Back in 2009, an enigmatic, Swedish, indie-pop septet called Summer Camp lit up the blogosphere when they posted a fuzzy home recording on Myspace. Fast-forward a couple of years and we now know that Summer Camp is actually the work of Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, a pair of mischievous Londoners who’ve since turned their flippant musical experiment into a full-time career.
As they gear up to release their debut album, we caught up with Elizabeth to find out the truth about how they formed, the inspirations behind Welcome To Condale, and why she’s not, repeat not, an arrogant brownie maker…
There was a lot of mystery surrounding the band when you first emerged. How did you two really meet?
We’d been friends for years and then one weekend, when we had nothing to do, we did a cover of this song by The Flamingos called ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, just literally for fun. And then we kind of wanted to make a record of it but we didn’t want anyone to find it, so we just made a fake Myspace [page]. That’s why we said we were Swedish; because we didn’t want our friends to stumble across it and be like, “Oh my god, this is so lame, what are you doing?!” I’d been collecting old family photos for years so we just used some of them, instead of photos of ourselves. And then the blog ‘Gorilla vs. Bear’ found it and wrote about it, and that was it really…
Ok… Why Swedish?!
I think when I made the Myspace page the default country was Sweden and I was like, “Ok, yeah, Sweden! That’ll work!” And then, for the town, we picked the first place we saw. There was no thought behind it whatsoever! It’s like our name: if we’d thought about it for more than two seconds, I don’t think we’d have called ourselves Summer Camp.
Before being in the band, Jeremy was a solo artist. Is the writing process in Summer Camp collaborative? And, if so, is he coping ok relinquishing control?!
(Laughs) Yeah… I think he’s coping ok?! We write everything together: the lyrics, the music, everything. It’s entirely collaborative and I think, for both of us, it was nice to find a partnership that really worked and where we could both be equals. Jeremy never really wanted to be a solo artist, he just kind of fell into that. And he definitely didn’t want to be the kind of solo artist who played songs about being in relationships but, again, it’s just something that happened.
Can you explain the concept behind Welcome To Condale please?
We were inspired by this idea that John Hughes had: he created this fictional town where he set all of his films and had characters live in it. And we just thought that was a really fantastic idea and a really great way of writing. So we created this fictional town called Condale, which is a suburb of Los Angeles, and the whole album revolves around four characters: Bebe West and Louis Sley, who lived in Condale in 1954, and then Cathy Baker and Brian Krakow, who lived there in 1984. Bebe and Louis had this torrid love affair which ended really awfully and then Bebe died under mysterious circumstances in her house.
Jump forward to 1984: teenagers in Condale have made her into a bit of a legend and they all break into the house regularly and have what they call “séance parties”, where they light candles and get drunk and stuff. So the relationship between Cathy and Brian is unwittingly mirroring Louis and Bebe’s, but in a much more youthful and teenage way. The story of Condale ends in 1984, with them having a party at Montgomery Avenue (which is Bebe’s old house) and there’s a fire and Cathy dies at the same time as Bebe died, 30 years earlier. Pretty insane, right?!
It’s certainly elaborate! Who came up with the concept?
Both of us. But I think because I’d only been writing songs for two years, having a concept and a framework really helped in terms of writing lyrics. And it did for Jeremy too. Also, we didn’t really want to write stuff like, “Last night we went to Sainsburys and it was shut.” I mean, obviously there are some bands who can do that and make it amazing but, for us, we kind of like the universality of being a teenager, but also the fact the feelings that you have as a teenager get repeated throughout your life and it’s all very cyclical.
We were watching ‘My So Called Life’ when we were doing the album and Brian Krakow is a character from the series that we transplanted and dropped into Condale, because we wanted to give him this other persona, I guess. It was just really fun and amazing to be able to invent people and empathise with them.
And you chose Brian instead of Jordan…
Yeah, of course!
Isn’t it obvious?! I think, by now, Jordan Catalano would be this burnt-out bum, this alcoholic who’s never done anything with his life. Yeah, he was a teenager that girls fancied but that’s when he peaked. Whereas we felt Brian had so much potential! He’s just this complex, amazing guy who’s so clever and funny but just so socially awkward. He absolutely loves Angela, whereas Jordan… Jordan sleeps with Rayanne! What the hell?!
It’s really sad, because [the producers] didn’t know they were only going to make one series so it ends on this cliffhanger where it’s just Angela and Brian: he’s circling her on his bike and you think they might get together but there’s never any resolution. So, in my head, it’s like they’re stuck in the 90s on this street, and we just wanted to give him a different world, I guess.
Ok, so what were your musical reference points when writing the record?
We didn’t really listen to a lot of new stuff. I mean, we never really do; we just go over and over things we really love. But towards the end of it we’d gotten into the Metronomy album, which is obviously amazing, and Fleetwood Mac ’s Mirage, which is really, really good. We were listening to a lot of Pulp too, actually, because we were working with Steve [Mackey].
Is that why you chose to work with Steve; his involvement in Pulp?
No. I mean, we’re both big fans of Pulp, but Steve just has a really great ethos and the way that he works is very considerate towards bands. We just did a practise session with him and it was really great. It was amazing hanging out with somebody who’s done the things that he’s done, but that wasn’t why we worked with him.
The album has a really lo-fi, retro aesthetic – did you use vintage instruments or is it down to studio trickery?
Well, a lot of what we have in the studio is old synths and stuff, purely because it’s a home studio so we just got cheap things! And when we went into the studio with Steve, I’m sure Jeremy would have loved to have used Steve’s equipment, but he thought we should keep using the instruments we’d used previously to keep it sounding like us. But Jeremy did use the bass that Steve used on ‘Common People’! That was pretty cool! We kept trying to get Steve to play bass on it but he was like “No…”
So what’s the standout track on the album for you and why?
I really love ‘Brian Krakow’! I just think that Jeremy sounds amazing and I love the bass on it. It’s just really gutsy! It’s a song that Jeremy and I wrote but I did most of the lyrics, because I wanted to write a song for Jeremy to sing that was passionate.
I also like ‘Welcome To Condale’. It’s weird because when I heard that I was like, “Oh wow, this will definitely be a single!” and then our team said no. (Laughs) But I love that because we worked really hard on it and, for me, it’s like a snapshot of what this place that we invented is like and encapsulates that claustrophobia of growing up in the suburbs and wanting to escape.
You funded the album through PledgeMusic – can you tell us about the things you were offering people in return for their investment?
Quite a lot of people pledged for the brownies we offered. Though some people are assuming I’d said, “Oh, I make great brownies!” I didn’t say I made great brownies: I said I had a recipe for brownies! I’m now getting this reputation as this, like, arrogant brownie-maker who thinks that my brownies are the best brownies in the whole world, which is totally not true! So yeah...
We also offered demos and mix CDs, hand-written letters and handwritten lyrics. And we’ve done quite a few gigs at people’s houses, which has just been amazing! You walk into someone’s house and you meet their family, friends, babies... And they always have amazing food and stuff! So they’ve been really, really special.
After Welcome To Condale, where do you go next? Have you started work on the follow-up?
Ummm, well we know what we’re going to do but we don’t want to talk about it yet! I wouldn’t want to tell everyone we’re setting it all in space and then it actually ends up being set in Bognor Regis! But we definitely have ideas of what we’re doing and we write constantly.
Aside from your record, what’s the most exciting album you’ve heard this year?
Emmy the Great’s is amazing. She’s an incredible lyricist. The music’s amazing as well but her lyrics, in particular, are just mind-blowing.
Not now, I wouldn’t want to step on her toes! But I think it’s a really good idea. I love Christmas! I think we’re going to do a Christmas cover this year. We have one in mind, we just need to find time to do it. From what I’ve heard of it, their album sounds amazing. And they’re such a fantastic creative partnership: they’re both so talented.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2011?
We’re touring in November and then I just want to hibernate and get ready for Christmas. And bake something other than brownies. I have a new Magimix coming and I just want to make loads of cake and get a bit fat.
Finally, what’s your ultimate goal for Summer Camp?
I think for us every day is amazing because we get to do this. We have ambitions for it but we’re just really, really happy ploughing along. Hopefully, this time next year we’ll still be doing this, making music we’re proud of.