Roll over Beethoven, 'cause this band is back

Camper Van Beethoven reunites with 'New Roman Times,' first new album in over a decade

It's been the year of the reunions. Numerous bands that our parents revered during the '70s and '80s have recently rejoined forces for new songs, albums and tours. Jonathan Segal, guitarist for Camper Van Beethoven, a band whose heyday was in the mid-'80s and has recently reunited, notes that many bands are doing so in reaction to the current state of music.

"[Bands are reunited] because they've been listening to the radio and realizing that the stuff the younger bands are doing is crap," Segal said. "Well, of course, it's not all crap, but so many of the younger bands that I've heard are not moving forward, they're looking backwards and being nostalgic. It all sounds like it's from 1981. The other thing is, for a lot of us older bands ... we've continued being musicians and so getting back together we can all play better."

Camper, who broke up in 1989, will release "New Roman Times," their first new album in over a decade, on Tuesday on Vanguard Records. The band will also be playing the 9:30 club on tuesday, which, according Segal, will technically be their CD release party. Segal, who was kicked out of the band by singer David Lowery during the initial breakup, explained that there is not a simple reason for Camper's decision to reunite.

"It took place over a course of time really," Segal explained. "First, it started by David asking me to play violin with Cracker on a Clash tribute. So after we had not spoken for about seven years and we did that, we started thinking that I could sit in with Cracker sometimes. And then after doing that Viktor [Krummenacher, bass] started playing bass occasionally with Cracker, and then we added Greg [Lisher, guitar] Basically it sort of snow-balled until it was obvious that we had to play as Camper."

Segal notes that despite the bad terms Camper ended on in the '80s, it feels good to be playing in that lineup again.

"When we first started playing together again it was fun," Segal said. "Then when we had actually thought we're going to play as Camper Van Beethoven and we went into the rehearsal studios in New York, and I was playing with these guys, playing these old songs and it was amazing to me because I thought: 'Wow I really know how to play music with these guys.' Despite any band that I've played with before or after that, I felt like these are the people I really learned how to play music with."

After putting together a compilation record of rarities, unreleased cuts and live tracks in 1999 and "Tusk," a cover album, in 2002, Camper decided to record new material, which resulted in the forthcoming "New Roman Times."

"We realized that to continue to this and have it be interesting we were going to need to write new material," Segal said. "To keep ourselves alive."

"New Roman Times" is essentially a concept album at heart, something that Segal believes does not have to be so overt to generate the label "concept album."

"In a way, hopefully an artist's album has some kind of cohesive unit to it, cohesive concept," Segal said. "Where I find that isn't the case is where you have pop hitmaker music, where it's all written by machine people and they want to sell it hit by hit. But bands and artists put out a record and hopefully it all ends up coming from the same time. This period of time where we are writing all the music from has been a very politically charged era, and so I think that couldn't help but infiltrate the record and the songwriting."

"New Roman Times" tells a story that Segal says is intended as an allegory for today's political climate, noting that the album's title references history not the computer font.

"The abstract storyline kind of happened during the course of recording it really," Segal said. "I think it's not necessarily an attack [on the current administration], it's more allegorical. It's more like a call to pay attention. The story itself is abstract but the situations are universal, and are historically universal."

Segal agrees that while political tone of the album may provoke criticism, musicians should have the opportunity to express their views.

"It probably will draw criticism," Segal said. "I don't [think] that can really be helped. I think that it's political because that's the kind of period of time that we're in right now ... But it's on our minds so why should we limit what we talk about. I don't believe in the idea that music only has to be about fun"

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