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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?