After an accidental three year hiatus, Stoke-on-Trent’s Camp Stag are back with a bang and a whole lot of promise. They made their return on Thursday 21 March at Artisan Tap with a bigger line-up, bigger soul and bigger sound.
I spoke to bassist Chris Wilson and frontman Dan Nixon ahead of the set to reminisce the past six years, and see what we can expect from their return.
How and when did Camp Stag form?
About six or seven years ago? I [Dan] was in a band that split up so started to do some solo stuff. I kind of got bored and lonely so I booked a rehearsal room at Tremolo in Stoke and sent a group message out to a bunch of friends asking if they wanted to jam. About eight people turned up the first week and that dwindled very quickly. Whoever stayed the longest ended up being in the band and some of them haven’t left yet.
Why did the band take a hiatus?
It wasn’t an intentional hiatus, but we’ve not played for about three years. Our last gig was Kendall Calling in 2016. We had done a tonne of gigs, expanded the line-up, written a load of stuff and desperately wanted to do an album. The band had some money from royalties, so had enough to start our own studio. We bought a load of gear and locked ourselves away with the intention of being away for about six months. Then life, weddings and babies got in the way.
What is your favourite memory/gig for Camp Stag?
Chris: It’s got to be Glastonbury 2013. There have been some really stand-out moments, some of the gigs that weren’t the best probably have some of the funniest memories, playing to empty rooms and having a laugh with mates, but for me it’s Glastonbury.
Dan: YNot? festival. We got there and it was pouring with rain and everyone looked about 12 years old. We weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but we headlined the stage and there was such a good vibe and everyone was really in to it. After, we came off stage buzzing and it was such a good feeling – that was the first time as a five-piece we really clicked.
What’s it like being in a band now compared to before the break?
Heavier. It’s louder and it feels more lively. Tonight [21 March] is our first gig as a seven piece so we have three guitars, bass, drums, synths and vocals backing vocals. We haven’t officially announced them as full-time members yet – well, actually, we haven’t asked them. Maybe if we just put it on Facebook they’ll have to stay. It feels more like a family now; we’ve been a band for so long that we feel like brothers (and sister), now.
Now some of you have gotten married and had kids, what’s it like being in a bad when you have those responsibilities?
We think it’s benefited the music, because we can’t just drop everything and go on a 30-day tour. Our music reflects that now. If we want to do something we have to work for it ourselves. It’s focused us, because we don’t really have that free time, so it makes the time we do get together count more. It means more when you write something and it feels right. Every gig we do and rehearsal we have has to really mean something because the time is precious.
What’s kept you all good friends throughout the years?
Beer. We were mates before the band. Rich, Tomos and Alex were all in a band before that I [Dan] was in awe of, so getting on stage tonight with the three of them in my band is just amazing. We have a lot of respect for each other and there is a real family dynamic.
Is Stoke an important place for you to play?
Absolutely. When we first started, like most bands, it was: “How quickly can we get out of Stoke and gig everywhere?” and unfortunately, at the minute you aren’t going to get national recognition in Stoke. It’s our home and it is such a massive part of our identity. We still don’t have a definite name for the album, but I have one in mind and it’s very much Stoke-related. A lot of its lyrical content is also about Stoke in tracks like Glass Street. It’s become more important to us.
What can we expect from the ‘new’ Camp Stag?
A bigger, bolder sound with more dynamic. If you compare the first EP and last EP, it shows a real progression where we have gone musically. There is a lot of synth and keyboard and our keys player loves New Order so there are definitely echoes of that in here. I think it’s a more refined, mature sound; it’s probably the most Camp Stag we’ve ever sounded.
What have you got set to be released?
There will be a single dropping before our next show at Lymelight Festival during early May Bank Holiday. We did a soft release of one of the new album tracks on Facebook called Let’s not be here, which has become a favourite of the band and it’s a lot of fun to play – it goes on a real journey.
The next single will be the official single and then some point over summer we hope to release the album. As we mentioned we got a few royalties and Sirens was played on Jeremy Clarkson’s Grand Tour, so the money we got from that we are hoping to release the album on vinyl. We’ve been really fortunate as a band that we’ve one most of the things that we wanted to do, like festivals, prime time radio, tours, recording and making our own mini label, and so this is the last thing to tick off the bucket list.