Pittsburgh’s quintessential doom pop/post-punk/art rock group Action Camp already boasts an extensive discography of nine releases – soon to be ten with the release of their new self-titled EP this Friday at Club Cafe. After getting a taste of some of the new songs during their previous show at Howlers, my excitement for the new release increased exponentially. The self-produced EP is Action Camp’s first release with the addition of a new band member – the multi-instrumentalist Joe Tarowsky (of the power-pop band The Park Plan) – on drums.
In anticipation for Action Camp’s upcoming release show for their self-titled EP, I contacted Maura from the band to answer a few questions:
Do you have a refined process for recording that you used for the EP?
Bengt: Sure. This is the first of our records we’ve been able to apply a minimal live room rock production to our music compared to our usual approach of lots of layers of drum machines, samplers, synths which led to a lot more freedom and experimentation in the tracking phase. It’s recorded in several secret and not so secret locations (like my living room) with a big collection of borrowed and personal mics into a mobile rig I’ve built up over the years.
How long did it take to make the EP from start to finish?
Bengt: Pretty quick by our standards. We started writing last September and let the songs mutate and refine with Joe as our third writing partner. We are pretty compulsive about recording every rehearsal, so there is a path of 20 or 30 versions of each song through the process we can look back at. But once we felt confident in them, the actual tracking, mixing, mastering was just June to July. I finished the last master maybe a few minutes before we emailed you.
Does the EP revolve around a particular theme?
Maura: I think that the EP offers a proper introduction to our new sound with Joe and gives a preview of what’s to come. Our new material is still evolving, but there are already some recurring themes such as the anxieties that come with being on the cusp of a new phase of life or history and about how our identities (our gender, our race) impact our lives, our bodies, and how we communicate with one another.
Do you have a favorite song or lyric? Please elaborate.
Maura: I joke that I can never pick a favorite song because it would be like choosing a favorite among my children. I will say that I am particularly proud of how the words and melody came together for the chorus on “War at My Side.” In that moment the song presents dueling perspectives on how to react to “being wronged” and I feel like we captured the tension of that exchange really well.
Are there any stories/anecdotes from the recording sessions that you’d like to share?
Bengt: When we had the drums all mic’d up in a big room with high ceilings we got sidetracked for a solid hour recording the requisite “big room drum” bits like When The Levee Breaks, the In the Air Tonight tom fill, and Garth’s drum solo in Wayne’s World.
It’s my understanding Joe was also slightly disheartened to hear my compliment of his vocals on War at My Side as “Dave Grohl-esque” when he was earnestly going for the Henry Rollins sound.
Has (and if so, in what way) the addition of a drummer had an effect on the sound?
Maura: I love having Joe in the band. It feels like a really natural progression in our sound. In the last few years, Bengt and I found ourselves embracing heavier and more minimal arrangements and I feel fortunate that we started working with Joe around that time. It allowed us to fully embrace our new direction.
What are you most excited about for the release show?
Joe: This is my first release with Action Camp, which of course I’m very excited about. It’s been a really focused and creative time since I’ve joined the band. So for me, this release show is the closing out of a very productive first chapter, while already working towards the next.
And in terms of the show itself, I’m really happy that we have Silence and Hearken sharing the stage with us – I think our three bands really complement each other well. A release show is a celebration, so it means a lot to have them celebrating with us.