By Ray Chelstowski
What most people don’t realize is that the music scene in Nashville is remarkably diverse. There you can discover quite a few sounds outside of “country.” What isn’t common are jam bands. That’s in part why The Cameroons so quickly caught my attention at the recent Sound on Sound festival in Bridgeport, CT. The band’s musicianship and authenticity were also difficult to dismiss. Then, there’s the group’s unique approach to percussion. This involves a washboard, a small snare drum and crash cymbal, and a kick bass — all played standing. It reminded me of how Steve Amedee from The Subdudes uses tambourines, rubber hoses, and percussive's strapped to shins to create a sound that few kits can replicate. Some might call it a stunt, but for this group of troubadours it’s something that adds a dimension to their sound that has great texture. They took the Sound on Sound stage a few Saturday’s ago, high in the lineup. There a group of thousands who had never heard their music before received them with a spirit and energy equal to their musical output.
The group has been building a following across the country that includes such notables as actress/activist Jennifer Garner who has said of their live performance: “That was such a great surprise. They made my night.”
She hits it on the head with a simplicity and ease that defines the “Cameroon” approach to music. Goldmine’s Natural Funk Projekt had the chance post-festival to catch up with guitarist/singer Ben Cameron, and guitarist Joe Andrews about an entire range of subjects; most which didn’t make the final edit. But with Joe, an established artist having been a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, and his longstanding partner Ben, Goldmine developed an understanding of the path forward for a band about to break wide.
Goldmine: How did the band come together?
Joe Andrews: Ben and I have been playing together in some capacity for over 20 years. This is just one of many things that ended up happening. We have a couple different directions that we like to go in and they are all based on our mutual love of 1960’s and 1970’s music, as well as our love for improvisation, antics and humor. We also like to just keep a flow, chemistry, and energy happening when we play. We operate off the cuff and know a lot of songs but don’t necessarily go into things with a plan. That makes the experience of playing together great and this is one of the band forms that at its core is all about our partnership.
Ben Cameron: I don’t know if The Cameroons were supposed to be the focal project for either one of us that it’s become. It really came out of a monthly jam session at this hole in the wall, storied diner in Nashville called “Browns.” We’d play every third Sunday from three to five. It would be the same fifteen people who were already regulars (including singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith). Joe and I had always committed to playing gigs on the side of whatever projects we were involved with because we were friends from college. We just knew that we would have the same interest in music and songwriting. At some point we inherited this friend of ours who was a washboard player. Again, we love antics and a spirited performance environment. This was all born out of an interest in doing something fun, buoyant, and joyous which was rare at that time in Nashville.
GM: That’s a great segue. You have a unique approach to percussion. Have you ever just thought it would be easier to put Tom Landstreet behind a proper kit?
JA: A lot of what we are searching for is uniqueness, something that’s different. Ben and I have had an electric version of this band and it ends up sounding like every other jam band. For a long time, up until a year ago this band was made up of two acoustic guitars. I didn’t play electric. It was a softer atmosphere that was much easier to listen to. Eventually as we tried to lift this music even further, we added our keyboardist Lucas on bass. We split off his left hand into a different output and put a synth bass on it, which is quirky and endearing. We also just added some synthetic elements to the washboard as well as some triggers to elevate the snare drum. This provides a bigger sound without us having to have a big drum head on a stand. It’s all about our search for something a little bit different.
Sound on Sound
GM: How did you come to be recruited for the Sound on Sound lineup?
BC: I had played the Governor’s Ball as a solo musician in 2014. Governor’s Ball has very quickly skewed toward a Gen Z demographic; whereas Sound on Sound is a music festival built more for Gen X and Millennial's, not the TikTok crowd. I think The Cameroons fit and perform very comfortably within that realm.
Building a Set List
GM: You performed in front of a large crowd of folks who probably had not heard your music before. How did you approach building the set list?
JA: I played a lot of festivals with Old Crow Medicine Show and those for me are the most fun to play because they are high-energy and we go in and just wear it out, going as full-throttle as we can. I like that fast-tempo approach without much down time. With this one we wanted to play our strongest, most energetic tunes. But we were working on the set list five minutes before we went up on stage, figuring out what our best foot forward might be.
Candy Apple Red | White Pick Guard Telecaster
GM: Joe, you played the Telecaster the entire set at Sound on Sound. What details can you share about the guitar and is it your “go to” for live gigs?
JA: That’s a K-Line Telecaster is from a guy name Chris Kroenlein out of St. Louis. He’s a custom boutique builder. I got that from a guitar player friend of mine about ten years ago. Where and when I use it really depends on the gig and the ensemble. I play a (Gibson) 335 in more of a rock band setting. But a Telecaster fits the kind “country-politan” thing that this band has. It’s not too heavy. I play a lot of clean, hybrid picking stuff with the “Tele” and it lends itself better to a neck pick-up sound that is nice and pretty. My style is more of a mix of Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, David Rawlings, and Tony Rice and Trey Anastasio. These are the players that have influenced me the most.
GM: When can fans expect to see The Cameroons release their debut?
BC: The next step is content, so there is something to connect the dots. There are a lot of people who have seen us across the country but there hasn’t been something yet to hold onto after the fact.
JA: We’re trying to figure out what The Cameroons are, to a definitive end before we put it down on a record. We’ve played together for 20 years, but this particular project is finally coming to a fully formed place. We’ve been working really very hard the last five years to build the live show and our brand. That has purposely been our focus, not a record. Now we can really dig in to the creative side of things.