It’s no secret that we’re fans of the output of English duo Summer Camp; their nostalgic aesthetic, familiar pop sound and playful pop culture references have struck a chord with us since we first discovered their track Round The Moon back in 2010. Upon their return to the stage at Mercury Lounge last night—they first played the venue during their last tour of the United States—we had the opportunity to catch up with Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley.
The conversation was filled with references to 80s movies and TV shows, like the ones from which they’ve taken samples to pepper throughout tracks with names like Jake Ryan (the love interested of Molly Ringwald’s character in Sixteen Candles), Brian Krakow (the dorky but well-intentioned neighbor and admirer of My So-Called Life‘s heroine Angela Chase) and Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder’s dark popular outcast in Heathers). Their stage show is no different: footage from movies like Footloose, Dirty Dancing, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink are projected behind the band, interspersed with vintage photographs of families and teenagers.
After busying themselves on stage setting up two guitars, drums, a sampler and the projector bearing the image of the ‘Welcome to Condale’ album art (a vintage photo of a girl doing a keg-stand), Elizabeth and Jeremy disappeared from the stage. Before long, the sounds of Jeremy’s acoustic guitar and Elizabeth’s sweet, raw voice rang out from the back of the crowd as they wove their way back to the stage, serenading audience members with an an unplugged rendition of album opener Better Off Without You (they would repeat the performance at the end of the set, this time with the track Losing My Mind).
While anyone who showed up expecting to see 90s alt-pop band Summercamp may have been a little confused and disappointed, they would have been alone. We spoke with Elizabeth and Jeremy before the show to talk about how they made the transition from anonymous “internet band” to Moshi Moshi label signings, wanting to be best friends with Carrie Brownstein, and their interpretation of classic Americana that permeates their lyrics, music videos, album art and stage show. Read about what we learned from the year’s sweetest band below.
On the band’s now-infamous origin:
J: Elizabeth made a mix CD for me and there was a song on it called I Only Have Eyes For You, which is a famous 50s standard. One weekend we were both bored and we ended up recording a cover of it with Elizabeth singing. I’d never heard Elizabeth sing before and I was blown away by how amazing her voice was. Straight away it felt like we had a sound, completely by accident, based around what we heard in the studio that day. We just thought it’d be fun to put up a fake MySpace to pretend a band had done it, and then some blogs found it and thought it was real. That was a complete surprise to us—we hadn’t told anyone about it, there was no way anyone could find it we thought. We wrote a couple of songs—including Ghost Train—and I found out Elizabeth is a really awesome songwriter [she meets this compliment with a humble roll of her eyes]. And now here we are.
E: Before we were a band, I trained to be an actress, and I was going to be very dedicated and disciplined and not worry if I didn’t have an agent or auditions. After about six months, I realized I cant do this. I started writing a blog kind of like Sassy magazine.
J: I was a solo artist. I had released a couple of albums but it wasn’t really going anywhere. Elizabeth’s experience of acting and writing has helped. She’s always been interested in teenage culture—much more so than me—and that’s where all that stuff in the band comes from.
On working with Pulp’s Steve Mackey, who produced ‘Welcome to Condale’:
J: We made a big list of people we’d like to work with and we gave it to [our manager] Louise, and he was one of the people who replied, and he seemed to be really into the music. Working with Steve was amazing because he was really careful about keeping our sound, whereas other people we’d worked with didn’t seem to notice that we had one. He also knew how to make the most of it and push us, and push the songs to their logical best possible conclusions.
E: And he’s very funny, very wise and gave us loads of encouragement and tips in terms of the artwork and our live show. He really has shaped a lot of how we do it, so we really like Steve a lot.
J: A couple of the tracks we co-produced with Ash Workman, who did our EP (‘Young’) and the last Metronomy album. He’s a really talented guy.
On the aesthetic of their album art, promotional material, live shows and music videos:
E: I have been collecting photos like that for years and when we were doing the MySpace we obviously didn’t want to put pictures of ourselves on there, so we just used some of those. They worked really well with the music. I love things that look like that and I love finding images like that. So many people have photos like that—even people growing up 10 years ago probably have family photos like that. It’s such a universal thing.
J: With us, a lot of things that started out as pragmatic or accidental considerations have ended up being the cornerstones of what we do—like the images, like the sound we have…
E: Yeah, like the John Hughes thing was because I had never written lyrics before and we hadn’t worked together before, so it worked to have that framework. Jeremy hadn’t seen all the John Hughes films, so we were watching them as we were writing the record.
J: Even having the projections—which started to make up for the fact that we didn’t have anyone else on stage with us—have now become an integral part of the live show.
E: It took a while for us to be in our own videos, because the aesthetic is so important that we don’t want to mess it up.
J: The video for Better Off Without You was nice, because it was like a halfway house.
On the extent to which they’ve embraced American culture:
J: I think it’s funny how so many great British bands have taken their idea of America, done their rough approximation of it and ended up selling it back to America. Like the Rolling Stones, for instance, were just some posh white kids doing the blues. We’re no different—we have no idea what it’s like to be in America, to live here, to go to high school or go to prom.
E: When we come to America I kind of feel self-conscious of all the American references. It’s not our culture—it’s like we’re stealing something or being like, “Hey! This is what America’s like!”
J: We just have this third-party experience of it through films and books and TV shows, and it’s almost like a dream or memory of America, and that’s what we put into the songs; it’s not actually America, it’s kind of an idea of America.
E: [The references in the song titles] are also like a code for something, like if you meet somebody and you can reference Heathers and they know what you’re talking about, you know you’re probably going to get along. I fall in love with people and characters in film, and we both fell in love with Brian Krakow. We watched My So-Called Life when we were writing and recording the album and when I was a teenager I loved Jordan Catalano, but watching it in my 20s I was like, “Brian! Brian is the star!” He’s so complex.
On what it means to be an Internet band:
J: I think in America we’re probably definitely seen as that [an internet band] more than we are in England, just because we’ve only played a few shows here and been on college radio a little bit. All the opportunities we’ve had in America have come from blog culture, whereas in the UK we’ve had a lot more of a variety of press.
E: We’ve also had people in London who was the first show, where we were really bad—
J: —and they’ve seen us grow up. We’ve worked a lot harder in England, whereas here we haven’t had the chance. That’s why we’re here now.
On where they’re going next and the expectations of being “the next big thing”:
J: It’s great, we’re literally under no pressure whatsoever. I think we’re exactly where we should be. We’re not doing way better than we deserve to be, we haven’t had a one-hit-wonder situation, but equally we’ve done really well. We’re able to live off being musicians and we play shows and people come down and that’s an amazing feeling. Right now, we’re in the perfect position, and hopefully it’s just going to carry on.
E: We have plans for releases this year, and being at Moshi is perfect for us. We’re really excited for this year, and we know what we’re doing for longer than six months in the future—that’s the first time this has happened since we started doing this.
Summer Camp are playing Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery tonight (7 February), Washington’s U Street Music Hall on February 9 and at Echo in LA on February 13, before heading to Europe, Thailand, Mexico and Norway.