There and back again

Here is a very banal blog entry, simply about the things I have been doing lately.

I had to go back to California for 10 days (had to!) to play some shows with Camper Van Beethoven, then came home. It was all very interesting. Life in general is, isn’t it?

I had a daytime flight on SAS, I fully intended to watch some dumb movies the whole way, but got stuck with the one seat whose video did not work. No way to change it. So I read the whole way.

The US is all fucked up, we know. It is super obvious when you land at O’Hare (rhymes with “don’t care”) airport in Chicago. I have been mostly in the countryside in Sweden avoiding people except my family all summer, so it was not only a bit of a shock to experience Americans again, but in the form of TSA/State Dept., it’s all that much more odd. I have this “Global Entry” subscription (or whatever it is) that is supposed to get me through immigration and customs super quickly by simply scanning my passport and fingerprints at a kiosk on the side of the lines (look over there next time.) Usually it is great, you just bypass the immigration lines and go to the little slot machines on the side of the hall, scan, walk through, get your bags and hand the printout to the customs people. Of course, this ease seems to have ended, now they have added a new dude in a desk to examine the printout and passport after the scan machine.

I asked him why, if he was there then what was the point of being part of the Global Entry program to begin with. Well, these folks don’t cotton to no question-asking know-it-alls comin’ from foreign countries. He chewed me out about “safety” or something.

Uh huh.

O’Hare is pretty much the worst hub in the US, along with Denver, Atlanta…OK, I guess they’re all fucked up. I just hate airports, I admit it. And airlines. They just don’t give a shit. No “customer is always right” for them! Anyway, just in case you didn’t know, when traveling through O’Hare from out of the country (or exiting the country) you have to not only go out and back through security, which is of course awesome for connecting flights, but also you have to take a train from this international terminal all the way to the domestic terminals, or vice versa. Luckily I had enough time to get some “food” and get to my plane.

I got to SFO at about 6:45pm, what a different clientele. Yup, California really is different. After watching all the people in the terminals in Chicago eating their meat-giant sandwiches and worrying extremely over some sort of sports on the televisions, even the United terminal at SFO seemed way more yogic. Perhaps after reading for nearly 14 hours and then taking off my reading glasses, everything would look that way.

Rented a car there from Fox, via priceline, which is not the greatest, but they did give me a bigger car (Ford Exploder Explorer) as I thought I would have to carry people on tour. As it turned out, I didn’t have to very much at all. Went to Victor and Troy’s to sleep, and saw them and their lovely dog Barrabas. All very nice. I was also reunited with my violin which I did not bring with me to Sweden when I left on June, as I have one here. The violin that I had left is really my violin, though, by which I mean it fits me the best. I’m intending to write about the instruments other than Fender Stratocasters one of these days…

Next day I had to meet with the real estate agent in Oakland regarding some “wet signatures” needed for the short sale of my house. The nightmare continues! So, these may be the last of things before it goes to the BofA officials who decide if their investors will back the sale. It was nice to be in Oakland for a bit, we met at Lakeshore at Peets, so I got some nice coffee there and baked goods at Arizmendi. Went to the farmers’ market to look around. People in general seemed healthy and happy and hippie. No wonder I liked it there!

From there to Davis to visit my brother and family, nice and relatively relaxing. We watched Dr Who and the first part of the new George Harrison documentary that evening. Next day back to SF, for a free evening at Victor and Troy’s before heading on tour. They made an excellent rabbit stew.

The first tour stop was a bar in Ventura called Zoey’s Cafe. It’s about 5 hours drive from SF. It wasn’t a very big place, but was a super fun first gig, lots of the people who were heading to the Camp-Out in Pioneertown came here on their way. For those not “in the know”, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have been hosting our own festival out in Pioneertown, CA for 8 years now. Pioneertown is a fake town, near Yucca Valley, by Joshua Tree park. By fake, I mean that it was built as a movie set for cowboy movies in the 1940s, and the only real structure is Pappy and Harriet’s, the bar/restaurant, where we have the festival on both the indoor and outdoor stages. Eight years! This is the eighth, actually. I’ve played in usually 3 different bands at each Camp-Out: Camper Van Beethoven, with Victor Krummenacher‘s band, and my own set. I did play with Greg Lisher a couple times too. The Camper show is on the big outdoor stage, on the Friday night (Cracker headlines the Saturday night), usually Victor plays the indoor stage on Saturday night after Cracker, ending the festival. I’ve done my sets in various places, the first and second Camp-Outs I got to play outdoors on Saturday before Cracker, after that usually indoors either before or after Cracker. This time, Mr John Hanes, who always drums with Victor and sometimes with me, could only play Friday, so Victor’s set is the last indoor set Friday, which puts me last, indoor on Saturday, closing the festival.

So, as there will be no John Hanes, I asked Frank Funaro to drum with me. Frank, Victor and I played a set at the March “festival” in Athens, GA (called the Camp-In!), also, where we just jammed. I have been doing this more lately, for a few reasons: one is, it’s fun. Two, a big reason, is that given that I play about 2 shows a year these days/years, and that one at least is at the Camp-Out, which is after a week of Camper shows (at least), I can’t expect a band to practice songs. Nor can I pay a band to rehearse songs! I don’t actually get paid for the solo sets at these things. So I tried before, at the first 5 or so Camp-Out festivals, to get the band to learn or remember songs from my last couple albums (in fact before they were out!) but the results were iffy. The first year, John Hanes, Victor (bass), Myles Boisen and I played outdoors and we played two songs (“You Shine” and “Little Blue Fish” from earlier records, with a semi-notated jam in between, which became “Interstitial Undertow” on the “Honey” CD.

Here is the set on

Part of this set also is on the Camp-Out DVD

also part:

The following year we played outdoors again, but it was a very song-laden set, with Chris Xefos and Kenny Margolis playing keyboards, while Greg Lisher and I played guitars and John Hanes and Victor held down the bass and drums. All of these tracks were eventually recorded for the Honey CD.

set here:

Same the following year, but it was indoors: a set of songs from Honey, which was just then being finished. It officially came out a few months later, but Michael Wertz and I had printed all the CD jackets already, so we had some at this Camp-Out to sell. This, by the way, was Camper’s first introduction to Mr Wertz, who has since taken charge of most of the Camper Van Beethoven artwork ever since! CD covers and gig posters. He’s incredible.

Set here:

This set was a bit different also, as Andrew Griffin was drumming, and Greg was playing guitar as well as me. Still songs from “Honey”. We played an additional gig with this band (Chris Xefos played guitar and keys at the Camp-Out, but bass at the other gig) opening for Built to Spill in Los Angeles at some theatre. Camp-Out set here:

In 2008 things start to get weird. The band is Victor and John Hanes, with me on guitar and vocals, with some help from Alison Faith Levy (who was playing with Victor as McCabe & Mrs Miller). We had little or no rehearsal or sound check, played a cover of an Aimee Mann song (“Video”) to check at the beginning of the set. This was an early set indoors, during people’s dinners!

Set here:

Apparently I also played a solo acoustic set here:

In 2009, another set of songs from Honey, with one new opener “Always” and a new closer, “Hey You (I Know You Know Me)” that hadn’t been recorded yet. Nice little band, Chris Xefos on bass, John Hanes on drums and me.

set here:

I believe Victor joined us on guitar for Hey You, and this band was the band the recorded most of  “All Attractions“. We also played a few more shows, most notably opening for Built to Spill again at the Fillmore on Halloween and the day after, and later opening for Camper in Oakland at the New Parish.

However, the following year I simply had no way to rehearse a band. And it was stressful setting up rehearsals or relying on musicians to remember everything with no rehearsal, so each of these previous sets at the Camp-Out were getting more and more stressful to hold together. There are mistakes, the monitors inside aren’t great, the situation is simply less than optimal, especially for a band that doesn’t really exist except to play these shows. If I were a big time musician and played all the time, we could have pulled it off. Plus each year, I had no idea going into it what nor where I was going to play, had to keep asking the manager what was going on.

So I didn’t rehearse anybody. There were enough musicians around to make some noise. So we did! John Hanes was not interested in playing drums on things at the time, so he and I played our computers. He uses lloopp, (maybe still? now it’s called ppooll), a Max/MSP application, I use Max/MSP and SuperCollider. Maybe a little Reaktor. Plus we had Chris Xefos, Myles Boisen and Victor on bass and guitars.

It was an extreme noisefest, I actually didn’t play much of the time, and simply listened. I think most people hated it (as evidenced by the fact that I can find no recording of the set on!) Some actually claimed to enjoy it, but I think it wasn’t the sort of music that the Cracker and Camper audience normally finds enjoyable. Interesting, perhaps. I don’t think it was the best noise-improv ever by any stretch. It probably sucked, but I guess it needed to happen.

So then, last year at the end of recording “All Attractions“, we had an afternoon of studio time left, so John, Victor and I jammed with Graham Connah. I used these recordings as basics for “Apricot Jam“, essentially making studio compositions out of the improvisations. Super fun. So rather than playing the songs from “All Attractions” at the 2011 Camp-Out, John, Victor and I just improvised. We had done a set opening for Camper earlier in the year, with many of the All Attractions songs at the New Parish, anyway.

I don’t know if the audience expected the massive jam session here. It was on fire drums, bass and guitar. I don’t know if it’s recorded… I can’t find this one on either. I think it went exceptionally well.

Following this, I thought that this may be the easier way to go considering I do almost no shows. So when we played in Athens in March of 2012, I thought that this Camp-In would be similar to the Camp-Out (in that it was about the Camper/Cracker family of bands, where we each get to play our own little things) but it turned out to be more about Athens local bands. Nonetheless, since I did actually ask about my set, and pushed it, I got one at the bar next door to the 40 Watt (where the big shows were) at the Flicker Bar. So Frank, Victor and I improvised. (and played Little Blue Fish).

Set here:

Anyway, that was fun to play that set, though I think Frank was a little nervous beforehand, as he likes to know his stuff before getting on stage. For me it depends on whether I’m playing predetermined music or not, I guess. So to get back to the original train of thought here, after the set at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, September 10 2012, Frank, Victor and I went back to the hotel next door and convened to have a nice glass of whiskey, some Speyside thoughtfully provided by one of our fan-friends, people who refer to themselves as Crumbs (i.e. Crumbs of the Cracker.) We talked about what to do at the upcoming set, given that we had an hour to fill with sound in front of people. I’d been listening to a lot of Swedish prog music, and one of the bands I really like is called Träd, Gras och Stenar (Trees, Grass and Stones) who have been playing very minimalist but heavy rock for 40 years. We listened to some of that and proposed being high before we play…

Next day was driving to San Luis Obispo, 3 or 4 hours, to the SLO Brew venue. We strangely had an opening band here, Yogoman Burning Band (?) who were very odd, drummer who sang, bass player (maybe his dad?) then a girl playing sax and two boys playing trombones. Ska, sort of. I have no idea what the hell they were, I’m guessing they all live on a bus together. The show was good, more Crumbs showing up on their way down south. Despite the venue being a microbrewery, we didn’t drink much (I had one of their IPAs which was nitrogenated instead of carbonated, which was a little too sweet but otherwise pretty good.)

We pricelined the hotel so got stuck with king beds instead of two queen sized beds, so I had to sleep in a bed with David, which I suppose could be any sort of experience from the disgusting to the sublime, but was in fact boring and we both slept and kept to our own sides of the bed. SLO, it turned out, was in the midst of the first week of school where every parent is dropping off their new little college student, so the hotels were all full.

Then a beautiful drive across Highway 46 and 41 to Fresno. Passed the tree that James Dean ran into in 1955 in his Porsche. Arrived in Fresno with a bit of time but nothing to do but bake in the late summer sun, so we went down to the club, called Olivia’s or Olive’s or something. It was downtown, in a basically dead area. Maybe all of downtown Fresno is dead. We sound checked and all walked to a Mexican food place, the streets were totally empty, no cars or people. It was like those post-civilization movies, where you expect a sudden rush of zombies to come from around a far corner.

The show itself proved much the same, I think a total of 33 people came. Yogoman opened again (where are these people coming from?) At least David and I had separate beds!

So the following day David got up early, this was Thursday, the first day of the Camp-Out and he had to play an acoustic set that night. I got up about 10 and got Frank and we drove relatively quickly to Bakerfield and then on Highway 58 because we wanted to stop at the Tehachapi loop and see one of the 7 wonders of the world of trains. Tehachapi loop was built in 1876, to allow trains going north or south to ascend at a lower percentage grade to get over the hill from the San Joaquin Valley to the Los Angeles basin. It’s pretty phenomenal. The trains come up from the north winding into a tunnel which then comes up and turns east and loops around and over itself and then when the full loop is completed turns south. We got to the observation point at about 2pm and talked with fellow train geeks from England, Switzerland, India, etc, all waiting to see the trains. A good one came, a double decker boxcar train that was more than 77 cars so it looped over itself. Super cool. If you’re a total geek. We were there for an hour talking with the British guy (who had many stories of real AND model trains) until a train came.

We ended up getting into Pioneertown at 6pm or so, time enough to enjoy an excellent meal there at Pappy and Harriet’s while the Camp-Out night one started (Thursday, acoustic night). Pappy’s also had my favorite California beer on tap now, Lagunitas IPA. Potentially dangerous, especially if a) I had to play and b) I had to drive the rental Ford Exploder. So I never got to drink tons, but still. Johnny Hickman played some music by himself, and with David, and with the Dangers. Dangers’ new songs were pretty amazing. Kacey gave me a tiny bit of a medical brownie, which really kicked in much later in the evening when my brain became a little sun in my head, perfectly spherical with a corona of light-blue plasma inside my skull. So I sat outside of the Yucca Inn/Travelodge room in the courtyard in the middle of the night and played guitar for awhile when I got back, and then people started showing up and drinking and smoking and playing guitars and stuff. I played some songs with Johnny Hickman. I wanted him to perform Little Blue Fish at the Camp-Out as he has been doing an excellent version of it with various bands, (plus then I don’t have to play it.) We did it here in the courtyard, though. I think this kind of jamming goes on nearly everywhere at this event, some people stay at the Pioneertown suites and some stay in Yucca Valley at the Inn (like we do.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Johnny Hickman!

Second day of the festival should have started with coffee at The Cafe Rouge or whatever Water Canyon is called nowadays, on the corner of Highway 62 and Pioneertown Road.  However, Camper had to play “Abundance” 10 times in one of the rooms at noon or so for a dude who is making a film about David. To be honest, I don’t know what the hell this was about. Something about playing in a kitchen, not sure why, and I don’t know why the song chosen was Abundance. I don’t really understand his film idea, but it’s not my thing so whatever. Finally I was able to leave at about 1:30 and get coffee (with a shot of espresso within.) Camper had to soundcheck at 4, load at 3. I think I was still pretty high that day, so after soundcheck I thought I might need to go back to hotel, but never made it, in favor of more excellent food.

Tons o bands this night, with Camper “headlining” the outdoor stage. Indoor stage had several incredible younger bands indoors, including ones with children of crumbs. Believe it or not! Gram Rabbit played before Camper on the outdoor stage, and did some sort of techno-style show as their drummer had crashed his motorcycle the day before and couldn’t play. I’m not sure I really get them anyway, really. Camper’s set was a slow build, like a long wedge. I don’t think that was intentional, it just happened that way. Ultimately one of the most amazing encore versions of Interstellar Overdrive ever. Then we went inside to set up for Victor’s band. He started as a trio, him with John Hanes and Paul Olguin on bass, per usual. First song was a new one about an old friend of ours, (and old drummer from Victor’s first solo band post CVB and Monks of Doom, also did a bit of recording with me) Joe Byrnes, who committed suicide recently. Great song. I had a beer or two before joining in on violin and then some guitar for the end. Then we went over to “Porchstock” for a bit, which is what goes on at the Pi-town rooms’ porch after the show, an open jam session with people playing whatever they can. Sometimes I’ve gone over to sit in, but this time one of the guys had told us fables of black beans and rice, and John and Paul and Victor were starved after playing, so it was mostly about food. Back to the hotel, and yet more hanging out in the courtyard til 4 or 5.

Saturday, the last day of the festival, started for me with the band “signing”, which also takes place every year. Everybody in Camper and Cracker and sometimes other bands sits at an outdoor table in a line and people line up with things to sign, especially the posters for the festival which are made by Mr Wertz. The posters are *always* amazing. Michael Wertz was actually here again this year to sign the posters as well! I wasn’t actually playing til the end of the evening so I went home and took a short lie-down, making sure not to actually fall asleep as that would inevitably fuck me up more than anything else. Got back in time to catch the Piggies, who had been Johnny Hickman’s band on his most recent solo album. I totally missed Chris Shifflett outside, but I did see Cracker. One thing I have forgotten to mention here: costumes. In the past few years there have been “themes” for the Campout, for Friday and Saturday. One year was cowboys and indians, appropriate for Pioneertown (built, after all, for making westerns in the 40s) but the idea was subverted: Cleveland Indians, Indian (as in from India) Indians, American “Indians”, etc… Last year, for example, was Hippies and Cops. Friday night (Camper) everybody dressed as hippies. Saturday, as cops. Hippie wasn’t tough for me, but cop would be more so. I ended up as more a Columbo-like detective. This year was even weirder: Friday was Cowboys vs. Aliens, Saturday was Superheroes vs. Monsters. For the Camper set, I had a nice jacket and a bow tie. Only kids under 18 recognized me as Dr Who. I actually figured this same costume would be good for cowboy, alien, superhero or monster, actually.

Michael Wertz and Andy Cowitt

Michael & Andy?

Anyhow, Cracker were really frightening. David was dressed as some kind of “Batman”. I mean, not exactly the classic Bruce Wayne type Batman, but with a padded muscle outfit that had the cape and hood, very scary. And Johnny was the Joker, like the Heath ledger version. Very fucked up.  The audience costumes for both nights had been amazing as well, people are awesome. Especially when they’re having fun.

Inside stage afterwards had the Calamity, then my set. I had been playing a Les Paul all summer so I had hoped to borrow one from someone but never got around to figuring out who had one around, so I ended up playing my tour-strat, the ’62 reissue. Not my favorite guitar, but it sounds pretty good with the Fralin pickups. We had talked about all smoking a hit of pot (we’re such decrepit rockers! A hit!) before playing, but we never managed to follow up on that. Frank was getting a drink when Victor and I happened to start playing. Frank joined in. The rest of the set went like that, I honestly have no idea what happened, though in fact we weren’t high at all! I remember that parts were very loud (I was using my own Deluxe Reverb and a second amp that was some sort of modded deVille, difficult to control volume on.) I made up some lyrics, even. We jammed. I think it went well, because eventually somebody told us we had to stop and I felt like we were just getting going. I think the audience that stayed liked it too, maybe they’re getting used to this sort of thing…!

Set here:

My wife, Sanna, is a kids’ teacher, she says about the music that is made for kids: music made with the intention of being educational is rarely good, but good music is always educational. I love it when I have musical experiences that feel that way. Both the Camper set and this set felt like I was learning something, yet again, about music. For whatever reasons, probably having to do with both age and practice, I am rarely nervous about performing, and given that state for an improvisational set, I feel like we can get somewhere without having to prove anything but to ourselves that we can make music. And Victor and Frank, and of course John Hanes and Paul Olguin, and hopefully myself as well, are all interested in music in any and all forms, so playing it together can make each bring out elements that spur the others along in ways that are very much the gestalt; it can become more than our individual parts. Wish I could do this more often, but I’m limited by time and space! (I live in Sweden now, which makes it difficult to play with these guys, but I hope to find some folks here. However, regardless of that, playing space rock isn’t the best career these days. “When I said I wanted to play free music, I did actually still want to get paid!”)

My flight home wasn’t until Monday night, so Sunday I drove into LA and stayed with a friend who hadn’t been able to come out to see the shows. We had some amazing Thai food in Thai town in Hollywood, near where I lived 15 years ago. I spent Monday driving slowly to LAX, stopping at various spots for food or coffee, supplies to bring back to Sweden (coffee beans, raw tahini, coconut butter, tortillas, etc) and guitar stores and bookstores. And Amoeba, of course!

LAX is a terrible airport as well, surprise. The international terminal is lackluster, nothing interesting. And then the British Airways flight had some engine issue so we sat sweating on the runway for an hour before leaving, which put us into Heathrow too late for my connecting flight, so I had to wait in the Heathrow Shopping Mall for hours. But I did get to watch the dumb movies on the long flight this time!

Finally home at 1am Swedish time on Tuesday, woke up the next day to play all day with Marlowe (daughter, now 14 months old). Then I had to actually get it together and start SFI, Svenska för Invandrare, the “Swedish for Immigrants” language classes I should have started that past Monday. I gotta get into gear and become an viable immigrant now!

musician. real person. that's my real name, go ahead, look me up.

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Posted in Guitar, Music, Sweden, Touring, Violin
4 comments on “There and back again
  1. Always a pleasure, Mr. Segel. Next time I gotta check out Porchstock! Thanks for introducing me to the family. See you in December! xxm

  2. Jeff Wickering says:

    Great recap Jonathan. Always a pleasure to be part of the campout. I’ve caught 2 thru 8. (I talked to ya for a bit – I had Red Butler tux and top hat new sherrif in town sort of getup) Ended up playin from 2 till almost 4 in the morning along side of Johnny and Chris Leroy at Porchstock. Hopefully we can jam next year. Good luck with the language lessons and enjoy Sweden! Jeff

  3. Jim The Beam says:

    Great story Jonathan. You had me laughing out loud at times. Also good to meet you while hanging out with Morst, Frank, and the other folks who were not going to bed at 4:30am back at the hotel.

  4. Andy C says:

    I always want to keep musicians’ hours at Campout but end up on more of a tourist schedule. Sorry we didn’t get to hang out much.

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