Summer Camp's synthpop romance finally comes of age
Summer Camp have been darlings of the blogosphere since 2009. Now they're releasing their stunning debut album. Elisa Bray meets them
Friday 28 October 2011
"I'm always buying cheap books. That's the throwing-out pile," says Summer Camp's Elizabeth Sankey, wistfully casting her eyes at the stacks of paperbacks that are spilling over the piano at the band's north London home. Books feature much in the duo's – and real life couple's – conversation. Sankey, 27, who formed Summer Camp in 2009 with Jeremy Warmsley, has tried writing four novels already ("they were all awful"). Meanwhile, Warmsley, 28, states: "I'd much rather be a novelist than a musician, if I had the attention span". A Cambridge philosophy graduate, he enjoyed a successful solo career signed to Transgressive, and is now on the cusp of releasing Summer Camp's debut, a warm slice of swooning synth-pop steeped in nostalgia, that will help listeners deal with the oncoming winter.
Summer Camp have been a buzz band ever since they posted their first songs online, joining a wave of American bands favouring nostalgic lo-fi synth-pop, including Best Coast and Active Child. Considering the hype heralding their arrival two years ago, the album has been long anticipated.
"This is what people say, but most bands haven't released an album two years after forming", says Warmsley, the more cautious one. "From the beginning we were really lucky and people were writing about us", says Sankey.
Both from Kingston, they met at one of Warmsley's gigs in 2005 when Sankey was a drama student at Goldsmiths, and regular at fellow students the Klaxons' house parties. The pair became firm friends a few years later, cemented by a mixtape that Sankey gave to Warmsley containing the song "I Only Have Eyes for You" by the Flamingos. Unbeknown to them, it was to be the first seed of their band. Obsessed with the song, Warmsley invited Sankey to record their own version, discovering that not only could she sing, but also write pop songs. "I thought 'I have no musical ability whatsoever'," she says. "I'd always loved music, but had never ever thought it could be something I would do, especially not singing."
The track went online, unannounced and unpublicised, and almost instantaneously they were contacted by hip blogsites and record label A&Rs. Within hours, it was on Gorilla vs Bear.
The hype that greeted their first song came as a surprise – not least because they had uploaded it for fun. That it was released under the guise of a Swedish band, with the pair's identities concealed, was less a cunning marketing ploy to entice fans with the mystery, than that they had no intention of pursuing it.
"Initially we were anonymous because it wasn't a serious project for either of us", explains Warmsley. "Seeing that people who had good taste liked it pushed us on to do more. It was exciting; I'd never had anything like that with any of my previous projects."
Uploading videos of gauzy 1980s film footage to accompany early songs, they quickly became associated with John Hughes, whose coming-of-age films are their greatest influence. Their cinematic songs conjure up a similar world of teenage love in suburbia, as in the euphoric "Summer Camp".
"We're intellectually inspired by the ideas that hold all his things together: coming-of-age stories, and the idea that first love is shattering for how you see the world," says Warmsley. "A lot of our songs have this obsession with the way things feel when it's the first time you're feeling them. But on the album we wanted to move away from being obsessed with teenagers."
They also assumed Hughes' idea of setting all his works in the fictional town of Shermer: their album Welcome to Condale is set in fictional Condale. A scrapbook put together by Sankey to accompany it, tells stories of the characters in the songs. It gave them a framework for their ideas.
One thing they have deliberately kept quiet is their engagement and marriage: both are wearing wedding bands. "For us it's tangential. It's not anything to do with the music," says Warmsley. Still, living together must be advantageous? "The fact that we work so closely together means that we are living the same lives. We're both equally focused on it", agrees Sankey. Warmsley adds: "A lot of bands get derailed because they don't have a decent work ethic."
Their own, devoted, work ethic saw them fund the album themselves, via PledgeMusic, before teaming up with indie label Moshi Moshi for the release. In addition to allowing fans to pre-order the album, they sold a batch of Sankey's homemade brownies and performed gigs in fans' homes for a fee. Sankey's silver jumpsuit, at £100, however, remains unsold. "If you want it later, take it", she offers brightly. The proceeds repaid the efforts of their producer, Pulp's Steve Mackey, and left enough to donate to charity.
"It feels a lot nicer than going the major label route and having someone just give you a bunch of money and never getting any royalties because you're massively in debt to the label", says Warmsley. "They expect things from their investment."
Luckily, they have found the perfect partner in one another. "I never wanted to be a solo artist", says Warmsley. "I can't think of anything more cringeworthy than some guy with an acoustic guitar bleating about his relationships. And somehow I ended up doing that. I always wanted to be in a band, but I was a bit of control freak. I never met someone before that I could see handing over half of it to. But with Elizabeth, every time I'm like 'good idea!'" Sankey raises an eyebrow. "Well, most of the time."
'Welcome to Condale' is released on Apricot Recording/Moshi Moshi on Monday
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