RVA #29: From house shows to Egghunt Records, a look at the rise of Camp Howard

by | Aug 14, 2017 | ROCK & INDIE

There are few bands like Camp Howard that have left such an impression on the city of Richmond. In the span of two short years, the band has received unanimous acclaim within the scene and beyond with their smart approach for writing eclectic indie rock numbers. In their work, they display a penchant for understanding and focusing on their influences, and truly excel in creating a dynamic voice that is unequivocally Camp Howard. With the substantial buzz they’ve built for themselves so far and the strong reception to their EP Juice, out now via Egghunt Records, there is no denying that Camp Howard could become the next name that we hear mentioned when conversations are steered towards discussing what’s great in Richmond music.

 This article was featured in RVAMag #29: Summer 2017. You can read all of issue #29 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.

As songwriter Nic Perea was playing gigs around town, the early formations of Camp Howard began to take shape. Guitarist Matthew Benson had just moved back to Richmond and began to play with Perea as well as drummer Brian Noble Larson. It wasn’t long until the trio began to turn ears and gained a bit of momentum behind the project. It would be the meeting of the minds between songwriters Perea and Wes Parker that would lead to Camp Howard playing their first show during the summer of 2015. These early shows showed a quick sonic change for the group.

“When we started out playing in high school, we were playing mainly Fleet Foxes-like acoustic songs, Perea recalls. “It wasn’t until we got to college and we started seeing bands playing these loud, shreddy songs that made us want to start playing loud rock music.”

Some of these early shows would also show waves of influences for the band. “There were some shows that we just ended up playing really loud, punk sets and that’s something I love about playing music,” Perea adds. “We pull from so much that it seems like a disservice to not pursue any weird songwriting idea you have and just see what happens. A lot of those basement shows were pretty crazy, but it was pretty rewarding to just play whatever we felt like and maybe be a different version of Camp Howard at every show.”

The band are quick to mention that it was their adoption into the house show scene that definitely left the largest impact on the group. “We would play shows over at Emilio’s and see guys like Devon Hammer from HEADLESSMANTIS and we were thinking that he couldn’t care less about us and our band,” Larson jokes. “After we went over and started chatting with Devon and eventually other people from Ashes and Lance Bangs, we started getting invited to play house shows and that’s where I think we really hit this cool stride of feeling like we were connecting with crowds around town.”

Perea himself was surprised by the scene, which had a level of attentiveness he wasn’t anticipating. “When we started playing at houses around town, we started to notice this trend happening where it would be a party atmosphere up until a band would start playing,” he remarks. “It’s as if someone would go around the house, make the announcement that someone was starting and they would all stop what they were doing to pay attention and listen to whomever was playing.”

The time arrived where the band began to start thinking about recording and they certainly weren’t hurting for selecting songs to be featured on their self-titled debut. “We are constantly writing songs,” Parker explains. “Even at this point, there are songs that aren’t on the full-length or this upcoming EP that we have been playing out for quite a while. One of the big things that we end up doing is writing songs pretty quickly and wanting to work them out live to see how they work in that environment.” In this exercise, the band has easily road tested dozen of songs that may have come to fruition in one of their respective writing sessions days earlier. As they were continuing to write, one chance encounter would lead to the band meeting an excited engineer that was quick to offer their services with capturing the band’s songs.

“After one of our shows, Russell Lacy came up to us and mentioned that he really loved the set and wanted to record us,” Parker remembers. The group ventured to {recording studio} Virginia Moonwalker in Mechanicsville for a series of weekends writing and recording songs that would eventually end up being Camp Howard’s self-titled debut full-length. The band had also heard stories of how Pete Curry had recorded his debut full-length, Advice On Love, out there and Curry’s rave appraisal of the process left a strong impact with the band.

On top of that, the opportunity to record straight to tape seemed like an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. “The vibe out there was great with just going in, recording, Russell making us food, and feeling like we could just get lost in recording,” Parker says. “I know we definitely butted heads a bit over which songs that we wanted to include and in hindsight, I was opposed to putting “She Doesn’t Mind” on the record and now, I stand corrected.”

Every Camp Howard song feels like it nails a musical reveal and this is certainly the case on their debut release. “Heavy Blow” captures the listener with floating guitars that live within a lazy, psych dream. As the energetic blasts hit you half way through the song, listeners question if they are even listening to the same song. “Llorando Y Furnando” is a quaint crescendo of flamenco spirit and caressing romantic verses that evoke memories of journeying through any exciting terrain. “Dog” trails confidently with the finesse of garage rock with estimable wit and charming guitar interplay. The aforementioned “She Doesn’t Mind” delivers on what might be one of the strongest choruses on the entire album. And “You’ve Been Misled” feels like a perfect pop song that is contagious with every listen.

As they were wrapping up with the debut, the band began to wonder about how they were going to release it. The solutions for this problem came quick though and left the band feeling inspired by the support they were receiving from the local music scene. “When we talked about releasing it, a few close friends that we had met through playing out offered to help almost immediately,” Perea says. Citrus City, Crystal Pistol, and Trrrash Records had all reached out to the band to assist. As a result, the band released their debut full-length in Match of 2016. This was a little under a year from when the band played their first show as Camp Howard in the basement of friend Colin Thibodeauxxx’s house in the summer of 2015.

Before the record had been recorded and released, the band saw tremendous amounts of support from a number of regional acts. One in particular would be the experimental indie rock duo Illiterate Light that hails from Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“We went on a short tour with them when we first started out and it felt like we got a good impression for what we needed to do to efficiently tour,” Perea says. “They’ve been really good to us by having us over at their house in Harrisonburg whenever we are passing through and just being huge support,” Parker adds. Along with this genuine camaraderie, Illiterate Light began to cover one of Camp Howard’s tunes. “They started playing ‘Dog’ live and incorporating a Led Zeppelin bridge and it sounds crazy to us and it’s really flattering too,” Benson mentions. Perea agreed, adding “it’s fun to hear our friends play some of our tunes, because we’ve definitely done the same thing. We used to play one of Pete Curry’s tunes around a lot too.”

Camp Howard also found themselves in a position where they were being invited to play bigger shows as a result of garnering quite a bit of attention. “When we first started and we were playing under my name, we would more times than not play to maybe five people,” Perea reveals. “That would sometimes include the other bands performing. After a while, we started playing to larger audiences that kept growing and growing. If that’s the case, I figure we’re doing it right.” In this case, these bands would include the likes of White Laces, Avers, and Manatree. A common thread between these three were being affiliated with local label Egghunt Records and this would inevitably lead to a relationship with the label.

“I think it may have actually been the article in RVA Magazine where we saw that Egghunt wanted to do an EP series and we just reached out to them to see if they had decided on which bands they were going to work with,” Benson says. The band had more than enough material to record a follow-up. After a few short conversations, Egghunt owner Adam Henceroth was quickly on board to include the band in the “Hatched” EP series that would see releases coming out throughout 2017 with Big Baby, Dazeases, Doll Baby, and Camp Howard themselves.

Another tie would be getting to work with Adrian Olsen of Avers at his studio Montrose for the recording of the Juice EP. “It was cool to get the chance to work with Russell and Adrian and have two pretty, different, unique experiences,” Larson says. “We were able to track everything and finish up in three days which Adrian said was pretty impressive to him.” The six-song EP covers a lot of new ground for the band. “Mismo” is the group’s attempt at channeling The Kinks and doing so impressively. “Fucked Up” is an ode to the earlier days of the band diving right into the heavier version of their musical selves. “The difference with this EP and the full-length is that a lot of these songs felt more collaborative,” Larson adds. “Nic or Wes would bring in mostly finished songs when the band first started and by the time we started working on these songs, we had figured out how to write together and I think Juice is a good example of that.”

One of the truly fascinating stories from the recording process was working on the title track. “Juice” is a pop lullaby that shows the range of the group and also led to them working with someone close to Camp Howard. “That song started as this weird electronic thing that I put together,” Parker says. “When I showed it to the band, they were really into it and I had to figure out how to play it with actual instruments. What was really great was getting to work with my brother Jonathan Parker, who helped develop the melody for that tune. I’m hoping that he can join us for a few live performances down the line.” And to make matters even crazier for the band, the release of “Juice” would be through the online music publication Consequence Of Sound. In what felt like an overnight occurrence, the band would wake to the song having been streamed more than 30,000 times on Spotify.

As the band gears to release their new EP and contemplates their next set of songs, they see nothing but positive opportunities ahead. “We are just going to keep operating as we have up to this point and keep touring and writing and see where this can lead to,” Perea says. “Even though we still play songs like ‘Dog’ because people request it all the time, we are still constantly writing. It’s this means of self-expression that only songwriting can provide that works for all of us,” Parker adds.

When asked if the band feels like all of these streamlined successes might be leading to them “making it” in a sense, Parker is quick to mention what made him feel like that they were initially on the right track. “My older brother, Alan, was back from tour and he came up to me and mentioned that people were talking about our band and he was hearing good things,” he explains. “My brothers never really talk about my band at all and the fact that they were hearing about us from others seemed like a good sign that we were doing alright.”

With the triumphs of Camp Howard and the much-hyped Juice EP, it would come as no shock that the band would continue to be the center of conversations for the remainder of 2017. And at this rate, who’s to say that we won’t have more music from the band by this time next year.

Above photos by Drew Scott and Farrah Fox

Shannon Cleary

Shannon Cleary

Radio/Words/Stories/Jokes/Bass Booking Agent at Flora, Bassist at Clair Morgan and Music director at WRIR 97.3 fm Richmond Independent Radio

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