At this point, after a couple recording days, I had hours of audio to sort through, several pieces from Eastman and several from Roth Händle, though I had to wait for the files from Mattias Olsson because he likes to record on an old hard-disk recorder (it’s like tape, punch in or out, gotta know your part!) so he had to get the files from it and into Dropbox or somewhere where I could download them. So I didn’t get to dive in and start listening immediately to those, and anyway I had to reread Schopenhauer and think about aesthetics, and practice for an upcoming show where I would play solo.
I actually don’t like playing solo shows. It’s not because I’m more stage-frightened, although I guess I am, but it’s that it doesn’t sound like I want it to. I am into the sound of a band, the sound of electric guitars, and I like having the freedom of having a rhythm section so that I can be more fluid around it. And play lead guitar, of course. But here I would be opening for The Plastic Pals at the Southside Tavern in Hornstull, and then sitting in with them for a few songs on violin. I’ve played with the Pals many times over the past few years, they are a solid rock band led by Håkan Soold. They sound a lot like they stepped right out of the 1980s Paisley Underground scene in California (though with a few lyrical choices that might make it questionable as to whether they were indeed native speakers—not that the California guys didn’t perhaps sound that way as well), and as a result they’ve ended up playing opening slots for the existing folks from that scene, which has been sort of funny for me since Camper Van Beethoven had played with a lot of these guys back it the late 1980s. For example, since I’ve been sitting in with these guys, we’ve played with Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas and Dan Stuart separately, all of whom were in the band Green On Red way back when, and we also opened for the Dream Syndicate. I actually hadn’t talked to Steve Wynn since he and Dan Stuart were playing as Danny and Dusty and Camper played with them in London at the Mean Fiddler in 1987 or so. (That itself was a memorable experience for me when Steve and I started talking about living in Davis in the late 1970s and early 80s and how I used to ride my bike from my after-high-school job at Steve’s Place Pizza to the University to see him with the Suspects or see Alternate Learning or whomever…and we started speaking the flat-and-fast Northern California style of speaking and then realized that none of the Brits nor Scots around us could follow us! Ha! Just like so many Americans can’t understand thick Scottish or northern English accents!) At the gig in Stockholm at Nalen, I ended up talking with Steve backstage about Scott Miller and his passing. Weird, I guess that’s what old musicians talk about, either equipment or dead friends.
This particular Saturday, April 18, as it happened, was “Record Store Day,” which meant that Pet Sounds Records had bands playing. I played there once on Record Store Day a couple years back, but to be honest it seemed like absolutely nobody there gave a shit about me playing, not even the people running the shop. They agreed to book me to play, advertising as “from Camper Van Beethoven,” but they didn’t have any Camper Van Beethoven albums in stock, nor have they since. This despite the fact that a few short years ago Camper was receiving huge 2-page reviews in the newspapers, we’d been entirely forgotten by the hip-oisie by the time I moved here. (The Swedish distributor for our stateside label didn’t even bother to put out our 2011 and 2013 albums here, they just did not care at all.) Also despite the fact that Marty Willson-Piper is now taking care of Pet Sounds Records! The record store crowd at the time that I played were really into some Swedish musicians from defunct bands, clearing out before I went on and then waiting patiently outside for the next batch while I played inside. This year, The Plastic Pals played a set promoting their new 7” single of Timing is Everything/I Want You Back (which I done a little engineering for) before going over to the Southside Tavern to load in, and at least 15 people were watching. I went down to watch and generally hang out, and then rode with them to their practice space to get other things and off to the Southside.
When I had first started playing with the Plastic Pals, they rehearsed in a tiny room near Slussen, now they had finally gotten a decent sized space, but what a weird location! This was like a hidden room behind a metal door in the lowest floor of the back end of an underground parking garage on the north part of Vasastan. You’d never know it was there, behind that random door. Who knows what’s behind other doors one might see in the cement walls of underground parking garages?
Then to the club, which, like many here, it seems, is some cellar below a pub. These places have narrow stages and sometimes low arched ceilings. The Southside Tavern is ostensibly an Irish pub. I think. Anyway, the people that work there are all English or Irish or Scottish. And the upstairs has a restaurant with fish’n’chips and burgers and such. I’ve played there with the Pals several times (and other similar places). Even though they actually have some decent beer on tap upstairs, the band gets a case of pilsner or some other cheap crap, and gets 25% off of food, or something like that. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed to eat, the other guys went to their nearby homes. It actually takes me about an hour to get to this area from my apartment, so rather than spend two extra hours on subways, I hung out and thought about what to play for my own set.
My wife’s family had met another local family in birthing classes when my wife was in the womb, and this other family has become, well, family. The kids all grew up together and the families not only have apartments a block away from each other, but they also have summer houses (like everyone in Sweden) right near each other. The younger of these two brothers is now an opera singer, and lives in Berlin, but he had come back to town to sing in a Nielsen symphony at the Konserthuset the following Monday, part of a series celebrating Nielsen (a Danish composer) and Sibelius (a Finnish composer). Both brothers came to my show to support me, which was great! But it did mean that I would be singing in front of a real singer. I’m not a good singer at all, though I like doing it. Like playing the violin: I managed to get into the University orchestra more on enthusiasm than talent.
I’m alternately happy and sad that I sound like I do. I really don’t want to sound like anyone else, but I tend to think that the sound or tuning of my voice alienates most first-time listeners. Or even long-time listeners, maybe. This is one of those things I think about often, the fact that so many popular singers in this past decade or two just sound like somebody else or some specific style or genre. It confounds me, how on earth did this happen? Originality is played down in favor of catching the listeners’ ear with the comfortable sound of the generic. Regardless, I certainly don’t sound like anybody who can actually sing, but I always believe in that balance point between ars and ingenium, one’s craftsmanship versus one’s innate abilities, that the balance point should never be equal: it’s always more interesting when it’s offset, even so much as to be about to tip. I love the artists that have so much inside that needs to get out even if the ability to play is underdeveloped. I also love the ones that are so technically competent that they can shine that little bit of genius through in the small touches.
For my set, I played an electric guitar rather than trying to be the standard acoustic-guitar singer-songwriter douche. As Seth MacFarlane accurately pointed out in Family Guy, these folks killed the guitar.
I played songs from my most recent albums with songs, Shine Out, All Attractions, and Honey: Can’t Help It, Turtles All The Way Down, Hey You, The Bolinas Witch, Listen, Örebro. It was short and sweet, not too much sweating. Joa (the opera singer) and his brother Ted said they thought I sounded great, though it was hard to tell with the rest of the small audience. Swedes, you know. Or maybe Stockholmers, they’re like the New Yorkers of Sweden: too cool to dance. Not that my songs inspire dancing. In fact, that’s not fair, I rarely dance at shows either, too busy thinking. About the music. Maybe everybody in Europe is just cogitating.
After my set, Ted, Joa and I got drinks and I sat with them during the parts of the Plastic Pals set that I wasn’t playing on; I only played about half dozen songs in their set. Which is as it should be, they are a rock band, adding a violin is cute and all, but it’s not necessary all over the place. The Pals have a ton of great songs, several from their last album, Turn the Tide, but many more newer ones that aren’t released yet. I sat in on a bit of both (I had played some violin on some of the newer recordings, and recorded Håkan’s vocals on several of them as well, but so far only two singles are out). Between songs, we drank more and I ended up meeting Donald Lupo, another American ex-pat who lives in Finland and plays the banjo. Apparently we had met 25 years previous at some Camper Van Chadbourne concert in Germany, though I had no memory of this. Surprise, surprise.
So eventually I packed up the violin and the guitar and headed to the subways station, where inevitably I had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, and then another 10 minutes at Slussen, two stops later, for the connecting train, so I got home at 3am or something.