Having planned for what felt like an eternity to head out to the Summer Camp gig at Norwich Arts Centre, it was rather late in the day when we got in touch with their people to request an interview. That’s no surprise really given that disorganisation and procrastination are the motivational posters on our wall (well they would be if we ever got round to putting them up), and while we were welcomed, it was made clear that there were a plethora of other media and bloggers (all of whom no doubt actually sorted things out weeks in advance) scheduled to conduct interviews as well. In short, we were being squeezed in and we would have to be quick.
Once our initial sense of gratitude had abated slightly, we stopped for a minute and considered the revelation that so many people wanted a piece of the band on their arrival in this fine city. We were taken aback somewhat, not because we don’t think the band is deserving of the attention (we think they deserve more than they get to be honest) but because, well, generally speaking that just doesn’t happen in Norwich. Bands pass through, not so much unnoticed but untroubled by the blogging community. Coverage is broadly restricted to gig reviews peppered with a few snatched photos on a phone. So what is different about Summer Camp? Why did people suddenly think, ‘I know, I’ll interview them’?
The answer is blindingly obvious, Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley have made themselves available to their fans in a way that many bands still do not. The band has embraced the blogosphere, the twitterverse and the world of Facebook. They have become part of their own fan community, and it was that which we had in mind when we sat down to talk in the early evening, just before the show.
” we don’t like calling people who like our music ‘fans’, they’re more like friends “
With soundcheck all but finished, Jeremy still has some random noodling about to do, (and we can’t call him to tell him we’re starting because he has lost his phone), we sit down with Elizabeth and start to chat about Norwich and house prices and other normal things that normal people talk about every day. There is no pretention on show, no sense of superiority, she is warm, easy going and easy to talk to, which is something that comes across in her online presence as well. So what of the world of online? Surely she approves given her own use, and what of the fan community that revolves around them? ”The blog culture is something that I think’s fantastic,” she confirms (thankfully).
“With the growth of the Internet”, she continues, “the fact that you can have that direct contact with people is really really nice. I think at first we were worried cause we thought ‘you don’t wanna kind of kill it by showing too much of yourself’, especially if people don’t like you…”
From our limited observations, we find it hard to believe there is any negative communication out there, the band seem to give off a genuine warmth that the fans are more than happy to reciprocate. It does appear to be a genuine two way street as far as interaction goes.
“It’s been really really nice, being able to read reviews of stuff, that people who have their own online blogs, have written and then make friends with them,” Elizabeth explains. “Or you know, meet people at shows who you talk to all the time on twitter. Personally I love to, I think it’s a fantastic medium and I think it’s really fun, it’s just a great way of making friends. We don’t like calling people who like our music ‘fans’ because we don’t feel like it’s like that, its, they’re more like friends.”
From almost anyone else, that sentiment could seem a little disingenuous. Like when the wannabe cool teacher says ‘call me Dave’ right before he dishes out a huge bollocking to students who don’t show him enough respect. It is clear though that this is how Elizabeth genuinely feels. That night, after the gig, she and Jeremy stay behind for nearly an hour while their tour manager and the venue staff close everything up around them. Fans are greeted like friends; conversations are not hurried, faces are recognised from previous shows, twitter handles are recognised and even random drunk girls who feel they have a connection with Elizabeth and refuse to leave are dealt with patiently and even given an email address. Those that know the band better than others linger longer, patiently waiting for their opportunity to impart news, such as an engagement, news which is greeted with genuine delight as well as more than one big hug of congratulations.
” We really rely on the people that like our music to support us.“
Can it be that these connections have been made primarily through social media? Is it that, as active participants on twitter and within their fan community, Elizabeth and Jeremy have identified themselves as being ‘one of us’ and as such are seen to be approachable as opposed to untouchable like pop stars of yesteryear? Elizabeth agrees.
”I just think that the music industry as it stands has changed, I think the days of rock stars being untouchable was great and I think that was like a really nice thing. You know I had that when I was a teenager with bands that I loved, it was just unfathomable that they had a normal life, they were just like Gods to me.”
That kind of model, the feeling that popstars are untouchable, that they are entirely out of reach of the common or garden fan isn’t as prevalent now. Certainly there are still megastars but even the likes of Lady Gaga rely on their fan community to spread the word and promote for them. For Elizabeth and Summer Camp, it isn’t just about PR, it’s about feeling part of something, a two way connection.
“In order to make the music we wanna make,” she explains, ”we really rely on the people that like our music to support us, so it’s really important to have that community and also it’s just nice. It’s just so nice when you meet someone at a show and you share an in-joke about something you were talking about on twitter. There [are] just so many nice people out there.”
That connection must be genuine for it to work, a point that is not lost on Elizabeth, and the notion that it could be delegated, as no doubt some artists do with their PR machine handling their Twitter etc, is summarily dismissed. ”We run all our Facebook, we run our twitter, we do everything, we run our email and everything because we wanna make sure that if somebody emails us and asks for something, or if somebody [...] tweets at us or whatever, that the response they get is one that we’ve approved. You can’t run the risk of somebody just replying something boring! I mean would a PR person be able to draw a picture of Norwich Fart Centre? No!”
Norwich Fart Centre – by Elizabeth Sankey
So authenticity is key, a lesson Elizabeth has learnt from Oprah no less, and it is the one thing she feels they as a band have total control over. Their sound, their look, the community they have cultivated and, crucially, the interaction they have with their fans. Like all of us, they have been and are fans themselves, ”I was a member of the Blur fan club” confesses Elizabeth as Jeremy joins us, his noodling (no doubt with pedals and amps, he is quite the tech aficionado) complete, and more importantly, his missing phone located. Elizabeth has it, it happens often apparently which rather begs the question, does Elizabeth always have Jeremy’s phone because he keeps losing it, or does Jeremy keep losing his phone because Elizabeth always has it?
Regardless, Jeremy too can recall time spent on message boards as a fan, including the Animal Collective forum which the band would also frequent, though more to answer specific queries relating to lyrics and sound than to post modern masterpieces in MS Paint or ruminate on the varying quality of Ashton Kutcher films and TV shows, as at least one of Summer Camp’s number has been known to do.
With Jeremy’s arrival the dynamic shifts and our conversation becomes even more relaxed, tangents are found more easily (the youthful efforts, successful and otherwise, of those in the room to get songs played on Xfm being a particular favourite) and others in the room (William, Drummer and Ross, Tour Manager) are drawn in as well. It seems a good time to talk about their dynamic, how they work together and any unusual obsessions.
” We’re quite ambitious but definitely we get obsessed with TV shows.”
”We quite like setting ourselves like challenges” Elizabeth says. ”Like ‘write this and this and this everyday’ and then this is gonna happen and like I think we kinda like doing that cause there’s a sense of sort of purpose and also I think we’re quite ambitious but definitely in terms of we get obsessed with TV shows.”
Not just TV shows, though we understand their well known obsession with 30 Rock, as Jeremy points out Elizabeth’s recent fixation with “The Look” by Metronomy and his own current musical addiction.
”There’s a David Bowie Live album from 1972, from just after Ziggy Stardust came out, I’m obsessed with it, it’s just incredible. It’s like before he got really really slick and had like the 10 piece band and stuff, there’s just a really great like little rock n roll band playing these incredible songs of this amazing singer.”
30 Rock, and David Bowie, it’s no wonder these guys are so popular with the online community. The notion of setting each other challenges sounds interesting as well. Bands have historically found it difficult to write whilst on tour so this would well be the way to overcome that hurdle. It certainly seems to be working for them and work is underway on the follow up to Condale. Tantalisingly, they also let slip that there will be something else before the second album but they refuse to be drawn. During the gig that evening though they do play two new songs including “Life”, which ironically enough, is a killer tune.
So the writing appears to have gone well after a reasonably lengthy break, “We had like two days of frustration”, Elizabeth admits, “and then it was fine. We were like ‘maybe we should try writing it differently this time’ and then we found like a balance, I think it was almost like we suddenly worked out the best way for us to write together.
“So it didn’t take that long and then we wrote like every single evening just writing about a week?”
“A month” Jeremy corrects her.
”A month? I have a bad understanding of time.”
Alas, like Elizabeth so do we, and with that our chat draws to a close. It is no surprise that Summer Camp has drawn in such a strong fan community around them and the authenticity that they crave is clearly evident. They engage with everyone in the same simple way, as if they are already old friends. That’s just them, what you see is what you get. Their fans love them for that and it is blindingly obvious that the feeling is genuinely mutual.