just a little bragging.

This is not the normal internet-style humble-brag, I’m actually bragging. I don’t do that often…or at least not overtly. But check it out—our family of musicians has a ton of records out, and a ton just recently. And they’re all just for you! Of course, this is understandably odd in these anti-musical/anti-artist times. Who’s making records? I guess everyone still wants to, but it’s certainly not completely viable commercially. We spend our own money on it anyway. And I personally have given up, at least three or four times just this year!

So, when I say, “our family” of musicians, I’m referring to the lineage of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. It’s a long sordid history that began in Redlands, CA back in about 1982 or ’83, then moved up to Santa Cruz after summer break. You can read the CVB history on wikipedia if you like: Camper Van Beethoven

The band split up in 1990, David Lowery went back to his roots in Redlands and got Johnny Hickman, they formed Cracker. Cracker was very successful, but regardless, in about 2000, Camper Van Beethoven started edging toward reforming. We did, began touring and recording again and now we’ve been a band longer the second time around than we ever were when we first started.

Both bands have been making records ever since. So have all of the individuals involved. We’re fucking old! (though nowadays we can actually play.) Victor Krummenacher, Camper’s bassist, and I started our own label in 1993, Magnetic, which we shut down in 2012 when I moved to Sweden. We’ve put out a landfill’s-worth of our own CDs as well as Greg Lisher (CVB’s lead guitarist) and others’.

Cracker and Camper, all mixed up.

Cracker and Camper, all mixed up.

In the past two or three years, though, we’ve hit some sort of stride. Camper made two albums:

La Costa Perdida” (2013) & “El Camino Real” (2014)— http://www.campervanbeethoven.com/

these were “about” (inasmuch as anything can be “about” anything,) Northern and Southern California, respectively.

And now Cracker has followed them up with a new double album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” (see:  http://crackersoul.com/store ) which are “about” California from west to east this time. We do love California…though nowadays only Greg and Victor live there.

These are obviously the most known of our albums, being done by the bands, whose names are probably more well known than the individuals involved, except maybe for David Lowery. But even for David, this comes on the heels of a solo album:  “The Palace Guards” (2011)

And for the rest of us, these are above and beyond:

Victor Krummenacher’s “I Was a Nightmare But I’m Not Going to Go There” (2012) & “Hard to See Trouble Coming” (2014) — http://www.victorkrummenacher.com/

Johnny Hickman’ “Tilting” (2012)— http://johnnyhickman.com/

Jonathan Segel’s “All Attractions” & “Apricot Jam” (2012) & “Shine Out” (2014): — http://www.jonathansegel.com/

that’s a lot of music! I personally vouch for all of it. It’s all great, (I say, polishing my knuckles.) A quantity, yes, but a quantity of quality music. Many different directions can be found here, from country music to pop rock, from punk rock to space rock, from Americana to out-of-this-world.

Most of these will be available to purchase in physical CD form at our upcoming shows featuring Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven:

December 27th & 28th, 2014: Independent, San Francisco, CA

Dec. 29th: Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA

Dec. 30th: The Belly Up, Solana Beach, CA

Dec. 31st: Soiled Dove Underground, Denver CO

Jan. 14, 2015: 9:30 Club, Washington DC

Jan. 15: Lee’s Palace, Toronto, ONT

Jan. 16: Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA

Jan. 17: World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA

Jan. 18: B.B. King Blues Club, NYC

See you there!


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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Touring

Blast from the past—interview from May, 1998

Interview from May 1998 for a fanzine.

*So how was the Container tour? Any memorable moments or good stories?

I went out with the Container for most of the month of April and it was the first time I had toured the US since um… 1991 I guess when Hieronymus Firebrain went out opening for the Monks of Doom. The scenery has changed, it’s true. Even in that short a period of time. It’s definitely not the same as the tours we did in the 80’s, there are so few people interested in non-major acts these days, it seems. I felt generally a little unwanted, like when you travel as a tourist in, say, France, and both you and they know that there is really no reason for you to be there. I’ve heard that in many languages “tourist” translates as “that annoying stranger sleeping on your couch”. Anyway, there was certainly very little respect for the fact that we were from out of town and traveling trying to hawk our wares, average pay was next to nothing, average audiences as well. Certainly without the financial support of Subliminal Records (who put out the Container CD) we never would have made it. This, in contrast with the 1991 HF tour, which was a similar situation of a little known band and small shows, but at least we made it back home, spending the last dollar on toll to cross the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

On this tour, we kept splitting up the band, the drummer, Chris being an animator for some Disney bible epic or something, had to keep flying home to Hollywood to draw, so we ended up playing acoustic shows occasionally. One such night in Greenville, NC (home of Eastern Carolina university, and a surf town if i’ve ever seen one, despite the lack of surf…) the soundman happened to play drums so we taught him the songs at sound check and played the set with him on drums later.

Other strange but usual tour incidents: opening for a country cover band in Milwaukee (?!) who did not old, not new, but early 80’s country covers..(!?) and stopped in the middle of the set so the drummer could do a drum solo (!!?)

Got pulled over by the cops in Kansas, who gave the tired old story, “We don’t care about you small time user, we just want the big guys, so if you got a little bit, just hand it over and I’ll take the pipe away and throw the stuff into a ditch…” Maybe the 4th time I’ve been pulled over on tour and gotten this same story, in different states… Then they decide to search the van. In Texas once with Dieselhed I bluffed my way through by asking the cop to call for backup and make sure they brought a drug sniffing dog to hurry the process up so we could get to our next show, he let us go. This guy looked about for a bit and then started talking about the metal cage we had in the back for the equipment— said since it was inaccessible to the driver, somebody could drink back there while we were driving! I said, look sir, I don’t even drink, I drive after the shows… Clyde (the singer) said, he has a few beers so I always drive. Cop says, “Jeez, after the show, i’d be in back in the cage with a fifth of tequila..!”

yes, sir…

*How is the new CD doing?

I assume you mean the container cd? Well, they hired a radio promo service and I guess it’s charting on some college radio. I don’t really pay attention. These guys want that CD to get them to the major label big time. They’re way more organized than I am.

*I know that this question is vague and dated but what was it like being in CVB ( a band with such a cult following)?

*What has life been like since the days of CVB came to an end for you?

It felt like I was doing something important, like I was having a positive effect on the world. Unfortunately since then it’s been a little like when your parents tell you that you are special all your life and then you go out into the rest of the world and you get beat up and realize that really you’re not. It’s nasty to have to live with the most important work you have ever done behind you. I keep producing music thinking that it’s as great and as important as what I was doing in CVB, but from the responses and results I guess I’m wrong. It’s been producing a sort of cognitive dissonance between me and the real world. Maybe a little like child stardom for those Hollywood kids that end up as drug addicts… And so I keep making records thinking that they sound just like what people are going to like, like they aren’t so different from whatever else you hear (and indeed my music is just whatever else I hear filtered through me and regurgitated back through my fingers…) and then the feedback I get is “it’s so weird.” Hmm.

So what I did in the physical world since getting booted from CVB in 1989: first thing I did was get out of Santa Cruz and move to san francisco. Tried to start a solo career, but unfortunately had just released “Storytelling” which, while good as a CVB side project album, was really no good as starting block for a solo musician’s career (again: “too weird”. Spin Magazine’s guide to alternative rock called it “a double album art-rock horror”). So I started Hieronymus Firebrain (initially called Exalted Birds — the angels in Rushdie’s Satanic Verses…, then called Clocklips briefly) with musicians that David Immerglück introduced me to. David I. stayed in the band long enough to be drafted by Camper in august of 1989, so by the end of that year the band settled into the lineup that recorded the first HF CD, self titled, I signed a contract with Delta Records, formerly Fundamental. The CD came out and they went under, I saw maybe 50 copies ever? They printed the painting on the cover (supposed to be full color) in green and red! Yuck. Anyway, so it went for the companion piece to Storytelling… the band members spent more time in their other bands, and eventually I was back to square one.

By this time I had to earn a living again, first jobs I’d had since the first years of CVB (when I had been a painter, handyman, and even worked in a trophy shop) and knowing full well that of the sex, drugs and rock and roll that were all I knew how to do, I wasn’t making any money at the rock and roll and wasn’t good looking enough to prostitute myself so I took up the offer of my local’s proprietor who called one day to ask, “Ever thought of becoming a publican?”

I spent the next six years bartending at the Rat’n’Raven in SF, and occasionally at Lucky 13 or Zeitgeist, till I’d not only had my fill of beer and booze but patrons too. When people walked through the door I hated them immediately. Bartending is like adult day care.

Anyway, in 1991 after the dissolution of the first version of HF, I put together the 2nd and greatest version with Russ Blackmar on drums (still work with him. He also plays with Sonia Hunter, Alice Bierhorst, etc.) Ted Ellison on Bass (subsequently he became the bass player in FUCK) and Mark Bartlett on Guitar. We toured the States once and played several shows in California, recorded one CD in Oakland and on at The Mudhive in New Mexico. What happened to this band was that Russ and I went in one direction and Mark and Ted in others. I was stripping my parts to accommodate their playing (at the time, anyway, I must say their styles are different now). So we split up and Russ and I started playing with Jane Thompson (Russ’ old roommate) forming Jack and Jill.

During this period I also played with Eugene Chadbourne, one tour in Europe during the Gulf War, several other smaller tours in the states including a stint at the knitting factory where we recorded the 69th Sin-Funny album. Also (at the request of Todd’s brother Dave Costanza in New Mexico*) produced/mixed the first Granfaloon Bus CD, “A Love Restrained” and subsequently played with them for two or three years. also played with Dieselhed for two or three years, played on their first CD. this was a very exciting time, especially when I had two shows in an evening in SF, I’d strap the fiddle to my back like a gun and ride my little Triumph drunkenly from gig to gig. I must say that driving a motorcycle drunk in San Francisco is a lot of fun with all those hills and curves… perhaps that is the real reason I stayed bartending so long—when I quit I began working at a record store, which really ruined me on the music business.

Also played with Victor briefly in Fifth Business, until he decided he needed a different sound and dissolved the band into what became A Great Laugh. 5B’s greatest moment was playing the Warfield Theatre opening for Radiohead and Belly. Felt like a rock star again for a minute or two.

Also produced/arranged a John Kruth cd for Weasel Disc called the Electric Chairmen (originally the Gas Chambermaids).

Worked for Nesting Dolls Dance Company for the past 4 or 5 years, composed and performed music for several shows, some solo guitar or violin, some with bands. Most recently we did shows in SF in May 1998 where my band was me on bass, Russ on drums, Alison Faith Levy on Keyboards and Dan Olmstead (from the New EZ devils) on Guitar.

Worked also at Homework audio, where I recorded the Plane Crash Tape, most of the first DENT, mixed HF, recorded demos for Victor.

Eventually, disgusted with my situation in SF, I mistakenly followed my now ex-girlfriend to LA (alienating other ex-girlfriend in the process, unfortunately) thinking that it would be a positive career move. Presently I live in Hollywood and work when I get it for a film post production facility, doing bits of everything. For instance I recorded all the cars and other machines for Boogie Nights….

I read for a few film parts, ended up acting in one called The Invisibles. I like acting but again, it’s a process of selling yourself here to get parts so I don’t end up doing it much.

Last summer I was asked to produce the Container CD, they were at the time a trio in Hollywood. After the recording I started playing with them.

*Tell me a bit about Magnetic and how and why it came to be?

The obvious reason was to put out our CDs because no one else was interested in doing so. Unfortunately I don’t know shit about how to run a business so I suck at it. The company is exclusively mail order now, after trying to convince distributors to carry the CDs at first and realizing I am no salesman, and can’t convince people to buy what they don’t want to (“so why should we buy this?” Well, I used to play in CVB, violin and such… “I thought the violin player was a girl…”) and when individuals ordered the CDs they really wanted them and that felt so much better.

Magnetic, by the way, was started with money I inherited when my mother died. I say this because without this catastrophic event I never would have been able to put out records again. I find this strange. The money ran out and these recent few are all on credit card!

*Current Projects?

This past winter I finally finished the second DENT CD, Verstärker, a year after gathering the sounds in New Mexico. Also worked little on 2 tracks for the Loud Family’s latest “Days for Days”. I’ve been occasionally working on some songs that Russ and I started before I left SF, what should have been the third J&J CD. I haven’t been playing any solo shows or shows of my own material. I must change this, however, for my own mental well being, I just have the overwhelming feeling of uselessness of doing so…trying to get over it.

In February I flew to Richmond, VA to play with cracker to record a Clash cover (White Riot, we used to do it in CVB…) for a Clash tribute record. While there I recorded a lot with a band called Magnet and now we are going to do a tour in June on the West Coast with me, Victor, Greg Lisher and John Nelson being the band, backing up Mark Goodman.

Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse has asked me to tour with them, but while I want to do it, it may conflict with another job, doing sound design on a big Hollywood Science Fiction movie…

*What kind of stuff have you been listening to as of late?

…long pause…

You mean this month, day, year? I love to tell people what I listen to, I provide musical info to several friends, to turn people on to things they might not otherwise find or to lend my judgment to the world’s aesthetics….

So. Lately a lot of old country music (Faron Young, Webb Pierce, George Jones) and 60’s Jamaican music. Maybe these are signs of middle age? (I’m 34). Last winter I went through periods of only Red House Painters, Tim Buckley, Geraldine Fibbers. Also a lot of Björk. I wish I could make music like that (approaching it with Dent maybe. when I first heard her sing I wanted to sing like that. Of course I will never…. she embodies many aesthetic attributes that I also subscribe to, the future-forward look, the visceral inspiration. But I still put my hands on old instruments, guitar and violin, and somehow get stuck in the past again…)

Many SF local band CDs, New EZ Devils, Liar, Granfaloon Bus, Jim Campilongo. A few bigger bands, Built to Spill, Cornershop, Giant Sand (and OP8), Babe the Blue Ox, and of course the Loud Family.

And still Richard Thompson, and Can.

I try to listen to some electronic music but it never lasts long. I used to do a lot of electronic music in the studios at UCSC in the 80s, and my ex-wife, Diana is presently really into the trance/groove stuff with all the ethnic elements sampled in and claims it’s like the forward extension of what I used to do, but I don’t use it for its purpose (trance dance) and so I don’t really listen to it. If CVB never happened that is probably what I would be doing.

*Can you name any bands similar to CVB for those who are still not over the breakup?

Um, you know, there were a lot of novelty acts that I felt responsible for allowing to happen on an unsupervised world, and I apologize. and there’s a lot of violin around these days, but they all seem to actually play it like a violin, (I’m really a guitar player—my take on it was from that point of view. Not a great violinist but what I do isn’t what other violin players do) which I don’t really like much. As far as sound goes maybe Cornershop? As far as content, maybe Dieslelhed or Granfaloon Bus?

*Is there ever a chance that there will be a CVB reunion tour?

As a freak show at the circus, haul out the geeks for the audience to ponder. When we’re old poor fat fucks. Actually I’d probably do it if anyone ever asked. That’d be weird to try to write a new record.

*I guess that is a no?

I maintain hope.

*Is there any unreleased CVB stuff left out there? Will it ever be released?

Yes and no. I assembled a lot of tapes when we were putting together VCMO, and there were a lot of unfinished tunes, instrumentals and demos, demos of the KLP where I had played (before they recorded the cd for real without the melodies I played) that sort of thing. Cassettes exist. Doubtful of actual release

*Do you know of any good sources for bootleg CVB on tape or CD?

Here’s a couple places to check: http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Stage/8702 –Zach’s page, he has lots of CVB and such. also, http://www.geocities.com/sunsetstrip/stage/7713 — Scott Heller has a bunch of tapes including some HF.

*What do you think about the state of music today? Do you think people are less prone to try something new?

Well, there are so many bands that appear to be clones of popular bands that sometimes you can’t tell them apart. Once some company takes a chance and sells something new, everybody tries to recreate it. Rock music is dead, really. The fact that Sonic Youth is a big time band proves it. It’s in the process of becoming ghettoized like jazz or blues, “Hey here’s a club where they play electric guitars…” Imagine people who have only ever heard clocked beats listening to the fluid time of a human drummer. Not that this is bad, mind you, it’s just the progression of music. Musical fads are like viruses, some take generations or whole cultures to burn through before they’re gone. Like western classical music, still affects the middle aged in our societies. Pop music on the other hand hits like a 24hour flu, it gets into your head and then repeats itself when you aren’t listening to it so that you want to hear it again and again until you just can’t stand to hear it again ever. And that’s what keeps the music machine oiled, those one hit sales. Repeat buys of a band are way down. Imagine buying the next Marcy Playground or Third Eye Blind? Yeah, right. And when I go to play here in LA with the Container, it’s definitely not my peer group that are in the audience. I don’t think that people in general are less inclined to try something new as much as the companies that produce the CDs are. They can’t get it into their heads that they really control what is hip, or they don’t admit it. Like the Monks of Doom on IRS, they didn’t know what to do with them. They could have just said, these guys are the next thing…. people are at home trying out the new stuff in private. Eventually it gets out to the public in small ways, in the rivulets between the Spice Girls and Bush. (so to speak…)

Same in film, all the younger generation of actors are homogenous, when there are multiple plot lines (god forbid) it takes half the film to figure out who’s who because they all look the same. (I say this of American film, European and British film actors seem to have character at least.) And the small films (CDs, etc.) all have to trod over each other to get noticed at all by the public.

*Since IRS went under is there a chance that Magnetic will release Monks of Doom or CVB stuff? How about a CVB box set with some sort of book?

I wish. I can barely afford to press 500 copies of the CDs we have out now. This year appears to be the last hurrah.

*What’s up with Pitch-A-Tent? Do they own the early CVB stuff?

You mean the new PaT? David started a label with this name last year with a woman in Athens, GA, without really asking us if it was OK. I don’t really care, but they don’t have anything to do with the old PaT, except that thy are both labels that are subsets of larger labels, in the old case Rough Trade and in the new, Virgin. He claims not to have as much to do with it as she does. I wish he’d take all the Magnetic stuff and release it through them. And Monks and CVB and everything. They at least have distribution.

The early CVB stuff is apparently still under contract through the now defunct IRS, with their parent company EMI. I don’t know what will happen. It’s all technically still in print, but just try to find a CD…

*Any future projects or missions?

Not sure. The more I work on films the more I get frustrated working for other people and want to direct them myself, but a million dollars is a long way from the couple thousand it costs to make a CD.

Daniel Wolf, a composer friend in Germany sent me a tape of his and Hauke Harden’s string trios, in various intonations. I’d love to put out more experimental music like this, and do more of my own chamber music or experimental music, but the time it takes is great and the reward very small. Daniel run an imprint called Material Press and they put out what scores I write/have written.

*Are there any copies of the Storytelling cd? Are you going to repress that on Magnetic in the future?

Again, I wish. When Rough Trade US went bankrupt, all our old stuff went to a warehouse in NY and apparently some cutout house bought it. I sometimes find cutout copies of Storytelling for $4 or so and buy them to sell through Magnetic, same with the first HF CD on Delta, but that’s about it. I’d love to do the 10th anniversary edition next winter…. ha….

When I was in SF last weekend a musician told me that he was in a band with someone who worked at Rough Trade at the time and they brought a box of storytelling cassettes home to record their rehearsals over. Boy, that made me feel good.

*Are you looking at branching Magnetic out past projects of yours and Victors?

Well we just did the first, Alison Faith Levy’s CD the Fog Show. Of course it was produced by Chris Xefos and recorded at Victor’s house. But neither of us played on it. Not sure how this happened really.

I would love it if somebody wanted to make Magnetic into a real company, invest a bunch of money and run it like a business, do real promotion and tracking and sales. Then I could just make music and be in charge of aesthetics…

*If so, how would you determine what type of stuff to do?

People send me tapes all the time. And I see bands. But really it would be more like the old Pitch-a-Tent where we just helped out our friends (like Spot 1019, Wrestling Worms, River Roses 10 Foot Faces, Donner Party). I’d probably want to put out friends’ bands/ensembles, and then of course I could make my own county record/ ska record/ chamber music record/ jazz record/ electronic music record… dreaming again.

*Where can you go to get things like Dieselhed and other projects you have been involved in? Can you recommend any mail order companies with stuff like that?

I always recommend Aquarius Records in San Francisco, on our website I direct credit card orders to them (our bank refused to allow us to accept credit cards…? don’t know just why). we try to carry a few copies of things like Granfaloon Bus, Container. etc…

*What does the future hold for the infamous JES? Are you ready to take over the world or just the underground?

Gearing up for the world… Overcoming a lack of confidence instilled by the constant battle of producing unpopular music and the loneliness of living in Los Angeles. Still waiting for a break.

If it all goes to hell, I headed back to the tropics (I guess I can’t go back to Indonesia just yet…) and starting a bar on the beach in some surf town.

*What does your average day consist of?

Today I didn’t go to work, got up at 9:30 (that’s early) and made the coffee, typed away at this thing.

Usually I get on my bike (a Moto Guzzi V65, by the way) and drive across Los Angeles (lane splitting down Santa Monica Blvd. ) to Danetracks, where I work on computers using ProTools doing sound for films. Basically i’m Dane Davis’s assistant, so I do a little of everything, some sound design, some recording (foley or effects or ADR) or music editing, and a lot of mixing. We’ve been doing more small films lately where we do the whole mix in our studio if I can boil it down to 32 tracks. I get it set to go and Dane finishes it off when he’s not busy with the big movies schedules.

Sometimes I’ll go swimming at the YMCA, or rehearsal with the Container, then home to my apartment where I work on music here, on the computer-ADAT studio, or just playing in my living room. I go out occasionally to see bands or movies. I don’t hang out much at bars or cafes anymore, I don’t really know very many people in LA. pretty boring existence lately, wish I had more excitement to tell of. Ask me again in a year and maybe it’ll be better.

*What makes you get up each day, what influences you to do all of the things you have done?

Wow. This is the hard question, because I ask it of myself all the time.

I basically believe in humanity, despite the human race, and believe that what we create is added to the ever expanding spiral of human culture. Little drops into it may not be noticed the first time but they seem to unknowingly change the world and can affect later arcs on the outer arms of that spiral (obvious examples are the retro-trends, ska, swing, rockabilly). Also weird thing happen like when I was working with Mixed Company in the late 80’s—another dance company—their costuming was unknowingly reminiscent of the 20’s Russian avant-garde/futurist theatre, just happened that way…) So I continue to add to the pool, continue to believe that despite the aggravations and evidence to the contrary, I have something important to add, something important to say. It’s very egotistical of me to believe this, but like I said before about growing up believing that you are special and learning late that you ain’t, a small voice in the back of your mind tells you otherwise, keeps you trying to prove that you are. (Oppositely, I have found that children who grow up believing they are shit continue to have that voice telling them that despite what their friends or lovers think…)

What influences me is culture. popular culture is very deleterious, but infinitely interesting. When CVB went around the US in the 80’s we brought not only music but that message of not standing for the watered down America, like bad beer and bad coffee. Well, we won that revolution, there’s “gourmet” coffee and beer everywhere now, problem is that it’s necessarily degraded by being for the masses. So the little victories of finding the vegetarian food in Minnesota or whatever are gone now, but that’s the worldisation of what culture we wanted at the time to express. The globalization of communication is changing everything, probably to the lowest common denominator, but how can that ultimately be bad? How can we patronize a culture different from our own by looking out for its own best interests at the expense of informing it of the rest of the world? I am very much a futurist, although I realize that that I not evident in the music I produce. Maybe I don’t have the ideas that will affect the next step, (yet), but at least I can do what I can to kill off the last one or pave the way, in the same way that JS Bach destroyed baroque music by perfecting it by its own rules, thus his death ended that era, paving the way for “classical” music (not that I am any Bach).

I have always been let down by present day artists pretending to see the future. in Wim Wender’s “Until the End of the World” he asked all those famous artists to make music as they would be doing in ten years time, and they all produced the same dreck they were making at the time the movie was made. Or the new Star Trek show, they always play fucking old music when they are listening for pleasure… what’s up with that? I’d think that by the 24th century, Japanese noise culture would have been so long embedded in pop culture that people’s ears could differentiate the harmonic content of bursts of filtered pink or white noise, or groove to logarithmic rhythms or something.

*Words of wisdom for those that appreciate all of the great songs you have given us?

Um, thanks for listening, thanks for any feedback……

I can be pretty opinionated, so I’m not going to try to spread any words of general advice like I’m as didactic as all that. Just that nobody should really have to justify their taste despite the fact that we all always try to convince other of our own.

* Don’t you think you should look at your life as one that most people would die for? I mean, think of all the great things you have done, the beautiful music you have been a part of. The future music that you will be a part of…

I’m not sure how to answer this sort of question, how people view their lives can be so different. I feel I’ve been very lucky for most of my life, yes, and I have had a lot of fun. I’d rather not have to look to the past for justification of existence, like saying that CVB was the height of my existence, but at the moment I don’t quite see it in front of me either. Maybe it’s like the same thing that child actors have, growing up in public and then when they’re not in the spotlight anymore they don’t know how to relate to the world. I know it’s been a sort of psychological demon for at least both Victor and I, and maybe more so for him because he started younger and went farther before it all went wrong. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing when people know what I have done in the past and can’t figure out why I am [bartending, working at a record store, touring with unknown bands,] like somehow Camper should have paid for my life. (Maybe I should point out that when I got signed out of the contract in 1989 I got my amp, my violin and about $2000 in cash—at the time that was allegedly one-fifth of the band’s worth.) And continuing to make the music that I have made in the past 10 years, honestly I haven’t got the best response. It’s only the occasional person who tells me it’s beautiful, (thank you). As for the future music, honestly it’s becoming smaller and smaller as I try to figure out how I should continue. Interaction with an audience is important to me, I don’t want to make music just for myself. I want to make another record, now that i’ve been working on mailing the promo out for these latest three, but i’m not sure if I can handle running this company anymore. I hate being a business, I always wanted someone else to handle that stuff. If that never happens, the future music I make will be heard by very few people.

* Do you do much advertising? Mailings, e-mail or snail for Magnetic?

I do email mailings based on who has mailed to me, and I am this morning sending out about 500 Magnetic one page catalogs through the US Post. As far as advertising, we don’t do much. I realize that’s where we should really spend our money, but the money runs out fast. Each CD costs $1500-$2000 to manufacture ( either 500 or 1000 CDs), that’s after recording costs, then like $75-100 for envelopes to do promo mailings, and $300-400 to mail one out to some press and radio. We have, in the past, put ads in Option and a couple other things, even did one classified in Spin once, but they have never had any noticeable effect. And each one costs as much as our entire promo mailing (option does do business card sized ads for $150 or so…).

*Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Honestly.

Let’s see, ten years will be 2008 and i’ll be 44. I see many possible outcomes. I could be still in Hollywood working little sound design on movies and occasionally (by then, one hopes) getting a few gigs scoring for film. Or I could have abandoned the film world in favor of the music world, gained some notoriety playing with various acts and doing some production on newer bands’ CDs. Or maybe I will suddenly get backers to pay to make my own films and records instead of having to work on other people’s! (Yeah, right). Or (more likely) I will have fled in terror from Los Angeles and sold whatever possessions I have to pay for a small shack somewhere in the tropics. Near a beach.

*The most memorable moment in your 34 years?

Standing on the beach on the south side of Bali in december of 1988 and becoming all the water within the area, from the mists in the clouds to the vast ocean.

*Do you find it tough to make music and money? I know that my music suffers due to my full time job.

Fuck yeah. Earning money takes it out of you. The more you earn, the more you have to work and the more tired you become, until you just want to watch the TV when you’re not at work. I always like those periods of time when I am working very little best. Otherwise you have to force yourself to finish, (or start!) projects.

There’s a reason for ‘starving artists’, I guess. They’re the only ones with time to make art.

*What do you think of violin bands like the Dirty Three?

Well, that really depends on they ay the player plays, their idea of music. I love the dirty 3, that guy is beautiful, very passionate. He’s not trying to show off, he’s making a specific sound. I saw them play once and he drank a bottle of wine during the set, like a sad gypsy. I’m not that great a violinist, coming from a guitar playing background, but what I can do is play like a guitar. What I don’t really like to hear is when violin players play in rock bands, like classical musician’s technique in the rock context. It doesn’t work for me really. Sounds kitschy. Violin is scary (like David Lowery used to say, “the three scariest instruments are the violin, bagpipes and the pedal steel.” Probably because of their stretched tuning.) And I like it that way, I like it stretching the tuning. When it’s always in tune it’s boring. I like a lot of folk musics, from all over the world that use the fiddle. I don’t really know many of the violin-in-rock-band bands, like the wild colonials? I keep meaning to go and see them, they play around here all the time. People tell me i’m responsible for the many violins in bands nowadays… I don’t know if that’s a responsibility I want!

*How come Magnetic doesn’t sell CVB boots, or as my local record store calls them, live rare imports, to help make money?

First off, because it’s not just up to me, it would be sort of cheating some contract with whoever owns the catalog now (Polygram? ) and second, sheerly because of the price of pressing and selling CDs.

*So do you think that advertising, record company executives and popular radio has killed most people’s musical alertness in the US?

That and MTV. People used to buy records based on the label that put them out, no longer. Repeat buying of a band’s next cd is way down, more one-shot bands…. And formula sells. It’s always about money.

*<<this year appears to be the last hurrah>>

What do you mean by that? Is this the end of Magnetic?

Unless I earn a bunch of money to continue making the CDs. I would do it on a small level for the rest of my life if I can.

*How come you have not turned Magnetic into a larger mail order entity? It seems as if most smaller labels are willing to work on consignment.

Not sure what you mean… I am trying to…? I tried to get the bank to let us accept credit cards, but they turned me down. Not enough monthly income and they didn’t like the street address of the business ( my apartment in SF at the time—I guess they thought I would be running a whorehouse…) I guess i’m not an aggressive enough salesman.

*Do you surf?

I have in the past, but haven’t lately. Time and effort, you know. I get my kicks riding motorcycles. Last weekend I went up to David lowery’s cabin out by pioneertown, near Joshua Tree, and he and Jackson (CVB’s manager, presently David’s) and we rode dirtbikes up to big bear lake and back….

*Do you have plans to make the major label trek with The Container if the music takes them to that point?

I know that’s what Clyde wants. I think I would do it again.

* Dave and Anne Costanza were from a band called the Whitefronts, Dave and Karl Bartlett played horns on CVB’s Our beloved revolutionary sweetheart. We used to do a lot of shows with the Whitefronts in SF, and Dave and Karl toured with CVB. Subsequently they moved to NM and formed the Lords of Howling, recently dissolved. Dave and Anne are also important players in DENT.

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September in the Desert

Aside from a visit from my dad in Stockholm, we spent most of the summer out in the country, so I admit that while I tried to practice enough for tour in September, my fingertips weren’t sufficiently calloused. I was looking forward to a couple shows of burning fingertips to start off!

I flew out of Arlanda, the big airport around here, it’s about 25 miles north of the city. This flight was on Delta, which I hadn’t taken internationally before, so that was interesting. Certainly no better. Maybe a little worse than SAS or KLM, especially food-wise. But the real horror of this was trying to transfer at JFK. The flight from Arlanda was delayed, sitting there for a while before taking off, meaning that I had an hour to go through passport control and customs and get my bag to the transfer and then through security again, and then to the gate. I have been in the Global Entry program for several years, and without it, I never would have made it through here. If I had had to stand in the regular lines, I would never have made my connection. Even bypassing them, through the Global Entry passport kiosks, then waiting for my bag, then through the Global Entry customs line, I barely made it to the baggage transfer in time for them to agree to get it to the next flight. Stressful, especially that part where you wait for your luggage. Oh, and the part where you have to go through security yet again (why, I wonder?) to get to the next gate. Although the Global Entry program gives you the TSA-Pre status also, here at JFK that meant no special line, but you did get to keep your shoes on! Thanks, TSA.

Finally through that, the next flight was literally at the farthest gate in the terminal, so I ran with the violin and backpack all down the terminal. Made it to the plane with everybody else boarded already and 5 minutes before doors closed. I hate air travel.

Landed in San Francisco, waited for bag, which luckily arrived! I guess they did transfer it, excellent. So then, off to the SFO car rental area to rent the tour van. Budget had a 12 passenger van held for me, but demanded my credit card even though it was supposed to be on the band card, of course. I said, hey, we do this all the time at a lot of different airports, usually they can use the card that actually reserved it? The guy stepped back and said “hey, man, do you want the van or not!” Ok, man, geez. Whatever. So I paid for it, drove the thing off to Victor’s house, got there near midnight. After that, sleep. Nearly immediately.

Next morning, I had to get up early to move the van from where I parked it due to SF street cleaning. Oh, I don’t miss that, but it has happened that I have woken up in our apartment in Stockholm to some noise and thought, shit, did I move the car? But being up that early, and in the van, I decided to go to Tartine for a croissant and coffee. Hell, it was my birthday!

When I got back, Victor (Krummenacher, bassist) and Troy were up and despite Victor having recently injured his back, they helped me take out the two back seats and then load all the gear into the van. I got on the road by 10am, had to make it to Phoenix by the next night, which should be easy enough. Initially I was supposed to drive to Tucson, and get to stay in the Congress Hotel the night before our show as well, and be able to eat there (such good food!) but now everybody was flying into Phoenix, so I had to go there instead. That was sort of a drag, I’m not a big fan of Phoenix, sorry to say. I have an affinity with Tucson, having lived there in 1975-6, it held a special place in my heart for reason I think I wrote about here last year including lots of sixth grade awakenings to music and comic books. And head shops.

Also, when I picked up the van I learned that I had to return it on the Monday evening after the tour, which was the evening I had planned to visit my dad and my brother in Davis. So instead, I drove to Davis right away, and had my birthday lunch at my dad’s house, my brother took off from work and his wife wasn’t needed until 2pm, so that all worked out. We talked and generally had a nice lunch and cake, and I got all my mail that is delivered to my brother’s house. It’s convenient having a US address for internet shopping or ebay, that’s for sure. Provided you can wait until the next time you’re there to get it, of course. But the thing is, shipping to Sweden is not only expensive and many people just don’t do it, but also everything is stopped by customs and you have to pay tax on everything so things cost twice as much as they do if you buy and have delivered to the US. So even if it costs me $75 for an extra or overweight bag back to Sweden, it’s worth it. Though usually things that I buy are just clothes or guitar parts, they don’t weigh that much. This time it was two new pairs of Levi’s 501s, a time honored tradition with me: two pair, every several years, regular old 501s, shrink to fit. The old ones have holes now, not good for the upcoming Swedish winter. Also, a stuffed Marsupilami for Marlowe, who is obsessed with them. And some books, of course (new David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami!)

Then driving. Down interstate 5, all the way to the 210, across to meet the 10 in San Bernardino. I didn’t feel quite like my stomach could handle more coffee after lunch so sometime in the afternoon I went for one of those 5-hour energy drinks, which seemed to work against jet lag. By the time I got to Redlands, it was five hours later and I was starving. Unfortunately that meant Del Taco, at this hour. (DeltaCo?) Then onwards, made it to Indio before getting a hotel. This made the next day’s drive super easy, though I woke up the next day with a little cold, probably from the skirmishes through JFK or airplanes or simply the stress of the whole travel scenario. Anyway, I got to Phoenix mid-afternoon, stopped by Bizarre Guitars first, just to look—last time I was there, they had a guitar exactly like Johnny Hickman’s Les Paul, it was maybe a year or two younger (I think his is a 1978, this may have been an 1980) but came with a factory installed Kahler tremolo system, like he has on his. Apparently somebody bought it, played it for a year and then stuffed it under the bed. His guitar has been broken several times and is held together by dowels and glue and, to be frank, is starting to sound it. Not that he will ever give it up—it has its own Facebook page! But just in case, I wanted to see if they still had the twin there, but alas, some Phoenix rocker now owns it, too bad. Off to the hotel, waiting until everybody else came in. It was 107ºF/42ºC out, so I was absolutely not interested in walking around outdoors. Coming from a turbulent Swedish summer, sun, rain, hail, sun, thunderstorms, etc, where it actually got REALLY HOT for a week… well, that REALLY HOT meant maybe 90ºF/32ºC, so I wasn’t used to this over 100ºF/38ºC quite yet. I tried to cool off in the pool, but it was pretty warm itself.

Greg (Lisher, guitarist) was the first to get there, which was good, because I needed to change the strings on my guitar and didn’t have a string winder, so I got to borrow one from him. While changing strings, before everybody else arrived, an old friend of mine called me and wanted to know if I would go out with him to some open-mics. Ron is somebody I know from bar tending in San Francisco 20 years ago, he ended up in Phoenix for the usual reasons: ex-wife lives there and has custody of the kids. He has twin girls who are about 11 or so. So he lives there, at least until they grow up. He has fun by singing and playing harmonica at various blues jams or what-have-you, of which there are apparently many on any given night in Phoenix. And like LA, people are just ok with having to drive a half hour on freeways to get wherever you may want to go, the city is so sprawling.

The wind came up, it even rained for a bit. Ron came to pick me up, we went out to an Irish bar, had beer and played a little with some guy singing some songs. Then that wound down and we left to a country bar, but they had an actual band, no sit-ins. So after a beer there, we went to what Ron termed “the Zeitgeist of Phoenix,” (referring to our old haunt in SF, not like this bar was the spirit of the current city,) which, like the others, was in a strip mall. Everything was in strip malls here. This bar was the local bar with tattooed hot chicks bartending and maybe a motorcycle or two parked out front. I had some local strong IPA and was pretty wrecked by this point, being jet-lagged and unable to tell what time it was anyway. Ron drove me back to the hotel, I stumbled out and went to sleep.

Woke up an hour later, Ron calling to say, “hey, your instruments are in my house, they were still in the car!” Luckily for me, he was able to drop them by on his way to work the next day. I blame jet lag… So I was awake, went to Denny’s next door. Ron had said, La Quinta is Spanish for “next to Denny’s.” Victor came in and dined with me, telling me about his airport experiences landing in Phoenix in the weird weather, I told him that David (Lowery, singer) had texted me about landing the previous evening as well, that his plane had done a touch-and-go and then went around again. I had texted David that I was at an open mic, but he didn’t believe me.

Next day was a short drive to Tucson, but it turned out that Chris Pedersen (drummer) and Johnny Hickman (Cracker guitarist) had flown to Tucson, and David was going to drive with a photographer, Bradford Jones, who was working on shots for the upcoming Cracker album. So we had room to spare in the van, and got there early enough to go get some good coffee and such in downtown Tucson near the Hotel Congress. Chris P went to the Chicago Store to get new cymbal stands. I used to love the Chicago Music Store, back when it was a mess. Now it’s all cleaned up like a normal music store, it’s not as fun. Last year I looked at some lap steels that they had there, but they were overpriced and wouldn’t budge on the price, so I didn’t even bother to look this year.

Tucson was only slightly over 100º, so with a little kombucha from the market by the train station, loading was a relative breeze! In setting up we talked about the show and that we needed to rehearse a bit, but we had most of the afternoon. And the show idea was to do it “Apothecary Revue” style, like the shows we had done 15 years ago when Camper had first started up again, and with the addition of sections of acoustic duos and trios, it made for a varied texture. David and Johnny had been touring in the summer as an acoustic Cracker duo, then Greg had come out with them for a while making it into an acoustic CVB, so with sections of these in the mix, punctuated by 4 to 6 songs of Cracker or CVB, it made for a very entertaining set of songs. This meant, of course, that Chris P and Victor had to be the rhythm section for Cracker, so they had to practice a few of those songs, though Victor has played bass in Cracker before and knew most of them, Chris had only recently learned a few Cracker songs and hadn’t actually performed them.

So after some rehearsing we all went to eat at the Congress’ restaurant, which is really good, and they seated us outdoors on the patio (still very warm out) where there was a person playing blues on the little outdoor stage. They were pretty good, finger style blues, left handed on an old guitar, with a weird pinched sort of high voice. We could not tell if it was a 12 year old boy or a 20 year old boyish girl, actually, and were speculating all through dinner. They played many traditional blues songs and a few seemingly original. Whoever this kid was, they had studied their shit. When they were done, though, it turned out to be indeed a 12-year old boy names Roman Barton-Sherman, who came over to give us his CD, Interstellar Blues. Pretty intense stuff for a kid, doing “Hellhound on my Trail” and “See that my Grave is Kept Clean”, as well as his own Apocalyptic and Interstellar Blues. What is going on there in Tucson?

After dinner I had an hour to chill out, but I just stayed in my room overlooking Broadway and listened to a Beethoven symphony on the 1933 antique radio in my hotel room, followed by a John Adams violin concerto.

Antique radio in the Hotel Congress

The show itself went very smoothly, and since it was essentially a sequence of several short sets, it was easy for me who only had to play in the CVB parts. Easy warm up! It was cool to see Chris P drumming on the Cracker songs, really different groove than usual. In fact, it was sort of funny to see Cracker with the whole CVB rhythm section, but it worked in a new way. By the end of the show, the entire Hotel Congress and bars were flooded with all sorts of people, apparently the new street car lines just take everybody from the university area and dumps them downtown right on this corner, so the place was filled with a ton of really dumb looking kids dressed all cool or slutty and ready to get drunk. Victor, Chris and I sat with Brad and Miss K, yet more ex-San Franciscans (and ex-bartenders) who lived there and laughed at this new wave of clientele. When I went upstairs, I discovered that there were several people out in the courtyard, so I went to see what was going on and have a hit of pot. It turned out to be some kids who were there for some sort of Forest Service thing, they worked in King’s Canyon in California most of the time, and then another couple who either were or were not with them, and then another silent person typing on an iPad. I think they were on mushrooms, one of them was doing yoga in his underwear, others were lying around grooming one another. It was very warm, of course, outdoors here. I talked with them for a while about King’s Canyon and the forest service, and one guy who looked sort of like Tobias Fünke explained how he cooked pork shoulder for them when they were back at their back country cabin. The nearly naked guy sat next to me and I noticed he had words tattooed on him and asked about them, and they turned out to be literary quotes, including Richard Brautigan. Kids these days, I tell ya.

The idea for the next day was to rent a second car, but Bradford wanted to photograph David and Johnny more out in the desert along the way, so he drove them, and the rest of us fit in the van. Only a two hour drive, anyway, to the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix. Another place with good food, by the way. Though it was back to being super hot, so loading wasn’t quite as nice as it could have been. Luckily, like most places in the desert in the US, it was overly-air-conditioned inside.

Chris and Greg, mesmerized by Flamenco!

After sound check, we ventured out to the restaurant in front, and ate some great Mexican food while watching an incredible Flamenco act, one guitar, two dancers, one singer, lots of hocket clapping, really amazing. When they finished their set, everybody’s phones started beeping a weather alert, everybody went outside, so we went to look, and a huge haboob dust storm was approaching. The sky got very dark very fast, and then the air became very gritty so we retreated and went backstage.


By the time the show started, the place was packed, we did a similar Apothecary Revue style of show, it rocked in all the right places, high or low, the audience loved it, a very successful show. Brad and K had come up from Tucson, Victor and I talked with them and Ron for a while after the show, then we left to our hotel. Next day’s drive was to Las Vegas, which was several hours.

You could tell the weather was going to get weird when we left, though it was mostly behind us. We drove through the desert and it continued to look like ominous clouds were chasing us, though they never really caught up with us. We made it to Las Vegas and drove to the Backstage Billiards Bar on Fremont St, but nobody was there yet, so we all walked down into the covered area of Fremont St to find some food. Fremont St was the original downtown of Las Vegas, with the big waving cowboy neon signs and the gold panner, but now that whole section is all covered and there are zip lines to ride on and it’s a big walking mall with clowns and street performers. It’s very bizarre. The first thing we passed was the Heart Attack Grill, with its adverts for double and triple bypass burgers and highest fat content milk shakes. Finding nothing within a few blocks, we turned around and went back to some place we passed early on, which was advertising the “World’s Largest Pint,” as if a unit of measurement could expand or contract within the physical universe. On the way, I was taken in by a generalized crap store, seeing little boob-shaped cups that said “I ♥ Boobs” on them, and they even had little ones, perfect for Marlowe who had stopped breast feeding 9 months earlier but still was entirely hands-on with the boob whenever she could be. I figured she would love a boob cup, and indeed I think her reaction was “why aren’t all cups like this!?”

boob cup

boob cup

Back to the Backstage Billiards Bar after an espresso at a cool cafe/record store across the street, we loaded in and discovered that the giant backstage lounge behind the stage was a backlight psychedelic experience. Probably fun to party in, I guess, but not exactly what we oldsters want from a backstage: not enough light to read! They said, most of the younger bands like it… It made for a great studio environment for Bradford to shoot photos, though, we even did a cool new Camper Van Beethoven promo shot with backlight posters behind us. We want to make the photo itself into a backlight poster.

The black light hallway

The black light hallway

The show itself, however, was fairly awful. Not because we were bad, but because there were only about 30 people there, which was a real letdown after the sold-out Phoenix show. We should have played Flagstaff, maybe. Oh well. We played, we packed up and left, but not before the very happy promoter came with pizza for us and a bottle of Clos Du Bois Pinot. Strange, There was some drama involving the hotels which were supposedly booked to be near the airport, but in fact were near the north Las vegas airport (?), too far from the “real” airport, so had to book a new hotel. Which was fine, if seedy, so Bobby (tour manager) had to stay in the handicap-accessible room right next to the lobby in front and park the van right in front of his door. And I’m sure he woke up with every noise that walked by.

Apparently that day, Phoenix got pounded by rain and flooded, the streets flowing with water that could not soak into the dry ground. When we left the next day, we headed into the same storm. The storm had flooded Interstate 15 and stopped traffic entirely near Baker. David warned us, he had rented a car to go to somewhere else (Palm Springs or visiting family, I don’t know) so he drove a different route through the Mojave. We got stuck in dead traffic for hours in the rain. It took about 8 hours to get into Los Angeles. Victor and Chris P avoided this by flying out of Las Vegas to the Bay Area to work on mixing Monks of Doom music for an upcoming album.

I stayed that evening at the Beachwood Canyon home of Marc and Valenta, friends from the Bay Area who had moved down to LA because Marc runs Amoeba Records, and while the original stores are in Berkeley and then SF, the Berkeley students are just not interested in music anymore, and the LA store is thriving. Marc was unfortunately not there, he was up in Washington buying a record collection, but Valenta was there with her teenager, so we watched Dr Who and ate a light dinner. They went to bed, and I explored the record collection.

Well, you can imagine that Marc would have a pretty decent record collection. In fact, the closet with the turntable in it wasn’t exorbitantly large, but every record on the shelf was somehow special. His collection there was all specialties. I found albums I had never seen, albums I hadn’t seen for years, albums that I wanted to listen to… so I basically drank the Clos Du Bois and listened to LPs for hours, probably until 4am or so. Incredible. Amongst them: Eugene Chadbourne’s first album from 1976, “Acoustic Guitar Vol. 1″, the proto-psychedelic British band July, a 1983 Henry Cow 45rpm 12″ benefit for miners, the one Peter Laughner album, a 1972 John Abercrombie/Marc Cohen jazz album called “Friends”, several late 50s avant-garde albums with pieces by John Cage, Christian Wolff, Stockhausen, Feldman, Boulez, Earl Brown… just incredible to listen to. Worth the lack of sleep.

The Listening  Room

The Listening Room, and some album covers

Greg had been dropped off at a hotel on Franklin, and his girlfriend Kacey drove down the next day, starting way early, so she got there by noon when we were heading out for breakfast. We picked them up and went off to King’s Road Cafe, a place I used to love when I lived down here. And, in fact, it was still excellent and strangely not crowded at lunchtime on a Tuesday. The coffee is their own blend and roast, and they do long-pull espresso for a normal cup. Yum! Greg Allen from Omnivore Recordings, who had recently put out reissues of the two Camper Van Beethoven albums we had done for Virgin (Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie) came by, and we went to visit his office after lunch, and grab some promo copies of other interesting things that they had put out, including the first of the line of Game Theory albums, Blaze of Glory. The release of this album is monumental and should involve an entire blog entry on its own, which I hope to write sometime this fall… I’m very happy to say that I suggested to them to go with Omnivore for releasing Scott Miller’s catalog after his death, and that they did go with Omnivore. It’s going to be great to get all of the Game Theory albums out again over the next few years.

I had a free day in LA, but no real plans, though I was switching residences and going to stay with a friend, May, in Echo Park. So the next day, while my host was at work, Valenta and I took a walk around the lake in Echo Park, and admired the myriad water lilies that grow there. The lake had become stagnant a few years back, and they closed it off and redid the whole place to become a waste water effluent system, with flow through from the hills and down into the water basin of downtown. Fortunately for the city, some local citizen had saved water lily seeds from every kind that had ever grown there, and then provided them to the city when the new lake was built. At a cost, I hear. Regardless, there were purple, white, red and orange water lilies, and many waterfowl and fish, and turtles. When I lived in Los Angeles, I had a pet turtle given to me by an ex-girlfriend (to keep me company in her absence) that grew and grew until it was a raging menace. Then I started touring with Sparklehorse all the time and couldn’t get people to take care of the turtle, so I gave it to a fish shop… and I just bet it ended up in this lake. I think I saw him—F. M. Luder was his name, named after Fox Mulder’s pseudonym that he wrote for Omni magazine under.

Echo Park Lake

Echo Park Lake

May grew up in this house on the backside of Echo Park, and one by one all of her siblings and parents moved away, leaving her with the house. It’s pretty big and on a weird windy street, it was a nice place to hang out, though again it was incredibly hot everywhere this week, so a walk over the hill down Echo Park Blvd to Fix Coffee took all my energy. May knew of many and suggested her favorite Thai restaurants, so we met Greg and Kacey for dinner at Sanamluang that evening over on Hollywood Blvd.

Bobby had driven the van and gear out to his friend’s place in Ventura, so he drove in the next day to try to get two amps fixed that had broken in the loading and unloading, one with a broken tube and one with a punctured speaker. Unfortunately it couldn’t happen that quickly, and we all had to get to Pioneertown for the start of the 10th Annual Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Camp-Out Festival that day. I ended up getting picked up by Greg and Kacey in Kacey’s car so Bobby could try to deal with amp stuff, and we drove directly out to Yucca Valley to our traditional hotel, now a Travelodge.

The First evening was all acoustic, all indoors, and involved the Cracker duo of David and Johnny and the addition of Greg for Camper songs. I had really enjoyed seeing them play acoustic last year, so was looking forward to it, and the sound system was beefed up with subs indoors, so it all sounded better this year. It was great seeing the Crumbs, the fans who come to this festival every year, everybody was happy to be there and happy to hear the music. Plus Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is just such a great place out there in the weird Pioneertown desert. Good food, good beer, good people.

Our festival has ended up having themed costume nights. This first evening was dedicated to Frank Funaro, our drummer, who had had a tendon reattached on his snare hand in May and couldn’t play. Last year, he had done a solo set wherein he played bass with a fuzz box and sang the entire Ramones first album. Alone. So this year, on this first night, everybody wore Funaro shirts, that looked like the Ramones logo with Funaro across the top and every name being Frank. It was a little creepy to see groups of people with these shirts wandering around, they do look a bit governmental… At one point after the show everybody gathered for a photo and Frank addressed them to tell them that they were crazy.

“You’re all nuts!”

So went the first night. The next day was Friday, day two of the festival. It was something like 112ºF/45ºC when we left the hotel, I had only spent a few minutes in the pool and was only mildly cooled off and not at all ready to load gear in the afternoon sun. Luckily, it did cool down a bit in the late afternoon, but the poor guys building the outdoor sound system were suffering. We soundchecked and then set up for my own set, which was going to start the outdoor show at 7:30. The Paul Chesne band was between my set and the Camper set, but they were just going to line check before playing.

I was thrilled to be playing with Chris Pedersen on drums and Victor Krummenacher on bass. I really learned how to play in a band with these guys, years and years ago. So tonight we would just be improvising. Chris asked if we would be starting somewhere, but instead I said, how about if we end up somewhere? I had been thinking a lot about Kate Bush’s recent return to the stage in London and how she played the entire second side of The Hounds of Love, entitled The Ninth Wave, which was one of my favorite pieces of music, so I suggested that we end up with The Morning Fog, the last song in that piece. We got on stage to check sounds, but they put up the sound system, so we started playing right off. We played for a half an hour, and indeed did end up moving from E Minor to E Major and playing The Morning Fog. I don’t know exactly what happened in between, but somehow it did happen.

we’re just making this shit up on the spot.

After us, Paul Chesne’s band played, ranging from country-ish to psychedelic and back again, a good opening for Camper. Camper played last outdoors, and the stage sound was better than it had been in any previous year, as was, I am told, the front of house sound. This night was Punk vs New Wave themed, and people were dressed in all sorts of interesting ways. Camper decided to dress up in our Funaro shirts, like a real punk band. Camper was both punk and new wave to begin with, so we could really dress however we wanted. After the show, after packing, Victor and Troy kidnapped me out to a house that they were staying in in Wonder Valley, near 29 Palms. It was in the middle of nowhere, a nice little place with lots of mosaic tiling. Really beautiful. And complete with internet! So when we got there at 1AM, I got to video chat with Sanna and Marlowe back in Sweden. I tried to show them the house, but it was too dark to really show them the desert around it.

We got a few texts from Greg and others wondering where we were and why weren’t we drinking beer in the courtyard of the hotel? But instead of partying, we went to bed in hot rooms and I read a bit of a book there called “Social Media is Bullshit!” before falling asleep. When we got up the next day, I could see just how desolate this house was, even though on the map it was on some sort of city-type of grid, there were simply no other structures around for a ways.

Saturday was themed “I want out of the circus.” Victor and Troy and I made a loop through Joshua Tree National Park on our way back, stopping for a couple short hikes in the blazing sun. It is so beautiful there, the rocks are really other-worldly. We stopped by the hotel briefly before heading up to Pappy & Harriet’s for an afternoon signing extravaganza, where the Crumbs all get their posters and albums signed. An endless series of autographs! Michael Wertz had outdone himself yet again on the posters, but he had had to leave early after he and Andy were there the previous evening, as their dog, Olive, was sick and in fact ended up passing away. A super sad event to happen that particular weekend. After the signing, and more eating of the barbecued food, we went back to the hotel in Yucca Valley to rest for a bit. The main stage had Los Rios Rock School on first, who were 11-13 year olds playing Cracker songs, so we had to catch a bit of that before going! After them, Brant Bjork and the Bros played, but sadly I missed them while napping to prepare to play with Victor who was on at 1am that night. We got back to Pioneertown in time to catch the latter half of Cracker’s set, which sounded incredible with the updated sound system, so I bet the previous night had sounded good too! Ben Mize was drumming with them, and he sounded definitely a year stronger, I think the last time I saw him play with Cracker was the previous year, when he subbed for Frank.

After the outdoor set, Johnny Hickman played indoors a bit with the Hickmen and then with the Dangers, and then Victor’s band played. Victor had scared Chris P and I earlier by saying that if John Hanes and Paul Olguin didn’t make it in time, we were going to have to be the rhythm section! I was mentally preparing to play bass, but they did arrive and Bruce Kaphan was there to play pedal steel. An all star band, with Victor in a top hat leading this flying circus. Greg played lead guitar. I came in for the last few songs on violin, ending the whole festival with “I’ll Meet You In Paradise.”

Victor Krummenacher’s Flying Circus

The following day, we headed back into Los Angeles to play at the Echoplex, a benefit for Musack, an organization that provides instruments for music education. It was a funny show, literally: they had comedians between Cracker and Camper, and a band called Elvis Prestello that did Elvis Costello songs like Elvis Presley. We ate Vietnamese food across the street, as we had done when playing there before, and waited around in the tiny dressing rooms until playing. Both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven sets were powerful, again, by the last shows, we had really warmed up. And then it was over. We drove to an airport near LAX, I tried to stay up to get paid when Bobby counted out merch money, but was just too tired. I slept a full 8 hours and got up the next day with everybody else already gone off to their flights, went to get the van and located a Peet’s Coffee nearby, drove over for coffee and a bagel, and began the drive up to SF.

CVB at the Echoplex

As I mentioned, I had intended to drive to Davis on this Monday, but had to get the van back to SFO by 9pm, so I just drove straight to Victor’s house, got there about 7pm, unloaded, we managed to fit the removed seats back in and then went off to SFO to return the van. I took the little air train to the SFO BART station, whereupon the Bart train closed its doors in my face and I had to wait another 20 minutes for the next one. Finally back to Glen Park, Victor picked me up and brought me back to his house where he had cooked locally caught salmon and made buttermilk mashed potatoes and asparagus. That made it all good.

I didn’t have to fly home until Wednesday morning, so I had Tuesday to take care of a few errands like getting a new guitar case for my touring Stratocaster, whose case had lost its remaining latches on this run. Ten years, that one lasted. That evening Victor and I ate at La Nebbia with a friend I used to work with at Red Hill Books (now gone) and we had some amazing food right there in Victor’s neighborhood. Next morning, Super Shuttle to SFO.

The flights home were much better than the flights there. The ticket agent warned me that he would have to charge for my 58lb bag, albs overweight. I looked in it a bit, but said, yeah, I can’t move anything, just charge me. He scribbled on a note to show me, “I am not charging you, don’t thank me out loud.”

The plane landed at JFK on time, and my next flight was from a gate right next to the one we landed at! Super. Had time to eat a salad so I wouldn’t have to survive on Delta Airlines terrible food. Landed back at Arlanda at about noon the next day, and got picked up by my father in law, came home and showered, had a cup of coffee and went to pick up Marlowe at Preschool! Now I’m back to being house husband for a while, I guess!

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Touring

Blast from the past: 1995 interview about technology and gender

I was recently looking around for some info on my old computers, trying to remember the sequence of machines, and found this interview done by Liz Belile for some publication or another* (probably a ‘zine of some sort? Remember those?)

What’s new? This was almost 20 years ago, right about when we had our first web browsers.



Interview about Technology:

Your name, gender, job title or brief self-description.

Jonathan Segel, male, puppet figurehead of MAGNETIC (a company that makes music CDs, among other things. Music is part of a larger context of “metatool” manufacturing, tools that allow the user to make or use other tools. Language is the best example…) Otherwise, a musician, writer, erstwhile San Francisco bartender and general nuisance.


What kinds of technology do YOU use 1) for work 2) for pure fun?

I use and have used many forms of “technology” for purposes that cross both categories. The computer that I am typing this into, a Macintosh Quadra 636, is used to make music (sequencing, lyric typing, score writing), pictures and words for business and fun (web and advertising, desktop publishing) and to track sales (if such happen).

Being a producer of CDs, I use various sound manipulation devices mostly common to recording studios, both large and small, including computers, tape decks, mixing boards, microphones, sound processors of all sorts—digital and analog, and both electrical and acoustic musical instruments.

I have to assume that by “technology” you mean electrical tech, otherwise to my list of entertainment tech that I use regularly (television, radio, telephone and answering machine, fax machine) I would add books and magazines, which are indeed manufactured by machines. I still view the printing press as technology.

In addition to this list I would like to add the internal combustion engine, an invention I greatly admire and use in many forms for fun, travel and hauling physical objects, including the aforementioned.


How has new technology affected your life directly? Indirectly?

I have tried to keep in touch with a semblance of world-wide pop culture for the past ten years, and to keep a hand in it. the technology of recording studios and (previously vinyl, now CD) record manufacturing has enabled me to put out a product into the ever-expanding spiral of human art, hopefully to be heard by and perhaps to inspire a greater number of people than I could have, say, in 1950. As time goes on and the technology to do such things becomes more and more prevalent and available to the public at large, more and more people will be (and are) able to do the same. This affects me directly, in that, as more people are able to put their own art into the market of the world, mine as an individual becomes less unique in its availability and more common in a larger context, thus less able to support me financially as an artist. Is this bad? I don’t really know. Obviously it means I have to support myself otherwise (preying on humanity’s addiction to alcohol as a bartender, currently) but I have to believe that more art from humanity in general is a good thing, ultimately everybody expressing their own creativity rather than relying on specified “artists” strikes me as a good idea. I suppose there will always be prodigies in art, sports, etc., but recapturing the element of actual “doing” rather than being spectators bodes well for humankind.


What would you like your computer to do for you?

I was 6 when we put men on the moon (…if you believe that they did…) Growing up, I was convinced that technology would progress at an astounding rate and have been seriously let down that it didn’t keep up with my futuristic expectations. I want not only my computer but even my toaster to be semi-intelligent. I would prefer all my machines to act according to my command and to understand what I am telling them to do, e.g. “please make me some toast”. I used to carry around a stainless steel zippo lighter to remind me of what I wanted my computer to be: small enough to fit into my hand and artificially intelligent, so I could tell it what to keep in its memory and it could project holographically any visual artwork I needed to work on.


Have you ever experienced CyberSex? What happened?

Unless you mean talking to a known and real sex partner on the telephone, no.


Do you read technical journals or online tech talk?

Yes, I read (sometimes) magazines on sound production and mixing, computers and motorcycles. I rarely use online tech talk, but I do sometimes call my brother on the telephone when I have computer problems.


How are you treated when you go into a consumer electronics store or a guitar store?

I generally prepare myself to enter such a store armed with information enough to disarm the salesmen, usually only entering when I actually intend to buy something and I know what it is. Of course, with musical instruments the interesting stores sell used equipment, so technological knowledge is less important. Here I have experienced both ends of the spectrum: in big cities where I am not a known quantity, I am treated as an amateur by the generally snobbish (because of the elite nature of musical knowledge) clerks, however in, say, Santa Cruz, where I used to live, the smaller stores recognize me as a professional musician and treat me with a respect that allows me inside the elite circle and I get to try the latest guitars into the shop and hear their histories. I think this kind of in-on-it or out-of-it treatment happens with most tech or guitar shops, it’s a part of the supply and demand style of capitalism: people who make records (say, rock stars) are given music by others who would be glad to have them hear it (they are, after all, experts in the field, proven simply by the fact that they make records), while those who don’t have to buy it.


The Gender Thing

Do males and females interact differently with computers? Please cite an example of this if you think so. What does this say about us?

Ok, I have to say that my experience will probably be the opposite of the general consensus in that I have read that the computer industry considers the Mac/IBM dichotomy to be some kind of analog to the right/left brain dichotomy and as such the right brain, picture oriented users are more often female while the left brain, code users are more often male. I would point out that in exact opposition to that, most female computer users I know use IBMs and can do and understand, for example, database work better than I can, better in fact than most of the male computer users I know, who use Macs and do picture stuff.

Regardless of that, I do not believe that males and females interact differently with computers, it’s an individual thing. Both go both ways.


How does “interactive” technology affect our consciousness toward the future? What is the role of technology in the future, specifically for women? And for men?

…Tough question. It seems to me that “interactive” technology is based on entertaining, even in its mode of information retrieval. I don’t see it as helping people to do things in the real physical world, even in terms of hand-eye coordination (frisbee would be as good as star wars in training jet fighters) and I worry about people abusing the time lag between input and response preventing them be fully and truly “there” at any given moment, which is something that I think is important for conscious human beings.

I grew up in a female-dominated (read: single mom) household during the 60s and 70s and never really distinguished differences in the roles of males and females in society, so I don’t see technology’s role as being different for one or the other gender…?


How has technology affected the way men and women interact with each other? Can technology improve interactions with men and women?

I have only heard of, never experienced online dating, (or, in fact unknown-quantity dating in the real world, always seen friends!) Although I gather that these are common things in the world-out-there. I don’t know about how it affects interactions.

Where I live, for the most part people are beyond assuming that one or the other gender knows more or less about technology being discussed. Can it improve interactions? I doubt it. Telephones will still relay more emotional information than email.


Can we have better sex through technology?

Don’t know yet. Have they built the Orgasmatron?


The Purely Philosophical Thing:

Is technology inherently evil?

No. People are the only thing that could ever be inherently evil.


Who gets access to technology?

Presently, those with the resources. Of course, our governments have the resources, enough to allow every person access, but it isn’t done yet. I think computers could be useful educational tools in literacy programs worldwide, even for uninterested children. Maybe the web will be used as informational rather than strictly entertaining. I haven’t been able to get my computer to teach me Japanese yet, but I have learned an awful lot about goats.





* apparently it was called “GoDigital!” says Liz.


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Posted in Technology

A Short Tour, part two

Returning to our lovely Vallejo Ramada Inn, we bought a six pack of Lagunitas IPA on the way, and when I went down to Chris’ room to pick one up, I ran into some 20-something kids on the stairs outside his room smoking a joint. I asked for a hit, but the guy said he didn’t like sharing. I see. That turned out to mean that he didn’t like passing them back and forth between people’s mouths, so after he had had enough he handed it to me. I saw Bobby across the courtyard and beckoned to him, when he came over I handed it to him and he wondered which way it was going, but at that point it was all him.

So these kids were growers from “The gateway to Yosemite!”, which I found fascinating.  The guy went to fetch his phone to show me pictures of his starter plants, one that he said was the typical pride of California called “Blue [something or other]” and the other strain was called “Girl Scout Cookies”. The girl was working hospice of some sort or another, they were of course there for the rock festival. Unfortunately they were there to see bands that they had grown up on, turned on by their parents: Third Eye Blind and The Bare Naked Ladies. Yikes! Third Eye Blind had played either before or after Cracker that day, so I’d asked if they had stayed for that. Who? Spin Doctors…? I said, hey you should see Camper Van Beethoven, although we overlap with the Bare Naked Ladies tomorrow. Bobby had some short discussion with the girl, who was smoking a cigarette, about her musical taste and determined that she would not like CVB at all anyway so don’t bother. He’s a hard sell, obviously.

Then suddenly the Moldavian girl came over to tell us that we were scaring other hotel guests by hanging out on the stairs, so we had to go into the courtyard. Goldie was already there in the jacuzzi. Goldie is actually named Aaron, a friend and/or old bandmate of Bobby’s whom we have worked with several times, including at the Camp-Out in Pioneertown. He was acting roadie for the weekend, he had actually singlehandedly gone to Victor’s to get the West Coast gear in the rental van and driven it up to Napa before the Cracker set, which was before Victor got home. Victor and Troy had in fact just returned from Hawaii that afternoon and he was at home practicing a bit, as he was going to play bass at the festival show the next day, David Immergluck had flown straight to Los Angeles after Portland to get his shit together: after the next week’s shows he was heading out on tour with the Counting Crows for most of the summer, and then their record would be coming out in the fall so I imagine he’ll be busy for the entire next year.

We hung out a bit near the jacuzzing Goldie, the other couple and Bobby and him talked in their special 20-something language which I lost the thread of. Couldn’t really follow it. Suddenly she said to Bobby, “so, you gonna offer me a job?” I have no idea what they were talking about. I rudely asked why they were still smoking cigarettes if everybody nowadays knew what they did to you, how they prematurely aged you and how the money just went straight to heartless corporations, how could kids in this day and age have any excuse to do so…? “Yeah, I keep trying to quit.” I wanted to at least get the guy to come over to see Camper the next day, but I don’t know if he ever did, he would have to abandon his girlfriend.

The Moldavian girl came again to shoo us out of the jacuzzi area, but it was getting cold anyway. I asked Bobby if he could put her on the list for the next day, he said no problem, but again, I don’t know if it ever really happened, even though she wasn’t working and was very excited to do so. How on earth did she ever end up working in a Ramada Inn in Vallejo, California, anyway, I wonder?

So the next day I got up and ventured into the shopping center next door, with the intention of exploring Target for a new suitcase. Of course, first stop was coffee, which meant Starbucks, the 128kbps mp3 of coffee. “Good enough is good enough” Chris was already there. After coffee, I did make it to Target but couldn’t decide on a new suitcase (I re-considered the idea of switching everything over before flying to LA and it seemed daunting. My current suitcase was a lovely green Sierra Designs that lasted about a year and a half on tour before losing half its plastic base and half of its pull-handle, with the screws winding their way out of the corner protectors. Thanks, REI, for providing such quality gear. Target had some ~$100 “Swiss Gear” models…) On the way back, I passed Eyebrow Hub, an establishment hitherto unknown. I thought I was in the club this whole time, too.

this is where we meet.

Chris and I reconvened at the hotel and packed everything into the Kia, headed off to the festival, this time with “artist parking”, which was gonna make all the difference. To tell the truth, I was already a little freaked out by the experience of the thousands of people the day before and the rush of time at festivals, and simply thinking about it on the way over caused yet another spasmodic bite, this time the side of my tongue! Now I had matching bites on the cheek and tongue. Great. That always makes your tongue feel like it’s too big for your mouth so you end up biting it more. It’s weird how a small inflammation from a tongue wound can make your tongue feel many times larger than it is in your mouth, like it takes up all the space between the sides of your teeth and more, how huge it feels in your mouth… (I’m just prodding you into freaking out about your own tongues right now.)

We made it to the festival and got to park backstage, which made things much easier. It was a short walk behind the main stage to the tents where we had our backstage, roughly the same area as Cracker had the day before. Bobby had cryptically mentioned (he claims “not so cryptic…”, though it was a late night conversation revealing new plans) that I would have to drive the gear and return the rental van after the show, which was actually a drag for me, so I had to re-clarify what was happening. Indeed, rather than have the guy (Goldie) whom we were paying to be the roadie for this festival drive the gear back, he was driving to Sacramento with David and Bobby after the show and flying to LA. This was because our set time was made later than initially planned for, though in fact our 5pm set time seemed better to me than playing earlier. So I was ‘volunteered’ to drive the equipment van back to Victor’s, unload it and then return it to the rental car center at SFO, which meant getting Victor to pick me up there later that evening. I’m usually up for driving anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal, though it meant no beer after the show which I really would have liked (they had some interesting ones backstage that I never tasted), and that extra time spent unloading and driving to the airport—SFO is a good half hour from the city. I mention all of this because people always think that being “on tour” is all about getting to a venue and going in and playing music, but the truth is that it’s all day long doing other things (or worse, not being able to do anything for hours) and the hour or so on stage is just the visible, and fun, part.

Bit by bit we moved all our gear to the side of the stage, and Chris set up the drums, our West Coast kit. I had my actual West Coast gear as well, which meant my real pedalboard and my black Stratocaster, and our Bel-Air brand mandolin, made by a company in Richmond, VA that David likes, who made decent inexpensive instruments. Much better than the crap Fender mandolin we had used for the previous two shows. I would definitely try to fly this one to the southern California shows as well. I couldn’t really set anything up prior to our actual stage time, though, so I just assessed what was there.

Then we got to wait around. We ate lunch at catering, this time we had full day passes for meals. I could have watched the Spin Doctors on the main stage, I guess… I did try to see Keep Shelly in Athens on the “Sprint” stage before us, but they were having some problems syncing their computer to the drums and guitar or something. When I came back by to see how it was going they were unenthusiastically playing what sounded like prerecorded things and barely paying attention to the scant audience in the mid-afternoon sun. It took them a while to get their shit cleared, the Black Angels’ drummer was setting her stuff up already on the side of the stage and we had to get our shit loaded onto the stage. As is usual in CVB, it’s every man for themselves, so I put my head down and tried not to pay attention to the people in the field in front of us while I set up my gear.

I got it all set up, but the sun was strong and nearly directly at us by then, our set time was 5pm-6pm, a full hour (at a festival!) facing into the setting sun. I figured out a way to put the guitar in the shade of the canopy and hang the violin on the same stand, but I knew that when we were playing I would have to hang the violin on the mic stand when playing guitar, which would mean the violin back would be directly at the sun, not so great for an acoustic instrument, it can heat the joints and cause them to unglue.
David had bought shirts from the show “Silicon Valley” and he was wearing an“Aviato” shirt, while I had one that the character Guilfoyle wears that had a circular elongated whale-airplane thing. I thought that this was a pretty good, yet subtle joke, (though Napa is a ways from Silicon Valley, many current and former SV players live there), but also especially as Chris Pedersen was wearing an Eraserhead t-shirt, a signifier of yesteryear’s zeitgeist. David wore a Mexican poncho over his t-shirt while he set his stuff up (or Bobby did) so that nobody would see, as per the show, I wore a button shirt over my t-shirt anyway.

Pied Piper.

The crowd were divided by some sort of barrier that split the front of the stage nearer to my side (stage left, west) and then cut across in that direction (west) to hold in some category of audient (not underage..? VIP? I had no idea and could not tell.) On the other side of that divide were many young girls against the front railing who were obviously there to hold the front row for some later band (Black Angels or The Fray…? Would they really be interested in holding it all day to see The Fray? And, horror of horrors, being subjected to Camper Van Beethoven! Oh the Humanity!)

When we began, David spoke of our new record, saying how it was the Southern California companion to the previous album, which provoked boos. It’s a festival in Northern California, man! He got mad and then said how Northern Californians were so pretentious about that shit (true) and that whenever we mentioned Northern California when playing in SoCal, nobody minded (true), but that just made some people mad as well. Good start! He threw his poncho out to them.



The pit had weird old hairy cameramen filming us the whole time, which I realized later was for the giant screen above us. On the crowded side, the young chicks texted most of the time, the row behind them were actual fans who wave hands and pumped fists and sang along, and then rows of confused audience back to the level of the soundbooth. The field behind that was pretty much empty. On the VIP side, it was sparser, with people intermittently paying attention, otherwise laughing and telling each other jokes of some sort. This side drank wine. While we played we could feel ourselves getting burned by the direct sun in our faces.

I was using my good gear, my full West Coast pedalboard and my actual guitar. Regardless, my guitar sputtered, I was just not having good luck on this tour equipment-wise. Neither was Victor, some cable of his was cutting in and out, and my guitar jack cut in and out, and at a festival where everything is time-critical there is no time to try to diagnose let alone fix such problems. Victor had some cable swapping, I just tried to kick at my gear, which was probably dusty from disuse for the previous 6 months, and shook my guitar cables, trying to shy away from the glaring sun, but when I turned around for a little respite from the crowds and the sun, the inner stage had strobe lights around the upper edges which made me feel like I was either being electrocuted or coming onto acid.


This was the first show without David Immergluck as well, with Victor playing bass. He hadn’t rehearsed with us, and while he knew the material of course, he had never played the newer songs live. I mean, we had only done so twice ourselves…

David had played the main stage the day before with Cracker, and just like that was back to being the singer of Camper. It’s pretty amazing. It’s actually more amazing when we do shows with both bands, that he can sing and play guitar for that long every day (and I mean, he can really belt it out!) but also to be able to have two band’s repertoire at his fingertips and tip of tongue so that after playing with one band for several days he can just switch and front the other one and then drop right back into the first one.

Well, we made it through, regardless of any difficulties, and the set was successful and we certainly didn’t make any blaring mistakes (despite Chris’ overrunning the fast middle section of “Summer Days” as it entered the slow section…) and so then we packed everything up as quickly as possible, and figured out where it was all going to go off the stage, ran around like scurrying mice with our gear until we discovered where it would go. Festivals are always pretty hectic. Then we left back to the backstage tents and tried to calm down and eat dinner. I needed to move my suitcase from the rental car to Victor’s car in the artist parking area, but was stopped as I walked down the pathway by security who were clearing a path so that LL Cool J could walk uninterrupted to the main stage. Once he and his entourage walked across the road, we were allowed to continue.

The LA-headed contingent was taking the rental car back to the Sacramento airport, I got the keys to the van, Victor and Troy left in his car, Greg went with Kacey back to Alameda. I went to the van to make sure everything was in it, and asked the security people how to get out from where it was parked behind the stage… “same way you came in” umm, yeah, except it wasn’t me that drove it in…

Not too much Sunday traffic returning to SF, except of course once we hit the Bay Bridge. The “new” Bay Bridge, it wasn’t open when I lived here. It has palm trees now on the East Bay side, which is weird, like, “hey it’s California, you’re driving across to LA!” But then you hit Treasure Island and the weather turns entirely foggy and cold. Ha ha! Also the old bridge on the side of it, being torn down, that’s reassuring! Well, then on to Victor’s, I beat Victor and Troy there and unloaded the gear. When they got there, we stacked it in his garage, and I drove the van to the airport and waited for Victor to come and get me at the “Kiss ‘n’ Fly” waiting area. Home by 10pm. A long day.

I hadn’t actually realized that the following day was a day off until it happened. I hadn’t planned anything fun in San Francisco, and had to leave the next morning anyway, so I just went shopping in Noe Valley for toys and clothes for my daughter and chocolate for my wife. The bookstore that I used to work at (Phoenix) is no longer the same, I think the owner sold it. I worked more at her other store on Bernal Hill called Red Hill Books, anyway, and it certainly no longer existed. The bookstore that was Phoenix is still a bookstore, but it isn’t the same. The bar I used to work at on 24th St, the Rat ‘n’ Raven, is now called the Valley Tavern, and I have yet to venture in for a beer.

The chocolate selection on 24th St.

The chocolate selection on 24th St.

Kacey came over and she and Troy and I sat and talked for most of the afternoon, which was excellent, I hadn’t had that opportunity for years. Plus she brought me a bunch of coffee; she works for Peets! So I’m set for the summer. Or at least until July.

The next day we were off for the last leg of this tour, a whole two more shows. We flew United, which we all have super status on by now, so we were able to get the mandolin and merch boxes as checked baggage, and Victor and I both got upgraded to first class seats. I was in 1A. Too bad to waste that on a flight that was only an hour long! We landed at LAX and got picked up and dropped at the assy-enda, dropped our bags and got back in the car and headed to San Diego. We made it in plenty of time, the club wasn’t even open yet, so we headed around the other side of the freeway to a taqueria called Lucha Libre, which turned out to be excellent.

We would be playing at the Casbah this evening, a club next to the I-5 in downtown San Diego that had been in the same place for 25 years, and was somewhere nearby before that. We’d all played at it in many bands over the years. I think I played there with Sparklehorse, even. And with Magnet, Hieronymus Firebrain, Granfaloon Bus, Dieselhed, etc. Last time I was there was with the Cracker duo, an acoustic evening with David Lowery, Johnny Hickman and I. It’s not bad, not great. Nice people run it, but there is no backstage room, so the band has to smush into the office for privacy. David Immergluck would be joining us again, which meant that I got to use his guitar as I had for rehearsals, a Japanese reissue of an early 70s blue flower print Stratocaster.

A band called Curtsy was the opening band for this show and the next one, a five piece with two guitars, bass, drums and occasional keyboard, vocals by a man and a woman. They had a sort of shoegaze-mixed-with-early 80s sound, nice harmonizing and drony guitars. We would be using their gear as well, though the club guys also borrowed some friend’s amp to get us enough amps—with Immergluck, we need 4 guitar amps and a bass amp. Immy actually brought his own, a Santa Cruz amp that was like a Princeton Reverb with a 12” speaker, David Lowery ended up using a Fender Twin Reverb that actually had a single 15” speaker making it broadcast all over the place (nobody realized that it was a 15” speaker until after the show). I ended up with a small Vox amp that I just could not get to play cleanly, so I had a fairly distorted sound all evening.

at the Casbah. Note: flowery Strat!

Many known crumbs were here, people I had seen at the Camp-Out or other shows, people I even knew by name! Chris Pedersen was obviously getting used to playing these songs now, and with Victor back on bass the rhythm section was strong and loud. Immergluck on pedal steel (and mandolin when I wasn’t playing it) made our arrangements full of all possible timbres. The show was good, the band felt like we were coming together.

Afterwards, we drove back late at night to the hotel by LAX, as we had to get up to go do a radio recording the next day in Northridge before coming back to Hermosa Beach to play a place called Sainte Rock. We got rerouted in South Bay somewhere where they were working on the 405 and it took forever to get back and get to sleep.

Up the next day, same old Starbucks and Ralph’s for breakfast, then off to Northridge. We had two rental cars here in SoCal, fairly small ones. We drove to KCSN and loaded in and waited for a delivery of rental amps from SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals) LA. I think this radio show was supposed to be some sort of big promotional thing for Los Angeles, and our A&R guy from 429 Records was going to be there. It’s a pretty huge setup for what began as a college radio station (it’s at Cal State Northridge) and the entire performing arts center is named after Mike Curb who ostensibly donated a ton of money to build it. I kept trying to remember what his band was called before he went into politics and became the lieutenant governor…

Radio Show here!

I’m going to assume that we paid for the amp rentals, or the record company did, which meant it comes out of our potential profit in the end anyway, as this was promo. So there goes any money we might have made on this tour, if there had been any! But the station is an NPR affiliate and has a large listening base, and is becoming somewhat more relevant than the whole KCRW scene which has become quite a bit less eclectic year by year as it’s become more and more co-opted by what’s left of the music industry. Our interviewer was Sky Daniels, who, as his bio says, is an “industry veteran”: he worked for Universal for years and then developed all sorts of radio formats. He is an intense and extremely music-knowledgable individual and was very fun to talk to. I finally remembered “Mike Curb Congregation” and asked him if that was right, and we ended up talking about Mike Curb and LA studio history for quite a while as the setup was happening. Our A&R guy came with some CDs for the station, very matter-of-fact, “here’s the new CD, yup”. It had come out the day before, I guess I sort of expected everybody to be jumping up and down! I was pretty excited, I hadn’t really examined our new album.

I honestly don’t know if anybody at our level sells any CDs anymore anyway, so it’s probably lucky for us to have a label at all that can pay for recording (we went over budget, regardless) or manufacturing (it’s got amazing artwork by Michael Wertz!) The relationship with 429 Records is basically all between them and David, as they put out Cracker as well, which they will also be doing this year. Cracker has a double CD (or two separate?) scheduled for later this year. Crazy!

I still feel a slight black cloud of the waning music industry hanging over the whole thing, as excited as I am to have a new Camper Van Beethoven album out. I sincerely hope we can continue in some economically viable way.

Adding to that, my recent album, Shine Out, had come out digitally the same day, through Finetunes, but that would be a little tough to advertise during a Camper Van Beethoven promotional run, when we’re trying to hip the world to the new CVB CD! On my own, outside of Camper, I am on a market level that is even many times lower than Camper. The best I can do is to sell some CDs at the CVB merch booth to completist collectors. I’m not certain that CVB fans would by necessity be fans of my own records, but because of my association with CVB for the past 30+ years, that’s pretty much gonna be the only people who would hear about them, I don’t know if there would ever be a way for the proper audience to find it outside of its association with CVB. (Proper audience…?)

Anyway, to be able to be in Los Angeles and play on the radio, play a few shows, that in itself is lucky, especially for me as it means that I have to fly all the way from Sweden. I’m not sure that as time goes on this will be financially possible, nor even if it is really now, though we needed to play some shows to promote the new album, even if they are small. The album is great! Come on folks, buy it in bulk!

The new Camper Van Beethoven album is called “El Camino Real”. It is the companion piece to last year’s “La Costa Perdida”, in that LCP is mostly set in Northern California and ECR in Southern California, but there are other little dualities in the pair. This new one is much more, well, sinister, and has many more driving rock songs.  In reviews it’s doing well, but I still get the impression that people aren’t getting the depth of it, or the pair, and that that may take multiple listens. Here’s a review, for example.  David has a blog in which he writes about all the songs he’s written, 300 Songs, several of the ones from this album are featured lately. Check it out!


So, anyway, after checking out the epicenter of the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, we drove over the hill from the Valley and back down toward LAX, and on to Hermosa Beach. We loaded some of the rental amps into one of the little rental cars and people in the other, so that we would have amps better suited to us for this evening. I usually like to use a Fender Deluxe Reverb, and now we had two of them. Curtsy would be opening again, and they were welcome to use them also, if they wanted.

The place is called Sainte Rock, it’s a little upscale sort of bar with a semi-gourmet kitchen. By the time we were done setting up and sound checking, I was so low blood sugar that I couldn’t go anywhere else, so I ate there, and it was good. We, as a band, know a lot of people in Los Angeles, and a bunch of our old compatriots were at the show, many people we have worked with over the years, and our current record company people from both 429 Records and Omnivore. It was old home week there at the Sainte Rock. The stage itself was pretty nice, though the room was divided by an area for seated diners, and then the bar sort of went around the corner away in back so people at the long side of the bar couldn’t see the band. It wasn’t packed full, anyway, so I’m sure everybody that wanted to see us got to.

at Sainte Rock in Hermosa Beach. photo by Philip Hughes

We were finally starting to hit stride as a band at this show, our last for this run. Chris Pedersen was locking in with Victor Krummenacher, David Lowery was seamlessly moving lyrically between the old and new material, David Immergluck, Greg Lisher and I winding our ways around the melodies and counter melodies. I think this was the best playing of the batch, in a nice venue with a well-aquainted audience.

After the show, we packed our gear and talked a bit with our friends there, a little bit with Greg Allen from Omnivore (who recently re-released our two albums from Virgin, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie,) briefly saw other people from 429 Records, stumbled through a short conversation with Dennis Herring, who produced OBRS and KLP, whom I don’t really get along with, and ended up talking for a long time with Marc and Valenta, friends of ours from Berkeley who run Amoeba Records. Amoeba is doing well in Los Angeles, even showing up in articles in GQ Style these days (!), but the original store in Berkeley, which used to be overrun by music loving kids is now passed over by a university population who really doesn’t care what music they hear so long as someone is twerking to it. The San Francisco store is still on its feet, but really the LA store is where it’s at these days, so Marc and Valenta moved down here. It was good to hang out with them, I’ve hardly seen them since we moved away from the Bay Area two years ago. Yes, in fact, exactly two years previous, on June 3rd, we left the United States.

We finally packed everything back into the two little cars and headed back to the Assy-Enda. After sorting everything out, it was determined that Chris had the most time the following day, so he had the job of returning the rental amps to SIR, and returning the crap mandolin to guitar center before coming back to LAX and leaving on a night flight back to Australia. Victor flew early to SF, back to work, I flew later to rent my own car for two days so I could drive up to visit my family in Davis for an evening, Greg flew back to Oakland, and David and Bobby went on to play with Cracker at a festival in Mexico! (Lucky dogs!) I think Bobby deserved some time to cut loose at this point, one of the things he had been dealing with during this entire rehearsal and tour was obtaining visas and official endorsement from the US Chamber of Commerce so that Cracker could go to play in China at the end of June, and that had been proving to be very, very difficult, and had included for him several early morning runs to the Chinese consulate. I hope he got drunk and woke up somewhere in Mexico in the arms of a transvestite.

I flew back up later in the afternoon, drove to Victor’s and stayed there that night. Next day up to Davis, with stops at REI and Target to find a new suitcase (I did end up with the Swiss Gear one,) where my brother and I went out to dinner with my dad and his wife. I sorted through all my mail that arrives at my brother’s house. His 12 year old (the boy twin) was having a sleepover with two friends, but it was basically a gaming party. His 14 year old was now as tall as me and has better sideburns. It was  a nice visit, but short, got up the next day to head back to San Francisco to meet Carlos Forster, whom Bradley Skaught had placed me together with to record a cover of a Scott Miller song (Bradley also specified which song!)

I had actually recorded most of the song already, so Carlos had added many layers of vocal tracks.  We basically just talked and copied tracks over, so I am going to mix it soon now that I’m home… well, whenever I get back into Stockholm where my studio computer is.

That evening Victor and Troy and our old friend Dede went out to dinner, a post-tour dinner, and in honor of Dede’s 50th birthday which had been during the festival, and her moving right then back from Napa to San Francisco, in fact, picked up her new apartment keys that morning. Another old friend had taken over the kitchen at Green’s at Fort Mason, so we made the trek across San Francisco for one of the best vegetarian meals I have ever had, and Dede has been working for a winery in Napa so she talked to the sommelier and we ended up with a great wine as well. A superb dinner, great end of tour, nice conversation filling each other in on the past 20 years and beyond. Back to Victor’s, I had to get up at 5am the next day to get back to SFO.

Another very long day of travel: return my rental car, airport train to the airport, flight from SFO to New York JFK, waiting around a hot and very overcrowded terminal there for 5 hours while plane-loads of people tried to entertain themselves and stay cool, flight to Stockholm, arrived at about 1pm local time, took a taxi home (45 minutes or so, Arlanda is between Stockholm and Uppsala), unpacked and repacked, took a shower, walked out to the subway station, subway to the central train station, train to Örebro, picked up by my father-in-law, drive north for an hour to the cabin, eventually arrived to see wife and daughter at the top of the lupine-lined road waiting. I got out and got the biggest hugs ever. That was the best after nearly 30 hours of travel!

Now here I am. What next?

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Guitar, Music, Touring, Violin

A short tour, part one.

The previous shows that Camper Van Beethoven played were in January (2014), and now it’s nearly June and we have a whole 5 shows to play on the west coast, because we have a new album coming out on June 3rd (“El Camino Real“) Added to this slight difficulty of not having played for a few months is the fact that our drummer of the past decade, Frank Funaro, had a tendon rip on his snare arm and was scheduled for surgery on May 20th. Plus, Victor was going to be gone the last week of May. We managed to secure the drumming of our original drummer, Chris Pedersen, who lives in Sydney, Australia and hence doesn’t drum with us very often. (As David Lowery said, we didn’t know much about Australia beyond the Mad Max movies, so we figured he was fighting for his life [and petrol] and probably didn’t have a phone anyway, so we hadn’t called till now.)

I actually haven’t played much in the interim, I sat in with the Plastic Pals here in Stockholm a few times, playing with US bands that were people I knew way back when: we opened for the Dream Syndicate at Nalen and Dan Stuart of Green on Red at the Southside Tavern, for example, just in the past month. I played one show of my own, sort of, back in February with the Muffin Ensemble as my band for my set (Matthias Danielsson on pedal steel and Örjan Byström on fretless bass) and then improvised with them for their set, but hadn’t played any other shows where I sang any songs. Later, I played a couple of shows with Einar Baldursson (from Gösta Berlings Saga) in a semi-improvised group that consisted of guitar, violin, clarinet and bass. But my fingers weren’t tour hardened, as it were.

I flew into LAX this time from Stockholm, after a connection in Amsterdam. LAX was pretty nice to arrive in, actually, the Global Entry line to scan passports is short, with tons of kiosks, and even the customs has a Global Entry lane. I arrived at around noon, in preparation for rehearsal starting at 3pm the next day, and I had managed to get some rest on the flight, so my intention was to stay up until 9pm. That’s the goal, in either direction, if you can stay awake until 9pm, you are allowed to go to sleep and then start in the new time zone when you wake up.

Of course it took a while to get to the hotel (the Hacienda, or as we refer to it, the Assy-Enda.) It’s near LAX on Sepulveda, pretty big, maybe a step up from a Motel 6, but also strangely low-class. Despite or because of many flight crew people staying there, it takes a long time to check in at any time of day or night. You could wait 45 minutes at midnight. I checked in and went across the street to Starbucks for some caffeine mainlining and then to Ralph’s supermarket for some food, which was cool because they have a person making sushi there, and as I was looking it over, she asked what I wanted and I answered “salmon and avocado” and she made it right then. Nice lunch. Or breakfast or whatever. For other things you’d have to walk. Which I did later, walked all the way into El Segundo proper to have a pizza and drink some Scuttlebutt IPA at Rock n Brews, a chain of rock-and-sports themed places owed by Gene Simmons. They show sports on most screens, then have a big screen showing (mostly 80s) rock videos with the rock music as the sound. I saw such things as Led Zeppelin and Flock of Seagulls (who were terrible! I thought for sure they might have some redeeming qualities in hindsight, but no, they were bad players even. And they dressed really badly, even for the early 1980s.) There were several families there having a birthday party for children, which made me miss my little one.

It was actually a long walk, 45 minutes or so each way, so by the time I got back I was even more tired and barely made it to my 9pm goal. The next day, Chris Pedersen came to pick me up, and we drove down the road to a Mexican food place before heading into Hollywood. It was great to see him, hadn’t hung out with him for a decade or so, the last time we played was at the first Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Camp-Out in 2005. I love Chris, not just because he’s an amazing drummer, he’s a great person also. We talked and drove over to Hollywood, where I checked in at the Dixie, where we would be staying for rehearsals. Again, across the street from a Starbucks and a Ralph’s.

First day of rehearsal, 3-9pm, Immergluck on bass since Victor was in Hawaii on vacation (planned for months, before the first couple shows were tagged onto this festival-based tour.) And Chris on drums, essentially a whole new rhythm section, although Immy had played bass for us several times last year. After this first stretch Chris and I went to go see Marc Ribot and Ceramic Dog at the new Largo space at the Coronet Theatre. This was really cool, two people I knew from Oakland were his band: Ches Smith on drums and Shazad Ismaily on bass and things. Ches actually plays on a Camper Van Beethoven song too, you know, he played on my 2003 album, “Edgy Not Antsy” and then we reused the basics for Civil Disobedience for CVB’s 2004 “New Roman Times”. They played very cool, outside, rocky-sounding songs, I wanted to say hi afterwards, but we were starving so we had to leave. Went to Canter’s Deli, still there on Fairfax, still the great late night diner. And I had the Avocado Melt, something I’ve eaten there for since the first time I went there maybe 30 years ago.

Chris and I went out to breakfast the next day on Sunset, down by Silverlake, and had coffee at Intelligentsia, which required a bit of explaining to Chris: You see, there’s this trend in hipsterdom to have single-origin coffee and roast it light or medium to “retain its true flavor and caffeine level”, which can of course be far too acidic and sour for the stomachs of men over 40. It’s big in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Stockholm, and now taking over the rest of the world. Regardless, the expensive macchiato or lattes were extremely well made, and we got fully jacked up and headed off involved in a full in-depth discussion of modern physics, segueing into styles of child-rearing.

This day’s rehearsal sounded more like a band, even though we only managed a handful of the tracks off the record that would be coming out the following tuesday. Still, we were melding into a semblance of the band we could be. Jet lag caught up with me in the late afternoons and I felt pretty spaced during the middle of the rehearsals, but muddled through. The next day we had to fly to Seattle.

Our flights actually stopped and changed planes in San Francisco, which was sort of a drag due to Air Force 2 being at both LAX and SFO, and shutting down all airport traffic for an hour. So we got to Seattle a bit later than expected, needed to rent cars and head into West Seattle to play an in-store at Easy Street Records. David Lowery and I went to get the cars, and ended up being upgraded to matching 2015 Subaru Foresters. I always like Subarus. The lady at the counter said they weren’t that popular with California drivers, I asked why, she blushed and turned her head and said, “I don’t know.” I asked if it were the association with lesbians, she quietly said, “yeah.” Hmm, you’d think they’d go for that. Anyway, matching silver Subarus, that’s how we roll.

We tried to find the hotel and went to the wrong nearby Doubletree (who have changed their logo, so it no longer looks like two intertwining female symbols, ♀♀, which would have made parking twin Subarus even better), eventually found the right one and dropped off bags, though then we had to drive into Seattle at rush hour, and while I was driving, Chris and Greg were attempting to navigate. When we got off the I-5, I thought, this is not the right way. Sure enough we went to the old, permanently closed Easy Street Records, and had to then find our way to West Seattle. We made it in the nick of time, set up and played our first set of the tour. Five songs, I think? It came off pretty well, and several of my friends with kids were there, the kids seeing us play for the first time. I missed being able to go out to dinner with them, though. We eventually packed up and made our way across the street for some food at a very slow restaurant, then back to the airport area and off to sleep. We didn’t need to get going until midday the next day.

Doubletree, what the fuck?

We got into Capitol Hill early to get more coffee at Vivace, after a stop at Emerald City Guitars for David Immergluck to check out a Gibson Firebird (he didn’t buy it). I test drove the old Stratocasters, as usual. But you know, even a refinished early 60s one is around $10k, so that’s another person’s life that would be able to buy one. At Vivace, I had hemp milk for the first time in my life (pretty good, sort of sweet.)

And then went to the club, Chop Suey and waited for the other bands who actually had the backline we would be using. The opening bands were Miller and Sasser and Massey Ferguson. A country night!

Chris Miller had played with Victor at the last Camp-Out, and he was actually on tour with Dave Alvin at the moment, but had a night off so came to play with his band here, a country band that Victor had played bass in when they played in the Bay Area. For these shows, they had Hillary Hanes playing bass, who is John Hanes’ brother. All in the family. (John plays with Victor often, and played with me occasionally when I lived in California. He’s on most of my latter albums.) Despite the Victor connection, Victor was not at these two shows that they were playing with us in Seattle and Portland!

My friend Annick, who is a chef, was with her son at the nearby Skillet restaurant, so we all made it over there after sound check. She runs Runaway Kitchen ( http://www.runawaykitchen.com and http://runawaykitchen.blogspot.com ) and has been a personal chef to many famous people all up and down the west coast. So I knew wherever she was eating was going to be good, and indeed it was. Not really the sort of food you could eat every day—very rich and tasty, but you’d probably die shortly. I actually hadn’t seen Annick for a couple years, their family visited Sanna and I in Sweden one year when they were living in London (her husband Sean does device coding, so he’s bounced around Microsoft, Nokia, Amazon, etc.)

We got back to the Chop Suey too late to see the opening band, unfortunately, but did get to see Miller and Sasser, who were playing some country songs I hadn’t heard for years (like Johnny Paycheck’s “Please Don’t Play A-11”, last I’d heard done by Mental Revenge in SF in the mid 1990s, Jim Campilongo and Joe Goldmark, etc…) Plus they played tunes by Chris Miller and James Sasser, including “I Know That One By Heart”, which is still in my head. Chris and his brother both played Telecasters, harmonizing the country lines, and Chris even used an old 70s phase shifter, one of my favorite weird country guitar sounds. It sounds like somebody is chewing on the melody lines as they are plucked out by the Tele.

All band shared the same “dressing room”, this place was pretty grimy. That said, the sound was good, and the soundman was really good. But most of the places that we end up playing in Seattle are pretty grimy, which I always find odd as the median quality of life there is pretty high, so I don’t quite understand the griminess of the nightclubs. We have recently played Neumo’s and the Tractor Tavern, both of which seem pretty lowlife even when the surrounding restaurants aren’t, for example. Conversely, I guess, we played with Built to Spill at the Showbox Theatre downtown, which was pretty good, and surrounded by normal scummy downtown urban life. I guess I just don’t quite understand Seattle’s disparity of income quite, or the way it’s represented in the entertainment sphere.

We played our set to an enthusiastic 100 or so people, no major mistakes on the part of the newcomers, we managed to play four tracks from the new album even. I was playing on a borrowed Telecaster Custom, which was pretty cool (for when I played guitar in the set.) We bought an emergency crappy mandolin from Guitar Center, which we intended to return after the shows. It was truly crappy. James Sasser mentioned (enthusiastically) after the show that it sounded like a player piano.

After the show we went to the merch area to sign what CDs people bought, we actually had some of the new CD that was coming out the following week, so we sold some and signed them, and talked a bit with fans until the remaining fans were only the insane people who would have stayed telling us stories all night long, at which point we fled.

at Chop Suey, photo by Mike Sparrow

Back to the Sea-Tac Doubletree, a very confusingly laid-out hotel with angled hallways connecting wings at the second floor. We always have to stay at the cheapest places we can get, usually by the airport, and I guess we were lucky to get this place for some super cheap rate. It was actually one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in on tour! Unfortunately the breakfast choices were there or Denny’s across the street, so we all left and vowed to stop along the way, in our Subaru convoy. I drove one, Bobby the other. Apparently David discovered some weird place on Yelp, so we ended up in South Tacoma at a sandwich place called Little Jerry’s (which was indeed as good as the Yelp reviews) which was dedicated to Seinfeld and had not only Seinfeld-based decorations all over, but had a television that showed some sort of annotated set of out-of-sequence Seinfeld scenes from various episodes. Must have been a weird place to work. (I’m not a Seinfeld fan at all, by the way. I’ve tried to watch it but it just comes off as uncomfortable and idiotic to me, I don’t like any of the characters and the situations just make me feel bad. I don’t like that kind of comedy, I guess; I’d rather laugh with someone than at them.)

Onward to Portland, a nice drive on a beautiful day in our rental car. Chris and I talked while Greg dozed in the back seat. We went around the city to the east, stopped by the hotel near the airport (of course) and dropped our bags, then drove into town to the Hawthorne Theatre, on Hawthorne Avenue. We loaded our instruments in, but again we were using the opener’s backline so could’t really set up much until they got there. This evening it was Miller and Sasser minus Miller. He had to go back to the tour with Dave Alvin. It took them a long time to get there, and the “backstage” was a tiny little room up some stairs directly to the side of the stage, so that wasn’t great for hanging out. I went across the street to a Fred Meyer for some batteries and things, wandered around a bit, eventually came back and just stared at the internet for a while until the rest of the gear got there.

Everybody split up for dinner, I ended up walking down to the street to look at a Vietnamese place, but it looked too much like a Chinese restaurant so I opted for a sushi place, which turned out to be Korean. Not bad, not good.

I had had a couple of sound problems with my gear at the Seattle show, so I tried to figure out what was wrong, but nothing went awry during sound check, so I left it. Unfortunately I continued to have problems when the show was happening, and had some guitar and violin dropouts, which freaks me out when I’m playing and can’t immediately fix it. Since I switch back and forth all the time between violin, guitar and mandolin, the whole show is a little hectic, I rarely have time to even take a drink of water (which is tough anyway when you’re holding a violin in one hand and the bow in the other.) I spend a lot of time while playing checking out my tuner (aways on, unlike the guitarists who can mute to tune then turn it off) to see if I’m actually playing in tune, as the stage volume is loud and I’m hearing the violin as much through my jaw bone as anywhere else. If something if fucking up with my pedals, I hardly have enough cognitive ability to analyze the issue while playing. So the show felt a little out of control for me. I spasmodically bit my cheek during the show and sucked blood for a while.

Camper at the Hawthorne. mobile photo by Michael Stuck

Despite that, we had a full house at this theatre, proving that Portland still loves us, and after the show I talked with Larry Crane (of Tape Op, and of Vomit Launch, a Chico band we had played with back int he 1980s) and Lindsay Thrasher (also of Vomit Launch) who said the show was the best we’ve sounded. David Lowery had been telling the audience to shame Victor by Facebooking or tweeting that the bass was the best we’ve ever had, etc. Funny, but not really. I think Victor actually felt bad, even though he had known about the festival in Napa, he had planned his vacation for months in advance. And it is really fun to play with David Immergluck, on bass he actually has room to move, unlike when he plays pedal steel.

After a short amount of time at the merch booth, we gathered our stuff and split. I had a couple of my CDs (All Attractions and Shine Out) for sale also, so I had to elucidate to fans what they were or how they fit in to the merch area. Bobby asked me to describe them to a person looking at them and I said, “They’re amazing!” at which Bobby scoffed. (They are.)

Greg stayed, I guess to hang with friends. We went back to the hotel, slept, got up, Chris and I drove the Subaru to the airport and dropped it off. It seemed a bit more expensive than they had told us (which is of course typical rental car behavior) and as it turned out they had added little extra charges to each car, but different ones one each car, which, because they were rented together, made it pretty obvious that they weren’t asked for by us.

PDX, the Portland airport, is one of the best. Besides the easy access by public transportation, train or rental car dropoff, relatively short lines and relatively nice employees, there is the free wifi, and even better: good shops and food with a no-gouging policy! That means that food or beer is reasonably priced, which is indeed rare for airports. Plus there is a Powell’s Books in the airport, so I bought some books for myself and my daughter (some used, even.)

A relatively short flight to Sacramento, another small airport, and then to another rental car. This time we got a Kia Optima or some such full size car. We left and drove on I-5 to Woodland and then down Highway 113 (where I regaled Chris with stories of driving all of the roads in between at 100mph, and how you had to go over 100 before you could do a bong hit while sitting in the bed in the back of the GMC Sprint,) and dropped by my brother’s house in Davis, and he and his wife went with us downtown for a burrito for lunch—this was a day off so we had tons of time. The Bottlerock Festival in Napa was going on, and Cracker played this day (Saturday) at 1pm, so we had already missed them, and Camper Van Beethoven wasn’t playing until the next day, Sunday, at 5pm. I stopped by Watermelon Music, a small town music store that I like because, being the only store in town, they have everything. I can get violin strings and rosin as well as guitar strings or cables, or whatever. I bought new electrical pigtails and a couple small patch cables to try to fix whatever was happening with my pedals, thinking that what was going on was that the pigtail that distributed electricity to the pedals was shorting out.

I was using my little pedalboard which usually lives on the East Coast, which is just a small aluminum board with velcro on it. I have to use it for all instruments, so it has to have an A/B box to switch between guitar and violin, and then the EQ for violin before the tuner, so there’s not much room for that many effects. I had four at this point, overdrive, distortion, boost, and echo. They have switched around a lot over the years, what occupies which category, this configuration had a Boiling Point RockBox for the overdrive, which was not working well as it added too much volume even at its lowest volume, then a Fulltone Distortion Pro (too many little dials!) then the beautiful Xotic EP-Boost, which is so great. I use that for the violin solos, and some guitar parts. When I play guitar only, like in sets at Camp-Out or similar, I leave that thing on all the time, it just sounds great. I’ve struggled with echo pedals forever. I used to use the old Boss DM-2. Now I use the Line 6 Echo Park, which is sort of big and heavy, but has the tap tempo and a few different settings that I like, like the fact that it mimics tape echo and has a flutter knob. It’s not as big as better delays like the Strymon, the tap function is silent and while it does add a little noise, it’s the best of all worlds for playing live. I tried a TC Electronics Flashback, but its tap function is done by hitting the strings in tempo while holding a button down, which a) mutes your signal while you do that, and b) doesn’t work with violin very well at all. Sold it. I have a little Red Witch Violet analog delay, which is ok, but has that weird internal rechargeable battery thing so that it has two lights on it (charge and on), the charge light is red when hooked up and green when charged, the on light is red when on. It’s a bit confusing to see the charging light on only, as you think the effect is on when its not. Plus, I’ve noticed that if it isn’t actually charged, it distorts the signal.

Anyway…Chris and I left Davis and drove to Vallejo where our next hotel was. Exciting Vallejo! The town went bankrupt, cut down its police and fire departments, was basically the wild west at this point. Luckily for us, our hotel was near the Highway 80 and 37 interchange and on the other side of 80 from Sea World. That didn’t make it nice, though.

We impressed the Moldavian girl who was working at the counter by being musicians playing at the nearby rock festival. Apparently, she had been oppositely impressed by Bobby and David when they checked in as Bobby countered her “I’m from Moldavia” with “I’ve been to Moscow!”, at which David chided him about Russia versus all of its former Soviet bloc countries in the present era. Anyway, the rooms were pretty low-grade, as expected.

After checking in and dropping off our things, Chris and I went over to Napa, we thought about how and where to park to go to the festival, and eventually decided on an area north of the festival on surface streets. The Napa Bottlerock Festival was at the Napa Fairgrounds, on the east side of town up against the hills. It took us about 15 minutes to walk over to the will call/artist check in, where they had never heard of us but were nice about it. They said they would call… I called Bobby, who was backstage, he called… they called, people called. Eventually they had artist wristbands for us and we went in. It was a hot afternoon, we missed most of the stuff and Weezer were already playing on the big stage. They actually sounded pretty weird, like a big rock band. We made our way to the central area with food, where I found the Lagunitas booth and very happily sat on their green-screened couch for this little gem:

We finally figured out where Cracker’s dressing room tent was and found our way over backstage to it, but everybody was gone except David who was falling asleep on the couch. He had had to get up at 6am to get here on time to play at 1! We were there getting the scoop on the festival from Bobby when John Doe and his girlfriend came by to chat, they were wearing Heart passes (Heart were playing later that evening on the second stage, where CVB would play the next day.) John lives up in Marin County now, I hadn’t seen him since I had moved to Sweden so I had to explain to him a quick sequence of events that led up to me being an ex-pat. (See earlier posts)

We ate some of the catering food but didn’t have our meal passes for this day so we went out to the yard again to try to find a short food line (difficult) and then over to the stage field where Heart was going to play. This field was surrounded by winery booths (it was Napa, after all) and I took a quick sweep but there was no tasting, only $10 glasses, so I gave up on that idea and got a beer. We waited around till 8 when Heart were going to start, musing on when in the set they would play Barracuda or Magic Man, I figured Barracuda would be in the first 3 songs and Magic Man last. To my right, in fact was the magic man: this guy had his weird vest suit and hat with LED lights around the vest, ready to deal acid just like that same dude back at any festival in the late 70s. Maybe it was indeed the same guy!

The magic man.

The magic man.

Heart started the set with Barracuda, which was way too obvious, and by the third song the midrange frequency notch of Festival Marshall Stacks® was annoying, so we left. We could hear Outkast from the main stage as we walked to the car. We missed Magic Man altogether. Wish they’d played that one first!

Part 2 coming up.


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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Touring

Stream: Camper Van Beethoven’s new album El Camino Real

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Jonathan Segel:

New Camper Van Beethoven album, it’s out next week. In the US, anyway. One day our record company will get our records out in Sweden.

Originally posted on Consequence of Sound:

Camper Van Beethoven will release its ninth studio album, El Camino Real, on June 3rd via 429 Records. In anticipation, it’s streaming in full below.

Spanning 11 tracks, El Camino Real is the band’s third LP since reuniting in the early 2000s and is described as the “companion” to last year’s La Costa Perdida. The band self-produced El Camino Real and recorded in various studios and band members’ living rooms across California.

Despite forming in the heyday of the Southern California punk scene, Camper Van Beethoven instantly set itself apart by infusing the early ’80s hardcore sound with bits of pop, ska, blues, Norteño music, and even European folk. With El Camino Real, they continue their genre-defying ways, making use of every tool in their musical bag to near-lethal efficiency.

(Read: Dissected: Camper Van Beethoven)

According to a press release, “Whereas La Costa Perdida reflects the northern California ‘back…

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Jonathan Segel

Jonathan Segel

musician and composer

Jonathan Segel started playing guitar when he was about 7 years old. At about 10 he had a crush on a girl who played violin, so he thought he'd try that too.

Unfortunately he sucked at it.

That did not stop him, however, from later playing the violin in rock bands when everybody else played guitar. Sometime around 1983, while carrying a violin across the quad at Porter College at UC Santa Cruz, he was approached by some kids who had moved their band up from Redlands, CA. This turned out to be Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol.

Well, what we didn't know then is that this association was apparently for life, as Camper Van Beethoven has now made records/CDs for the past ~30 or so years, and is still playing.

Through all the ups and downs of that band, Jonathan has continued to make his own records (../CDs/tapes/whatever... probably a billion of them so far) in a variety of genres ranging from guitar-based rock music to way-avant-garde electronic music and many other places in between..​.

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