Interview: Campdogzz Love Being the Weird Band on the Bill

Posted: by The Editor

Considering FEST is North America’s annual pilgrimage for punk bands of the pop, skate, emo, ska, and bar variety, any group that could feasibly be described as “atmospheric” or “moody” is already an inherent outlier. The five-day event (pre-FEST included) is a whirlwind of fists-up, yell-inducing, PBR-adjacent rock music—three antithetical traits to the dusky, flickering, gradually engulfing music of Campdogzz. However, the Chicago quintet felt more comfortable playing both Wednesday and Friday of the festival than their output would suggest.

Multiple members were in the noisy, experimental indie band Suns prior to Campdogzz, and the group is currently supporting the beloved post-hardcore stalwarts Cursive—who headlined FEST and put out Campdogzz’ sophomore album In Rounds on their label 15 Passenger back in August—alongside neurotic post-punk underdogs Meat Wave. It’s a lineup that’s as indefinable and strange as Cursive’s discography, but it makes sense when you see Campdogzz live and realize how sonically homeless they are, too.

Most of their songs begin as hushed, unassuming indie-folk numbers before opening up into thumping, driving, even fiery skies of sound. Frontwoman Jessica Price sings with a bluesy, Southwestern drawl that’s somewhat comparable to Lucy Dacus or Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan, but smokier and more haunting than any of her contemporaries. Her timbre is reminiscent of a chilly desert evening; dynamically windswept and dry enough to catch on a stray ember and suddenly set the whole song ablaze. It’s never clear whether Campdogzz are going to continue riding out the pleasant groove or veer off onto a bumpy, rattling side-road. That’s what makes their music both soothing and exciting, and it was an essential palate cleanse during a weekend stuffed with reliably, and at times exhaustively, propulsive punk riffs.

Before their set in Gainesville Friday night, we talked to Price and bassist Andrew Rolfsen about being the outsider on the bill, their unique formation as a band, and the Chicago arts community.

So you guys are touring with Cursive and Meat Wave right now? When did that start?

Jessica Price: About a week ago on the 18th was our first show in Kansas city.

Were you all big Cursive fans growing up?

Price: Oh, hugely. I definitely was. I think all of us have tons of respect for them but definitely the two of us listen to them quite a bit.

Are you two from Chicago?

Price: Uh no I’m from Oklahoma, the Tulsa area.

Andrew Rolfsen: I’m from Tampa, actually.

How’d you guys end up in Chicago?

Price: For me, just after high school I wanted to leave the area. I spent most of my life there I had a chance to go stay in Chicago for a few months and get a taste of it. And I just decided that as soon as I finished school I’m gonna move up there.

Andrew Rolfsen: Mike [Russell] and Nick [Enderle] are both from suburbs of Chicago, so they’ve been there for forever.

So did you go to school in Chicago or did you move there for music’s sake?

Price: I moved there for film’s sake but I intended to go to film school. And then as I was looking at schools in the area it just didn’t seem financially feasible or worth it. And my dad actually was like, “you should just try to do it on your own, maybe, and you’re there—you’re in a place that’s really culturally rich. So you might as well just try.” And that’s how I met all of them. Mike and Nick were in a band prior to this band and I was doing some video work for them and then I showed them some of my demos and we formed another band.

What sort of film stuff were you doing? What aspect of the industry?

Price: Documentary, mostly. I still do that and through that met a lot of bands and wanted to do things in the music world. So mostly music videos for friends or bands I really like. And I’m working on two documentaries now.

What’s the theme of the documentaries?

Price: One is about a guitar maker named Dixie from my home area. She made guitars in my area for decades. The other one is about touring bands in the U.S. in the early to mid 2000’s. It was featuring Mike and Nick. I just followed them quite a bit and through that, learned how to tour and start a band the grassroots way. And I think kind of fixating on their lives as deeply as we did, it sheds a lot of light on how a lot of bands do it. That one is kind of on the back-burner. I think in a few years from now I’ll try to interview all the original members again and see how things will change. Cause this was six to eight years ago at this point. And I was with them for two-and-a-half years straight of recording, touring, all of their personal lives. It’s pretty intensive. But I’m kind of focused on the Dixie one now.

What was the name of their band?

Price: Suns. There are a couple Suns out there but they were kind of a really loud, noise-centric band. Two drummers, lots of chaos. Kind of like Black Sabbath meets. . .something more relevant [laughs].

So Campdogzz sounds very different from what you’re describing there. Did they just want to change up their pace and they liked your stuff?

Price: I think Mike grabbed onto it initially because his stepdad taught him how to play guitar and he’s from Texas. He taught Mike when he was very young about blues and bluegrass and more roots music I guess. And Mike really grabbed onto that, but he grew up in the world of, like, hardcore and punk rock. He listened to Fugazi and Black Flag. And I think that it was kind of an unscratched itch that he had to do something that was a little more viscerally introduced to him. As he got older he started out playing slide in the band, and just doing different things.

So where do your personal influences come from?

Price: Jason Molina was kind of the catalyst of this band. He passed right when we started this band. He was very important to us. Growing up I really loved Cat Power, Mazzy Star, Built to Spill, Pavement—which actually I have kind of come back and listened to more, more recently.

You guys aren’t really a punk band. So how does it feel to play FEST as one of the outsider bands who’s kind of more indie-rock, to use a generalized term?

Rolfsen: When I checked the tour schedule months ago, I saw we were playing FEST and I was like, “oh man. What’s this gonna be like?” And it was funny scrolling through all the names and bands and listening to some that I knew, but dozens and dozens and dozens that I didn’t and being like, “what are we doing there? What’s gonna happen to us?”

Jess: Are we gonna get in a fight? [laughs]

Rolfsen: I grew up here, so it’s like coming to FEST 15 years ago it was. . .it’s very different now I didn’t know what to expect.

Did you come to FEST as a youngin’?

Rolfsen: Only once.

What was it like then?

Rolfsen: I just remember playing in someone’s house, it was very different.

What year was that?

Rolfsen 2003 or 2004.

Have you ever been to FEST before, Jess?

Price: No this is the most time I’ve ever spent in Florida, which I’m very excited about. It’s a wild land. But it’s beautiful and we’ve had a great time so far. I think because we all have a little bit more of a grittier, heavier background we’re excited to be here just to be here. And we hope that it’s well-received.

Do you prefer to play with bands that you’re not as similar to?

Price: I think not as similar to. Unanimously, we all adore Meat Wave.

Rolfsen: We all have similar tastes but we like being with louder bands like Meat Wave and Cursive. Cause one speaks to the other and it doesn’t feel wrong to be on a bill with them.

Price: I was talking to Chris [Sutter] from Meat Wave and he and I are the same age and grew up with similar interests and things. We were talking about how being on this tour is interesting because both of us grew up listening to Cursive and the two directions that we went musically were different, but it’s all kind of tied together in this bundle of this tour. Which is so cool to be a part of.

Yeah, I mean Cursive sound like so many different things.

Price: Yeah but they’re so poignant and I couldn’t describe them.

So do you think future Campdogzz music is gonna veer in a different direction or do you like the groove you’ve hit right now?

Price: I think we’re always gonna veer in different directions. I think that’s the way we’ll stay alive as a band. We’re music lovers. I’d love to work on an instrumental record or see Mike and Andrew sing quite a bit more, too. Everyone in the band has so much to pull from and offer. Nick, our other guitarist, his dad is a noise artist from way back. Illusion of Safety, they were huge in the Chicago area and elsewhere.

Have you guys found an enclave of similar or friendly bands in Chicago that you’re a part of or do you drift around between groups?

Price: I mean we have so many friends there and friends that we love. And in the Midwest in general. We’re all pretty Midwestern, but [Rolfsen’s] been in Chicago for a decade now, too. I work at a venue so I get to see a lot of bands come through.

What venue?

Price: Sleeping Village, it’s brand new. The owners of The Whistler, which is this great little cocktail jazz bar that’s been in Logan Square for a long time now, decided to open a 300-cap venue in Avondale, which is where I live. They’re just doing a great job. It’s a beautiful place. I think Dirty Projectors are doing like three nights there coming up soon.

If you could recommend any Chicago bands right now what would they be?

Price: I mean, Meat Wave. I love my buddy Wet Mouth. He plays with analog synthesizers and vintage pedals and he kind of has a Brian Eno meets New Order meets Broadcast thing going on. My friend Gia Margaret just put out a record and I did a video for her. 

What other bands have you done videos for?

Price: Joan of Arc I did a video for a couple of years ago. We shot on Fourth of July and just skated around the city. My friend Dylan Aycock is from Tulsa, he has a label called Scissor Tail. My friend Oshwa, she lives in New York now. I’m trying to keep expanding that and travel and see friends.

In Rounds is out now via 15 Passenger.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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