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Camper van Beethoven members on coming out, performing
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Alternative rock band Camper Van Beethoven broke into the music scene with "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and enjoyed major success with a cover of "Pictures of Matchstick Men."

After disbanding, lead singer David Lowery formed the group Cracker, David Immergluck joined Counting Crows and several others, including gay vocalist and guitarist Victor Krummenacher, formed Monks of Doom.

Before performing together at a recent sold out show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Lowery and Krummenacher sat down to discuss their history together.

Windy City Times: David, are you originally from Texas?

David Lowery: I was born in Texas. My father was in the Air Force so we moved all over the place. I have actually spent more of my life now on the East Coast.

Victor Krummanacher: I was born in Riverside, which is about 15 miles from where David and I met. I went to Santa Cruz [and] then San Francisco, until this year, [when] I moved to Southern California.

WCT: How did you two meet?

DL: He met through my sister for bass lessons, then we just decided to start a band together.

VK: I met you at a party talking about the Buzzcocks.

DL: We bonded over some seven inch music singles that my English cousins had given me.

WCT: I saw Camper Van Beethoven open for 10,000 Maniacs in 1989 in Nashville. Was the band originally meant to be experimental?

DL: I had been in a band before that with a bunch of people playing the wrong instruments we wanted to learn. It fell apart, but it was what we did with Camper. I would switch to guitar and Victor was learning bass. It was experimental in the way that we were learning what we could play. It limited the chords and melodies we could play, so we did ska and instrumental things.

VK: We all had other serious bands in the '80s. When Camper would play there would be more people there.

DL: We would get a six pack of beer and do the Camper rehearsal. It was us having fun. We developed all these songs and started playing live shows.

WCT: "Borderline," from Key Lime Pie, was my driving song.

DL: I was just trying to figure out the chords to that and bring it back into the set. It is very complex the way it changes.

WCT: How did you come out as gay to the band, Victor?

VK: It was awkward. I was aware, like a lot of people, pretty young. I think a lot of people were aware as well.

DL: We kind of knew, but then thought, "Maybe not…"

VK: I had a lot of girlfriends. I just hung out with one of my exes last night. I have managed to maintain friendships with most of them.

Frankly, it was anticlimactic because everyone in the band simply said, "I love you." It was very reinforcing. When I came out to my family, my dad had a hard time, but my mom said she knew since I was 12. It was a like a classic coming out 1980s movie. My uncle who was a nuclear engineer asked if I wanted a martini. He said, "Everybody knows, so let's have a drink and continue on."

I have known people that had horrible experiences.

DL: In retrospect, there wasn't a place for people to come out in those days. It was just announcing it to us. It was word of mouth.

When I was dating someone they got me mixed up with Victor and thought I was gay. People confused us in the grapevine of bands.

VK: I went to the same gym as Bob Mould from Husker Du and Grant Hart from that band was bisexual so we hung out regularly. Michael Stipe and I never talked about it. We talk about being gay now and wonder why we didn't deal with it then. Nobody was really dealing with it.

I had just come out and it turned out to be the last Camper tour. We were playing the Electric Ballroom and Pete Shelley from the Buzzcocks came up and kissed me. He was such a huge hero for me and just started flirting with me. I don't know what was going on there, but I was shocked.

WCT: I once asked 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant if she knew about R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe being gay and she said no—that they were just dating each other and were happy.

VK: Michael was pretty fluid. That was how it was.

WCT: It just means a lot to me after listening to the music for so long that there's a gay member in Camper Van Beethoven all this time.

VK: Last night, my friend Patrick Goodwin—who is the guitar player in Pansy Division—came to the Denver show and I just saw Luis Illades, the drummer, who I dated for a time. It was 1998 when we were going out. They were opening for Steve Albini and Green Day. It was a completely different world back then. I felt like the old guy hanging out!

WCT: What advice would you give to new bands?

DL: It seems simple, but just play the stuff they enjoy playing. If you don't like a song then you end up carrying it around like an albatross for the next 30 years.

The object is not really popularity. It's finding people who like the same thing that you like. We found that out by accident.

WCT: What songs are an albatross for you?

DL: There are only a handful of them. We never play "No More Bullshit" and several Camper songs that are throwaways. There is one song in my Cracker catalogue that I think is too mean so I won't play it.

VK: It is interesting that you bring it up because the band has been together 36 years now. We were in Seattle and there were a lot of kids at the show. It is bigger than us now and there's a responsibility to it. When I watch people respond I see how important it is to them. In some ways it's more important to them than it is to me. I like to respect that.

WCT: How do you narrow down a set list from a big catalogue?

DL: Carlton Owens from Cracker is playing drums with us on this tour, so he's been learning songs and throwing them at us. He will learn songs and it is completely passive for us to do them when he is ready. It's cool though, because it represents a view point that isn't from the inside. It's from the outside.

Oh, another bit of advice I give young bands is to have a compound. We didn't even achieve Ween's level of success. You have to have a compound!

WCT: What's one thing you want to be remembered for?

DL: We always leaned toward the Turkish instrumentals. A Greek pop star did his version of "Opening Theme" from Key Lime Pie to begin his album in the '90s. That went completely full circle. We are doing our fake version of Greek music and here he is covering us!

Look for more CVB and Cracker concert dates at .

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