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Camper Van Beethoven is not dead

The "surrealist absurdist folk" group reunites with a vintage re-recording of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk

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Even within the '80s underground that birthed them, Camper Van Beethoven was considered unusual. Surveying everything from ska and punk to polka and world music, the self-described "surrealist aburdist folk" quintet was renowned for its off-beat songs tackling subjects such as caring for skinheads and meeting Jerry Garcia's progeny. This year, Camper is touring for the first time in more than a decade, supporting the newly released Tusk, a song-for-song remake of the 1979 Fleetwood Mac album, recorded in 1986. The Indy caught up by phone with CVB bassist Victor Krummenacher at his home in San Francisco.

The Independent: Not only did you record Tusk in 1986, but your second album, II & III, and the self-titled third album as well. You must not have been doing much but playing.

Victor Krummenacher: We weren't. That was probably our most prolific period. We were getting better, our ideas were getting clearer--as clear as our ideas ever got--and it was just one of those natural periods where everything was flowing, and we were young and able to put a lot of that really hungry energy in.

How did the band break up?

We had been on tour for a year [with 1989's Key Lime Pie] and were exhausted. We were in Sweden, and things weren't going well. We were having a lot of heated arguments is the polite way of putting it, and I said, enough is enough. I mean everybody else made their decision there; people individually made decisions to go. The tension between us was too heavy, and I don't think anyone was really willing to continue at that point. It was really stupid of us to do it that way.

You broke up about a year before Nirvana opened the flood gates.

Yeah, we got ripped off, there's no question about it. If we'd been functional together at the time we would all have made a whole lot more money.

How did you reconcile with David Lowery?

It was around the time of Cracker's Golden Age, because I loved that record a lot. It was really one of those, "well fuck it, maybe he was an asshole, but that's really good. I'll go talk to him." David and I have been friends since 1980. We all know we're fucked up and dysfunctional and we really don't care because that's just the people we are. And if you if you can't be somewhat forgiving about people being crazy, then you shouldn't be in a rock band. Ever.

How did that lead to re-forming in '99 for the part-new/part-archival Camper Van Beethoven is Dead?

With Camper stuff stuck in a legal vortex [with Virgin Records], it seemed like it'd be good to get some income going from Camper. Like, "have you seen a paycheck?" "Nah." "Maybe we should try and make some money. I've got some tapes sitting around, let's go fuck with them." We had the Tusk thing sitting around, so we said let's release that. Then when Tusk was done, we realized we do kind of have a record to promote, and we're strangely obligated to play things off Tusk, so we'll have to learn some new stuff. So we tried it and it just seemed to go.

How do you feel about your fans' expectations now that you're officially reunited?

That's the strange thing about having a legacy--you can't interpret it for them, that's just what the fans get. It's enough to make you kind of paranoid. Are we gonna suck? But we haven't sucked. We've been really quite good for the most part. So now it's, "What do we do next?" because it can only be informal for so long. It's been nice, but we'll have to make some choices about what we're going to do soon. EndBlock

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