Although their days as students at UC Santa Cruz are long past, alternative-rock band Camper Van Beethoven still feels strong ties to California. That’s why their last two albums, La Costa Perdida (2013) and El Camino Real (2014), are thematically based on their beloved state, representing Northern and Southern California, respectively.
“This all started initially because we were coming out to play in Big Sur and it was rained out. The show was canceled and delayed a week. At the time, I was living in Oakland, so the whole band hung out at my house and started writing music while listening to The Beach Boys’ Holland album,” explains multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel. “Everything on that album is about California and Big Sur, and we started musing on this idea since everyone in the band had lived in Northern California and Southern California and enjoyed the things good and horrific about both areas.”
Camper Van Beethoven briefly disbanded during the ’90s, allowing lead vocalist David Lowery to form a second, straightforward rock band, Cracker. With Lowery as the common denominator, the two bands have been playing joint concerts for several years now, and a series of shows scheduled for the holidays will bring them to the Lobero Theatre on December 28.
Commenting on the relationship between the bands, Segel says, “It’s gone up and down throughout the years. When Camper first started playing again [in 1999], we were a little bit jealous, but as years have gone by, we’ve realized where the different bands’ strengths lie. There are some things very similar but also very different in different ways. For Cracker, David and Johnny [Hickman] are really the driving elements of the band; punk rock and country are strengths for them. Camper is a multi-genre band, a little more psychedelic.”
The way Segel sees it, Camper Van Beethoven’s versatility has been key to their longevity and sustained success over several decades, especially since the core members are all involved in multiple musical endeavors.
“Camper is a really interesting entity,” says Segel. “All five of the people involved are all very musical and have so many musical ideas, and we each have our own bands. So to put us all together means you have this multi-headed entity that has so many different things to say.”
As to what the band is currently trying to say, Segel remains mum on an upcoming album, but the holiday shows will feature the band playing its 1988 album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart in its entirety, similar to how they have played 1989 album Key Lime Pie at concerts in recent years.
“A few years back, we did shows where we played Key Lime Pie, and the reason was that we only had about three songs from that album in our normal set, so we set about learning everything from that album,” says Segel. “Now we have [former drummer] Chris Pedersen coming in from Australia, and he was one of the original five people that recorded Our Beloved, and the other idea behind doing the album is that it was recently rereleased by Omnivore Recordings as a vinyl LP with extras and an extended CD.”
Part of what makes Camper Van Beethoven such an enduringly successful act is their ability to churn out relevant and enjoyable music over a span of 30 years — even if it means abandoning the carefree, adolescent attitudes from their college years.
“We’re no longer the 22-year-old assholes,” jokes Segel. “We’re definitely a lot more mature now that we’re about 50 … but not too mature.
“We’re all still dedicated musicians and music listeners, and there’s always new music to take inspiration from,” he adds. “One of the things that’s great about being an artist in general is that everything you produce makes you a filter for everything you experience in the world around you, and as the world keeps changing, there’s more and more to use as inspiration for art.”
Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven play the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Monday, December 28, at 8 p.m. For more information, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.