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Summer Camp

Sepia-Toned Melodies

Sep 30, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

(Under the Radar first interviewed Summer Camp in our Winter 2010 Issue, back in January. It was the band’s first American magazine interview. Now that Summer Camp is releasing its Young EP, we thought it was a good time to catch up with the duo.)

Summer Camp is not a chillwave band. Despite the warm, analog indie-pop tunes coming from the North London-via-Surrey duo, their catchy blend of hazy nostalgia has legs beyond the warm months of June, July, and August. Their music is the soundtrack to compassionate first kisses, awkward prom portraits, dancing all night long, stupid keggers where you go out of complete boredom, and well, high school in general. For evidence of their brilliance, peep the homemade music video for the earworm-y single, “Round the Moon.”

The pair only started releasing music last year under disguise, but respected singer/songwriter Jeremy Warmsley and singer/voice actor/former NME and Platform journalist Elizabeth Sankey are making waves (err impressions) in plain sight now. The last few hot months saw them coming out of their bedrooms to visit festival stages across the U.K. and releasing the excellent Young EP via Moshi Moshi. We asked the blog darlings about comic books, philsophers, their penchant for sampling John Hughes’ films and digitally digging through old photos, a darker debut LP tentatively scheduled for a spring 2011 release, and an embrassing run-in with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy at Leeds Festival. The duo answered the questions together.

What movies do you sample on the Young EP besides Say Anything on “Ghost Train?”

Elizabeth Sankey and/or Jeremy Warmsley: We just grabbed stuff from a lot of places we likedof course some classic ‘80s teen flicks, but from some other places too, public information reels, cheesy old soap operas. Having the spoken word/sample bits seems to add a kind of context to the music that wasn’t there before. Plus it makes us look really cool (not).

Any plans for the rest of the year and 2011? Where will you be touring?

We just finished up the U.K. festival circuit, which was amazing. For the rest of the year, we’re going to first take a little time off in the last of the summer sun and then we’re going on tour in the UK with a great U.K. indie band, Frankie and the Heartstrings, which is really exciting. We’d love to tour the States, needless to say, and we’ll hopefully make it over some time next yearAustralia, Japan, Canada and Europe are all on our wish list too. Apart from that we’re just going to carry on writing ‘till our keyboards explode.

Will you be releasing a proper album soon? How’s that coming along?

Well, we’re writing and recording all the time, but at present we’re not signed to a label so there’s no specific plan. We’d love to collaborate with someone we really trust to make the best record we possibly can, and we have a few ideas on that route. People will definitely be able to hear new material from us sooner rather than later. We hope.

Are there any track titles yet or emerging themes?

Well, our first EP feels liketo us, anywayit has this fresh kind of naive energy that was probably the result of it consisting of the first few songs we ever wrote when we started the band. A lot of the songs are about desperate teenage romance. Our newer stuff isn’t a vast departure but maybe the themes are a little more mature, and whilst a lot of the songs are still really poppy and upbeat there’s a couple of darker pieces in there too. We decide the titles really late on but there’s some lyrics-in-progress on our photoblog.

You’ve been touring a bit this summer. Any interesting stories from the road so far?

We were in the catering at Leeds Festival when [LCD Soundsystem’s] James Murphy walked in and made himself some tea. Jeremy went up and began making tea as a pretense to strike up a conversation but was so fanboy’d out that he managed to pour coffee into his tea instead of hot water. Pretty safe to say we’re not going to be signing to DFA any time soon.

In the live setting, does anyone join you onstage? What’s the configuration?

We did try out having some extra musiciansa drummer, a bassist and a keyboardistand we found some really talented and lovely guys who played a few shows with us. But in the end we discovered that it sounded more like Summer Camp when we stripped it back to just the two of us. That’s how we write and work most of the time so it just seemed to make more sense. We have loads of samplers and keyboards and other gizmos, and Jeremy plays guitar too, and Elizabeth projects pictures from the blog on the wall behind us. We try to rock out a little from time to time. Our sound guy, Andy (who plays in the band Das Wanderlust) adds a lot too. He just generally makes stuff sound incredible.

Why did you pick the name Summer Camp?

We were making our fake MySpace, which we were doing just for fun, and making it fake because we didn’t want anyone to find it, and we thought we’d say we were seven teenagers from Sweden who met at summer camp. Then Jeremy just suggested we call ourselves that, and it seemed perfect.

Have either of you attended a summer camp? I grew up in California, but is that a big thing over in the U.K.?

Sankey: I used to go to Girl Guide camp, but I never really enjoyed it. I used to get really homesick, I remember for months after I would be miserable just thinking about it. Wistfully looking out the window and remembering those difficult timesit was kind of my Vietnam. I also used to go to adventure campabseiling and canoeing and surfing. That I loved. No boys though. I went to an all girls’ school too, so my youth was very boy-less.

Warmsley: I also went to summer camp. You could choose whether to do football, cricket, or drama in the afternoons, and like a massive geek, I picked drama. I was the only one at the entire summer camp to do so and they had to bus some kids in from the next town just so I wouldn’t be the only one. We have family in California by the wayNewport Beach, what a lovely place.

How old are you two?

Elizabeth is 25, Jeremy is 27.

Your MySpace says you live in the U.K., but you both live in West London, correct?

We both come from Surrey, which is effectively the western outer suburbs of London, but now we both live in North London.

Was there a particular reason you picked Moshi Moshi to release your EP?

Yes, we had already worked with them on our first single, “Ghost Train.” We’ve both known Stephen Bass and Michael McClatchey from the label for years and always admired them and their label, they’re just really trustworthy, friendly guys with great taste and good business sense. It was their idea to have Ash Workman mix the EP, which really added a lot.

I love the main melody on “Round the Moon.” For that song, did the lyrics come first or the instrumental bits?

Thank you so much! We had the bass line and the lyrical idea separately and only later thought of combining them.

What were your first impressions of each other when you met?

Sankey: I knew loads of boys who all went to the same school as Jeremy, and they had a reputation for being very arrogant and bullish, so I was expecting him to be like that. But he wasn’t! He was very sweet.

Warmsley: We met years ago, years before we started making music together. My first impression of Elizabeth was that she was very cool and very interesting to talk to.

What did you record with for the EP? All home-recorded? It’s got a warm analog sound that’s really awesome.

Thank you very much. It’s recorded in our home studio that Jeremy’s been putting together for years, but was mixed by a young genius called Ash Workman who uses old-school techniques to make things sound incredible. We always use real keyboards rather than plug-ins, which we think makes a big difference too.

What synthesizers did you use?

We really love analog synths, because they just have this realness to them you don’t get with emulations. We also like your standard ‘80s kid’s keyboard. Sometimes the sounds are alarmingly good.

“Veronica Sawyer” paints a terrible high school party in pretty vivid detail. Was that all imagination?

Everyone’s been to a party like that, right? If you haven’t, you probably will soon. When we were 21/22 we used to go to loads of house parties, really sceney ones, where things like that would happen. Boys from South London in Letterman jackets taking Polaroids and you all act like you know each other but none of your really care. (For the record Elizabeth has a collection of Polaroid cameras and a cheerleader jacket, so she’s as bad as the rest of them).

There’s a time when it’s really fun to be a part of that worldstaying out all night and watching your friends hook up, but after a while it can feel like the loneliest life ever (or it did for us). It’s also a part of the fact that Elizabeth is totally sober, and Jeremy 99%, which used to make us feel really separate to our friends when we went out.

What were you guys like in high school?

Warmsley: I was a major geek, totally into Dungeons & Dragons and Doom 2, until I discovered the guitar. Nothing ever really changes, does it?

Sankey: I dunno. I was really into drama and making films with my friends, but also hung out with the sporty blonde girlstheir token alternative friend I guess. I don’t think I was particularly cool, but I used to try to do my own thing and not get pulled down by all that Mean Girls stuff you get at girls schools. None of the smart boys from the nearby schools fancied me so I used to date all these straight-edgers from the punk shows. I thought they were great but they were in their 20s and had never had jobs.

“Was it Worth It” has a ‘70s vibe to it. What did you want that to sound like?

Thank you! We don’t recall having a particular aim in mind when we were recording that, but the mbaqanga guitar part is a lot of fun to play live.

What are some of your bands that you see as touchstones for Summer Camp?

We just love the Cocteau Twins, XTC, Kate Bush, and The Talking Heads. A lot of our favorite songs are by artists who don’t have a lot of well-known songs, like “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos, or “Always In the Kitchens at Parties” by Jona Lewie, or “99 Red Balloons” by Nena. We also both grew up on Paul Simon. Individually though, we have diverging tastes. Elizabeth likes a lot of ‘90s hip hop, Jeremy is a huge Tom Waits fan.

What do you find appealing about Sixteen Candles’ Jake Ryan, [the ostensible subject of the last song on Young]?

It’s not Jake we find appealing actually, it’s Sam (Molly Ringwald’s character). Girls, some of them our closest friends, have this thing where they want a boy who’s difficult, who treats them badly and is emotionally reticent. It’s part of the game for them, because they want to be the one to change him and make him fall for them. It’s like they’re not happy with someone just loving them, it has to be someone who’s never loved anyone before but they’re so amazing he couldn’t help but fall in love with them. We just liked writing that perspective, not saying, “Don’t hurt me” but “Please hurt me, it’s what I live for.” Ha. We have one friend in particular who is convinced that song is about her.

What are you working on that’s not Summer Camp-related?

Warmsley: I was working on a totally electronic version of Pet Sounds, titled Switched-On Brian (after Walter Carlos), but had to stop when I realized it sounded like ass.

Sankey: I do lots of different things. I do a lot of voiceover work…and also bits of writing, I’m trying to make a blog with these Canadian friends of mine, they’re really good and send me great stuff. I really want to bring back Jane Magazine, but I don’t know how I can make that happen.

Any remixes in the works?

Not right nowwe’ve done remixes of Active Child and James Yuill, which we really enjoyed, but right now we’re concentrating on writing. For us, remixes are quite work-intensive, as we like to write a whole new song around a snippet of the source track, rather than just take the vocal and Summer Camp-ify the music.

Your great cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You” was the entry point for many Summer Camp fans. Any more covers floating around and ready to be released?

We haven’t recorded any other covers, but we’re glad you like that song! It was the first song we ever recorded. Have you ever heard one of the versions before The Flamingos came along and made it into a pop song?

Elizabeth, you were an actress and magazine editor/writer before Summer Camp came along. What kind of duties did you have at NME and Platform and what roles did you have in the acting world?

Sankey: I was just a freelancer at NME. I was only doing that for a couple of months before we started Summer Camp, but I really love that magazine. It’s an institution over here, and it’s great to be a part of it. At Platform I was Editor, and used to write all the time, I really loved doing that but when we started getting busy with the band I had to step down. As far as acting, I’ve been doing voiceovers for years, and I’ve done bits of Shakespeare and written plays, and been in sketch shows. I actually think being in a band is the thing that most successfully satisfies all the things I loveusing my voice in weird ways, writing, and performing. It’s like all the things I’m interested in converged, and I had no idea it was going to happen. I’d never really sung till this time last year!

You obviously love John Hughes’ films, but what do you particularly enjoy about them? Do you have a favorite?

We couldn’t possibly pick a favorite, that’s like Sophie’s Choice. A lot of people dismiss John Hughes films as just “American ‘80s teen flicks,” but they’re so much more. They’re still so relevant. They’re universal and timeless, but at the same time they represent everything that was going on in that decade. There was also the post-punk-like creativity of the outfitsyou look at someone like Ducky in Pretty in Pink, with the quiff and the zoot suits, he was this amazing role model for kids who lived in the suburbs but wanted to have their own style. And those films are edgy, they’re clever, they’re hilarious. Molly Ringwald portrayed some of the best teen female characters ever. John Hughes wrote Breakfast Club in two days, can you imagine? There’s so much we love about them, but mainly we just like visiting those worlds.

What interests do you have outside of music?

We both love reading, and watching movies. We’re both big fans of TV comedy tooit’s going through a bit of a high point at the moment, although we’ve also watched a lot of Frasier lately.

How would you describe your music to a deaf person?

That’s a really interesting question. There was this great TV show about this deaf kid recently who just turned the bass up really loudly and put his head on the speakers so he could feel the vibrations physically. Assuming they had some knowledge of music before they became deaf, we would probably say it was pop music, but with a hazily nostalgic, sepia-toned feel.

Jeremy, I heard you’re a big comic book reader. Read anything interesting lately?

Warmsley: I know I’m a bit late on this but I just finished up Scott Pilgrim (actually we both read that one). Brilliant stuff. My all-time faves are Sandman and From Hell (which, to non-comic book readers, is like saying your favorite bands are The Beatles and Radiohead: not controversial).

Jeremy, you went to Cambridge University for Philosophy. What philosopher particularly struck you as important or interesting? Have any of your studies creeped into your music?

Warmsley: I really enjoyed reading Friedrich Nietzche, but more for the quality of the writing than the power of the ideas. I really like Bertrand Russell, he was a great personality as well as a great philosopher. I can’t say that I ever sit down and think about philosophy consciously while working on music, but I guess I’m the kind of guy that likes to think about stuff a lot and that certainly comes out in our music.

If you were presented with the opportunity to lend your song to a film, would you? Are there any conditions for a “yes” answer?

I think we would almost certainly love to, unless the film looked really bad. Being asked to soundtrack a film would be a dream come true for us, too. We also talk about making a film ourselves some day.

Are your parents supportive of your music?

Our parents are so supportive. They drive us to gigs and give us feedback. We think our dads would probably join the band if we would let them. Elizabeth’s dad plays sax and guitar, Jeremy’s dad plays drums and guitar. They’re great.

Where did you find the photo for the cover of the EP?

Just in the collection of hundreds of vintage photos we have on tap! We just thought it was a great scene, you can just imagine the girl’s parents standing by the door taking the picture slyly before leaving her at her first prom. “My hasn’t she grown up” sort of thing. Love that.

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January 13th 2011

They drive us to gigs and give us feedback. We think our dads would probably join the band if we would let them. Elizabeth’s dad plays sax and guitar, Jeremy’s dad plays drums and guitar. They’re great

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