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There's more than one Jay Simonson. Not that it's visible in the way he performs — or, really, how he acts in general. As the leader of rowdy garage-rockers France Camp, Simonson is a flurry of screams, howls, and leg kicks. He's the loose-cannon embodiment of a band that can be as exciting as any in the Twin Cities or just a sweaty, drunken party, depending on the night. But what's past that?
"Ever since I was 18, I didn't imagine I'd still be here in this tundra of cold pain," Simonson admits, sitting with his bandmates before playing at the Triple Rock. Outside, the temperature hovers around zero. It's a typical statement of his, one of disappointment barbed in sarcasm, thrown in amid the sorts of drug-fueled stories you'd expect from France Camp — stories of bad acid trips, drinking injuries, and cheating band members.
"I think about the ocean, I think about the mountains, and it makes me sad," Simonson adds. "But I think sadness also helps you write really good songs."
FRANCE CAMP play an album release show with Frankie Teardrop, Hollow Boys, and Teenage Moods on Saturday, December 14, at 7th St. Entry; 612-332-177
It's just that sort of tension — between irreverent humor and depression, between drunken excess and sober reflection — that drives France Camp's raw, lacerating rock 'n' roll. With its spry melodies and jagged hooks, it's a surfy blend that sounds more Orange County than Hennepin County. But between the hair-raising shouts and schizophrenic solos, it constantly threatens to tear itself apart.
Somehow, it's a far stabler environment than its spiritual predecessor, Nice Purse. That band — which included France Camp members Simonson, guitarist James Wolfeatens and, at one point, drummer Kyle Kimm — was dissolved by its own acidity after one member threw a keyboard at his bandmate at a band practice. As Simonson explains, there was something else too: "I went through this weird phase in my life where I was actually happy for a little while, and that made these songs that didn't really fit the Nice Purse style," he says.
If France Camp already sounds familiar, here's why: Simonson briefly took to referring to himself by that moniker a few years ago when Nice Purse bandmate Ian Nygaard suggested it as a band name. But Simonson's two years spent playing bass and touring with another volatile Minneapolis garage-rock band, Howler, also fed into France Camp, the band. "I saw a lot of different cities and different scenes and a lot of it didn't really make sense to me," he recalls. Life on the road and dealing with record labels pushed him focus on his own music. "I write, or start writing, too many fucking songs to be constantly touring."
The band say they already have three albums' worth of unreleased music, but it was only about four months ago that France Camp as it is now began to fully take shape. That's when Dylan Rosebringeth, who went to school in Chaska with Simonson, joined as the bassist. "Something was always evolving and didn't feel complete just yet," says Wolfeatens. "When [Rosebringeth] came on board, that was it. That was the point that was like, 'Okay, this is the time.'"
Eager to capitalize, the band went to Ecstattic Studio and cut a record in only two days. The resulting eight-song France Camp EP brims with that urgency, summed up best by a song like "Let's Roll," where Simonson implores, "Baby, you can dance the night into morning/And then we can drink the days away."
Yet, the recording sessions themselves were a sort of microcosm for workings of the band, and especially its tendency for self-sabotage. "We were so excited about recording that... we came with two guitars and a 24-pack and a couple bottles of gin, and we were just twisted," recalls Simonson. Producer Ali Jaafar was so disgusted with the band that he spat in Simonson's face. "He said, and I quote, 'Get out of my studio and call me when you're not drunk.' So we showed up the next day less drunk."
Simonson recalls the episode with characteristic nonchalance, but it may have been a turning point: In the months since, he's cut back on his drinking, and admits he used it as a crutch to help cope with his anxiety. On the night of the Triple Rock show, he drinks nothing but chamomile tea — though you could be forgiven for suspecting otherwise. While performing, he stumbles through excited, nonsensical stage banter, dives into the crowd, and drops to one knee in front of Kimm's drum kit, throwing his arms up as though to present an offering.
Afterward, he wanders through the crowd, smiling happily and giving out bear hugs, even running across the room and out the door to thank his friends for coming to the show. That may be the "real" Jay Simonson: warm, genuine, and overjoyed to be playing music.