Putting The Past in a Grave: An Introduction to Camp Werewolf’s Emo


Camp Werewolf is an emo band, but they aren’t reviving anything.

When I saw them play for the first time at Bandito’s Burrito Lounge, they introduced themselves as a Daughtry cover band with only one original song. They then played the original song, which was just an emo cover of Bags by Clairo.

When I asked them to explain this ongoing bit, I got a few laughs, but I got some sincerity too. Turns out bedroom pop and emo cross artistic paths more often than I thought.

“Clairo is SICK! She’s emo,” explained Kian Khalilian, the band’s third guitarist.

“She is emo! That song specifically lends itself to an emo band,” interjected drummer Charlie Best.

Alejandro Cruz (call him Alo, though) – lead singer, main songwriter, and rhythm guitarist – started making music in his bedroom a few years back, so the comparison isn’t too far off. He came up with the name Camp Werewolf as an act of inner-child healing.

“I think I had just seen movies where it’s like, oh, the kids go to summer camp as a rite of passage,” he explained. “They have some awkward experiences, crazy experiences, whatever, and I grew up kind of romanticizing that.”

Camp Werewolf
Photo by Haley Bartel

Cruz didn’t ever go to summer camp. “My parents said that’s not for people like us. I would elaborate into that, but it kind of made me feel alienated. I was like ‘Oh, I wish I had that experience, I can only see it on TV or whatever. But then I thought to myself, kind of laughing… I was pretty awkward, kind of a hairy kid. So even if I had gone to camp, I would’ve been the camp werewolf,” he shared.

These feelings of exclusion fueled Camp Werewolf’s start. “Even if I had gone I probably would have still been awkward and an outcast. I wouldn’t have had those glorified experiences,” Cruz said. He wanted to make music for people that also felt alienated.

It was under this vision that the band came together. He met bassist Patrick Allen and guitarist Nate Cox at their own parties. 

“I went upstairs to my room, a few people were hanging out, and he was just in there playing guitar. Some Tigers Jaw covers,” Cox said. “It’s a very singer-songwriter thing to do,” Allen assured me.

Shortly after these fated meetings, they added Best on as a drummer, and they brought Khalilian on as a third guitarist just a few months ago.

When we talked, the band was sitting across from me on a massive, worn-out L-shaped couch that practically swallowed them whole. They had just played the Citrus City residency at the Camel, and were buzzing with excitement.

This was no surprise – they’ve had a busy last few months. Prior to that show, they went on an East Coast mini-tour, and since then have played the Camel (again), Ipanema Cafe, and Gallery Five. They are also in the beginning stages of recording their first album with Fisher King Records

Almost all of the songs on this upcoming album were written by Cruz, a couple by Cox, but input from the others has transformed them into what is heard in their sets. Cruz initially leaned towards a prettier, more intimate sound, but his bandmates pushed him in another direction, one that was darker and heavier.

“A lot of our sound has kind of come from taking those soft, acoustic bedroom guitar sounds and transitioning to a full rock band,” Cox said.

“All the different writing styles, and having Kian now in the band, I think that’s the ideal,” Allen said. “Everyone’s on an equal level of songwriting ability and it’s not on one person to come up with every idea.”

Camp Werewolf
Photo by Haley Bartel

This tension and collaboration of ideas has led to an awesome set, one that I’ve had the privilege of seeing a handful of times; it’s sweet, yet aggressive, melancholic yet energizing. Moments of rage and screaming lungs out onstage are followed by soft guitar lulls and soothing vocals. To engage with their music is to feel intense, varied emotion within the span of a half hour. 

Having three guitarists has helped them achieve this. “Alo is the rhythm guitarist, he can do some leads if he wants to, but he wants to stay in the chorus, the strumming structure. Khalilian is just like the master of tapping and finding little melodies and noodling, and Nate’s the bridge between the two,” Allen said.

Even though Cruz created the vision for Camp Werewolf, their sound is ever-changing. They each have their own understanding of what emo is, and are eager to incorporate that into future work. 

“I feel like we’re all really ready to step into the evolved sound,” Best said. “We want to be more complex.”

Khalilian agreed. They’d like to see the band “go for prettier and uglier at the same time.” It’s all about contrast, which is important in a genre defined so heavily by its past.

Emo has had its heyday of sorts, defined by recklessness and a lack of accountability, and they don’t necessarily resonate with that. “I don’t even remember the vibes of that era, but it was very much like ‘The night is ours. We can do anything we want to and there’s no consequences to our actions,’” said Khalilian, “and then a bunch of emo kids fucking embodied that and are ruining people’s lives.”

Camp Werewolf isn’t interested in ruining anyone’s lives, nor do they want to embody outdated ideals. Nostalgia is not at play here – what’s happening with Camp Werewolf is far more forward thinking.

“I’m interested in burying emo under sincerity,” Khalilian said. “In a grave,” Best added. 

If that sounds like your thing, you can listen to Camp Werewolf’s EP here.

Top photo by Noah St Peter

Haley Bartel

Haley Bartel

After going to school for journalism in New York, I somehow landed in Richmond. I enjoy music, and I like to write about it and dance to it.

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