Camper Van Beethoven is an American alternative rock group formed in Redlands, California in 1983 and later located in Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Their eclectic and ever-evolving style mixes elements of pop, ska, punk rock, folk, alternative country, and various types of world music. The band initially polarized audiences within the hardcore punk scene of California'sInland Empire before finding wider acceptance and, eventually, an international audience. Their strong iconoclasm and emphasis on do-it-yourself values proved influential to the burgeoningindie rock movement.
Released within an 18 month period, the band's first three independent records enjoyed critical success, each placing in The Village Voice's 1986 Pazz and Jop Top 100 Albums list. Their debut single, "Take the Skinheads Bowling", remains a college rock radio staple. The group signed to Virgin Records in 1987, released two lauded albums and enjoyed chart success with their 1989 cover of Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men", a number one hit on Billboard Magazine's Modern Rock Tracks. They disbanded the following year, however, due to internal tensions.
Individual members found greater commercial success thereafter, with lead singer David Lowery forming Cracker, multi-instrumentalist David Immerglück joining the Counting Crows, and several other members playing in Monks of Doom. Beginning in 1999, the former members resumed their collaboration, resulting in a full-fledged reunion and several new releases.
- 2 Cover versions
- 3 Band members
- 4 Discography
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Camper Van Beethoven was preceded by several related garage bands based in Redlands, including Sitting Duck and the Estonian Gauchos (featuring future Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman). These bands included future Camper Van Beethoven members bassist and vocalist David Lowery, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Molla, and often drummer Bill McDonald as well. The Estonian Gauchos and a late incarnation of Sitting Duck also included another future Camper Van Beethoven member, bassist Victor Krummenacher, whose joining allowed Lowery to switch to rhythm guitar. At the same time, Lowery, Molla and Krummenacher were studying in Santa Cruz at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and were musically active there as well. The former two played in the Santa Cruz-based Box O' Laffs, which also included future Camper Van Beethoven members Richie West, Anthony Guess, and Chris Pedersen at various times.
While on summer break in 1983, Lowery and Molla returned to Redlands and formed a new band, Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol. The group featured Lowery, Molla, Krummenacher and McDonald, along with several other musicians at various points, including guitarist David McDaniel, harmonica player Mike Zorn and violinist Daniel Blume.
When Lowery, Molla and Krummenacher returned to college in Santa Cruz, Lowery and Molla resumed playing with Box O' Laffs. However, after meeting violinist, keyboardist and guitarist Jonathan Segel, they decided to reform Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol in Santa Cruz, with drummer Richie West replacing McDonald.
In 1985, the band reduced its name to Camper Van Beethoven, replaced West with Anthony Guess, and recorded their debut album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory. The record featured their first successful single, "Take the Skinheads Bowling", the lesser hit "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon", and an experimental country-influenced cover version of Black Flag's "Wasted". The album featured a mix of folk-punk-pop ditties with humorous lyrics, often simultaneously celebrating and mocking 1980s counterculture, and instrumental tracks featuring ska-beats and Eastern European, Mexican or Spaghetti-Western influenced guitar or violin lines.
Shortly after this record was released, lead guitarist Greg Lisher joined the group. The band recorded a set of songs with an expanded version of the lineup that recorded the debut, with Lisher playing lead on some songs. Guess departed shortly thereafter, leaving Lowery and Molla briefly to take turns swapping drumming duties. This incarnation recorded a second set of songs. At the end of the sessions, in 1986, long-term drummer Chris Pedersen was added.
The band's second album, II & III, was culled from both recording sessions. With increased eclecticism, the album boasted the influences of country, bluegrass, psychedelia, and Middle-Eastern and Indian music. The band also expanded its instrumental range, with Segel playing mandolin and sitar in addition to violin, and Molla playing pedal steel guitar on some tracks. There were fewer instrumentals, and many of the ethnic elements formerly contained in the instrumentals had started showing up in the actual songs. Notably, while many of the lyrics were still humorous, songs like "Chain of Circumstance" and the country-influenced "Sad Lovers Waltz" showed a more serious and melancholy side of Lowery and Segel's lyrics.
Released later that year, their self-titled third album featured guest membership from experimental banjo and guitar player Eugene Chadbourne on their cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" and several other tracks. The record marked a further step into experimentation, with heavy psychedelic influence and the use of slowed-down, sped-up and backwards tape tracks, as well as some of the Middle Eastern or South Asian sound that had first appeared in the previous record. The album also featured some satirical political commentary on songs like "Good Guys and Bad Guys" and "Joe Stalin's Cadillac," the former which enjoyed some underground college radio play. Krummenacher, Lisher, Pedersen and Molla also formed the side project Monks of Doom, although Molla was quickly replaced therein by guitarist David Immerglück.
Molla left Camper Van Beethoven after touring for the third album, reducing the band to a five-piece with Lowery, Krummenacher, Segel, Lisher, and Pedersen — the longest-standing lineup in their initial career. Released in November 1987, the EP Vampire Can Mating Oven preceded a major label bidding war. The EP foreshadowed the band's step away from psychedelia, featuring a more melodic, song-oriented approach, with Lisher's lead guitar becoming a major factor in the band's sound along with Segel's violin.
In 1987 the band signed to Virgin Records. They released Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, which enjoyed greater record sales and MTV attention. The band's sound had become much more streamlined, with producer Dennis Herring omitting much of the band's experimentation and focusing on Lowery's melodic vocal lines, while still utilizing many of the ethnic music elements that the earlier albums had featured, with ska, country, Eastern European music, Middle-Eastern music, and psychedelia and folk all making appearances. The production was also more polished, with a fairly heavy use of reverb contrasting sharply with the dry sound of their earlier records. However, the smaller lineup and updated production values also helped focus on the band's playing: Segel's shrieking violin, Lisher's increasingly powerful lead guitar playing, Lowery's often ska-influenced rhythm guitar playing, Krummenacher's melodic bass lines, and Petersen's quirky yet powerful drumming. The "Eye of Fatima" single was a minor MTV hit.
This was followed by extensive touring and preparations for recording their next album. However, due to internal tensions, Segel left the band during rehearsals for their fifth full-length record. Written mostly as a four-piece, the resultant LP, Key Lime Pie, featured the violin playing of Don Lax before the more permanent replacement of violinist Morgan Fichter (of the Bay Area band Harm Farm) was found. Fichter joined near the end of the sessions, and played violin only on two tracks, although her harmony singing can be heard on several other tracks. The album was heavily influenced by Americana, with strong country and folk presence and some pedal steel guitar played by session musicians, but also featured several tracks with a lush and orchestrated update of the band's earlier psychedelic sound. Lyrically, the album was dark and serious to an unprecedented degree, with introspective tracks like "All Her Favorite Fruit" and "Come On Darkness," although the lyrics were not devoid of satire. They scored a minor hit with a cover of the Status Quo song "Pictures of Matchstick Men", their highest-charting single.
David Immerglück (of the Ophelias and the Monks of Doom) joined in 1990 for touring behind the record, playing some of the departed Molla and Segel's instrumental parts on steel guitar, guitar and mandolin. However, internal tensions had increased, and they broke up in April 1990 after a show in Örebro, Sweden.
Camper Vantiquities, a compilation album packaging the Vampire Can Mating Oven EP with outtakes, demos, and rarities, was compiled by several members and released in 1993.
After disbanding, Lowery and Hickman formed Cracker with bassist Davey Faragher. Krummenacher, Lisher, Immerglück and Pedersen intensified their activities in Monks of Doom, which remained active until 1993. These members also collaborated with Chadbourne on a number of records under the name Camper Van Chadbourne. Immerglück later collaborated with the Counting Crows, officially joining the group in 1999. Krummenacher began a solo career, recording several solo albums with guests such as Dave Alvin. Pedersen moved to Australia in 1998.
Segel played with Dieselhed, Sparklehorse, and fronted his own bands Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill, later playing under his own name. He later became involved in experimental and electronic music, including collaborations withFred Frith and Joelle Leandre, and Chaos Butterfly, an electro-acoustic duo with Dina Emerson. Segel and Krummenacher also ran their own record label, Magnetic Motorworks.
In 1999, Lowery, Segel, and Krummenacher regrouped in the studio to assemble the experimental rarity set Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead. Long Live Camper Van Beethoven, which also contained some newly recorded material.Segel and Krummenacher, along with Greg Lisher, also joined Cracker for a tour, which featured set lists fortified with Camper Van Beethoven material.
In 2002, the group played its first proper live shows in twelve years. With Lowery, Segel, Krummenacher and Lisher forming the core of the reunited lineup, two New York dates also featured Immerglück and two members of Cracker, drummer Frank Funaro and keyboardist Kenny Margolis. Three California dates omitted these latter three musicians and saw Pedersen return to the kit. Also in 2002, they released the double-CD Tusk, a re-recording of the entireFleetwood Mac album of the same name. Although initially announced as a rediscovery of a series of 1987 demos, the album was in fact recorded in 2001 by Lowery, Segel, Krummenacher and Lisher as an experiment to see if the members could now work together peacefully.[not in citation given] Extensive touring, mostly with Margolis and Funaro, followed.
The group next released Cigarettes & Carrot Juice: The Santa Cruz Years, a five-disc box set compiling their first three (pre-Virgin) albums, Camper Vantiquities, and a live recording from 1990 they called Greatest Hits Played Faster.The latter recording featured live versions of several unreleased songs. Shortly thereafter, the band released "director's cut" versions of the first three records and Camper Vantiquities, whose deviations from the original versions included remastering, re-sequencing and additional demo and B-side tracks.
In 2004, the band released New Roman Times, their first studio album of original material in 15 years. A concept album, the record detailed the rise and fall of an idealistic Texan whose disenchantment following a stint with the American military redirected him towards organized terrorism. The album featured contributions by many Camper Van Beethoven associates, including Pedersen, Immerglück, Molla, and Hickman, and contained diverse music that reflected this spread of input.
A limited-edition live concert disc was also released, In the Mouth of the Crocodile - Live in Seattle, capturing a performance in Seattle. Segments of a 2004 performance in Chicago were released the following year as Discotheque CVB: Live in Chicago. This same year, the group began consistently performing as a five-piece with Funaro on drums, although Pedersen, Immerglück and even Molla occasionally reappear as guests.
The band frequently tours with Cracker (whom Krummenacher even joined for a time), and in 2005 the two groups started an annual three-night "Campout" at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace in Pioneertown, California. The Campout has seen appearances by Built to Spill, Neko Case, Magnolia Electric Company, and John Doe, as well as sets from the individual members of the band.
A compilation of greatest hits, Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty, was released by Cooking Vinyl Records in June 2008. As band relations with Virgin Records were poor, they were not granted access to any material from the two Virgin LPs for this compilation. Thus, the band re-recorded five songs from these albums to include on the collection. These were the first Camper Van Beethoven studio tracks to include Funaro. In 2011, the band began playing a series of shows that featured the Key Lime Pie record in its entirety, and also revealed plans for a new album.
La Costa Perdida, the followup to New Roman Times, was released on January 22, 2013, preceded by the single "Northern California Girls". The music was inspired in part by Holland-era Beach Boys, with a heavy Northern California influence. The album contains the band's usual diversity, with ska, country, psychedelia, and Northern Mexican, Eastern European and South Asian-influenced melodies all making appearances. Most of the drumming on the album was handled by studio drummer and former Cracker member Michael Urbano, although Chris Pederson played on some tracks as well.
The band undertook extensive touring for the album in 2013, playing in North America, the UK, and mainland Europe. The touring lineup was mostly Lowery/Krummenacher/Segal/Lisher/Funaro, though David Immerglück played pedal steel, mandolin and guitar on the UK dates, and then temporarily filled in for Krummenacher on bass for the mainland Europe shows, as well as a few North American shows. Urbano also filled in for Funaro on some North American shows.
Lowery revealed in interviews that there were seven songs recorded during the sessions for La Costa Perdida that were not released, which would be included on a follow-up album to be finished in 2013. In August 2013, the band revealed on its Facebook page that it was tracking songs for the album, with Urbano on drums again. The band stated that the album would be a Southern California-themed sequel to the Northern California theme of La Costa Perdida.
In 1993, the band Sublime's singer and songwriter Bradley Nowell covered the Camper Van Beethoven song entitled "Eye of Fatima." The chord progression of this song was also used in the Sublime song entitled "What Happened." Sublime frequently covered other Camper Van Beethoven songs live, and Camper Van Beethoven eventually returned the favor by covering the Sublime song "Garden Grove" for the 2005 Sublime tribute album Look at All the Love We Found.
Teenage Fanclub's cover of Camper Van Beethoven's 1985 staple "Take the Skinheads Bowling" was used as the title track for the 2002 Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine. A portion of the original Camper Van Beethoven recording can be heard as an introduction to the DVD release of the film. The song has also been covered by the SKAndalous All-Stars and the Manic Street Preachers (released as a B-side to their 1996 single Australia and later re-recorded for the B-sides album Lipstick Traces). Tempe alt-rock band Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers have covered both "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and "Eye of Fatima."
Main article: List of Camper Van Beethoven band members