An Interview with Camper Van Beethoven's Victor Krummenacher
By Lauri Apple in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 22, 2008 6:00PM
Eclectic rockers Camper Van Beethoven are celebrating 25 years of sporadic togetherness with a sprinkling of shows, including two in Chicago. Formed in the early 1980s in California, the band broke up in 1990 but not entirely -- they've gotten together several times since to perform and record. Recently CVB bassist Victor Krummenacher took some time post-gig to chat with us about the band's performances at the Abbey Pub. Tonight is the second and last show, so reschedule your bowling outing with the skinheads and don't miss out! McCabe and Mrs. Miller open.
Camper Van Beethoven, Doors 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m., $20, 18+, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace.
Chicagoist: So, what are you listening to these days?
Victor Krummenacher: I'm listening to Dylan outtakes, a recording by the keyboard player from the Robert Cray Band, Sam Philips ... Stuff people set up live. I'm getting to point where I don't pay attention to pop culture so much anymore. I would rather go see a live band that makes a couple of mistakes. And play like they mean it. I don't get excitement out of a fancy light show.
C: What do you think about today's music industry and offerings?
VK: A lot of these bands are interchangeable these days. Camper was a bunch of weird guys, with interesting personalities -- people who don't fit into boxes, but who do their thing. To me that's what it is, what it should be.
I can't sell something to a 24- or 25-year-old unless they're really into music. My music's about what people go through in their lives – I'm 43 now. My last record was about my father and stepfather dying in a three-week period. That's what I write about, what I do. There's all sorts of ideas about what rock music is supposed to be, but I don't even think about that -- I think about what art is, what's good, what has some soul and passion to it.
One of the things Camper's always had in its songs is its undercurrent and political context – a left-wing subtext. We're an oddly political band. I love that. It's not overt, and it's not didactic. But it's there. That's the kind of music I care about. Not about wearing clothes and striking a pose.
C: You guys live in various places. How do you work around the distances?
VK: The biggest difficulties for us are time, location and money. We live all over the country and it is expensive and only getting moreso to get together and take time to rehearse, come up with new material, and get to point where everybody's happy with it. It can be overwhelming. We're also trying to figure out what the next step is.
I don't want to just play old material. It's time to make another record. We're trying to figure out how to do that.
C: How do you practice, given that you can’t always be together?
VK: Well, we email around, and people throw out suggestions, and we try to figure things out on our own. Then we get together to see how people did their homework. Rehearsals are beyond our budget in many ways these days, so yes – we do a lot of emails.
C: When you guys release solo records, do you send around your work to the other band members to critique?
VK: Well, it's interesting. With this last record, I had a sequence in mind, with the songs recorded more or less in order. I put it together, but it wasn't flowing. So I sent it to Jonathan, and he gave me an idea of how this should flow – he came up with a storyline for the lyrics to go around. I disagreed with one thing, moved things around a bit, but that's how it works. There's a huge amount of trust. It works well. It's nice to have comrades in arms.
C: What's new about these shows?
VK: What's new is kind of what's old. In Chicago, we're giving two nights that are very different. We have a long set, so we're always trying to change things up. When you play shows so infrequently, you can find it easy to just reach for the auto-pilot button. But we're always trying to not do that and bring in different things. That makes it exciting. We never know where we're going to land.
C: Any perma-reunion plans in the works?
VK: There's nothing firm, but with Camper it's always a good sign when people are talking about writing and recording -- it means that things are moving toward that ultimate goal. So basically what we're talking about doing now is using a bit of frequent flyer miles next year and getting into a rehearsal studio and just playing.
I know our guitar player is really hungry to do a record, and that's a motivator. He's the quiet one, so when the quiet one wants to do a record we know we have to get together.