Interview: Summer Camp: “Beyond Clueless is an extraordinary film”

Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey have soundtracked ode to teen flicks, Beyond Clueless.

There have been few more cinematic records in recent years as Summer Camp’s 2011 debut offering, and the way it transports the listener to an alternate self-contained world. Within the first few tracks you find yourself lost in the fictional L.A suburb of Condale, c. 1984, and its cast of residents including a pair of dating teenagers, the tragic former mayor and the faded Hollywood starlet. Throw in an equally immersive mini-world of a website and a fanzine and it genuinely felt like an album that existed in its own alternate reality. It seemed like a matter of time before their widescreen visions collided – if anything, it seemed weird it was taking the aforementioned union to occur…

Enter celebrated film critic - see his site Ultraculture - and long-time Summer Camp friend Charlie Lyne, who in late 2012 started work on what would become Beyond Clueless, an incredibly well-crafted look at the golden age of teen movies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lyne immediately approached Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey with a view to them doing the soundtrack and, as the former helpfully summarises, “It was a bit of a no-brainer for us because we know Charlie, we love films, we love making and music and we love film soundtracks so it was a case of ‘yes please!’”

The ensuing record is a fascinating document which places what many would deem to be ‘classic’ Summer Camp songs such as ‘Beyond Clueless’ and ‘Losing It’ sitting alongside a brace of intriguing, slick and incredibly atmospheric set of instrumentals designed to soundtrack montage scenes which pepper the film’s duration. As Warmsley divulges, though, that almost wasn’t the case at all. “When Charlie described the film to us and how it was about that golden age of teen films that cropped in the late 90s and early 2000s I thought of the music of that time I thought of Blink-182 and pop-punk, so in my mind at the beginning our music was going to draw quite heavily from those sounds. But as soon as we started doing it it all fell apart and jarred horrifically…” he continues, describing how from this early, faltering beginning the finished product came about. “But we were always led by the film, I think, and there wasn’t really a conscious thought of, ‘We’re going to make it sound like this or this or this’. It all just happened very naturally – I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but in this case I think it’s true. I feel there are a couple of songs that are a natural progression from the previous record: ‘Beyond Clueless’ or ‘Losing It’ could have sat quite easily on the last album, and then the instrumentals were something new and actually a really enjoyable process.”

Ah, the process. Already a fairly unwieldy beast at the best of times (speaking of the band’s regular patterns, Warmsley intones that “we’ve never really had a set process - we seem to change our working methods every other song because we’re tired of working in a particular way or because things just aren’t working…”), so throw in directors and sundry other constraints involved in the making of a film and in theory it becomes an even greater challenge. But between director and band there - much like that which occurred between King Creosote and Virginia Heath - developed a series of working methods, as Jeremy kindly summarises. “Charlie would send over some rough assemblages of these scenes and we’d watch them and then the music would just kind of obviously suggest itself. I don’t really have a better answer to that, it was just clear when we watched what the kind of music should be. Then we’d send what we’d done to Charlie, and he’d cut what he’d done to something a bit more sensible that would fit into the film and then he’d ask us to either extend a certain section or maybe cut a bit out of another. There are other bits where we’re soundtracking bits of dialogue and narration that he’d created for the film and for those bits we were a bit more constrained inasmuch as in those parts the music wasn’t leading the way as much. We were soundtracking bits of film that were already finished and that was pretty straightforward as well.”

He continues, revealing how the way Summer Camp’s latest compositions were used in the film, as well as how the very nature of music in film, and the way it’s experienced, shaped what they created. “A lot of the music is used in montage-type scenes, centred around themes found in teen films. There’s a prom scene, a moody walking-down-the-corridor scene, a swimming pool scene – and I hadn’t realised how many films had than in until we started doing the film. Almost every teen movie around that time had a swimming pool sex scene in it, which was kind of weird… When you’re listening to a piece of music and nothing else it has to fill everything and satisfy all of your sense at once. When you’re making a soundtrack the music has to a be a lot less involved in a way because there’s so much other stuff going on – you have to listen to the narration and the film audio and you’re watching the film as well and all its context and atmosphere so the music has to be less full, really. That in a way makes it easier if you have to put less into it.”

But these types of projects inevitably have a set lifespan before those involved move onto the next one - don’t they? Well, not here. Warmsley hopes it’s something that will continue to crop up periodically over the next few years, and with the film yet to have full distribution and with several other live-score type shows in the offing, it would seem that he has a point. “We have some other live score-type ideas in the pipeline, but none of them I can really confirm to you at the moment, unfortunately. The nice thing about this is it’s something that I feel we can be asked in three years to perform the score for this somewhere and we’d be up for doing it. When we perform it we don’t play any of our other songs from the other albums, so it’s nice to have this standalone thing that we can wheel out when it’s appropriate. The producers are seeking further distribution for the film as well so hopefully it’ll be in cinemas fairly soon. I think we’re all just working towards making sure as many people hear or see it as possible, really.”

Ask what he would like to take away from the ‘Beyond Clueless’ and their soundtrack, and he’s effusive in his praise for it (not entirely surprisingly given both he and Elizabeth Sankey’s involvement and their long-standing friendship with Charlie Lyne), saying: “I hope people get to see it because it’s an extraordinary film, and it’s actually changed the way that I see films which is pretty crazy for one film to do.” But it’s interesting to note that he acknowledges the evocative, nostalgic side to their music, bringing us nicely full circle to the qualities possessed by their other releases to date, especially that debut album, ‘Welcome To Condale’. “As for the soundtrack… people say that our music is nostalgic and evokes a certain mood and for me this is the most evocative thing we’ve ever done. I hope people listen to the album and experience it in the same way it’s used in the film - to create this otherness…”

It’s hard not to wonder what effect doing ‘Beyond Clueless’ will have on future releases, but it would be a foolish person that suggests they’ll suddenly lose that escapism that has characterised their work to date. But the thought it could prove to be even more so is something to get very excited about indeed.

Summer Camp’s new album ‘Beyond Clueless OST’ is out now via Moshi Moshi.


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