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Jeff Moehlis: Enjoy the Majesty of Camper Van Beethoven at the Lobero

The band will play Dec. 28 in Santa Barbara, along with Cracker

Camper Van Beethoven, circa 1987: from left, Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, Jonathan Segel, David Lowery and Chris Pedersen. The band will return to the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara on Dec. 28. Click to view larger
Camper Van Beethoven, circa 1987: from left, Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, Jonathan Segel, David Lowery and Chris Pedersen. The band will return to the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara on Dec. 28. (Jonathan Segel photo)

In the chapter that covers choosing wedding music in his book Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living, author Jason Gay advises, "You have the rest of your life to impress everyone with your knowledge of Berlin art rock and the majesty of Camper Van Beethoven. Today is not that day."

But assuming you're not getting married on Wednesday, Dec. 28, that's in fact a great day to bask in the majesty of Camper Van Beethoven, when they return to the Lobero Theatre. Also performing will be Cracker, whose songs include "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," "Low" and "Euro-Trash Girl." Tickets are available by clicking here.

An eclectic alt-rock band, Camper Van Beethoven released their first album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, in 1985, which includes such classic songs as "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon," "Where the Hell Is Bill?," the Black Flag cover "Wasted" and "Take the Skinheads Bowling." They released four more acclaimed albums before burning out: the independently released II & III and self-titled Camper Van Beethoven, and the major-label albums Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie. The band re-formed at the end of the 1990s and has released several more albums, most recently 2014's El Camino Real.

The following is from an email interview with Camper Van Beethoven founding member Jonathan Segel.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: I want to start out by saying that I work at UC Santa Barbara and live in Goleta. With that in mind, would you like to apologize for the Camper Van Beethoven song "(Don't You Go to) Goleta"?

Jonathan Segel: Well, would you be then apologizing for the student behavior in the 1980s? I mean, given that this inane parodic ditty was put on record in late 1985 and we were a nascent touring band coming from Northern California — and Santa Cruz, at that — what it is skewering is the clueless acceptance of Reagan-era "America the great" among the youth of the era. While I'm certain that trickle-up/down economics worked out well for some of the then-UCSB students, it didn't do so well overall for our country, now did it? How's that infrastructure rebuild going? How are your students these days?

JM: Will that song be on the setlist for your show in Santa Barbara? And what (else) can people look forward to at your upcoming concert?

JS: Well, no. I don't know if we’ve played it since the 1980s! I did hear it on a college radio station once long ago while driving, and was shocked by how stupid a song it was (I say as the singer of that particular track).

But we do play several songs from the albums we made then, as well as those more recent. We're looking into adapting a setlist from the early 1990s era with an infusion of [recent albums] El Camino Real and La Costa Perdida, and a touch of New Roman Times.

JM: I've enjoyed the evolution of Camper Van Beethoven, but my favorite album is still the first one, Telephone Free Landslide Victory. What are your reflections on that particular album?

JS: It really is an oddity in the world of alternative music. There weren't that many albums that had instrumentals, for one thing, and that's a tradition we've tried to keep up. Plus, it has the combination of surreal lyrics mixed with parody and punk rock. At the time we were performing in punk venues most of the time — the majority of DIY bands at the time were punk rock bands, so we got lumped right in, and that was a fun audience to take that to. There are definitely some gems on the album, and of course, we still play "Take the Skinheads Bowling" every night.

JM: One of the signature elements of CVB is your violin. Can you tell us about the challenges of playing violin in a rock band?

JS: Well, of course amplification versus feedback is tough if you don't want it to sound like a stupid synthetic electric violin thing. I prefer sounding like the rough, scratchy, weird instrument that it is. My major problems involve tuning on the loud rock band stage, as you could probably guess (from the way I play), so I keep the tuner on and an eye on it just in case, and then there's the fact that since it takes one hand to hold the violin and one hand to hold the bow, I have no free hand to take a drink between songs.

JM: You've been living in Sweden for several years now. How has that changed your perspective of the United States and rest of the world?

JS: I moved in 2012 after being fired from Pandora and subsequently losing our house because of the inability to pay the mortgage (we had a 10-month-old at the time, wife was home instead of working, her job might have paid just enough for day care). So without a job, house or health care, we pulled the ripcord and were extremely lucky my wife was Swedish. Then, though, we lived with her parents for a year before finding our own apartment — Stockholm is tough, housing wise.

Changed my perspective on the States? Not so much, I was under no illusions about our country. I've watched it being taken apart piece by piece as the public allows it to be. It's sad. I grew up in California, I love it, but it's becoming impossible for a vast number of people. Here in Sweden, I'm an immigrant, which is difficult in any situation, even one where the locals mostly speak my native language. I've spent four years trying to learn the language, but at my age I don't know if it will ever be adequate. Culturally, I will always be a Northern Californian. And I want to continue to be, but again: It's tough being an immigrant, wherever you are or aren't. Across the street from our apartment is a building that is housing single teenage refugees, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan or Eritrea. Those kids have it way tougher than me, that's for sure, and they are mostly thriving. But I have a family!

Click here to read the full interview with Jonathan Segel.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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