Artist Spotlight: Camp Trash

    Before they even had any music out in the world, Florida band Camp Trash already had a good amount of hype behind them. Singer Bryan Gorman and guitarist Keegan Bradford have been playing music together since they became friends in high school, performing shows in a local scene that included Worst Party Ever and Farseek, and the pair continued collaborating closely even when they were no longer based in the same state. Joined by Bradford’s brother Levi on bass and drummer Alex Roberts, Camp Trash eventually graduated from Twitter meme to actual band when they recorded their debut EP, Downtiming, in January 2020 with Kyle Hoffer in Orlando, releasing it a year later via the indie/emo label Count Your Lucky Stars.

    The Downtiming EP lived up to the hype, landing on our year-end list and building excitement for the band’s first full-length, which finally arrived earlier this month. The Long Way, The Slow Way recaptures the unbridled energy and vibrant performances that made their EP stand out, brimming with infectious hooks worth shouting along to in singles like ‘Pursuit’ and ‘Weird Florida’. But it also sees them branching out, experimenting with longer song structures on tracks like ‘Poured Out’ and ‘Feel Something’ and paying closer attention to detail and production. The burning emotions and piled-up insecurities spilling out of the LP resonate a little bit louder, bringing up faded memories and old friends and clinging hard before letting any of it go. “When I’m quiet, I feel small/ When I’m not making noise, I feel small,” Gorman admits on ‘Church Bells’, but has already spelled out a better way to be on ‘Let It Ride’: “Stay quiet, chaotic, or something in the middle/ Loose and sharp and tangled.”

    We caught up with Camp Trash’s Bryan Gorman and Keegan Bradford for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about growing up in Florida, their friendship, the process behind The Long Way, The Slow Way, and more.

    I know your friendship dates back to when you first met in high school in Southwest Florida. What sort of memories come to mind when you think about those days and the role music played in bringing you together?

    Bryan Gorman: Keegan and I originally met through the church community. We both had a mutual friend who was one of the first people I met when I moved here to Florida. I feel like when I think about the first time meeting Keegan, it was really through the music that we were playing through churches and stuff like that. Which, in Southwest Florida, if you’re in high school playing any type of instrument, you’ve probably at some point played a youth group or played a church service. That’s kind of where we came from. But I think just being in Florida in general, it’s such a weird community because there’s not a lot of people who are, like, from here. Keegan and I are both from different parts of the country – I’m from Michigan, he’s from Buffalo, New York. We both later in our childhood had been displaced there and moved down here to Florida, which I think is the experience of a lot of kids down here. So there’s just this weird place where you feel like you’re in this kind of temporary spot between childhood and college or middle or early adulthood. For us, I feel like there’s a lot of transition. Playing music, a lot of it was just us having that unique experience here, but also being able to have that shared experience of being kids who aren’t from here originally.

    Keegan Bradford: Yeah, I mean, we were both playing beforehand, but I think we both  learned to play our instruments and play in front of people through church and youth group music, which, like Bryan said, is a really pervasive part of Florida culture. Something about the culture or the religion there is very southern, even though it’s not really part of the south like Georgia or Alabama is. Florida’s super beautiful – we lived within 20 minutes of the water and you could go out there, but the majority of Florida, even directly adjacent to these beautiful beaches, is deeply, soul-crushingly suburban, where you can’t even bike from your home to a corner store or something. You’re stuck to a car to get anywhere, you’re taking 20 minutes to get somewhere cool. And there’s not anything for kids – they’re mostly tourist towns, so everything closes at nine o’clock, because there’s no point being open later than that, and everything open later that is bars.

    And so, as teenagers, we did a lot of just aimless driving around, churning up as many miles in a day as we could just aimlessly exploring. Bryan and I would often throw a guitar in the back of the car and just drive until we found somewhere that felt cool, and then play guitar for a little bit and write music for a little bit. And then we’d put the guitar in the car and just drive around trying to get lost. It was a lot of the standard suburban boredom you hear about, but it’s especially different ‘cause, like, at least in Jersey, you can be like, “Well, fuck it, we’ll drive to Philly.” But in Florida, you’re in Florida.

    BG: And I remember growing up in Michigan, all my friends would always just congregate in a basement somewhere. And in Florida, there is no basement, so you can’t even really hide in your own house. If you’re not 16 or 17, having your license and being able to get out, there’s really no other way to hang out with people, especially at that weird age between being able to drink and still being in high school and being able to drive. Florida really isn’t a great spot unless you love going to the beach or something, which we didn’t. So for us, it really was just cruising and bringing one or two acoustic guitars and just writing quick songs.

    KB: It’s seven hours from where we were to the Georgia border, eight or nine hours to the next major city, like Atlanta. And so we weren’t traveling outside of Florida at all. It was either you would escape permanently, like for college, or you would just be there forever. There’s something interesting and sleepy and slow about Florida that feels different even from other places I lived.

    You talked about a lot of the shared experiences you had as teenagers who grew up there, but was there something about your friendship in particular that felt unique? When did you realize that you connected not just through but kind of beyond those experiences, too?

    KB: It was when we both realized we had mutant powers and we had to save the world. [Bryan laughs] I don’t know, I feel like I spent all day kind of in my own head thinking about music, this internal monologue, and thinking about stuff that doesn’t really matter to other people, which is fine. These are hobbies and interests, not the entirety of who I am. But it’s stuff I loved to think about and spent a lot of my time wrapped up in. And Bryan was the first person who was implicitly understanding what I was trying to say and valued the same things about music. Something that really excited me in music was probably going to also really excite Bryan, and vice versa. Whenever one of us would find about about a new artist or an old artist we hadn’t heard before, like Neutral Milk Hotel or the Mountain Goats, we would send it to the other person knowing that that was something that they were going to really vibe with and pick up on. And we really quickly developed a shared vocabulary for what in music really lit us up and made us excited.

    BG: My world in Michigan revolved around sports for the most part – I played a lot of organized hockey and basketball. And when I moved here, I made a very conscious decision to not want to do that anymore, because it just felt like that was my entire life when I lived in Michigan. And I loved music, I always wanted to pursue music. Although I didn’t know how to play guitar, I knew how to sing a little bit, but that was pretty much it. I just really loved a lot of bands, and I loved following music, I loved thinking about it. And yeah, Keegan was one of the first people that I met who definitely shared that love for music in a way of wanting to be someone who performed, who could write music. And I feel like we both kind of entered in different ways – I came in with experience of singing a little bit, he came in with a little bit more guitar-playing experience. And we were both at a very similar level of, like, none of us know what we’re doing, so we can maybe learn through each other to write together. Forever, I feel like we just leaned on what we felt comfortable with writing, and that’s been a natural way for us to write since.

    When you started out, did have a sense that you would keep playing music together for a long time? Did it feel like something that was going to be sort of permanent?

    BG: Yeah, but never in like a, we’re gonna go record records and play in front of people and wanting to get a lot of exposure for it. Keegan and I played music that we felt really comfortable and confident to play in front of our friends, you know, at a house show in Sarasota or at a coffee shop with Worst Party Ever. We were very intentional with just wanting to be a part of the local community playing music, and we enjoyed writing music together. Keegan and I haven’t lived in the same town for many years – he’s been in Virginia, he’s been in China, he now lives in Portland. But we always found a way to stay connected by writing songs remotely, whether it was just a voice memo app on your phone where I would record a simple acoustic guitar and vocal thing and then he would throw it into a recording software and manipulate it, add some guitar stuff. We would always find ways to write together, but we never really were intentional with being like, “We’re gonna make this a real band and tour and write records and join a record label.” I don’t think either of us saw that happening. But I’m happy that it did, because I think either way, we would still be writing together and find ways to collaborate.

    KB: Yeah, we never stopped for any real period of time. We’ve always been doing this, and I don’t know how consciously I thought of like, “Oh yeah, we’ll just do this forever” as much as I was always excited to make music with Bryan, and so it just never entered my mind that we would ever stop. It was just something that I’ve always enjoyed. Whenever I came home, especially in college when I would come home for holidays pretty regularly, we would play a show. It’s what we always did: we’d come home, practice once in my friend Anthony’s bedroom, we would write a new song that day, and would go play a very sloppy seven-song set that night in a storage unit or someone’s driveway. And that’s what it’s started as. We really liked music and songwriting, but we were really impatient and weren’t good enough to write the kind of music that we really liked.

    And so we found ways just to make really fun, high-energy, sloppy songs that would feel fun to play live with our friends, because all we really wanted to do was to join this community of kids, like Worst Party Ever and Cameron from the band Farseek had a band called Betterment, and there was this incredible chiptune emo band called Shady Nasty. And it was so much fun. These shows were so what you want out of a local scene. This was mostly in early college for us, but when we were kids, like 14, 15, 16, there wasn’t this kind of thing in Florida. There was metalcore shows at churches and there was local bands and I went to shows in people’s driveways still in Florida, but it didn’t feel like the same kind of community. It felt very performative and it felt very much like high school did – there was cliques and circles and you may or may not feel comfortable in these shows. But this little circuit of punk and emo bands that played together in South Florida felt very homey.

    As we got older, we had fewer opportunities to play because I was away from town for longer and longer. We started to spend more time kind of working on the songwriting part of it, and now we have a band that we’re actually able to put out records and tour behind. So it’s just constantly changed shape a little bit, but I don’t think I’ve ever considered it would stop.

    Has that shift changed the way you experience or share that feeling of enjoyment and enjoyment that you gained from the band?

    BG: It definitely gave us more confidence as musicians, I think, being able to see the response of people actually enjoying the way that we write. Because that’s always been something that has been more personal. It’s just been between Keegan and I, for the most part, sending stuff back and forth. So getting a real response from people and them actually liking it I feel like has given me confidence, being like, there’s more I can explore playing guitar, there’s more I can explore with my vocal, the lyrics. It’s exciting because I feel like I’m finally at a place where I’m like, I do belong here. Because people like the stuff I’m doing, and I now want to get better at that craft and continue to see how I can grow in it.

    KB: And it’s pushed us to get better. When you’re out on the road and you’re playing to strangers, they don’t have any reason to pay attention to you. If you’re not good, they can just go get a beer or whatever. And we’re playing with bands who are good, like Free Throw, who seem like a party band and then they’re all incredible musicians who never have a bad set. And then Bad Luck, who is a precision instrument that never goes off the rails. And Spanish Love Songs, who could be playing rooms three times the size and sound at home. It was just like, “We have to get better.” We are coming to this a little bit later, we kind of didn’t start doing this until it was the right time in our lives. We can be better than we are, and it would be fun to do more. I think the album is definitely better than the EP because we both pushed ourselves super hard to be where we need to be for it to continue to be interesting and to kind of justify us sticking around. We tried really hard not just to write songs, but to expand the ways we can write songs and what we could do in songs as we were going.

    BG: Yeah, I mean, the initial EP we wrote with almost no intention of anyone hearing it. It was interesting to go through that because, for the first time, there were people telling us, “Yeah, I’m not really into this.” [laughs] Because no one says that to a band they don’t care about or that no one cares about. So it’s like, all of a sudden, we were a band that some people did care about, cared enough about to say, “This isn’t that good.” So, you know, that criticism is awesome. And also, it’s a privilege, in a way, because for the first time there is a group of people who think that we’re in a position as a band big enough to be like, “These guys aren’t as good as everyone else is saying.” If we’re gonna put ourselves in this conversation with other bands that we are now on flyers with because we’re playing shows with them and touring with them, to Keegan’s point, we just had to get better. Which is fun, because we are taking it seriously now. We’re not just a band who put out an EP on a whim. We’re a band that wants to write good records and wants to connect with people in that way.

    There’s this line that I connected with that closes the record: “The people we used to be are gonna see us the whole way through.” In the context of what we’re talking about, what does that mean for each of you?

    KB: That little last section is funny. It is hard to explain exactly who’s responsible for those lines, because there’s this lyric of Bryan’s, “I’ve been loving you just the way you want me to,” which was originally in ‘Potomino’. Bryan didn’t like the version we had recorded, and then Levi, our bass player, recorded a version of it and Bryan’s like, “I actually hear something new in the song, I like the song more hearing it from somebody else. We’ll record it Levi’s way, a little bit slower.” But Levi misheard the lyric and sang, “I’ve been in love with you just the way you want me to.” And we kept it because it was just the way Levi heard it, and it was funny to us. But I wanted that original line, that first line of Bryan’s to be a part of the album, because I really loved that line. So we put that in the outro, and we needed one more line to finish the album, to get the last lyric there. Bryan, I think, was the one who suggested we reuse a line that we had cut – I had been writing a verse for something else in the album, and we cut the lyric, and Bryan said we should put it there at the end. So, that “The people we used to be are going to see us the whole way through” is a lyric that I’d written and thrown away, and then Bryan saved for the end.

    BG: I feel like for us, none of the songs are tied specifically to our personal experiences of anything. But that line specifically was definitely something that at least I think from our perspective, it felt like if this is the last thing that we do professionally – as, like, this is our record, because at this time, it was really only guaranteed that we had this one thing that we were going to record because Count Your Lucky Stars has us on a contract to do this one record. And we were like, if this is the one thing that we’re going to put out, we really wanted to write a record that we felt like we wanted to put out. So that line really communicates for us this feeling, that this is the thing that we want to see this through.

    Especially leading up to this whole experience of us signing a contract, there’s a lot of things happening in our lives that made us feel like, “Is this something we can do even at this point in our lives?: You know, we’re both pretty established with our jobs, with our lives. Keegan has a wife, I’m getting married, we both had jobs that are 40 hours a week. And it felt like the momentum of us being a band was moving to a place where it’s like, “Is this something that we have to push away and ignore? Or do we go along with the momentum and actually make this a real think?” Coupled with all of those emotions of, this is the thing really excites us and lights us up, I think for Keegan and it meant something to be like, “We’re gonna see this through.” Being a band, writing this record. It wasn’t intentional because it was something that we put in I think in the studio.

    KB: At the very last minute, yeah. It was the last thing written for the record, for sure. It was only because we changed the outro, the song was done. And then I was like, “It doesn’t really transition out correctly.” We changed the chords a little bit and then we were like, “Oh shit, now we have  two lines with no lyrics that we have to put something there.” And so we had to scramble for something, but in the way that it usually works out – Bryan and I write everything together, work very closely together, and this was like anything. We finished the record by each contributing one line, but it was the other person’s line. [laughs] Like, saving a piece of writing the other person had tossed out that we really liked. I try not to be sappy about the record, because I’m really proud of – I like guitar music, I’m proud we wrote a record of guitar music that feels fun to listen to. The only goal we had was to make something that feels fun to sing along to and there’s nothing more to it. But the sappiest I’ll get about the record is that, I mean, the kids that we were would be stoked that we had a record. So that’s kind of what that lyric is about.

    I know you said that’s the sappiest you’ll get about the record, but I always like to ask bands this question at the end. Could you share something that inspires you about each other?

    KB: I think that Bryan is a person whose first idea is a good one, and his natural instincts are really good. He trusts himself to see a song all the way through, without really second-guessing himself until the end. He’ll send me a lot of versions of songs, but doesn’t get hung up on the details of it, really trusts himself to work out an idea, to feel the vibe, to let the song kind of work itself out. And not force a song to be anything, but try and figure out what the song wants to be. I work the opposite direction. I work really, really hard to structure our songs. And to say, “This is the feeling I’m getting from the song, I want people who hear it to get this feeling.” Like, ‘Lake Erie Boys’, I worked really hard to structure it so it like felt the way I wanted it to feel. But I think our best songs, like ‘Weird Carolina’, are songs that Bryan wrote start-to-finish without stopping. We didn’t really edit it, we just added stuff to it. And I think it’s those really good instincts and a really unique ear for melody that makes him a cool songwriter.

    BG: Yeah, I feel like – thank you, by the way. But I don’t know anybody who knows or thinks about music the way that Keegan thinks about music. Like, he can show me something, and I’ll listen to it and really love it, but he’ll then give me added context or point out parts of the songs to hear that, he just hears something different or hears something that is interesting about it. And then all of a sudden, I’m hearing it that way. If I was listening to music on my own, I would probably just be like a casual listener who’s like, “Oh yeah, this band’s really cool.” And that’s it, done. He does a really good job of adding context to that and helping me understand the quality of something. And he’s very, very thoughtful when it comes to that.

    While I am somebody who Keegan claims can write something very quickly, and that my first thought is usually a good enough thought, it’s also because I’m just very impatient. I like to write something, be done with it, and say, “Here’s the thing I did,” and it’s done. But that’s typically wrong. I do you lean on Keegan to be like, “Here’s the things that are good about what you’re doing, and here’s the things that you should probably change.” Once I’m done being impatient and get the song done, typically there’s a lot of work on the back end of using that attention to detail that Keegan has, and with the inventory of music knowledge that he has, to be able to say, “I don’t think people understand if you just put this out there,” like, “You need to craft it a little differently.”

    KB: I think the writing process is built on a trust, at this point, that the other person understands what you’re trying to do. It’s really, really hard to work with someone who has a different vision for a song than you do. Which is fine, a lot of good stuff gets made that way. Sorry, someone’s riding a dirt bike or something. That’s actually – the scrapped title for LP2 was going to be The Dirt Bike Mentality, but I don’t think we’re gonna let it call it that. [all laugh] Yeah, LP2 is going to be way louder and faster and less emotional.

    But there’s a trust that the other person’s gonna get your thing, understand it and try and preserve that thing. There are songs that I don’t love every lyric of, but I do know that what Bryan’s doing has a clear vision, and I wouldn’t fuck with that. Because I want the song to be the best it can be in order to fill the vision of the person who’s writing it. I think that there is this trust that when you hand a person something, they’re going to get the shape of what you’re doing and understand your vocabulary and your language for writing, and then help see that through.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Camp Trash’s The Long Way, The Slow Way is out now via Count Your Lucky Stars.

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