went off in this one direction and I thought, ‘ok, I’m going to play against the beat, against you and David started--
Lowery: And…there’s an in-between step. Richmond [VA], has a fairly large advertising scene because of the tobacco legacy, and I have a friend who does music for commercials, you know, to order. He actually plays a lot of synth on the record. For a square advertising guy he’s a motherfucker of an analogue synth player. We even renamed him Crazy Holistic Analogue Synth Man, because he’s all into Zen Buddhism because he was going through a divorce. But anyway, he said, “hey man, I got a call from Nike. They’re looking for anything, get on this conference call with me.” So I get on this conference call and I say “what are you guys looking for?” And they had a Traffic song done by this obscure English female in this Nike ad. They said “this isn’t right, we want anything, there are no limits on this whatsoever.” So all I did was take a snippet at the end of Flowers where David Immergluck was going off, and I put the Steve Reich music to it and just chopped it all to shit and did all this stuff to it. And I cut it to the ad and it was fuckin’ beautiful. The ad campaign was [Tour de France winner] Lance Armstrong as if he’s a magnet riding along. Anyway I sent it to them. “We’re Nike, we can do anything,” this is what they kept telling me. “We break the rules.” But they call back and they say, “Is this a joke?” [laughs]. So apparently there are boundaries and rules. It reminds me of the ‘Mr Show’ sketch where they say “Break the rules! But remember, don’t really break the rules.” So I thought, fuck it, this is going into the story.
Segal: And they ended up using the acoustic guitar girl.
Lowery: No, they had a guy singing it, some fucking washed-up backing vocalist from Air Supply or something. “We break boundaries, man.” Fuck you. So anyway, that got incorporated into the record because, fuck man, there’s riots in L.A. because of the civil unrest. This is an underground FM pop song in our world.

Immergluck was telling me he played some guitar solo while watching a video of--
Lowery: SLA? It’s not a video of the SLA, I made him a slide-show of-- we found a website of a very strange man; he’s one of these radical, Jewish Zionist guys who was obsessed with the SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army] and he had a whole photo-library on his website and I made a slide-show out of it and made Immergluck play his guitar solos to-- “you’re in the fuckin’ CVB now!” But it was Black Panthers too, anything related to that whole [movement]. And the whole artwork is based on that, I don’t know if you realised, it’s recreations of all those photos.
Segal: I’m trying to remember the name of the guy who made that Weather Underground film. That was one of the things we were watching when we were making the record. It just so percolates through with this idea of the CVB as the resistance.
Lowery: And you know we had this idea all the way through Camper Van Beethoven; these faux-revolutionaries’ fascination with real revolutionaries, terrorist groups, and it just seemed to fit right in with everything that’s going on nowadays. So, we deconstructed it so it was a little warmer and fuzzier. It was part of our Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome therapy.

There’s always a lot going on in your records but you never spoon-feed it to the listener.
Lowery: No, we’re happy just to please ourselves. [laughs] There are so many self-referential things, like The Long Plastic Hallway; one of the things we put in there is-- he’s basically in Hollywood, going to parties and hanging out. There’s different sets of aliens. It’s like colonial South America where the Dutch and the French and the Portugese and the Spanish are coming in. There’s different sets of aliens with different alliances and stuff like that. So he goes to a flying saucer where the aliens are on the side of Texas, or whatever.
Krummenacher: But then there’s that whole in-joke about you and David Byrne having that conversation where--
Lowery: ‘Cause I used to have this other band called Box O’ Laffs, and so I made it so that in this reality Box O’ Laffs was the popular band and never broke up, and Camper Van Beethoven was never formed. So I’m actually playing on a flying saucer in a double-bill with the Talking Heads for these aliens.
Krummenacher: Which is an actual conversation he had with David Byrne.
Lowery: Because Box O’ Laffs once drove from Santa Cruz to L.A. to play with the Talking Heads, because our guitarist was hanging out with a crack-head who claimed he was the percussionist for the Talking Heads. And I figured that Chris was a crack-head at that point too, because he was exercising extremely poor judgement. So we drove all the way down there. We’re gonna play a gig with Talking Heads on the ‘Remain in Light’ tour, y’know? We’re like “man, this is going to be amazing.” But we didn’t really know who to contact or how we were gonna get paid or anything. We almost didn’t go but then we’re like, “we’ve gotta go down there.” So we drove four hundred miles in the back of Joe Sloan’s pick-up truck. Joe Sloan who was, by the way, in Joe Cuba and the Tokyo Negroes, which is the best band name ever. But, uh, we drove down there and we finally tracked down Chris Hart, and this guy is so obviously a fuckin’ crack-head, and we’re just going “oh my god, this is so fucked up.” And we’re like “When are we playing? We’re not advertised on the bill.” And he’s like, “Dude, dude, I’m not talking about the Perkins Palace show man, I’m talking about the r-e-a-l gig. It’s on a f-l-y-i-n-g saucer, after the show.” [laughs] So, I think we kicked Chris Hart’s ass.
Krummenacher: And he’s like “What did I do?”
Lowery: Yeah, he was the closest to George W. Bush that I’ve ever met. He was a sociopath. So, I go to this wedding in it must be 2000 and, for some reason, I knew this person and David Byrne knew this person and we’re sitting at the same table together. “Y’know David, we played a gig a long time ago, together.” He’s like, “Really? Was it the Jools Holland show?” And I was like, “well, yeah, we did do that gig, but this was a very special gig, I’m surprised you don’t remember it.” And he’s like, “Really? Y’know I’ve done so many gigs in my life…” He’s a very nice guy, so I’m like… “This was on a flying saucer…” And he just visibly pushes the chair away from the table a little bit [laughs], and then I have to tell him the whole story. He thought it was funny. But he also thinks I’m insane too. But yeah, we wrapped our own history into this.
i love that over at the internet archive there are 110 campers shows to download for free
and nearly a dozen shows by jonathan segel
and ten shows by the mighty monks of doom
and some of victors beautiful solo shows
and a 120 cracker shows
i also love that over at victors own site there a load of great stuff to read and download

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