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Photo Courtesy Marisa Boras
In a recent phone interview, Matt Vinson, the newest member of folk rock act Caamp
, boils down exactly why he joined the former duo to this: “I think Taylor is the best songwriter in the country, if not the world.”
"Taylor" refers to frontman Taylor Meier, crooner and guitar-playing extraordinaire. But Meier’s not quick to agree with this statement.
“That’s very gracious," he says. “I wouldn’t say that about myself.”
Songs written and co-written by Meier, however, have resonated with people not just in Ohio, where the band hails, but all over the planet, garnering millions of listens on Spotify, along with European tours and choice spots at music festivals.
The now three-piece, which also includes banjo player Evan Westfall, is headed to a show in Asheville last week when they take our call. They say being in a van with them, all in their mid-20s, isn’t all that thrilling. Podcasts are played; naps are taken. All the while, they’re always thinking about their next gig, next record and next big break. They want to keep the fire going, as this is the full-time thing.
Stories of up-and-coming bands has been told ad nauseam, but Caamp really is a band on the rise. Back in 2017, they played a packed-out Grog Shop. This time around, they’re playing two sold-out shows at the Beachland. At this point, they’ve toured through just about every major American city. And kicking off a new tour this year, they’re playing them all again.
“This has been going at a gradual comfortable pace, and it didn’t happen overnight,” Westfall says of the band’s journey. “We’ve been hitting every major city now and working up to bigger rooms in every city. But, you know, we’re still in a van [as opposed to a bus]. It all feels really good though.”
Meier and Westfall, friends and bandmates from high school in Columbus, made an impression with their fierce acoustic sound in the Athens college open mic scene beginning back in 2015. After playing plenty of house shows, crowds grew, and fans were soon singing every word along with them. Westfall says it’s wild how people have taken to their songs, especially a tune titled “Ohio” (which they do plan on playing in Cleveland, naturally).
“We try to hang out with fans at shows because some of them we’ve known for years,” Westfall says. “It’s hard to put into words how much they mean to us. We hear how they first discovered our music, and stories about how they proposed at our shows and got married to our songs. That’s all you can ask for really."
Perhaps the reason the Cleveland shows are all sold out, they surmise, is that it’s the only Ohio stop on their recent tour. Fans are travelling up from Columbus (where Meier and Westfall now live again) and all over Northeast Ohio (Vinson currently lives in Kent).
Vinson, who’s known the guys since Athens, joined last year after helping to produce the duo’s Boys
“He was already opening for us as a solo artist at our shows, so it felt like he was almost a part of the band anyway,” Westfall says.
Right before hitting the road, they were holed up in a studio in Columbus doing some fine tuning to a new record, which they hope sees the light of day this summer. The new music is going to sound somewhat like their old music. In fact, two of the included songs were written even before their very first record came out. Listeners can expect the band’s usual fast string strumming paired with a sense of abandon. Powering the musical ship though, as ever, are Meier’s old-man vocals.
Meier is upfront about how he crafted his singing voice, as he doesn’t sound like a grandpa when just speaking on the phone.
“It was a lot of singing along to my idols like Ray LaMontagne,” he says. “I try to emulate a bunch of great singers, like Justin Vernon [of Bon Iver] and Norah Jones and Dave Matthews. I tried to do what they were doing, and it became what my body does naturally now.”
With the new record, Meier says he’s proud that many of the songs are written by all of the guys together.
“I think it just really shows all of our strengths as a trio,” Meier says. “Honesty is our strength. There’s not a lot of flair on the record, and there’s not a lot of production tricks. A lot of it’s based on experiences, and it’s true and relevant in the sound and the way we live our lives.”
Westfall explains that the new album shows immense maturity.
“It shows tremendous growth as songwriters,” Westfall says of the album. “We’re grown up. We’ve seen most of the country now and we’ve had more experiences. I can’t wait for it to be out there for more people to hear this time around.”
But what they’re making is folk music, a genre that had its time in the sun in the early-aughts. Even the big acts of that time period are progressing toward a new sound, as Mumford and Sons proved in a recent sold-out show
at the Q.
“What we make is mature folk music; it doesn’t have a Mumford vibe,” Vinson explains. “It’s natural, and nothing is really forced. I think that folk music is still fully alive with acts like Trampled by Turtles and The Avett Brothers. There’s a certain sect of indie alt-folk that’s still going strong that people are into, and we’re here for that.”
So with their wide-brimmed hats and rustic vibe, Caamp is forging a path ahead with the music that speaks to them and that they hope continues to resonate with other musicians and fans alike.
“We’re getting a larger audience every time we play a city,” Westfall reminds. “And that’s super, super exciting. That means that the songs are connecting with more and more people. But we don’t take any day for granted. There are millions of people who would love to be where we are.”
Caamp, Ona, Hocking River String Band, 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 and Thursday, March 28, Beachland Ballroom 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: Sold out, beachlandballroom.com