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November 28, 2005

Influential alumni indie rock band returns to UCSC

By Scott Rappaport

By the time Camper Van Beethoven first played the Catalyst in downtown Santa Cruz in 1986, the band had already completed a national tour as the opening act for R.E.M.

Camper Van Beethoven, captured in the redwoods behind Kresge College. From left:  Jonathan Segel, David Lowery, Frank Funaro, Victor Krummenacher, and Greg Lisher.
Photo: Jim Mackenzie

One of the most influential indie rock bands of the 1980s, the idiosyncratic group— featuring three UCSC alums--returned to Kresge College in November to give a free concert for UCSC students.

Camper won widespread critical acclaim and took college radio by storm with its first three albums—full of satiric, irony-laced lyrics and a dazzling array of musical influences.

After the band’s first album hit the Top 30 in England and its first three recordings all made the Top Ten in Village Voice polls, Camper went on to make its major label debut on Virgin Records in 1989, releasing the landmark album Key Lime Pie before dissolving in 1990 during a tour in Sweden. Following a hiatus of more than a decade, the band got back together in 2002 and last year released a new CD titled New Roman Times.

But it all started at UCSC. 

Although the band was conceived in the inland empire of San Bernardino County when guitarist/vocalist David Lowery (B.A. math, Kresge ’84) first met bassist Victor Krummenacher (music major, Porter), the two musicians quickly relocated to UCSC where they eventually formed a core band of six members that included drummer Chris Pederson (B.A. philosophy, College Eight ’83), violinist/guitarist Jonathan Segel (B.A. music, Porter ’85), drummer Chris Molla (B.A. music, Porter ’88), and guitarist Greg Lisher, part-owner of the local store Artisans, on the Pacific Garden Mall.

“The last time we played at Kresge was in 1983, outside in front of the laundromat,” recalled Lowery after the Kresge show. “We moved to Santa Cruz and that’s when the band really developed. I lived at Kresge College in 1980-81 and we all had side projects until Camper Van Beethoven became more popular than all of them. We started playing on campus and then began playing shows at house parties in town.”

Lowery added that UCSC and the town of Santa Cruz had a tremendous influence on all of the band members. “I think there was a nexus of people in Santa Cruz who did a lot of interesting things in the late ’70s through the ’80s—from film and dance, to art and journalism.”

Camper began to play regularly in Davis, San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. In the summers they went on regional tours, playing gigs at nightclubs in college towns around Arizona and the Southwest. Incorporating a wide variety of innovative musical styles, the band saw itself as an antidote to the punk rock bands of the era.

“We were playing in front of a lot of punk rock bands—people like Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys, The Minutemen, and The Meat Puppets all took a liking to us,’ said Lowery. “But we dispensed with the dogma of punk. We wanted to play a classic rock for our own generation which included everything from punk rock and early electric music, to ska, British folk music, and West Coast psychedelia, to world and surf music.”

“We saw ourselves more in the tradition of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Kaleidoscope (founded by David Lindley), Captain Beefheart, and the surf bands that came from the area where we grew up, ” Lowery added.

After the band split in 1990, the various members continued to pursue a number of projects. Lowery released six albums with his acclaimed band Cracker and began working as a producer for bands such as Sparklehorse and FSK. Krummenacher, Lisher, Pederson, and late Camper addition David Immergluck (guitar and various stringed instruments) formed the band Monks of Doom, with Immergluck eventually emerging as an in-demand sideman with John Hiatt and the Counting Crows. And Segel established a solo career, as well as leading the bands Hieronymus Firebrain and Jack & Jill.

Lowery said the free UCSC show—cosponsored by the campus radio station KZSC and Kresge College--was part of a brief Bay Area tour that also included performances in downtown Santa Cruz and Monterey. “We like to go to an area and stay for a week,” said Lowery. “We’re starting to reintroduce ourselves to northern California, the West Coast, and North America.”

“I’m still doing Cracker and producing,” he added. “And everyone has their own projects. But we still get together to play every few months—this is a lifelong thing for us and an expression of who we are.”


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