He’s the de facto MVP of the Camper Van Beethoven/Monks Of Doom/Cracker collective and a multitasker in his own right. His new solo album kicks ass, too. Any questions?
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Victor Krummenacher has the best of both worlds. For the past two decades he’s been churning out his solo records, a beautiful mix of folk and Americana, while still finding time to record and tour with Camper Van Beethoven — the beloved, three-decades-running college rock band — as well as its offshoots like Cracker and Monks of Doom. Oh, and with what few hours remain in each day, he works as Art Director for Wired magazine, the bible for the tech industry.
On the eve of the release of his latest solo album, Hard to See Trouble Coming, Krummenacher was kind enough to spend a little time talking about the new record, balancing his schedule and what’s next for his other bands.
BLURT: You’ve been pretty busy the past few years. Between the two new Camper Van Beethoven albums and your gig at Wired, you somehow found time to write and record a new solo album. Was it tough to prioritize? Did the solo album get pushed to the backburner at times?
KRUMMENACHER: It’s always a huge struggle to prioritize my life, and I’m usually too busy. But I process the world around me musically and that’s just what I do. I’m also adroit at keeping a lot of plates spinning and keeping at least a little forward motion. The solo work is always a priority for me… it’s like soul work. But I had a great co-captain of the project: Bruce Kaphan, who has really been both a great friend and super helpful to keeping things balanced and helping me stay focused on the decisions that have to be made to get the album done.
Hard to See Trouble Coming has a different sound than some of your other solo stuff. Where did the inspiration for this sound come from?
The sound really just is a distillation of all the things that I’ve been influenced by over the year. I am, really, at the core a folk musician. But I have wide tastes, and the musicians I work with are both competent and have diverse tastes as well. So nothing is a curve ball. If a song is very bluesy, we know how to play blues. We have folk chops, jazz chops, rock chops, soul chops… a lot to choose from. And I’m not afraid to let these guys throw me suggestions on arrangement and approach and try it and work from there. And after doing a lot of records, I usually have a clear idea of how to execute a song and a good idea of when to pull the plug on an approach or go for it.
Obviously most people associate you as a bass player, but you played a lot of guitar on this record. Why now and not on previous releases?
I did often play rhythm guitar, but I didn’t put a lot of time into the lead guitar work because I was very interested in recording as live as I could. So I would bring in other guitarists to cover those bases, and maybe the last three solo albums I did were done basically live in the studio. But I’ve worked hard on both fingerpicking and lead work over the years and I felt that in order to really coalesce the vision I had for the songs, it would be best if I took on the lead work. I picked up the bass when I was a teenager and could play it almost immediately. It took a really long time for me to figure out to play the guitar by contrast, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with great guitarists. So I finally took ownership and it worked out very well.
It’s been 20 years since your first solo album (1995’s Out In the Heat) yet you still play with other bands. There are many musicians who want to keep that spotlight on themselves once they go out on their own. What keeps you playing in other bands still?
Camper has a big legacy that’s very important both to the guys in the band and the audience. For all our infighting over the years, I think we are also very loyal and dedicated to one another. There’s a lot of beauty there and deep relationships, so I’d rather not let it go, especially after 30-plus years. But sometimes I can’t make Camber Van Beethoven gigs, and I have to prioritize other things in my life. Very hard to balance, but I like it. That said, honestly, my favorite gigs these days are the small ones where I’m playing an acoustic guitar and telling stories. They’re so much easier to pull off. But yes, I still often play with Camper, Cracker, and we are working on a new Monks of Doom album with David Immerglück of the Counting Crows. I love playing music.
Camper is still putting out new music and labels like Omnivore are re-releasing your older stuff. Did you have any idea the band would still have an impact three decades later?
In 1995 I thought we were as dead as we could be, but strangely we’ve had a good run these last few years. When we started writing again a few years ago, I was really pleased with the music we were coming up with… it was fertile and strong and organic. And I’m really proud of the work in retrospect. Camper is a wholly unique, unusual enterprise and it’s nice to see us get some due. We never cashed in, we never played it “right” business wise… but we made great music and we have a great, dedicated fan base.
From Camper’s early punk beginnings to a lot of the Americana, folk and blues of some of your solo records, your influences seem to be pretty wide-ranging. Are there any new bands or musicians you really like?
I am, unfortunately, becoming one of those cranky old dudes. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, classical. Occasionally some old rock and roll… I still find new albums I love, but often they’re created by people who’ve been at it for a while. I spend a lot of time listening to Jack Bruce, the Faces, Ronnie Lane, etc. of Bruce’s and Ian McLagan’s deaths…. I love that stuff. Recent stuff I did enjoy was the D’Angelo record, oddly, Spoon’s recent album, Robert Plant’s last single – didn’t love the album but thought the single was good. The Basement Tapes reissue was great. And Peter Hammill’s album with Gary Lucas, Other World [reviewed HERE at Blurt]
What’s next for you in 2015?
Work this album, mostly, and get the Monks of Doom album out. Basically, I imagine much of the year when I have time I’ll be going someplace with my Martin and a couple of musicians, singing some songs and telling some stories.