Space Camp are a three-piece hardcore band from northern Connecticut, and that’s probably the easiest, most conventional way to describe them. In the case of this band, the macho bravado often associated with the genre is replaced by a desire to take nothing seriously, and the traditional guitar is replaced by two keyboards and a trombone. Space Camp’s latest run of T-shirts feature a frat house consumed by flames, and lyrics from the band’s most recent album tell tales of uneasiness with queerphobic peers. Every song has a jagged edge to it yet moves along swiftly and effortlessly. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s totally worth it.
Sam Usifer, Jon Whitin, and Cameron Lovett have played as Space Camp for the better part of four years, on the drums, keys/trombone, and bass, respectively, with everybody trading vocals. Usifer and Whitin have known each other since elementary school, while Usifer and Lovett are cousins. The trio has been bouncing around the New England DIY circuit for a while now, generally sharing bills with other acts leaning towards emo, pop-punk, and acoustic balladry. “There’s no spot that we occupy concretely as much as there are people who like our band — and a lot of the time, our band is the only heavier band they listen to,” says Usifer. “So we just play the show.”
Most of the time, they out-weird anyone else on the bill, regardless of the genres represented.
Space Camp, who take their name from Hop Along’s “Tibetan Pop Stars,” couldn’t be more different from Hop Along in their approach to making music. Between Usifer, Whitin, and Lovett, there isn’t a clear band leader amongst them (“Decision making [in Space Camp] is two people convincing another person to flip-flop,” says Usifer), and that’s all too apparent during their live sets. While Usifer is the most talkative of the bunch, the three members are equally present onstage and ridiculously in-sync. The fluidity of the setlist and the songs themselves make it hard to believe that this music was, in fact, written by three different people with their own ideas. Space Camp laugh through every ebb and flow and thrill and chill of each tornado of a set.
The mixture of frantic-but-focused songwriting, a sense of humor, and an erratic piano (in this case, an electric piano and a MicroKorg) recalls Mr. Bungle, the Locust, and early Foxy Shazam, but collectively, they claim to draw more influence from the Chariot, the Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower, and the Blood Brothers. They also love country music. But they prioritize energy, as as tangible or intangible as it can be.
It’s certainly possible to find all six of the previously-mentioned bands somewhere in their music, but it’s far more rewarding to go into their debut full-length, Emasculation Suite, with absolutely nobody in mind. Barely cracking the 19-minute mark, Emasculation Suite offers almost no breathing room. Even the intros of “Our Lemon Tree” and “A Shark With A Gun For A Mouth Pt. 2,” which could pass for “breaks,” have timid piano lines that suggest chaos on the horizon. Highlights include “What Is That Smell?,” a half-diary-entry, half-hardcore anthem, and closer “Fuck It To Hell,” which sonically sounds like it would encourage mosh pits but most likely is actually against them.
The staples of the current live set (carefully-crafted transitions and, as Whitin put it, the “trimming the fat”) translate clearly to cassette tape and work as a development from their earlier releases, two 13-minute-long EPs — Takanakuy and HEDONISTIC LIFESTYLES — that were wiped from Bandcamp after the departure of vocalist/horn-with-pedals player Nathan Jackson. “From an edgier time,” they say.
Released in June of last year, Emasculation Suite has received a reception that Usifer refers to as a “slow build.” Lovett calls it a “baby that started growing.” The latter certainly works as imagery; Emasculation Suite could serve as the soundtrack to a B-movie about a baby that grows to be a thousand feet tall, licking phone booths and stacking taxi cabs like Megablox — playful and terrifying, with a cult following.
A few days before a four-day tour to Canada, the three members convene at Usifer’s parents’ house for practice. The suburban basement — unfinished, cramped, and littered with old cabs, bass drums, and quarter-inch cables — has been credited, along with Whitin’s mother’s minivan, with holding down the band for all of its existence. The band sets up in their usual spots, all facing each other and ignoring a support beam. A whiteboard propped up on the bureau displays ideas for future sets (they’re stoked to play with the Body, as evidenced by the set that’s already in the works, one month in advance) and unreleased songs, whose names are in flux for the time being. Right now, “Kiss My Spurs” and “Manatee Lipstick” are in the running for their tentatively self-titled release due out later this year. Lovett confirms the up-in-the-air-ness: “I don’t know if it’s self-titled. I’m thinking about it. Maybe the next one,” and Usifer calls him out for pulling for it initially. “I did, but now I’m flipping. I’ll still refer to it as the self-titled, but I might flop.”
At the moment, Space Camp are in the in-between phase of album cycles: Emasculation Suite is only seven months old, but they’ve already retired most of the songs from the live set, and they’re working out new material before they hit the studio in April. Check out Emasculation Suite below:
Emasculation Suite is out now. Space Camp is playing How Bazaar in Hartford, CT on 2/25.