Friday, December 18, 2009

Q&A: Camera

Early this year we reviewed Chicago trio Camera's EP Fire & Science, an impressive palette of "pop-noir" combining modern indie rock sounds with classic post-punk, new wave and art rock sensibilities. Camera's material has captured not only the attention of local music fans and press, but also fellow musicians and producers who are currently teamed up with the band to hone their next release, Realpolitik!.

Download MP3: Camera - "One Neo Eon" (from Fire & Science, available on iTunes)

In advance of Camera's three upcoming area shows - Dec. 22 at The Empty Bottle, Jan. 2 at Chicago City Limits (Schaumburg) and Jan. 22 at Bottom Lounge - guitarist and vocalist Justin C. Scro answered some questions for us on the band's current projects, future plans and more:

WCR: For those new to Camera, tell us a bit about the band’s history and musical style.

The three of us had grown up playing music together and by the time that Ryan and I were twenty-two and Joseph was eighteen, we were the last of the garage band kids left from the old days. We never discussed taking music seriously, but it was apparent through the years together that we all did. Once the Strokes arrived, we realized that people our own age were making music on a large scale and it was time to stop looking at a profession in music as an impossibility. We started writing and practicing more earnestly and soon found ourselves recording demos on a home recorder we had split in purchasing. The demo we recorded in the basements of our family homes lead us directly to playing our first show at the old Bottom Lounge within a period of a few months and we’ve been playing continually ever since.

We were once called "Pop Noir" by the Chicago Reader and that was the first and only time I felt that someone really nailed us as a band, even between Ryan, Joseph and myself. In a grandiose way it made me think, "What if Kurt Cobain joined the Beatles in a Quentin Tarantino movie?" That might not be the reality, but the picture it painted put us closer to where we want to be.

You have a new album, Realpolitik!, in the works. When is it due out and what can we expect to hear as compared to your previous work?

Things are very up in the air with Realpolitik!, but in the best way possible. Working with our producers Matt McDonough and John Strate-Hootman (ambient mainstay Vir Unis) has opened a lot of doors for us, even more than they anticipated when we began working together. The EP will go directly to the vice president of Sony after it is mixed and mastered. If it’s not well received there, Matt and John will continue shopping it around as a demo. Depending on where we end up - if anywhere, fingers always crossed - we will most likely re-record the EP with selected other tracks from our previous EP, Fire & Science, and some new tracks, so our first release for anyone will be a full length album.

This is the first time we’ve worked with anyone near the level of Matt and John or our engineer Paul Vnuk Jr. Paul writes reviews for the best recording gear in the world and has the option to purchase the equipment he likes at the production price, so his studio has things that are beyond any of the places we’ve seen in the Chicagoland area. It’s very impressive. So, I’d say it will sound different in quality primarily. Fire & Science was produced by Ryan and his production partner Steven Ciliak. It was their first outing and it turned out great. It represents who we were at that point musically and Realpolitk! will do the same for this era, but it will be much more defined, both musically and sonically.

How did it come about that the record is being produced by Matt McDonough, Mudvayne’s drummer?

In the fall of 2007, Ryan put an ad on Craigslist to see if we could find anyone interesting to join Camera as a back-up guitar player and keyboardist. John Strate-Hootman responded, saying that he did not wish to join, but that he loved our sound and really wanted to work with us in some capacity. John and I talked on the phone for hours and he eventually decided to come to our recording space to capture some rough demos to bring to his friend and production partner. We didn’t know at the time that it was the drummer from Mudvayne, but John played him the music which lead Matt to come to our Metro show that spring to check out if we could pull our music off live.

Both Matt and John were impressed enough by our live show to sit us down in Smart Bar and ask us if we wanted to record an album with them. They told us that all we would have to pay for was the studio time and they would work with us on nothing but good faith, pending our success, of course. If these two strangers were going to gamble all their hard earned free time based on Camera being successful, there wasn’t anyway we could or wanted to say no. We all celebrated our new partnership by piling into the photo booth together. That picture hangs above my desk.

Among the tracks recorded so far – either on the upcoming release or on the past EP’s – are there any particular band favorites?

We are very meticulous about our writing and recording methods. If any song survives to the point the public gets to hear it, we must really like it. I would say every song goes through a period where it is our absolute favorite, then we hate it, then we learn to love it again.

You recently recorded a cover of the Radiohead song “Idioteque” for the tribute CD Every Machine Makes Mistakes. How did you get involved with the project and how’d you decide on that song?

We share a practice space with the great Mr. Russia, and Ivan, their commandant, had worked with the tribute albums Lens Records had released in the past. When this one came up, he told us about it right away. We’ve covered “You and Who’s Army?” in the past, but we all agreed that if a Radiohead tribute album ever landed in our hands, the first track we would check out would be “Idioteque," let alone that it is also one of our favorite and most agreed upon Radiohead songs.

What are some bands and artists Camera get inspiration from, either locally or beyond?

Um, Kubrick, our fathers, food, weather…just kidding. For as much as I’ve rambled on here, any artist that can list what influences them in just a few paragraphs has far too narrow of interests. It’s a cliché of an answer, but everything influences us. The title Realpolitik! came out of a Janis Joplin biography that I was adapting into a screenplay, where the author described that the realpolitik of Woodstock was that it sucked and no one was awake when Jimi Hendrix was playing. I fell in love with that word. Almost everything we do has a ‘fall out of the sky’ quality like that, but it’s from a different avenue every time.

As far as local bands go, they have just as good of a shot as having an influence on us as anyone, but the few we consider comrades are Plane, Mr. Russia, Gemini Club, Bullets in Madison, Milk at Midnight, and Elipse, just to name a few.

How do you think living and playing in Chicago has shaped your music and who you are as a band?

As naïve youngsters, there was always this vision that once we finally got on stage and played a good show that people would notice right away and we’d be having beers with Billy Corgan and Jeff Tweedy within a week. The truth of it is, the music scene in Chicago isn’t what we grew up thinking it was. Hailing from the suburbs, the idea of something being cool or in never seeped into what we should listen to or play like, there wasn’t ever a genre or a goal in mind. I’m very thankful that was the case. If we would have spent more time in the city as we developed, I feel our music would have gravitated towards what was popular at the time we were coming up so we could more easily find our place.

Now that we have our own two feet, so to say, we’ve come to really love the Chicago scene because the bands we play with aren’t our heroes, they’re our friends and the scene isn’t an established tool to launch acts, but it’s something that we are all working on building together.

How would you say Camera’s live sound compares to the band’s recorded sound? What can people expect from a live show?

We are very intricate when we record. Ryan and I listened to hours of railroad bell samples before choosing the right one for the intro to “The Lasting Impression of Emperors Passed." There’s an ethic and a discipline there. With our live show, it’s like getting to let the animal back into the jungle. I would describe our shows as a cathartic experience for both us and the audience. When it’s over, you know we’ve been through something together. I highly recommend it.

Any standout gigs from the long list of Chicago area shows you’ve played over the past few years?

A few do stick out. We played a Friday night at the Double Door and it was the first time we were given a weekend there. We took the four months off beforehand and snail mailed over two hundred printed invitations to the show, really hoping to pull in a decent crowd. Over three hundred people ended up showing to see us specifically that night and it was mind blowing. The energy made for one of the best shows we ever played. The same thing happened at Schubas and the Abbey Pub shortly thereafter. It’s always a good feeling when you play to a packed house, but, as we’ve learned, we played just as hard when there are only a few people watching as there were when we made our first appearance in Madison. I would put that one on the list as well because that was our first ever out of state show and we had a blast getting to play for even a handful of complete strangers.

Where can people go and get your music and find out more about the band?

We’re playing the Empty Bottle on December 22nd and the Bottom Lounge January 23nd. We give Fire & Science away for free at our shows. For keeping up with the band and purchasing music online you can visit any of the wonderful links below:


CAMERA Facebook
CAMERA Twitter
CAMERA SonicBids
CAMERA ReverbNation
CAMERA BandCamp (site under construction)


  1. Wow. This guy is really full of shit. The Chicago music scene, which Camera really doesn't contribute to, is small enough to know the band doesn't draw. If they were in front of 300 people it was due to the other acts. This pretentious bullshit is exactly what keeps this band from really ever working. They just sit back and wait for someone else to do the work for them.

  2. "Ass Mole," it seems like you have personal experience with Camera and its members that has led to your harsh words. You're certainly entitled to your comments and opinions, but with such strong statements I think it would be only fair to give some context.