In the second half of the 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven-David Lowery (vocals, guitar), Victor Krummenacher (bass, vocals), Greg Lisher (guitar), Jonathan Segel (violin, guitar, keyboards) and Chris Pedersen (drums), plus late addition David Immerglück (gu...
In the second half of the 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven-David Lowery (vocals, guitar), Victor Krummenacher (bass, vocals), Greg Lisher (guitar), Jonathan Segel (violin, guitar, keyboards) and Chris Pedersen (drums), plus late addition David Immerglück (guitar and various stringed instruments)—was one of its era's most original and influential indie rock bands. The quintet effortlessly combined an iconoclastic, irony-laced lyrical stance with a free-spirited eclecticism that encompassed a dizzying array of stylistic influences, from punk to folk to psychedelia to all manner of world music. Camper's visionary embrace of disparate genres established them as innovators, while their songs' combination of barbed satire and poignant humanism stymied those who'd attempt to pigeonhole them as a mere novelty.
Camper Van Beethoven have always been rule-breaking outsiders, even by indie-underground standards. "The reason Camper originally came to exist," Lowery asserts, "was because we were rebelling against the dogma of punk rock and post-punk-rock. To us, rock had started out as a very eclectic musical form that incorporated all different kinds of things. But by 1982, punk rock had adopted all these strict rules, which rubbed us the wrong way. So we always saw ourselves as being in a tradition of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Little Feat, The Kinks and The Beatles, who were comfortable trying different kinds of things. We came right at the end of the first generation of the hardcore/punk-rock thing, and our earliest supporters were people who liked the Dead Kennedys. And then we came into what became indie rock, where we were basically running around throwing little musical molotov cocktails."
Camper Van Beethoven's first three albums—Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985), II & III (1986) and Camper Van Beethoven (1986)—won widespread critical acclaim and took the emerging college-radio underground by storm, helping the band to build a large and loyal fan base. Camper further expanded its audience—and its artistic reach—after signing with Virgin Records and releasing 1988's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and 1989's Key Lime Pie.
"In a way, each record we've made has been kind of a high concept," Lowery observes. "The first one was playing with all these things like ska and norteno, which were the roots of the punk rock and new wave explosion that we knew. On the second record, we were playing with '60s West Coast garage sensibilities. Then by the time we did the third album, we sort of had a sound, so we started playing with our own sound. And New Roman Times is our prog-rock concept album."
Camper Van Beethoven splintered after Key Lime Pie, but its members continued to pursue their unpredictable muses in a variety of worthy projects. Lowery has released five albums with Cracker and carved out a parallel career as producer, working with such notable acts as Sparklehorse and FSK. Segel has pursued a rewardingly idiosyncratic solo career, both under his own name and leading the bands Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill. Krummenacher, Lisher, Pederson and Immerglück formed the prog-rocking Monks of Doom, after which Krummenacher and Lisher launched productive solo recording careers on Segel and Krummenacher's boutique label, Magnetic, while Immerglück emerged as an in-demand sideman with the likes of John Hiatt and Counting Crows.
Meanwhile, Camper Van Beethoven's influence grew even stronger during the years in which the band was inactive. "It's like the best career move we ever made was to go away for awhile," says Lowery. "Camper Van Beethoven has sold more records since we broke up than we ever did when we were together. We're now known the world over—I'm talking about India, Indonesia, Chile, Panama. Our songs have been covered by all kinds of different bands in all kinds of different ways. We've kind of been embraced by the hippie/jam-band thing, with people like Phish and moe. playing our songs, and there's a certain thread of the punk-rock/emo bands that have cited us in interviews or covered our songs."