While assembling this year’s Class of 2018, there was an inherent professionalism that formed a common thread throughout the picks. Not exactly manufactured bands, or sell-outs for that matter, as much as the bands were “put-together,” tirelessly polished, and aimed for a pop(ulous) center. In other words, they worked for both a sing-a-long and a spotlight. And no one is to care, or is to blame. It’s heady and corporeal all at once.
Speaking with Evan Westfall, who along with Taylor Meier form CAAMP, was somewhat surreal. Here was an acoustic duo, with a banjo and guitar and coal-mining harmonies, far out on the West Coast, touring sold-out shows in venues like the Fillmore with little more than an EP to show for it. Chalk it up to millions of streams, or the co-sign from a band called Rainbow Kitten Surprise (who is a group entirely lost on me, but poised to rule the world any day now, mark my word).
But even then, the duo’s campfire laments do not not exactly jibe with that band’s “Appalachian Genesis” abomination, so it’s still somewhat a pauper’s life on the road.
“At this point it’s hit or miss every night,” says Westfall, of a somewhat idyllic situation touring the utopic West. “This is our fifth time on tour with them so many times it will be the die-hards there for RKS, front and center, waiting to see them for hours and they’ll just give us blank stares. But if we look a little way back into the crowd, we’ve been noticing that we have fans who remembered us and know the music.”
Thankfully CAAMP don’t have to adhere to wild theatrics or incomprehensible trends; instead, they focus on the song and sound. There are unfettered wilderness fantasies about moving to Alaska, bohemian groves, Cherokee drums, mountains and rivers. They may not live out or have lived out those hirsute adventure hippie trips, but the songs do. And really, that’s the American Dream after all, right? To make your own reality?
“We’re truly living the storybook story,” Westfall said.
Westfall and Meier started innocently enough as Ohio University hopefuls, who subsequently dropped out, but remained in the bucolic confines of Athens where a string of open mics organically brought them local acclaim. Before long they were getting plenty of attention and gathering crowds around just the idea of “that banjo and guitar duo who play on Wednesdays.” A “bedroom demo” followed and that led to the idea to form CAAMP (the extra “A” added a year later when they realized how hard it was to find them digitally with only one vowel in the name). By the time CAAMP had taken off, and the two knew it was a serious quest, their friends who remained Bobcats had graduated, and the next logical step was Columbus. What started as a simple musical partnership between friends, bloomed almost overnight.
“Neither of us have had lessons. We learned everything on our own,” remembers Westfall. “We would discover everything by sitting across from each other and working from the ground up. There were no rules. It was our thing. We were convinced that we had to take it to a new audience.”
In a sense, it would be hard to call CAAMP a Columbus band, per se. Before they had even moved into their newly-shared apartment here, a song from that self-titled demo, “Ohio,” was a huge success on an unsigned Spotify playlist. and managers, labels, and talent buyers were elbowing each other to be the first to catapult CAAMP to fame.
“We’ve definitely heard all of the horror stories about the industry,” says Westfall. Currently CAAMP have management but have yet to sign with a label. Instead choosing to release their new album Boys independently, and in halves, digitally. “We were hesitant at first to jump into that world. But we knew it was something that we’ve always wanted to do and right now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. These people might not come knocking down the road.”
For now, it’s those outside of the city who look to their “contemporary folk” as something that is the next level past peers like the Mumfords or the Lumineers of the world. CAAMP is leaner, more explicitly built to elicit old world wanderlust and perhaps inspire others to take up cowboy balladry as anachronistic art-form reborn. Columbus will assuredly catch up, and years from now we may likely be pinching ourselves for not seeing them the time they played Lancaster’s Duck Creek Log Jam, but the window is wide open, and through it the dulcet tones of countrified clemency.
For music, tour dates, and more information visit caamptheband.com.