Accidents happen every day; this is unavoidable. Everything is flawed. I think Judd Nelson said it best in The Breakfast Club: “Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.” This is quite insightful from the guy who got a pack of smokes under the Christmas tree, but well, he’s right. Sometimes, though, accidents yield fantastic results. And London duo Summer Camp is right up there with the kind of accident that puts five people in Saturday detention for a life-altering revelation.
Summer Camp started out as some sort of joke between members Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley. “We just did it for fun one weekend,” Warmsley tells us via Skype. “And then people liked it.” Initially, the duo put together a fake MySpace, stating they were old friends who met at camp and recorded some tracks years later. They posted a cover of Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “I Only Have Eyes for You”, and pretty soon blogs started posting the track.
It’s a pretty intimate set up. “We have a drummer live, but it’s just the two of us that write and record,” Sankey explains. When it comes to the tracks, Sankey does the majority of writing, while Warmsley produces. “He’s a kick-ass producer,” Sankey vouches. “I’m in awe of his skills.” Together, the duo put out Welcome to Condale, their forthcoming debut, concept album dealing with a fictional California suburb and its inhabitants.
“We find it easiest to write about fictional characters, but we take our experiences and put them to life,” Sankey explains. “We sort of built a whole narrative as we wrote the album. There’s a girl in love with a bad boy rocker (the fist pump rocker “Brian Krakow”), but it’s really about these two women in different times, whose lives run parallel together.” The group claims to take inspiration from a filmmaker who used a similar technique, John Hughes (“Sixteen Candles John Hughes?”). Hughes created the world of Shermer, IL, a place where, according to Jason Mewes, in Kevin Smith’s 1999 religious satirical Dogma, “The honeys are top-shelf, but all the dudes are whiny pussies,” and this is the kind of thing Summer Camp has done with Condale, CA.
On Condale, Summer Camp hits a number of notes that adhere to growing up, experiencing youth, and just having fun. It’s much like a week at summer camp and the feelings you experience in just one brief span of time. By the end, you feel a kinship with people you previously didn’t know existed. You swear to write to one another, and you cry until your mom takes you home. This is what it’s like visiting the sonic world of Condale.
The majority of the music sounds like ’80s electro-pop, loaded with catchy synth riffs and Sankey’s soaring vocals. There is the uplifting, free-spirited “Better Off Without You”, which kicks off the album. Then come the catchy riffs (and one fantastic whistle track) on “Losing My Mind”, alongside a synth riff that will get you nostalgic for your teenage years on the titular “Summer Camp” song. There’s also “Last American Virgin”, which is sung by both Sankey and Warmsley, that comes across more as a charismatic hip hop song (note the chimes), showing the group has the potential for aesthetic growth.
“Jeremy really loves Radiohead,” Sankey jokes, and with that in mind, one can predict that some experimenting could take place in the future. Sankey also cites Fleetwood Mac, and Warmsley proudly admits he’s been listening to Saves the Day and Blink-182 lately. Some might write this off as “childish” or “ridiculous”, but Warmsley offers some intriguing insight: “I’m interested in the psychology of why people do things, why they behave certain ways, and the relationships you build over your life. Overall, being a teenager and what that means.” This was the kind of thing John Hughes, Blink-182, and hell, even Fleetwood Mac did with their artwork (although Fleetwood Mac dealt with the emotions of twentysomethings); they all tried to search for the meaning of a particular phase of life. Blink talked about teenage breakups, while John Hughes showed that people who look good in pink think outside the box as well.
We all deal with crazy experiences and horrible emotions that influence who we become. Summer Camp used their world and channeled it into Condale, CA. And while two jokesters have hatched such a complex idea and subject matter, they’re very laid-back about everything. “We’re very lucky because this started as a hobby. Just enjoying it is the most important thing, having fun and writing songs,” Warmsley contends.
Sanskey adds, “But we want to do it our way. We’re control freaks. We work only with people who we really trust, because we want to have a say in how everything gets done.” The band pauses briefly to say good-bye, but right before they go, Sankey starts to say something. “Jeremy is taking off his clothes. He’s naked right now, but you can’t see him.” (Our Skype video chat was disabled, though they could see us.)
Who knows if Sanskey was joking or telling the truth, but hey, things happen. Nobody’s perfect, accidents occur, songs get written, emotions are touched on, and hey, sometimes somebody gets naked. Sounds like a perfect summer at camp.