The overwhelming need for an intense creative catharsis has fueled many of rock 'n' roll's greatest maniacs. Iggy Pop ground his body into shattered glass to escape the stifling boredom of his trailer park existence in Upper Michigan. Pete Townshend smashed his equipment into smithereens as an effigy to his turbulent childhood. And Patti Smith worked herself into shamanistic conniptions while exploring the dark corners of her spirituality.
Local garage-punk quartet France Camp has an Iggy-archetype of their own in their eponymous frontman, a rail-thin dynamo prone to cross-dressing ensembles and an utter disregard for his own personal safety during the confines of a live show.
When we caught up with the group offstage, Camp (aka Jay Simonson) and bassist Kyle Kimm are a decidedly low-key pair, relaxing with a cup of chamomile on Simonson's porch and joking about their need for a full-time bongo player. But the darkness that fueled much of the songwriting on their new album Purge is never too far from the conversation.
Departing from the sunny, surf-kissed melodies of their self-titled debut EP, Purge follows France Camp into darker, heavier territory, mixing elements of hard psychedellica with pulverizing stoner metal riffs, crafting a far nastier concoction in the process.
The record's title quickly became an apt metaphor for the band's creative headspace, wrestling with their own personal and musical demons and using the album as a release from the swirling negativity they were experiencing. Produced by the impeccable Neil Weir at Blackberry Way Studios, Purge will be released on May 19th by local boutique label, Forged Artifacts.
What's the story with the cover art?
Simonson: James actually had that art in his house, I think he had it hanging up in his staircase, and I was like "Dude, that! That's our next album cover!" I think it's a photographic collage or something, he does a lot of art like that. If we had more money, we probably would have made the vinyl piss-colored.
Why "Purge" as the title?
Simonson:Basically, all of the songs that were written on there were from a purging period of my life, and I thought it was a pretty cool word. It was like a mid-life crisis. I feel like that was the feel that we were doing at that time too, everybody was like, "new direction, purge."
Track 1: "No Love"
Kyle Kimm: We felt pretty strongly about that one from the beginning. That was one of the first songs that we wrote during that period too. Simonson: It's also one of our favorites, you always gotta put your favorite first. When people put it on, you don't want them to say "Next." The first song and the last song on this record are usually our first and last songs of our set, and then anything in between we kind of fuck with.
Track 2: "Mt. Infinite"
The start of this one starts out with a otherworldly bass solo, what's the story behind that?
Kimm: That was all a memory boy delay pedal, and just droning with one string and twisting knobs to get different noises. I also used a little bit of pinch harmonics on that, which you don't normally hear on bass, so that was kind of cool. Simonson: Playing stuff live, I really like to step away from the mic and just see what kind of noises I can make. Pretty soon we're gonna be an instrumental band. Kimm: I think Mt. Infinite is instrumental for the first two and a half minutes, that's an entire song basically. Simonson: We were actually going to put this song first, we were talking about doing that, but it didn't work with that intro. "Is this even a song? Next band please.".
Track 3: "My Warpaint"
Simonson: This was the last song that we wrote on the first EP. I think towards the end of that first EP was where we had started getting into the Purge tones. That was one where we were transitioning between bass players and a few other things, and we wanted another shot at it. I don't think it was something where we were hoping people would say, "Thank god they redid that one." I think we just wanted it.
That scream is one of my favorite moments from your live shows. Was it tough to capture the energy of that in the studio?
Simonson: That was really, really fun. Neil Weir was like "Uh...do you want another shot at that one?" and I was like "Yes." I think I did it like six times, and then he had at least six takes to go through to decide. Live, when we first started doing that, it was one little two-second scream, and it just kept building up. Kimm: Now you're putting the mic in your mouth and choking on it. Simonson: There was a while where every time, I would try to get it longer but now I'm getting old. It's taking it's toll, I'm gonna start sounding like Metallica if I keep doing it.
It makes for a really cathartic moment in a song that lyrically, is pretty dark. What kind of experiences are you drawing from there?Simonson: When I started writing the vocals for that one, that was one of the first songs that I wrote after a terrible...that was the beginning of the purging. I had jumped off of [Kimm's] roof. I think we were just sitting up there and talking about it, like "that tree's really far," and I would have been dead if I hadn't made the jump. Kimm: There were power lines underneath, he was inches from them. Simonson: I made it, but then I slid down. I thought I would be able to just grab on like Bear Grylls or something, but I just took out all these branches and literally slid all the way down and had all these cuts on my arm. I'm pretty sure that I was like "I don't care if I die right now, I hate life." [page]
Track 4: "Memory High"
Simonson: This was actually a song that I wrote for this project that I also started, which was supposed to be more sad, singer-songwriter stuff, called Pina Cloud, and "Memory High" was on that record that I released. That was my favorite song on that record, and I wanted to take it back to France Camp and see what we could do with it.
My favorite lyric -- and James had told me that this is his favorite lyric too -- is, "My body is a church where no priest is found/ I feel so damn empty I hope I burn down." "Memory High" is supposed to be about when you sit in your bed all day and think about everything, and you realize you've been looking at your ceiling for four hours and your eyes are glazed over.
Track 7: "Marisha"
You can really hear some fun studio wizardy going on in this track. Did you have fun playing around in Old Blackberry Way studios?
Kimm: That was actually the only we didn't record there. We recorded that in the basement of our old house. Simonson: Ian Nygaard [Howler/Nice Purse] recorded it, and that was the first song that we recorded and had done. I was worried that it wasn't going to sound like the rest of the record, and then when I put it together, it was surprising. Usually you can tell that the drums were recorded completely different, or something, but for that it just fit. I think I recorded the solo for that in Ian's bedroom without any of my clothes, but we ended up cutting my naked solo. That's what we usually try to do in France Camp when we're recording solos, we take off as much as we can, kinda get that bare feel.
How did the home recording compare to the experience of working with Neil Weir?
Simonson: That was my favorite part of recording, it just really seemed like he was really taking it in too. If you were to list another instrument on the record, it would be Neil Weir. He was just so responsible for the sound of the record, and he put more than I could ask from a producer into it.
Track 9: "Midnight"
This one seems to be your big lead single, it even got picked up for some publicity by Vice. What's that experience been like for you?
Simonson: This was actually the second single we released, "Marisha" was the first but it didn't really shine the way we expected it to [laughs]. "Midnight" was the one that Vice seemed to like better. Forged Artifacts sent it to them, but when Matt [Linden, FA owner] told me, I didn't even believe him until I saw it on Twitter.
This was originally gonna be on the first France Camp record, but didn't make it due to lineup changes. This was one where James brought it too the table and wrote the lyrics, and it started off with [Former bass player] Max singing. When we switched to this lineup, I decided that I liked the song and wanted to keep that song, so I decided to sing it.
Track 10: "C'est La Vie"
This is one of my live favorites. Jay always seems to do something crazy and potentially fatal like climb a giant monitor stack during the noise breakdown.
Simonson: That's a great climbing song. I also climb on "Warpaint", there's a couple of good climbing songs. Then there's a couple of songs where I climb, but then I forget that I have to sing. Kimm: This is the one song that we get to improvise on and freak out the most. Simonson: This is the one that I feel the worst for making Neil work on, because we went in there and did like, three takes, and I can't imagine what he had to decipher through of just noodling. But he did it! He put it together,
I had heard that after you released the record, Jay was planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Is that still happening?
Simonson: Actually, right when this record finished, this band just went through the worst homeless crisis ever. James' van broke down, his guitar broke, we had to lose our practice space, I was moving into a place where I couldn't make noise, ever. That trip was going to be the final step of my purge process, but then we put out the record and it kind of made sense to not leave forever. But I'm still going to do it!
France camp has made a tradition out of doing prize raffles at their release shows. What kind of prizes can you tease us with?
Simonson: I can guarantee at every release, there's going to be a dead fish. There was a giant, poisonous spider last time. Kimm: The winner didn't want it, so I took it home and had it as a pet for a while. Then it died in a "cage transfer," let's put it that way. I loved that thing, I was so sad when I killed it. I mean...I had to. I was transferring it into a bigger cage, because I wanted it to have a bigger cage, and it fell out and ran away. So I killed it with my bass, because I had my bass with me.
France Camp's Purge release show is Friday, May 15, 2015 at the 7th Street Entry, with Stereo Confession, Daisy Chains, Nancy's Raygun and DJ Tickle Torture. 8pm, $6, 18+.
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