Interview Summer Camp: ‘Get Your Rocking Clogs On’

With their long-awaited debut album ‘Welcome To Condale’ released today, DIY catches up with the duo in East London.

Summer Camp’s long-awaited debut album ‘Welcome To Condale’ hits the shelves today. A detailed exploration of life in a small (imaginary) town, the record has more plot twists than the average soap.

We catch up with Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley in an East London bar to talk all things Condale, Pledge Music and the trials and tribulations of being a (not so) teenager.

‘Welcome To Condale’ is your first full length release but you’ve been around a little while. How are you feeling about the record finally coming out?
Jeremy: We only started the band, was it 2009? So we’ve been a band maybe two years. We’re pretty pleased that we’ve managed to get to the point of putting out an album in two years and doing it with Pledge Music has meant that we’ve really been able to follow through with the initial momentum and just get an album out, which was the dream.

Speaking of the Pledge Music scheme, how did that come about and what made you decide that was the right way for you to go about releasing the album?
Elizabeth: Basically, we wanted to do the album our way but we also wanted to work with Steve Mackey so it was just the best solution for us really because it meant that we could go to fans for money to fund the release and to fund the production costs rather than asking a label to give us money because that gave us the freedom then to have autonomy over it and to make the album that we wanted to make. And it was scary because you never know how these things are going to go and we were like, ‘maybe no one will pledge and we’ll just look really lame!’ But actually, we’ve been overwhelmed by how much support we’ve had. It’s been really heartwarming.

How did you go about deciding what you were going to offer up as your Pledges?
J: We just made a big list of everything we could possibly think of and then we just put them all on. Literally everything we even considered as a joke, we put up there.
And we just thought that that way, if people want stuff, it’s there, and if it turns out that nobody wants Elizabeth’s sparkly jumpsuit then so be it. Although we did have an email about that the other day so maybe it will actually go.
E: Nobody is going to buy that.
J: I hope they do. I think it’s nice.
E: You buy it then.

Have you had any surprises with the things that people have pledged for? Was there anything that people have bought that you didn’t think they would?
J: One of the options is that we could write a song about you and someone pledged for us to actually write a jingle for his website.That was really fun.

What’s been the most popular?
E: The unique mix CDs.
J: They’re really popular.
E: We also put up some vinyl of Jeremy’s solo stuff and that went like that.
J: And the test pressings of our singles as well.
E: Vinyl went very quickly.
J: We didn’t have a lot of it. I don’t know if we’d have had more of it, that it would have gone.
E: That’s so true, Jeremy. You’re so wise. And quite a lot of orders for brownies. I bake a lot so I thought, ‘oh, it’ll be fine, I’ll just make some brownies.’ But actually I’ve done about six batches and it’s not that it’s a lot of work or anything, but it’s more the fear that you might poison someone so I’ve had to be really, really careful. But they went down quite well.

There’s a charity link in there as well, isn’t there? How does that work and what made you choose that charity?
J: After we hit 100%, 10% of all the gross earnings of what people pay to Pledge goes straight to the charity that we’ve chosen to support, which is Shelter From The Storm, which is actually the only independent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 1/4 days a year homeless shelter in London. Our agent actually volunteers there and he introduced us to them and we’ve already played a fundraiser for them so it just was nice to be able to continue supporting them. It’s a really nice cause.

Do you feel any added pressure with the album’s release with it being fan-funded? Is there an extra level of expectation?
E: I think in terms of people requesting us to put something on it, in terms of the fans - I hate calling them fans, the people who have pledged - generally have just been really supportive. It’s been really nice having a group of people that you can tell and update on how it’s all going and posting stupid pictures and getting nice reactions from them and it’s more like you feel buoyed by their support than they’re making any demands. If by December, we haven’t fulfilled all of our pledges then I’m sure they’ll be demanding, which is fair enough, but for now it’s very positive and no pressure.
J: I really hope that they all enjoy the album but the songs had all been written and mostly recorded by the time we started the Pledge campaign so there’s not really much we can do about it if it turns out to be a total turkey.

You mentioned briefly earlier about working with Steve Mackey, how did that come about and what did he bring to the record?
J: We made a list of people that we’d like to work with and we met up with a bunch of people and he was the person that we got on with the best and liked the most. He really helped us expand our horizons of what the band could sound like. If you listen to the EP and then you listen to the album, it’s recognisably the same band and has a lot of the same sounds but they just sound much better. He really helped us with the song structures and the performances and stuff like that. He helped us keep what was good about it and make it better, which I think is what we really wanted in a producer. Some producers come along and make you change everything and we didn’t really want to do that so it was nice to have someone who got it and understood its value but knew how to make the most of it. That was the most boring answer I could have given. He made us record whilst riding zebras. He made us learn to solder so we could build our own synthesisers. We recorded most of the songs under water, in the bath. That’s not true either.

The album sees you put on certain characters almost. How developed are they and how much of yourselves are there in them?
E: We find it a lot easier to write when we’ve got characters to write for. So they’re not personalities that we take on in a kind of schizophrenic way but we write for this fictional town in California called Condale, which is why it’s called ‘Welcome To Condale’. So we have different characters living out their lives. As we were writing the album, we started talking about situations that they might be in and basically built up this whole narrative. It’s basically about two women, one from the fifties, 1954, and one from 1984, and their lives kind of go parallel without them knowing each other. It all happens in this house on Montgomery Avenue, which is actually the B-side to our single ‘Ghost Train’, ‘Montgomery Avenue 1984’. You can listen to the album and not know anything about that and I hope it stands alone as an album but if you wanted to know more about it, there’s diary entries from the girl from 1984 and there’s newspaper articles about the woman from the fifties in the magazine we’ve made about Condale.
J: Which you can get on Pledge.

In the past you’ve talked about the album centring around teenage years, is that still the case?
E: It is and it isn’t. I personally love coming of age films and coming of age books, and I love that time of being a teenager, which I’ve talked about a lot but with those two women, it’s more about living in a small town and how you have your superstars in that town but actually when you get out of it and grow up, you realise how small it all was and how it doesn’t really matter and the guy that broke your heart it really just a car salesman in a tiny, little village. It doesn’t matter anymore but at the time, it felt so important but I think that’s something that keeps coming back throughout your life and those initial relationships that you have and the music that you get into then will keep returning to you and will always mean something and you’ll repeat your same mistakes and your same glories. I think that’s why having those women - a teenage girl and a thirty year old woman - their lives are repeating over and over again and will continue to in this small town because they’re things that everybody goes through, losing love and all of that.
J: And there’s Brian as well.
E: Brian Krakow is a character from My So Called Life, which was a nineties show that only had one series but it was brilliant and it’s a bit of a cult classic now and in the series, Brian is not a loser but he’s not very cool and he’s in love with the main character, which is Clare Danes, and he keeps messing it up because he’s got an ego and he can’t handle it. And at the end of the series, because they didn’t know that it was going to get cancelled, he has this moment with Clare Dane’s character where you think that maybe they might get together but it never happens so it’s like they’re just stuck forever in this town and you never know if it’s going to work out. So we took Brian Krakow and thought we’d put him in Condale as a kind of rockstar of that area.
J: Just a crappy local band of fifteen year olds.
E: But all the girls fancy him. So we’ve just let him live out what he could have been in a parallel life. But there are a lot of references to teenagers and that’s a big influence in our song writing but I would stress that it’s something we feel is universal to everybody no matter what age you are.
J: We’ve all been teenagers apart from those of us who aren’t teenagers yet. We talk a lot about these songs being set in this town and these characters but we should stress that you don’t need to know any of this. It’s not King Arthur and his knights of the round table or anything.

Speaking of nineties TV programmes, I know you’re a big fan of Dawson’s Creek, do you think TV programmes these days still carry the same gravitas as they used to?
E: I don’t know. In the same way, the same band that you were listening to at the time probably still means loads to you. It’s a period where you’re just forging your own identity and anything that you’re watching or listening to, you just absorb it like a sponge and the cultural influences of that period during your life are important forever. I always think that there are no bands that would match Blur but of course there are and I’m sure for a lot of people Skins or Gossip Girl is up there. I’m actually reviewing this TV show called Awkward., which I think is amazing. It’s all about teenagers. I actually think it’s a really good time for TV at the moment, especially in America.
J: When you start growing up a bit, the stop making the same impact on you. It’s impossible for a show to make the same impression at 26 or 28 as it is at 16 or 14.
E: It is amazing re-watching Dawson’s Creek because as a teenager, that was what I looked forward to on a Tuesday night, getting home from school and watching Dawson’s Creek, and it was 40 minutes of sitting there on the edge of my seat. Now it’s just ghastly and it’s hilarious for that but I guess what made it so representative for teenagers was that it was so teenage just in its self-obsessed, self-referential everything is so importantness. That’s what you’re like when you’re a teenager. It’s all me, me, me. And Dawson making out with a paper-mache head.

‘Ghost Train’ has made it on to the album but that was one of your earlier singles. What made you decide to include that track?
J: Well, Steve wanted to do that one actually and him and his engineer took our version of it and reworked it a little bit and made it sound a bit different and it seemed to really fit in with the album and I think it’s a song that we’re really proud of. It’s the second song we ever wrote together and I really wanted it on there because I really wanted people to hear it. I think it’s one of our songs that I’m the most proud of and I wanted to make sure that it was on the album, I wanted to make sure we could carry on playing it on our tours and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t sink into obscurity.

Were there any other older songs that you wanted to include but didn’t have space for? How did you finalise the tracklisting?
E: Well we wrote fifty or sixty songs and luckily it was really easy to pick which ones we wanted to go on there. There are always going to songs that you think are amazing but your management or your label don’t agree. We’re too close to it to decide, in a way. That’s when you need someone else to say, ‘it’s awful.’ There are loads of songs that didn’t make it on but pledgers can get demo CDs and things like that so there’s still going to be extra tracks that you can get. I think we’re really happy with the tracklisting and what finally went on there, it really sums up where we are as a band right now and I think we made the right choices.
J: From the EP, we actually worked up a version of ‘Veronica Sawyer’ with Steve that we’re going to release at some point. I really wanted to do ‘Round The Moon’ but nobody else did.

You’ve got a tour planned for November and you’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve found it hard to translate some of the material to the stage. Did you keep that in mind when writing and recording this time around?
J: I think we’ve just about got it licked now to our own satisfaction. It’s just the two of us and a drummer and we project old photos from the blog behind us. It’s quite streamlined but it’s still got the live energy of having a drummer on stage, which means that we can rock out a bit but still get the feel of the songs across so I feel pretty confident about how we’re doing at the moment.

And you’re playing a date in a library as part of Live In Libraries too. What’s that about and why did you decide to get involved?
J: They asked us to play. I’ve actually played a solo show for them a long time ago. They just put on shows in libraries in the North, really good shows, just a really good promoter.
E: And Brixton Academy! I saw so many rock, rock bands there when I was a kid so it’s going to be really weird.
J: You’ll have to rock really hard.
E: Get your rocking clogs on.
J: I might crowd surf.
E: Please crowd surf. You can’t crowd surf. You’d be too scared that someone might do something to your guitar. You have too many things on stage. I’ll crowd surf.

Summer Camp’s debut album ‘Welcome To Condale’ is out now via Apricot Recording Company / Moshi Moshi.

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