On an unusually warm March afternoon, I sat on my front porch and talked to Camper Van Beethoven's co-founder and violin virtuoso about his many talents and his new musical offering, All Attractions.
Hey Jonathan how are you today?
Great, thank you. How are you?
Doing wonderful. I thought we could start out talking a little about the new album All Attractions. I listened to the songs quite a few times and I really like it.
Oh good, nice. Thank you!
I noticed that it's described as "guitar heavy" which while it's totally true, struck me as funny because you are hard to pin down musically.
Ha! Uh ha, true.
Did you feel like you needed to qualify to differentiate from the improvisational electronic music you've done?
Well also from the violin because in Camper Van Beethoven I played violin most of the time and that's mostly the reason for the differentiation. When people think of me as part of Camper Van Beethoven, they think of me as the violin player.
Weird, I always think of you as co-founder, although you do play a mean fiddle. Are you going to be touring to support the record?
Probably just a few local shows. I can't really afford to get musicians out on the road at this point.
I'm seeing quite a few acts taking it on the road solo these days. Solo acoustic or pared-down versions of the band. You are in California which sounds like us east coasters are going to be awfully sad missing out.
Maybe not, but it probably won't happen until next fall if you do see me!
I have a favorite song on All Attractions: "Listen," with "She's a Peach" and "Singularity" coming in a close second and third. Who else plays on these tracks?
Let's see, Chris Xefos is playing bass on that song and I think Victor Krummenacher is playing guitar. He's the bass player from CVB, he played some of the guitar on the rhythm guitar track.
You are a multi-instrumentalist, you compose, you sing, and you still do an enormous amount of collaboration even thought you can seemingly do the whole thing solo. Do you think that's in reaction to the temptation to do it all yourself because you can, or is it because the artists with which you play are so fantastic?
Well it's both of those things actually. One of the things is that no matter how much I can do by myself or want to do by myself, other people that are involved are going to come up with new ideas or things that I hadn't thought about and that I love. When you start playing music with other people and they come up with stuff you wouldn't have, it's great.
The things you compose and the various artists you work with are wildly divergent. From pieces for dance troupes to electronic, I wasn't aware that you were doing so much.
That's the thing. Even when Camper first started, I was doing electronic music. A lot of it of course was tape music back in the '80s. Little bits and pieces of it sort of found their way into Camper Van Beethoven records you know. Eventually.
You have a masters degree in music composition and you've worked on countless film soundtracks. You work on many of these things simultaneously so do you ever have to take a break to get back into the swing of what you currently have going on or do you change gears as the mood hits you?
Exactly. I sort of go back and forth but I do simultaneously work on multiple projects at once. For instance, it took several years to finish All Attractions and the funny part about that to me was that then it took one day to make Apricot Jam.
Yeah, because basically we were in the studio recording the last basic tracks for All Attractions and we had a whole afternoon free so we were like, "Why don't we just improvise?" So we just did that.
That's a little stunning.
But at the same time over the course of the years it took me writing All Attractions and recording bits and pieces of it, I sort of left it alone for periods of time, like eight, nine months at a time and did other things. On the BandCamp page there is a third little sort of group of songs called Turn Slowly For Maximum Vend and those are the sorts of outtakes that I was working on during the same period of time that I was working on All Attractions.
|PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Weintraub|
Yeah, definitely not. I would write and record a lot more even but I've been working so much lately. That sort of takes it out of you.
You're lucky in that you have a massive skill set to pull from when it's time to go to work. Do you have any advice for young artists who are out there slogging it out and making a living?
Well I don't know about advice but definitely people need to play to their own strengths rather than trying to play to the strengths of some non-existent industry or what they think is going to be cool. Try to figure out what it is that you want to hear most of all. For the most part, I like a lot of different kinds of music. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and when I make music I'm trying to make something that I find would be fun and interesting to listen to.
Yeah, so much of your stuff is really innovative and some of it really surprised me, which is unusual.
Nice, thanks! That's great.
The state of the corporate music industry these days is something to behold. It's almost like watching a giant historic building reduced to rubble.
What do you think about the decline and the more positive shift towards the do-it-yourself philosophy where a lot of these artists are making it and taking it straight to the consumer?
Right, as an idea or a sort of theory it's a good thing but one of the things that was nice at the time when people actually had record labels was that record labels did put up a lot of the sort of venture capital to be able to pay for people to record. And I actually really did like the way that the recording industry developed. A lot of people, we do it at home now but you can hear the difference. And I'm not sure that most people care much anymore about the difference. People like me, and people who have been involved with music for a long time and like listening to music that is higher fidelity, like the sound of a really well-recorded record. I don't think that a lot of people that are listening to mp3s or iTunes care too much about that sort of thing anymore. So I think that there is definitely a cultural shift not only in the industry but there's a cultural shift in the listener.
That is so true. While I'm not a well-trained ear, I definitely appreciate a great-sounding record.
It's nice that artists that are established still have the availability to be able to spend the money and record records even if it's not going to bring them the same sort of income as it used to. Artists that can afford to tour and I think touring is one of the difficulties right now because for a little while there people were saying, "Well, everybody's got to go out on tour in order to make money because we can't make money on selling CDs anymore." But then everybody went out on tour and no one could fill up a venue for awhile because there were shows like every night. Not last fall but the fall before I remember there were bands that I wanted to see every single night at every venue. And I'm like, "Okay, I don't know how this is going to work out."
That sounds like a pretty cool dilemma. Although with some of the ticket prices these days, you'd be bankrupt within two weeks.
Again, for awhile that was the big source of income.
Camper Van Beethoven's "Good Guys And Bad Guys"
I'm a big believer in using my allowance to pay for concert tickets. You've had a pretty eventful and interesting life, have you ever considered writing a book?
I have! I don't know when, because that type of thing would take a lot of time but I have definitely thought about it. I actually write fairly well and I've actually had periods of time where I've had to write for a living like writing for Electronic Musician magazine and stuff like that and I have considered writing a book before but I haven't actually delved into the reality of that.
Okay, let's get to The CB3. Purple Rain or Thriller?
Oh boy, that's tough. I'm going with Purple Rain.
If you were in charge of a music festival what artists living or dead would you choose for the roster and what would be their final jam?
Oh my god. Well, the final jam would be Jimi Hendrix with Pink Floyd from about 1970. Actually, who else would be on there? Um, how many can I list? I'd definitely like to put on Radiohead and PJ Harvey, I love seeing their shows so much, really incredible stuff. Then I guess we'll get Camper Van Beethoven to open it.
In school were you an athlete, the basket case, the princess, the brain or the criminal?
Boy, that's tough again. I'd say the criminal.
I won't ask any further questions since I don't want to implicate you, but thanks for talking with us and again, the album is great.
Thank you and have a good one!
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