Interview: Winnebago Vacation

Posted: by The Editor

Although I never went to summer camp as a child, I feel like I have a good sense of what it would have been like had I gone thanks to how much TV I ingested in my youth. Let’s see, there’s the anxieties of your first day where you’re afraid that you might not make any friends, followed by the pranking of unsuspecting camp counselors, and after a couple of weeks you go back to your normal life, only to lose touch with all of your new friends. Camp Somewhere, the debut LP from songwriter Eli Frank’s solo-project Winnebago Vacation, grapples with the harsh reality that nothing lasts forever.

While the album is not a concept record per se, Frank cleverly uses summer camp as a symbol for the loss of innocence that occurs from adolescence to adulthood. Tracks like “Break Down” deal with the pain of growing apart from somebody close to you, while “Hiding” expresses what it feels like to yearn for something or someone in spite of your own self-destructive tendencies. Camp Somewhere sort of plays out like a greatest-hits record of things from your past that you wish you could change, a somber and poignant collection that’s just searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sonically, the album is an intoxicating mix of homespun acoustic guitar, hazy keyboards, and clattering percussion that thuds and clatters in the background. Hidden beneath the albums noisiest and most claustrophobic moments are some of the most gorgeous arrangements and haunting melodies of the year, accentuating Frank’s desire and struggle to be heard. Ahead of the album’s release show, I spoke to Frank about their own experiences at camp, how they approached songwriting, and more.

The Alternative: What were you experiences of going to camp growing up? How do those memories relate to the songs on the album?

Eli Frank: Going to camp was a part of my summer routine basically my whole childhood. I went to “campus kids”, you camped during the week and came back for the weekend so you could still see your friends back home, I loved that place. I Made some really great friends there, smoked weed for the first time ever with them. Beforehand I thought weed was for losers (lol) but my camp friends were super smart respectable people and I was like, well if they smoke it shouldn’t be so bad. I also had my first job working at that summer camp, my first kiss at that summer camp, you could say I associate a decent amount of my positive youthful experiences with camp. I lost touch with campus kids and everyone there after high-school, then the camp ended up shutting down a few years later. Often I’ll dream of camp and the memories I have there, only to have them get fainter and muddier. Songs like “Shack”, “So Long”, and “Hiding” have a lot to do with those feelings; that the past is the past and I’ll never get to relive those moments. I can only dream or think about them surrounded in a haze. Those memories almost being its own location, camp somewhere. 

The music you make as Winnebago Vacation doesn’t have a whole lot in common with your other project [TOP Nachos], at least not sonically. In what ways do you approach a Winnebago Vacation song differently than a TOP Nachos one?

TOP nachos is more of a group effort with my bandmate Kenny Hauptman. We both write a lot of the songs together; we jam together, he writes the drum parts and I write the general melody/format, then we come together on lyrics. Winnebago Vacation songs are written and recorded primarily by myself. I’m very lucky to have met some wonderful bandmates/humans along the way though; Ryon Dickerson and Brett Bivona. They’ve helped shape the songs in a different and wonderful way than I had written them. Winnebago also stems from a completely different set of musicians/music that I appreciate; Neil Young, Big Thief, Alex G…more folk/less punk stuff mixed with my love for 2010 indie and 90s grunge/goth. I listen to all kinds of music and I want to create all kinds of music, even if it’s on opposite sonic spectrums.

Do you have a personal favorite on the album?

I really like “Savings”. We just started playing as a full band for the release show (9/19 @ trans pecos) and that song is a ton of fun. By far the danciest and most energetic song on the album, I guess it’s hard for me to get away from that haha. I really like how the drums came out on the recording as well as my vocals, which I usually have a lot of trouble with. Besides that one I really like “So Long”, the melody of the chorus really stands out to me.

I love the art for the album cover and all of the singles, how did that come to be?

My wonderful partner Ilana Hope aka Foxy Dads did all of the art. We talked for a while beforehand about what we thought the cover should look like. They really wanted to try a diorama sorta thing so I said go for it. We went to Marshall’s and picked up a bunch of stuff and they spun it into magic. Honestly they’re by far the most talented artist I’ve ever met, I’m super lucky! Also this is shameless promotion please pay them to do art for you.

What was the last great movie that you saw?

I’m a fan of horror movies and Midsommar was a great blend of everything I like in a good horror movie. It had a good slow build and a lot of interesting shots that made you feel scared instead of just being scared. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before and I think that’s super impressive nowadays where there’s a lot of repetitive super hero movies. 


Camp Somewhere is out now via Lonely Ghost Records


Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks 

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