Not too long ago we were called out by an artist for not helping to promote local acts. They had a point, so we decided to start a monthly focus (maybe more if time permits) on a local Pgh band.
The first artist to receive our 'Spotlight' is local duo Action Camp. Since 2006, Bengt Alexsander and Maura Jacob have been creating their craft together. A great deal of information can be found on their website: http://www.action-camp.com/. It is well maintained with a tour diary, video podcasts and a full bio.
We were able to interview them after a couple of cancellations on our part. Both were extremely candid throughout our meeting. You can find samples of their music in the interview below. If you like what you hear, please be sure to catch them this Sunday, March 21st at the Shadow Lounge.
You were recently heckled at Club Café. What happened?
M: It wasn't necessarily directed toward us, but there was someone in the crowd who was talking at a volume that was over the music. I have a huge pet peeve of people talking in movies. At a show there is an unwritten law where you don't talk over the band. For the first 2 or 3 songs he was totally quiet, but then he started talking really loud.
B: In the middle of a song he told me we were too loud and I flipped him off. I continued to flip him off throughout the set and even said, "We are going to get louder, I hope its ok." After our set his friends apologized and made him go home.
Maura you are originally from the Pittsburgh area correct? And Bengt Boston?
M: Yes, I went to CAPA (performing arts) High School as a vocal major. I have family who has connections with CAPA as well. My grandmother taught visual arts there and my father taught some audio courses but not when I attended.
B: I grew up in central Massachusetts in a small town called Brimfield who's claim to fame is they have the third largest flea market. Once I graduated from High School I moved to Boston.
"Best I Can Do"
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
B: If someone asks what kind of band we are I usually say we are a dream pop band. Our music is more of a big wall of sound and dynamics which comes from listening to the Pixies. If you have seen David Lynch movies I would say we try to emulate the soundtracks to those; a soundtrack that you would actually pay attention to. It's not to enhance the main feature.
M: I usually say surfy dream pop.
You both obviously put a lot of time and effort into the band along with other projects. What are your day jobs?
M: Bengt runs sound at a local club and I work in a cafe. We actually have exact opposite schedules where I start work at 6a and Bengt begins work at 7p. We meet in the middle to work on the music.
Do you all have health insurance now?
B: No. I generally don't get very sick and I run about 5 miles a night. I did recently chip a tooth that was causing a lot of pain for the first couple of days. I am hoping it will just even off because I can't really afford it right now. The way I look at it, everything else is more important (laughter).
M: I do have health insurance through the cafe and couldn't imagine myself without it due to chronic health problems. It's a huge problem for working musicians who travel all across the country or do other things that are potentially bad for your health.
How do you go about composing your material? How is the songwriting process?
M: We each have different backgrounds, where I have experience with writing, vocals and performing other people's music. I am the primary lyricist and work on melodies and harmonies vocally. Bengt, with his background, has been in several bands and does sound engineering. There is a compromising nature to our work since we have been together for 4 years now. So, while those are our strengths I think we are dipping more and more into each other's backgrounds.
What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?
B: We haven't looked into labels much. I come from a DIY background and like to have a lot of control over things. For the next record it would be nice to have a label if they understood what we wanted and to have a booking agent to help if they knew what type of clubs we liked to play. We recognize that we are a niche band that doesn't have mass appeal. If we ever made it to a level such as Morphine or the Pixies, a step above just being a working class musician, I would be happy. We aren't aiming super high to be Lady Gaga.
M: If we were able to quit our day jobs that would be great. Also, if we were able to travel and tour overseas.
Are your parents supportive? You both went to college. Do they have any misgivings about what you are doing?
M: Both of my parents are artistic. Both went to school and majored in visual arts as undergrads. They now have regular jobs. My father is actually a musician who has been playing since he was 14. He still performs locally in a band called Memphis Mike and the Legendary Tremblers as their bassist. Both are not surprised I am interested in music, but I know my mom wants me to have a plan B. She will only be scared if I am 35 and working at the cafe. At that point she will want to perform an intervention.
B: I have been doing this for over 10 years. I gave up a lot of my social life in high school because I was obsessed with music. My mom used to just see it as a hobby but understands now. She sees that we are trying to run a successful business for the lack of a better term. She is very supportive of it. She knows I have a steady flow of income and understands I am not going to do anything besides music. Ultimately she knows I will land on my feet.
The time we saw you play a show you were both dressed up. Do you do this for all of your shows?
M: I am a large part of the visuals for the band. Part of the reason we started dressing up was that I used to perform recitals. Another reason is we didn't want our shows to be an extension of your everyday life. It should feel like a separate part; we want the audience to feel that as well.
B: It's a very conscious decision. We have gone through phases but blue, red or purple are the three main colors we use. We just pick a color for the day and wear matching outfits.
Your last album came out in April 2008. Are you currently working on a new one? When do you think it will come out?
B: My projection of when our record is complete, and Maura's (projection), are very different. I am probably a perfectionist. We spent 2.5 years on our first lp. The first album was recorded and played in the studio before we did anything live. For this album we want to play the songs live and then see how they grow. A lot of the songs from the first record have changed as we have played them out at shows. For me, I don't see finishing our record for another year. It's your most permanent work of art that you have to refine. It's not just a product you are putting out, it's a statement.
M: He is very much a perfectionist where I tend to push him. You have to either let it go or show someone else and try not to get worked up about every little detail. I am hoping at the latest 2011.
You start and end your shows by spelling out your band name over hand claps. Is there a story behind this?
B: I listen to a lot of sugary pop records like Shonen Knife and Junior Senior where they do really catchy and cheery stuff. It's also to control emotion a little bit when we do darker themes in our songs. We come back out and say (to the audience), "Hey everyone do a cheer with us."
M: In fairness none of this came to our minds when we first started doing it. We just thought it was really humorous and people were enjoying doing it with us.