Camper Van Beethoven was one of the first 'indie' bands as we know the term to imply. They were releasing their own records in the mid 1980s, a very unusual thing at the time. The band incorporated many styles of music into their sound, from punk, to ska, to eastern European folk to pop. Camper was never merely a sum of their parts; rather, they created a sound entirely their own. Though their influences were eclectic, their songs always had that distinctive Camper sound.
They had a sardonic aura about them. "Our whole thing was to go against the grain. If someone was doing it this way, we would do it that way, says bassist Victor Krummenacher. "Don't play it straight." They covered Sonic Youth's "Love Her All the Time" as a hoedown, and earlier covered Black Flag's "Wasted" in their own sarcastic style. They were existing with this punk rock DIY aesthetic, but musically and operationally they were making up their own rules as they went along. You could never pigeonhole this band.
After a prolific five years in which they released five LPs and an EP, they disbanded while touring for their second major label release, Key Lime Pie. It took 15 years for the band to set aside their differences and produce another new proper record (they posthumously released some outtakes and live material over the years). 2004's New Roman Times re-united the bands cast over the years. Collaborators David Lowery (vocals, guitar), Victor Krummenacher (bass, vocals), Jonathan Siegel (violin, vocals and too many other sounds to list), Greg Lisher (guitar) Chris Pedersen (drums) and Chris Molla (guitar, drums), and David Immerglück (pedal steel, etc.) all found time to work on the project that many true fans of the band were craving for many years.
2005 marked the 20-year anniversary of Camper Van Beethoven's first LP, Telephone Free Landslide Victory. In January of 1985, the California band, which had just relocated to Santa Cruz from Redlands, journeyed further north to Davis where they entered Dave Gill's Samurai Sound Studio. It was a modest 1/2" 8-track studio where the band basically recorded the songs in a traditional format, documenting their songs as they played tracks mostly live. The record doesn't have any of the eighties pop sound on the radio at the time, but then again, they weren't afforded the big studio budget. The record contained so many styles, from punk to ska to eastern European folk to American pop that the clean, straightforward approach to the recording let the record have a varied, eclectic sound. The record was released on Independent Project Records (run by Bruce Licher of Independent Project Press, also of the bands Savage Republic and Scenic).
Shortly thereafter, Camper began recording with Tom Fox at his Fox Studios in Felton, just north of Santa Cruz. They continued to work with Tom for their next two records. "Tom was professional, but he didn't have a lot of equipment," says David Lowery. "He was old school style, he tried to isolate everything." The first Fox recordings were for Camper Van Beethoven II and III, though some recordings used were leftover from sessions at Samurai. They approached the recording in a similar fashion to TFLV, recording basic tracks live and overdubbing the frills. "We recorded drums in stereo or mono, but we didn't do a lot of bouncing," says David. "You can tell when we did though. Everything gets lost. I wish we'd read those Beatles books. We could've bounced and re-did what we lost later, like the snare. But we were trying to be professional." II and III continued the Camper's absurdist psychedelic folk rock sound. It was also their debut release on their own Pitch-a-Tent Records label, which was pressed and distributed by Rough Trade Records at this point.
On their third LP, simply titled Camper Van Beethoven, the band made their most schizophrenic album yet, experimenting with a more psychedelic sound and incorporating more novelty-leaning songs ("Joe Stalin's Cadillac", "The History of Utah"). "Five Sticks" is "Ambiguity Song" from their first album, only played entirely backwards with added strummed acoustic guitar played forwards over it. They utilized more instruments too, including the Indian classical...