5 Questions: Jon Camp

Jon Camp band pic

(Photo credit: Andras Fekete)

DC finger-picking guitarist and composer Jon Camp is part of a great lineage of American Primitive Guitar players that specialize in transforming small moments into something grander.

Like his musical hero John Fahey, Camp makes music that is both intricate and subtle, with his finger-playing guitar serving as a springboard to weave in disparate sounds and influences — from drone and psychedelia to country and beyond.

Listening to the repeating circular guitar pattern on “Headwinds and Tailwinds,” the title track of Camp’s new album, I am reminded of a scene from Martin Scorsese’s film “Taxi Driver” where Robert DeNiro’s character Travis Bickle drops an alka-seltzer into a cup of water. While the camera initially “notices” the cup of water, it’s focus becomes more sustained as Bickel’s gaze at the fizzing mixture becomes all consuming. The effect is that the audience refocuses its attention on the cup and sees new things in it. Similarly, Camp uses sustained repetition to refocus the listener’s ear on a motif, adding new textures that gradually alter the original effect, while drawing the listener in closer.

Camp’s music is filled with small moments that gradually reveal a hidden power as you continue to listen.

With Jon Camp and his band set to perform a special live set on Friday, Nov. 1st at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I took the opportunity to ask him five questions via e-mail. As you can see below, Jon has some interesting things to say about playing solo versus a full band, and the virtues of making music that requires more than passive listening…

1) There is a great tradition of finger picking guitar players in the States from John Fahey to Jack Rose to name just two legendary performers. When did you discover you had an affinity for American Primitive Guitar and wanted to offer your own unique take on it?

Jon: One night, about 25 years ago, in Lindenhurst, IL (near where I grew up), I was hanging out with a couple high school friends, and one of them, Mark Davidson, was selecting the tunes. That evening, he not only introduced me to John Fahey but to Leo Kottke, Nick Drake, and Tortoise as well. A big night for me! Mark is currently the Archives Director at the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa, so the guy knows his stuff.

I was drawn to the depth of feeling I heard in Fahey’s music, the diversity from one composition to the next, and the wide range of influences that he channeled, from Charley Patton to Bartok to Indian classical music.

My guitar teacher at the time, Doug Anderson, was a fan of this style, so he taught me a Kottke song, and I got the basic mechanics of the syncopated fingerstyle guitar approach of Kottke and Fahey and started experimenting with it from there.

I certainly have a lot of influences beyond Fahey, and I don’t explicitly say, “I’m going to play American Primitive Guitar.” But by virtue of being so heavily influenced by Fahey and choosing a fingerstyle approach to guitar, the influence is easily heard. 

Being such a fan of this style of music, it certainly is a joy to feel that I’m adding my small part to this lineage, especially in the region where Fahey grew up.

2) You’ve established yourself both as a solo performer and someone who enjoys the interplay with other musicians in a full band. How do you see these different approaches to making and performing music? Do you gravitate toward one more than the other?

Jon: They both have their merits, and I need both in my life. Most of my songs can be played solo, though not all of them can be played in a band setting. So playing solo allows me to have a wider choice of tunes to play on any given night, and there’s also an uncluttered simplicity and directness that comes through when playing solo.

That said, having others add their unique voices to some of these pieces allows them to bloom far beyond what would have been possible if just left for solo guitar. And it’s also fun playing with others. Logistically, there are pros and cons to each approach.

Headwinds Vinyl Bandcamp

3) One of the things I enjoy most about “Headwinds and Tailwinds” is its unhurried, patient approach. This is music that celebrates the beauty and majesty of small moments, with its full splendor revealed gradually. Is it fair to say you’re a musician who eschews obvious bombast in favor of the slow boil?

Jon: I appreciate you saying that. There’s more than enough bombast and inflated sense of self in the world, and it’s responsible for a lot of our problems. And I don’t find musical chest-beating to be interesting or inspiring.

I like music that reveals something new with each listen, and I hope that my music does that for others. I do care about the hook, but the subtle stuff is also gold I mine for. 

Band in New Haven

(Photo credit: Michael Rogers)

4) What can you tell us about making Headwinds & Tailwinds? How long did it take to write, record and mix? Are you pleased with the end result? I think it sounds fantastic.

Thanks for the kind words. I’ve got a decent backlog of songs I’ve written, and for each new album, I select tunes that would fit into some coherent whole. For Headwinds & Tailwinds, I chose pieces that would be a good fit for electric fingerstyle guitar accompanied by a band. I envisioned this album being a bit more country-tinged than normal, too.

We recorded sporadically over the course of a few months with Kevin Bernsten at Developing Nations in Baltimore. All of the pieces were originally recorded live as a trio (Nick Arrivo on bass, Ryan Peterson on drums, and me on guitar). And then others added color to it (Jamie LInder on pedal steel, Kaitlin Grady on cello, Stephen Ruotsi on keys, Harvey Droke on accordion). I also overdubbed a few guitar parts and then went to DC musician Greg Svitil’s studio to overdub some hand percussion, organ, and glockenspiel.

After this, it was sent to Brad Boatright of Audioseige in Portland for mastering. Both Kevin and Brad have produced a lot of metal albums, so it’s been interesting filtering my quite non-metal music through them. It definitely works, though. Both are super-skilled, easy to work with, and have an attention to sonic detail that works well for what I do.

As a whole, I’m proud of this album. The songs have grown live since putting the album out, and there are a few tracks that I’d assemble differently if I were to do this again. But I feel I brought a solid batch of tunes to the studio, and I love what my talented musician friends brought to the sound.

5) Let’s talk about the Jon Camp live show. Do you have a certain philosophy of what you want to achieve as a live performer that’s different than say…recording in the studio?

Jon: Producer David Briggs told Neil Young when recording, “You think, you stink.” I keep that in mind especially for live shows — I do what I can to stay out of my head and to be in the moment, to really feel it. 

After a recent show, Dave Jones (the other guitarist in my band) said that we as a band were both “disciplined and free.” That perfectly summed up what I’m going for with the live stuff. There are clear compositions that we play, but there’s subtle improvisation going on within them so that they feel alive within the context they’re played and evolve from show to show.

For albums, I put a bit more polish on it in an attempt to make a proper studio album. Though for future albums, I want to find more of a happy medium between the immediacy of the live show and the polish of the albums.

Listen to and purchase Jon Camp’s music on Bandcamp, follow him on Twitter and “Like” him on Facebook.

And don’t miss Jon Camp performing with Jamie Linder at the Nov. 1, 2019 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe!




YouTube Playlist: Oct 2019


DC’s music scene — past and present — is known for producing some of the most iconoclastic and fiercely independent music makers around. Of course, it’s hard not to mention Dischord or Chuck Brown in any discussion about DC music, but as this 15-track playlist can attest, there is so much more to celebrate.

Lovingly curated by WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE co-host Rick Taylor, and special guests Paul Vodra from Hometown Sounds and JosaFeen Wells from DMV KARS, these 15 tracks cover a wide spectrum of past and present DC music makers.

If you have a sweet tooth for wildly idiosyncratic old-school tunes, Rick has got you covered. For the new school music lovers, Paul and JosaFeen’s selections speak to the breadth of talent and creativity that continues to make our nation’s capitol one of the most exciting cities for music. Happy listening…

5 old-school DC picks from Rick Taylor:

Urban Verbs — “Subways” (1980)

Urban Verbs are one of the best kept secret’s of DC’s late 70s/early 80s post-punk scene. My friend Chris Goett, who runs Etxe Records and writes songs and plays guitar in Silo Halo, gave me one of their records as a gift. The band was fronted by Roddy Frantz, brother of Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz. Supposedly Eno was a fan. One listen to “Subways” and it’s easy to see why.

Tiny Desk Unit — “Couscous” (Live at Hurrah) (1981)

Years before Bob Boilen created All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts for NPR, he played synths in a quirky DC band called Tiny Desk Unit. The band had more in common musically with late 70s/early 80s U.K. avant pop acts like Family Fodder or Flying Lizards than their District punk brethren. “Couscous” shows off just how delightfully oddball this band can be. The fact that live footage exists of them is the most wonderful of small miracles.

Velvet Monkeys — “Everything Is Right” (1982)

Before Don Fleming produced records for Sonic Youth, Screaming Trees, Teenage Fanclub and Hole, he fronted Velvet Monkeys, an arty, minimalist post-punk band from the District that sounded little like else from the District. “Everything Is Right” is the killer title track from the band’s 1982 cassette-only release. It was recorded by the late (and truly great) Skip Groff at the legendary Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara.

Chalk Circle — “The Slap” (1981)

The raw and rhythmic sounds of Chalk Circle were courtesy of two DC musicians: Anne Bonafede and Sharon Cheslow. Drawing inspiration from bands such as The Raincoats and Liliput, as well as go-go and jazz, the duo broke down gender barriers at a time when DC’s music scene was almost universally male. “The Slap” encapsulates what I love about the band — it has a percussive, angular edge and an energetic “fight the system” attitude that is contagious.

Black Tambourine — “For Ex-Lovers Only” (1992)

Black Tambourine are one of the most influential independent bands to emerge from the DC area, particularly on a whole generation of bands equally obsessed with smart pop hooks, fuzzy guitars and cavernous reverb. The band only recorded a handful of EPs in the early 90s, but the quality of these recordings has stood the test of time. “For Ex-Lovers Only” is simply awesome — a perfect 3 minute distillation of the thunderous power and might of indie vocalist extraordinare Pam Berry and musicians Archie Moore, Brian Nelson and Slumberland Records head honcho Mike Schulman.

5 new school picks from Paul Vodra…

Iza Flo – “Free Fallin’” (2019)

Isabelle De Leon’s expansive lady dance-rock ensemble Iza Flo looks like they are having mountains of fun on this soulful groove “Free Fallin'”.

Lisa Frank & Rez Ekbatan – Whisper (Outputmessage Remix) (2019)

Director Nigel Lyons caught this captivating single take of DJ & producer Outputmessage performing his remix of “Whisper” by Lisa Frank & Rez Ekbatan in a church, with a fabulous reveal at the end.

Wall of Trophies – “Something” (2019)

In “Something” by atmospheric duo Wall of Trophies, the deft, big production by Will Copps leaves singer Brittany Jean’s voice clear in the mix of the slow-groove dance floor killer, while the video evolves into deeper abstractions and filters.

Loi Loi – “Sliver Light” (2019)

Synth diva Loi Loi’s video for “Sliver Light” from director Jen Meller is a tale of four women (Alexys Forrest of (Alexys Forrest of Danger Sluts, Krystal Ashley of “Scenes from Backstage”, Jax Caruso of The Galaxy Electric, and Freddie Heinemann of Fisk) ditching unappreciative partners for a psychedelic dance party.

Honest Haloway – “Atonement” (2019)

Synthrock band Honest Haloway’s video for “Atonement,” shot by frontman Tim Kratzer’s wife Sara Nabizadeh on location in Namibia, is astounding and arresting in its beauty and mystery.

5 new school picks from JosaFeen Wells…

Amerie — “1 Thing” (2005)

This record was produced by Rich Harrison from D.C. grammy winner- wrote beyonce’s crazy in love. Amerie is from DC as well.

Garbagemen – “Crab Legs” (2018)

2 Girl EDM group from D.C. ladies play and sing with beautiful harmony and hypnotizing melody’s fun fact band member Leah Cage plays for local band BRNDA.

April + Vista – “Own2” (2018)

Who doesn’t like a dope male n female duo? April has an amazing voice and a true gift for songwriting. This is just dope flippin’ music!

2DCat — “I Feel You” (2019)

I ran across these guys and super glad I did. 2019. Synth. Wave. Period! Nuff said, but really this group makes me feel good and young again. Wait leave out the young part..I’m not old.

Beau Young Prince — “Let Go” (2019)

This young man is representing for the city for real. His stage presence is energetic and contagious. He has a beautiful way to tell his story and struggle but also delivers the feeling of hope. A true hustler and someone making major strides. Don’t sleep. Funfact…did a show at Songbyrd about a month ago.

Want more? Check out the Oct. 4th edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE featuring guest dj Paul Vodra (HOMETOWN SOUNDS) and JosaFeen’s awesome band DMV KARS!

And check out Paul Vodra’s excellent Hometown Sounds blog and podcast.






5 Questions: DMV KARS


DC’s vibrant underground music scene is chock full of dazzling examples of true DIY idealism in action, but when it comes to dance music, it’s hard for me to think of a contemporary local act that exemplifies “do-it-yourself” values more than DMV KARS.

They may refer to themselves as two “goofy girls from the DMV,” but Carla Elliot JosaFeen “Jo-Jo” Wells and Kristina “Kbudd” Buddenhagen mean business when it comes to making and recording their own music. The talented duo specialize in the kind of 80s-inspired electro-funk concoctions that’s impossible not to move to — and they do it all using a Macbook, microKORG, Yamaha keyboard and a seemingly endless well of DIY creativity.

DMV KARS formed in 2017, when JosaFeen and Kbudd reconnected after taking some time off from the DC music scene. The two musicians had previously played in the D.C. band E.D. Sedwick with Justin Moyer, with JosaFeen on vocals and Kbudd on bass.

Now, the duo make their own elastic grooves. And rather than following a similar style to E.D. Sedwick, DMV KARS is its own wonderfully idiosyncratic mutant disco machine, with traces of classic 80s bombers like Chakka Khan and Shannon, but also New Order and other synth-friendly stompers, with more than a smattering of pure funk and disco. The band’s self-titled EP is a must listen for anyone who loves a good groove.

With DMV KARS slated to play the Oct. 4th edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, I got in touch with the band to learn more about this most intriguing of dance acts…

1) What can you tell us about how DMV KARS formed? I know you previously played together in Edie Sedgwick with Justin Moyer.

DMV KARS: We were both out of the music scene for some quite some time and hadn’t seen each other for a while. We met up as friends, we were both going through a lot of personal shit, and we reconnected — we both really missed playing music, and decided we wanted to do a really fun project together.

2) DMV KARS is like a delicious ice cream swirl of all the best 80s sounds — there’s funk, electro pop, new wave and more than a bit of RnB. At the same time, DMV KARS has a vibrancy and edge that is unmistakably modern. How did you arrive at the DMV KARS sound?

DMV KARS: We had both been listening to electronic music individually (this was not what we were playing together in our previous project). We thought, hey, maybe we can make our own dance music? The new wave, RnB, funk elements just came out naturally, turning into this hybrid electro pop sound that i don’t really know how to classify. We worked a long time on the album, but I would say that the meat of the songs just poured out easily and took the direction that you hear now. We didn’t really know where it would go – we weren’t purposely trying to make a specific sound, just that we wanted people to dance.


3) How do you approach writing songs together? Do you ever just jam out and see where it takes you?

DMV KARS: Yes, we usually start out with a drum idea — then play around on keys and bass. Once a musical structure is sort of in place, JosaFeen will improv over it with her voice. Then we add the little elements later to beef up the jams. It’s a really fun process, and whenever we get a snippet or idea that is really catchy, we praise each other with sheer adulation🤣🤣🤣-even if it’s only a 5 second part of the song, we walk away with a huge surge of positivity that the two of us made something we are really proud of. So in effect, the songwriting process is really, really, really fun.

4) One of my favorite tracks is “Fukumeen.” It has a fantastic driving rhythm, vintage synths, gorgeous singing and unstoppable hooks. It also has some witty things to say about a failed relationship. What can you tell us about it?

DMV KARS: This was the fastest song we ever wrote. KBUD just randomly started playing that melody on the microkorg, and JosaFeen immediately got the vocal idea. It is one of our favorites, and it’s the one that just poured out of us the easiest. I think most people can relate to this song.

DMV KARS making music

5) Let’s talk about the DMV KARS live show. What do you want audience members to feel when they see the band?

DMV KARS: We want them to laugh, smile, and dance. ultimately walk away feeling better than they did before the set started. everyone is going through something difficult in their lives — and if you can escape from that for 25 minutes by watching two silly women prancing around on stage with light-up ties sharing their hearts with the crowd, then i would say we achieved something really special.

Listen to and buy DMV KARS self-titled album on Bandcamp, follow them on Twitter and “Like” them on Facebook.

And don’t miss DMV KARS live show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Oct. 4th, 2019 at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC 20010).