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- Posted on Mar 10th 2010 1:20PM by Sarah Sherman
Where does the name of your band come from?
One of the guys who was in Camper Van Beethoven for about three months, he was working on this standup comedy character that would tell these jokes. They had all the rhyme and the rhythm of a joke, but they would never make sense, and that's what was funny about them. It was pretty much pothead humor, and so that was his idea of a band name, was it sort of sounded like it means something, but it didn't, really. And you know we loved it, of course.
How did the band form?
It was a side project for everybody in the band. Everybody was in other bands that were more successful. The idea that I had for the band was that everybody would play a new instrument. I was kind of the bass player around my town. But in this band, I decided that I would learn guitar and sing. Jonathan Segal was a guitar player, so he had to play violin. He also had to learn keyboards. Victor Krummenacher -- I basically taught him to play bass, and Chris [Molla] was a really excellent guitarist but we made him learn drums, and after about a year we actually got good enough to play shows. And it just had a really different sound than all the other bands, and suddenly it became more popular than our other bands.
Why did you break up the first time?
Personally, I really couldn't tell you. There used to be a magazine in New York that was kind of a competitor to the Village Voice, I forget what they were called now [New York Press]. Their quote was that Camper Van Beethoven didn't explode like the way like Fleetwood Mac did, we dissolved kind of like a urinal cake.
Very crude, very charming. And it is I think it just broke apart into smaller and smaller pieces.
So if you're in all these little pieces, what drew you back together?
Well, certainly not money. I think everybody makes more money doing their other things. Like Cracker, for instance, for me. Jonathan works at Pandora, Victor's an editor at Wired magazine. [Drummer] Chris Pedersen is some kind of like a bigwig IT guy. We do it for the love of music. And that's kind of like what we always did it for. And I know people say they do that, but they're full of s---. I mean to be Camper Van Beethoven, you really kind of have to do it for the love of it. It usually takes about 10 years for each record that we put out for people to write about it nicely. I remember when the first record came out and it was just like, nobody understood it at first. The only reason it happened was because after about six months after the record came out, I believe it was John Peel started playing the s--- out of 'Take the Skinheads Bowling' in England, and that filtered back to the United States.
Who are your musical influences?
I like the classic old-school punk rock, like Dead Kennedys, the Clash, Black Flag pre-Henry Rollins. When I started writing my own music that's what we were listening to. I love quirkier, airer more intellectual stuff too like the Talking Heads, David Bowie. But Camper, I think, really sort of discovered all this early Southern California psychedelia -- Chocolate Watchband, We the People, Kaleidoscope -- and surf music; we were heavily influenced by that.
How would you describe your sound?
Psychedelic folk rock.
You guys try on a lot of different styles, but you still manage to keep the music fresh. How do you do that?
You know why? It's because they try to get it right: We never tried to get it right. When we play, like, a ska song, we don't go and f---ing listen to records from the islands -- we just sort of try to do it the way we remember it, and if it's not right it's OK. And we never made it about the stage show. That's the other thing is when bands get eclectic they make it about the stage show, like what's that horrible band -- Gogol Bordello or whatever the f-- that band is, I don't know; it's just a bunch of shouting and jumping around, and every once in a while people are playing in the same key. You know, we made it about the music. This section leads into this section and it wants to because of the music.
You said in 2005, "There's nothing that younger bands are doing now that's really truly dangerous." Do you still believe that?
There's probably a few, but there's not any that I've really heard of. Try opening for Dead Kennedys in 1983 at the, I don't know, it was like a VFW hall or something in Chico, California, with real skinheads, and we go out there doing our fake hippie schtick and we started playing this folk-ska stuff and doing softer acoustic versions of Black Flag songs, and some of those people wanted to kill us. We were always physically in danger on that tour. I just don't see that, you know? I don't see anybody doing that right now where they're physically in danger of being assaulted by the audience.
That's something we need for great music to be born now?
No, I'm just saying that, this notion of sometimes an artist will be cited for being brave, for making noise, but like anybody can do that -- bulls---! Try doing something that people don't like in front of people that will kick your ass, you know? That's brave, that's believing in your art. I know that's a little bit like parents saying, "When I was kid, it was tough," but it actually was.
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