Trueto the freewheeling, joyfully schizophrenic swirl of rock, punk, ska, folk,world music and (insert next genre-bending style here) that has defined theCamper Van Beethoven aesthetic since the enduring lineup took shape circamid-80s, La Costa Perdida,their debut on 429 Records and first recording since New Roman Times in 2004, brings a listener into thestrange world of the northern California coast above San Francisco.
“I’veplayed with a lot of other bands in between Camper Van Beethoven tours andrecordings,” says Victor Krummenacher, “but there’s never the power, energy orcamaraderie with anyone else that I have felt with these guys. There’s justsomething about playing with the guys you came up with that is unique,unpredictable and exciting at the same time. It’s always very intuitive withus, almost like we can read each other’s minds and know David’s harmonicfacility so well that we instinctively know where the song is going to go.”
Towhich David Lowery adds, “All bands have strengths and weaknesses, and for us,often times, they are the same things. We always have so many musical ideas allgoing at once, and there’s always another melody playing as I’m singing. That’sa challenge, just knowing how to simplify, but I think we do that on LaCosta Perdida betterthan any previous recording. I love the fact that it’s so concise stylisticallyand thematically consistent throughout.”
Theycan agree that, whether by design or not, the set of nine vocals and a singleinstrumental (the trippy, psychedelic jam “Aged In Wood”), shapes up as theirCalifornia rock project. It’s every bit a celebration of Northern California(where the founding members, including Lowery and bassist Victor Krummenacher,first became musically active as students at UC Santa Cruz), anchored by theirdistinctive, eclectic sound and the visionary lyrics of frontman/founder DavidLowery.
Sometimesthose references are direct, as in the dreamy opening harmonies on “NorthernCalifornia Girls” or the trippy, electric guitar driven declaration thatthey’re “Too High For the Love In.” The folksy title track “La Costa Perdida” – is a Norteno -flavored odeto Lost Coast of California, a mostly undeveloped section of the CaliforniaNorth Coast in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. Jonathan Segel, who sweetens thisalbum and all previous Camper projects with violin, guitar, mandolin and organ,says, “It’s as much a mythological idea of the Lost Coast as a realgeographical place, the idea that the society of this region is separate fromregular society.” All of this adds to the frolicsome mystique that’s been aband trademark since their debut album Telephone Free Landslide Victory, which featured their first successfulsingle “Take The Skinheads Bowling.”
Lowerysays that it was a serendipitous concert rainout in Big Sur that led them togather in the living room at the Oakland home of Segel and start writingtogether. “Camper got an odd offer to play a few shows in an outdoor setting ofthe Henry Miller Library, in June 2011,” says the Richmond, Virginia basedsinger, who has also led the more mainstream rock band Cracker (which oftentours with CVB) since 1991. “It never rains in that area, and when we had topostpone the shows a week, instead of scattering, going home and returning, wethought this would be a great time to start writing our next album. Jonathanhas a ton of great instruments, we all have laptops and we basically wrote therecord in a week. Between that and a later session a few weeks later, weemerged with almost two albums worth of material, some real upbeat, hardrocking and traditional punk rock songs.”
“Actually,”lead guitarist Greg Lisher adds, “the previous October, I had flown to Richmondto work with David, and over the course of eight days we exchanged a lot ofgreat ideas and wrote some songs for future potential development. One of thesongs that evolved to make the cut on La Costa Perdida was ‘Summer Days,’ which started with mychord progressions before he and I worked on the melody. We wrote a lot moresongs at Jonathan’s place, and the coolest part of the experience was that itwas the most organic Camper record ever. Back 20 years ago, David wouldessentially bring in material and we would write all our parts to what he haddone. This time, most of the songs began with someone playing a chordprogression and the others riffing off that until the melodies and harmoniestook shape.”
Segelcan’t pinpoint the exact time sequence of the postponement and writingsessions, but recalls that he and Krummenacher were already vibing on some newmusic outside the CVB experience ( in the two decades after CVB’s first breakup in 1990, the two ran their own label Magnetic). “It was great that no onehad to be anywhere else in the country that week, and we not only wrote manysongs, but also recorded in my living room, doing many takes of the songs usingacoustic guitar, violin, bass and electric guitar. While the Northern Cal ideawas David’s, the vibe of many of the songs reminded me of the classic (1973)Beach Boys album Holland.As always, we came to these sessions from our own separate musical worlds,bringing different elements naturally, without any conscious thought.”
Atlast, it’s Krummenacher’s turn to chime in: “The coolest part of La CostaPerdida was the factthat everything flowed from the fact that these distinctive musicians andpersonalities sat in the living room. You wait for that first spark, and thatmoment when something starts and starts coming to life is the most honest,enjoyable element. With us, we just settle right back into that place wherewe’re getting along and communicating and the music flows. We literally workedon six ideas each per day. This was a very fertile time. Musically, I believe LaCosta Perdida is ourmost mature, grown up recording to date. Traditionally, Camper has alwaysmaintained a nervous edge partially because we grew up in punk rock, like wewere a punk band at heart that kept reinventing itself. Now we’ve got thisorganic feeling and our music sounds like four people are writing it. The songshave great energy, but we’re more relaxed and stately, and a lot moreconfident. The songwriting here has elements of vintage Camper along with grownup Camper.”
Thoughmuch of the tracking was done via Segel’s home studio setup (known as TheMagnetic Satellite), further sessions were done at Electric Studio in Berkeleyand Sharkbite Studios in Oakland. The bulk of the mixing was done by DrewVandenberg and the band at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, Georgia, Lowery’ssecond home base. Though Frank Funaro is CVB’s live drummer for the handful ofU.S. touring spurts that the band does between outside projects every year, theskins on La Costa Perdidawere played by Michael Urbano, an associate of Segel’s who lives in Oakland.
CamperVan Beethoven paints its musical map of Northern California portrait with a lotof different hues and textures, starting with the Americana flavored openingsingalong “Come Down The Coast.” After the anthemic, trip of “Too High For TheLove In,” they submerge into a dark brooding realm before emerging into ahypnotic optimistic light on the garage rocker “You Got To Roll.” “Someday OurLove Will Sell Us Out” offers a sweet hodgepodge of almost everything CVB isabout: ethereal vocals, booming drums, scorching distorted guitars, a soaringexotic violin, trippy ambience and psychedelic spontaneity.
“Peachesin the Summertime” has a Middle Eastern/Turkish melody (Lowery’s take, anyway)and borrows its late refrain from the 18th Century folk song “Shady Grove.”“Northern California Girls” showcases the colorful vocal-guitar dialoguebetween Lowery and Lisher. “Summer Days” is perhaps the most poetic tune on LaCosta Perdida--thelyrics empowered by an instrumental jam featuring guitar, violin, booming drumsand symphonic magic. It touches on the idea of giving up one's humanity to liveand work in a bustling city. The dusty, galloping, Spanish folk-inflected titletrack is followed by the wild, distorted and spacey sonic experiment “Aged InWood” (an instrumental that doesn’t say anything in particular, yet still makesa statement). The set wraps with the sweeping, symphonic “Love For All Time,” atune that each member of CVB calls a favorite for obvious reasons. Opening withlush sea sounds, the piece is one Lowery calls “the most complex on the record,a love song infused with the mythology of the stars and Greek and Roman godswith a Tom Waits-type vocal that fits perfectly.” Segel and his wife Sanna dothe backing vocals on this majestic closer.
CamperVan Beethoven’s history begins in the mid-80s in Santa Cruz, California (up thecoast a ways from Big Sur), when David Lowery and Victor Krummenacher formedthe band, and—after Jonathan Segel joined the group--their jangly and stoned“Take The Skinheads Bowling” became an instant college radio staple. Their 80sdiscography includes Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985), II & III (1986, the first featuring Greg Lisher),Camper Van Beethoven(1986), Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988) and Key Lime Pie (1989). The band was one of the foundersof the indie rock genre and one of the most eclectic bands of all time, knownfor a variety of folk, rock, punk, and world influences put into a playfulblender. Krummenacher and Lisher formed Monks of Doom in 1986 andKrummenacher later began a solo career, recording several albums with guestslike Dave Alvin. Segel played with Dieselhead, Sparklehorse and fronted his ownbands Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill, later playing under his ownname. Lowery released the solo album The Palace Guards on 429 Records in 2011.