- Part One, the outtakes -
On Bush and Kerry…
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.
On the creative process…
Lowery: 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.
Segal: [‘Tusk‘] 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: 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.
- Part Two: Mick Dillingham interviews Victor Krummenacher -
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?
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.
Let’s talk about the Monks of Doom why we’ve got the chance.
The covers album’s finished-- Oh, did I tell you I talked to Geoff Travis from Rough Trade? He came to the shop about four or five months ago and I asked him about the Monks’ stuff. David had said you couldn’t get the rights to it.
Yeah, it’s all really technically wrapped up in EMI.
Well what Geoff said was you should just do it and no-one would notice, because what’s happening with the Rough Trade stuff is that basically it’s being sat on by a bunch of businessmen. They’re not interested in it, they’ve just buried it. And he says he can’t see any reason why you don’t just put it out. He gave me his email to pass onto you in case you need some insurance.
I’d like to talk to him anyway. We actually contemplated at one point, but then I bought a house and that screwed everything up financially since all my money’s gone into that right now. 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?
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 was basically live in the studio.
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?
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 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.
What’s it like for you being in Cracker?
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.
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.
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.
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 ‘Bowling For Columbine’ must have been good for you.
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.
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 Cracker [Camper?] tracks. Any validity to that?
That was a rumour, but it was basically insistic (sic) 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 [all-seated] Queen Elizabeth Hall and seemed to respond to the audience, especially those at the front.
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.
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.