INTERVIEW

Retro jumpers, vintage keyboards and old photos all go towards making up the twee and fuzzy dream-pop duo Summer Camp, comprised of music journalist Elizabeth Sankey and singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley.

summercamp1

Retro jumpers, vintage keyboards and old photos all go towards making up the twee and fuzzy dream-pop duo Summer Camp, comprised of music journalist Elizabeth Sankey and singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley. So it’s fitting that we should find ourselves in Mary’s Lunch Box on White Hart Lane – a modest greasy spoon that we’ve settled in until their photo shoot.

“Thank you, do you have any milk? Can I do it myself?” Jeremy asks the somewhat baffled waitress as she hands him his tea. He’s worried they’ll put too much in. “Tea and milk – it’s an important thing,” Elizabeth concedes before sliding across the table a copy of the fanzine they’ve made to accompany their album. With the same title, ‘Welcome to Condale’ – a fictitious place they’ve conceptualised for the theme of the record – the front cover image reaches around to reveal two gawky teenagers in prom dress on the back. This isn’t Summer Camp, it’s just another of their many random and dated photos, something that Elizabeth has been collecting for years. You’ll notice that all their artwork follows in this vein.

Jeremy explains that, “having these photos makes you hear the music differently. In a way it makes it appeal more. I don’t know if you’ve seen the blog that we’ve got [wearesummercamp.com] with more photos along these lines, but it’s great because we have people sending in their own photos that we project behind us when we play. So, to me it just gives an atmosphere. I can’t really explain it.”

But Elizabeth doesn’t think it suits the sound. “Well, it does,” she falters, “but it is one of those things where because you hear the music with those images, they fit together. I guess the things that we write about – growing up and being a teenager – do correlate with nostalgia and looking at old photos, but I don’t know if it necessarily…” She trails off and Jeremy tells us that in the early days they used to look at the photos and think “Ok, this is the kind of band we are, so what kind of songs are we writing to fit that framework?”

In a sense, they still stick to a strict structure in the characters they use and the way they approach writing. “You know John Hughes, the film director?” Jeremy asks. “All his films are set in the same fictional small town and we realised that we could do the same thing, in that we could make a place that would act as the framework where different characters from different songs could actually interact. I mean not really, because they don’t exist, but fictionally.”

This is where the fanzine truly shines. It’s like a scrapbook of diary entries, newspaper cuttings, retro ads, photos and notes that expand on the lives of characters in the songs. For example, the second track on the LP, ‘Brian Krakow,’ is a character taken from the nineties teen drama My So-Called Life. “We watch a lot of American sitcoms,” mentions Jeremy as Elizabeth explains the grizzly-riffed and fuzzed-up number that’s vocally led by Jeremy. “We were watching a lot of My So-Called Life right at the time of recording [the album],” she points out. “Brian is one of the main characters and I wouldn’t say he’s dorky, he is intelligent, but quite socially inept and he’s in love with the main character who is played by Clare Danes – who was 13 even though in it she’s 15 and she has her first kiss ever with Jared Leto – mind-blowing.” Elizabeth rattles this off excitably. You can tell it’s a major passion for her. “Anyway, Brian never gets the girl because the series gets cancelled before they got together, so we thought we’d make him a super-hot, super-cool guitarist in a band, where he could live out his fantasies and have all of the girls in love with him. We fall in love with characters and people and I personally love writing about bad parties and love going wrong, falling in love – the intense stuff that you feel.”

In ‘Condale’ Brian is in a hot new band called Alleycats and he’s got a serious attitude problem. In their first interview – and remember this is still fiction – he storms out and returns “swigging from a bottle of Jack. He removed the tape from [the interviewer’s] Dictaphone and tried to eat it while the others restrained him.” Louis, who’s quite the lothario in track six (‘Nobody Knows You’ – a dark tale of nobody being there for you when you’re down and out) is also featured in a heated and apologetic lovers exchange through torn up letters. But the third song, ‘I Want You’, tops that with its epic drums and creepy lyrics: If I could, I’d kiss your lips so hard your entire face would bruise, write your name in blood on every wall, it would make the evening news, I’d chain our feet together so that you could never leave, I’d make you love me so much you’d have to ask permission to breathe. It’s crooned dramatically by Elizabeth and emphasised by Cathy’s obsessive diary entry about Brian in the zine.

There’s such a wonderful continuity to it all that they’ve been honing since they covered ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ by The Flamingos back in 2009, a track that Elizabeth put on a mixtape for Jeremy. Now they’ve got the ‘Young’ EP under their belts and a debut album on the way that Jeremy informs us they’ve financed through ‘pledges’. “Basically, people can pre-order our album by ‘pledging’,” he says, “by paying, and we’ve used that money to make the album. Or they can pledge for brownies [made by Elizabeth] or for a CD of demos, a t-shirt. We’ve even gone and played in people’s living rooms or in their gardens. We’ve done a couple of those now and they’re two of the best gigs we’ve ever done because you know that people care and are really excited to have you.”

There’s a long list of things to pledge for, but among them are production consultations with Jeremy (£50), a signed CD with your name in the credits (£30, but unsurprisingly all have gone), a three-song acoustic set over Skype (£50) or an audio book recording of your choice by Elizabeth (£300-£650), which happens to be another of her jobs.

“Sometimes I’ll do voice-overs,” she clarifies. “When we were doing the album, I did a Disney series called Lucky Fred. I also had a long run of doing hair products that prevent dandruff. I won’t say which one, but I am the voice of dandruff,” she smiles as Jeremy informs us he hasn’t had a day job since he got signed. “But there is this underlying terror that it is all going to end tomorrow.”

Of course it can’t all end tomorrow, the album isn’t released until October 31, on Moshi Moshi/Apricot Recording, and they’ve been working for too long and hard for it to bomb, plus the charming and unique pocket of time it resides in that doesn’t quite fit the synthy ’80s, but perhaps a Bermuda Triangle close to it that holds Goldfrapp (especially ‘Done Forever’) and Allo Darlin’, is a must-hear.

The two have been penning material for this record since they formed. “We write a lot,” emphasises Jeremy. “We’d written more than sixty songs for the album and we were still writing last week. You don’t really go, ‘I’m going to write the album now’. You just write constantly and then you pick the songs that are the best.” The prime cuts were then handed to Pulp bassist Steve Mackey who was working on production, which Jeremy gushes about.

“It really showed us what kind of band we could be,” he enthuses. “Some producers just chuck everything out and start from scratch. Other producers take what you’ve got and leave it or just make it sound a bit better. But Steve took what we had and really maximised the potential of all of it. Every sound has got the most detail and warmth and punch that you could possibly get out of it.”

“He gave us loads of advice about life stuff, artwork and things like that,” adds Elizabeth. “He was a really interesting and clever man.”

Comparing the EP recordings to the LP, their warm and hazy sound has definitely become a little more polished, although it’s difficult to tell through the lo-fi fog. What kind of gear do they use to get that sound in the first place? “We use ’80s synths and ’80s drum-machine sounds,” answers Jeremy, taken aback. “It’s funny you ask that because I care very deeply about it, but I generally assume the vast majority of people don’t really care. Sometimes I tweet that I’ve got a new keyboard, and I don’t get much response, but if I tweet that I’ve just had a nice cup of Earl Grey, I’ll get like 20-30 tweets back arguing about milk.

“But gear isn’t really important. What is important is that there is so much free software that anyone can make something that sounds good quite easily. I like using hardware synths because it forces you to actually change the settings by hand, whereas on a computer you need to change one thing at a time with a mouse, and having the real thing is more tactile and more fun.”

“I think Jeremy has a really good ear for harmonies and melodies,” says Elizabeth, particularly in the car, she reveals, where he’ll always harmonise with you if you’re singing to a song. “And he’s always got a million ideas,” she continues. “I think that’s what makes the difference. The gear he uses is pretty normal really.”

(Nothing in their studio costs more than £600.)

“It’s just stuff that anyone’s got,” states Jeremy. “It’s the songs that are important. Elizabeth is a really amazing songwriter, which I think came to her as quite a surprise as she had never written songs before the band.”

“I had,” counters Elizabeth in a cheeky and matter-of-fact way. “When I was 12 I wrote an amazing song called ‘Hip Replacement’, which was all about how celebrities live in a fake world and inside they’re all decrepit and old – it was pretty deep. Maybe I’ll dig it out.”

Summer Camp – Ghost Train (viral) from Paddy Power on Vimeo.

When Elizabeth was younger she had wanted to be an actress, so she enrolled in drama lessons. “I’d always loved music and wanted to be a part of it, but I thought it was something untouchable and I didn’t think I had any musical ability whatsoever.”

After leaving drama school she moved back to her parents’ house to try and make it as an actress. “I had this mentality of hitting the big time. I got an agent and it was great, but I didn’t get any jobs, so my agent dropped me and then I was just living at home. So I got this job in a burger restaurant two days a week and there would be moments when people would say, ‘How old are you?’ and I’d say 24, and they’d say, ‘No way, I thought you were 17’ and I’d be like, ‘Ha you thought I was 17! I’m 24! Hang on…that means I’m 24 and this is what I’m doing with my life’. That was for six months. It was tough.

“But when we began to play live, it was very nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what was going to happen or if I was even going to be able to do it,” she continues. “It took quite a long time for me to get used to that. So I think we weren’t that good live for a few months.”

“Yeah, well, I think we’ve learnt a lot now,” Jeremy interjects. “We’ve been a band for four times longer than we had at that point. We’ve figured out how to, you know, get your shit together.”

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »