On any given afternoon in Athens, Ohio, a few thousand kids can be found milling around the campus of Ohio University, perhaps mulling whether to study, crack open a beer or three and maybe even strum a few chords on the old acoustic guitar.
Just a few years ago, Taylor Meier was one of them. After high school, the Columbus native moved 90 miles south to OU to major in ceramics, but quickly discovered that his heart was more invested in writing songs than molding earthenware and porcelain. Before long, he’d dropped out of school and convinced his former high school bandmate Evan Westfall to join him in Athens, where they began honing the heartfelt, folk-driven sound now heard on Caamp’s upcoming album, By and By.
“During my sophomore year, I started playing open mic nights,” Meier recalls. “Evan was the only buddy of mine who I’d kept in touch with from the band, and we started sending each other some songs. Athens is very tied into the music we wrote after he joined me there. It’s a really special place.” Adds Westfall, “It was pretty much trial and error for a few years, but we learned how to win a crowd over by keeping it honest and fun.”
A self-released, self-titled 2016 album quickly gained traction on Spotify, with “Vagabond” racking up an astounding 25 million plays alone. A series of U.S. tours with Rainbow Kitten Surprise then gave Caamp “a peek behind the curtain of what real touring and bigger shows are like,” says Meier. “We were able to expand our sound too, because people liked the rock moments as much as the very quiet folk elements. After that, we got some electric guitars, plugged them in and wrote some really cool songs.”
Indeed, By and By broadens Caamp’s repertoire without sacrificing the intimate feel of their early work. In fact, the album is bookended by two of the oldest songs Meier and Westfall have ever written.
Opener “Feels Like Home” was assembled in Meier’s attic when the duo was still in high school and absorbing formative influences such as Ray LaMontagne, Justin Vernon, Blind Pilot and Tom Petty. “That’s one of the original banjo-and-guitar Caamp songs,” Westfall says. “It takes us back to our roots and reminds us how we got started.” And closer “Of Love and Life” was at that time “really our first glimpse of what we could do together,” Meier adds. “Evan came up with that heart-wrenching banjo lick. We’d play it around the fire, but it was never one we wanted to toss out at a rowdy live show.”
Working with Josh Block and Austin Jenkins (Leon Bridges, White Denim) at Ft. Worth’s Niles City Sound helped the pair get comfortable with expanding their sonic horizons. “Previously we’d done all the recording ourselves and we’d definitely never been to Ft. Worth before, but it felt homey — coffee shops, cool bars, breakfast tacos and bike-riding,” Meier says. “We very quickly grew to love that, especially since the alternative was January in Ohio.”
The effervescent “Penny, Head’s Up,” “No Sleep” and the bouncy love song “Peach Fuzz” were the first tracks put to tape during the sessions and quickly convinced Meier and Westfall that they’d made the right choice. “We fell in love with those guys -- their passion and willingness to let us run,” Meier says. “We didn’t want to have someone over the mic saying, ‘Faster! Louder!’ They were super cool about that and laid-back. They let us explore the room and the instruments.”
Just prior to recording, longtime collaborator Matt Vinson officially joined Caamp on bass. Fresh off a trip to Denmark, the trio wrote “On and On and On” as the first track with them “all working simultaneously with equal input,” according to Meier. “That song embodies the sound of us as humans and writing and creative partners.”
Throughout By and By, Caamp conjures an undeniably inviting sound that will force even the most jaded of listener into a wide smile. “Keep the Blues Away” shuffles its way into earworm territory thanks to Westfall’s winning banjo melody, while “Huckleberry Love” evokes magic nights around the campfire with a little liquid courage in your belly and someone you love by your side.
The album is further highlighted by the piano-flecked “Moonsmoke,” which snuck onto the record under the wire after being written just two weeks before the final session. Says Westfall, “We’re always trying to figure out a nice combination of folk songs and rock songs with a bit more edge. We felt the album was missing a connection between those two approaches, but when Taylor played that song for us, we started messing around with it and it just tied the whole project together.”
With By and By ready for release and a busy slate of touring on tap to support it, the trio says they have high hopes and no reservations. “Caamp is a great creative atmosphere,” says Meier. “It feels so good to do what we truly, truly love with the people we love just as much.”