[The Nicks Fix]

New York Press
July 3-9, 2002

Interview By William S. Repsher

DAVID LOWERY of Camper Van Beethoven

Tusk. Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double album was considered a bomb because it sold a fraction of what Rumours did and only went double platinum. The same way Let It Bleed said goodbye to the 60’s, Tusk said goodbye to the 70s. Tusk served as a fitting sendoff to 70s pop excess - warped, brilliant in places and unashamedly commercial [SIC]. About to record their third album in 1986, Camper Van Beethoven retired to a cabin in Mammoth, CA, to write songs, and ended up recording a song-for-song tribute to Tusk. The tapes were shelved and lost for years (“Frankly, no one was looking for them,” says Camper frontman David Lowery), but found recently and, with the help of some Mac iBook restructuring and studio polishing, released as a two-CD set (available at www.pitch-a-tent.com , with an official release on Aug.13). Like the original, Camper’s Tusk is all over the place. They obviously had a great time howling portentous Stevie Nicks lines like, “track a ghost through the fog, baby.” I recently exchanged e-mails on the topic with Lowery, who will be reuniting the band soon at the Knitting Factory.

Besides pharmaceutical inspiration, what made you guys decide to replicate Tusk in its entirety? Funny you should mention pharmaceuticals - they played a big role in the recording. We went to Mammoth to do some songwriting, but it started snowing really hard. And we made a toboggan out of a plastic trashcan. We’d get three of us in it. We kind of went through an embankment and straight down into this culvert. We all landed on Chris [Derson, drummer] and broke his arm. We had to walk to the clinic in the snow… Victor’s [Krummenacher, bassist] dad was a pharmacist, so he kind of needled the doctor into giving Chris more and stronger drugs then he really needed. So we bought some beer, walked home in the snow and popped some pills. That is when we decided to record Tusk. It was one of only two albums in the house. We actually played along with it, and then recorded over those tracks. On the second day of recording, it occurred to some members of the band that this was a colossal waste of time - which it was - and that perhaps the band should be writing new material. Other members of the band thought it was a sign of weakness and general spinelessness to give up on any musical endeavor, however misguided it may seem at the time. Of course, they were right also. The deciding vote was a member of the band, who shall remain nameless, having an argument with his girlfriend. She hadn’t wanted to come anyway and had insisted on the driving in her own car. They apparently had gotten into a major argument on the drive up, and she had refused to leave the car. So someone would occasionally have to go outside and retrieve the missing band member - not always an easy task as it was still snowing heavily, and the wind was making some major drifts. This made it sometimes necessary to shovel a few feet of snow off the car to even get to a window. And then you never knew if you were going to find the couple in an argument or “reconciliation”, if catch my drift. Faced with bitter cold and manual labor, inertia triumphed, and Camper Van Beethoven’s Tusk was born.

What were the main objections to releasing it at the time? Well, 1986 was only a few years after the release of Tusk. Fleetwood Mac was completely unhip in the indie rock circles at that time - that was part of the reason we recorded it - but we also had this major Fleetwood Mac obsession, particularly Lindsey Buckingham songs. We thought he was cool. Tusk was such an odd mix of songs. And it was recorded really strange. Thank about it. The followup single to Rumours was “Tusk.” We didn’t think anyone else shared our obsession. We also found that it was quite an undertaking to record a double album. We felt like we didn’t really finish it. Plus, we kept having fights over who sang which song. No offense to Ms. Nicks, but one of us wanted to sing her songs. The only one who really sounded good on those songs was Victor. He was always the witchy, mysterious one in the band anyway. It was probably foreshadowing his coming out of the closet, but we were too stoned to catch it at the time.

The odd thing is that your most inventive covers, barring the “Revolution #9” freakout on the title track, are the lesser-known Stevie Nicks tracks: “Storms,” “Sisters of the Moon,” “Angel.” Did you consciously try to spice up the arrangements on her songs? Well, like I said, we were having some trouble with the Stevie songs, so maybe we actually work on them longer. Songs we had some deeper connection with, for instance, “Walk a Thin Line” or “Think About Me,” we just banged them out.

Christine McVie was Fleetwood Mac’s secret weapon. Nicks was the rock ‘n’ roll lady, and Buckingham the pop genius. But McVie just wrote these heartbreaking ballads and bided her time onstage behind a band of keyboards. Who played the McVie role in Camper? McVie is definitely [guitarist] Greg Lisher. Sexy in this Illya Kuryaki way. Quiet, but some serious chops. McVie was not only the secret weapon, she was also way sexier than Nicks. I had a thing for her. Jonathan [Segel, keyboards, strings] sang a lot of the Lindsey songs; It just seemed to fit him.

In a strange way, Camper’s take on Tusk came near the end of an era the same way Mac’s did - your era being pre-Nirvana indie rock. Were you conscious of your place in the changing industry at the time, or were you simply trying to survive? No. We were shocked that a major label would sign us….

Is this reunion in July a one-off thing? It seems like you guys have managed to rekindle your friendship beyond performing? …. So when we resurrected Tusk, we sent a four-song, white-label CDR to a select 40 journalists. A handwritten note was included, purporting to be from the Stokes publicist (we stole their stationery and envelopes). It claimed this was a wacky side project of the Strokes, what with all the pressure from sudden fame and such. The voice didn’t sound the same? Well, that’s because it’s the drummer Fabrizio singing. Turns out he’s a huge Mac fan. (We had to pick on someone, and the drummer’s named Fabrizio.Well, okay, we could have used Albert Hammond Jr., but since CVB used to cover “The Free Electric Band”, we left him alone.) We very carefully had these postmarked April 1. We thought everyone would get it. Nobody did. I mean nobody. And wasn’t like these were Des Moines Weekly or Village Voice staff writers. These were real music journalists. So now a bunch of reviewers are pissed at us. Seems like old times.

Something’s been bothering me. Going back to the concept of matching up band members from Camper to Mac, I think you’re egotistical enough to see yourself in the Lindsey Buckingham role. Not even contemplating the glorious 70s whiteboy afro he had, I’m just not seeing it. Wouldn’t you be happier matching up to Bob Welch, who left the Mac earlier and cranked out such smash solo hits as “Sentimental Lady” and “Ebony Eyes”? With a pair of frosted shades and a beret, you could pass for him. It all makes sense, except I would never wear a beret…

Camper Van Beethoven plays Thurs-Sat., July 18-20, at Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. (betw. Church St. & B’way), 219-3055

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