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In Conversation: Camp Trash Talk the Decades Long Friendship That Led to Their Excellent Debut EP Downtiming

It’s kinda funny how the chatter about what has made a new band successful can often miss what really makes the group so great. If you’ve read any of the fantastic press Camp Trash has got around their debut EP Downtiming you might think the band was a sentient twitter account, conjured up by The Almighty Algorithm with the perfect mix of pop hooks, emo angst, and self aware humor to reach anyone and everyone who is interested in DIY music and addicted to the bird app. However, Camp Trash didn’t come from an algorithm but from deep down in Southwest Florida. Sometime around 2007 the Gorman and Bradford families uprooted their lives in Michigan and Buffalo and brought them down to Sarasota, Florida, just deep enough where you’d have a better chance of playing live music at a local venue yourself than seeing any band you’d actually wanna see play there. The two families’ eldest sons, Bryan and Keegan respectively, met in high school and became quick friends, bonding over both being new in town and their mutual appreciation of the sadder varieties of indie rock. They started what’d become a lifelong process of sending one another pieces of songs seeing if one could complete the other’s puzzle. Their beginnings were humble. Before they even sniffed the basement and coffee shop circuit the fast friends started off playing worship music for Charismatic Youth Services, the only act in town that had not only people eager to teach them the ins and outs of playing the guitar but also had ample opportunities for new musicians to play. In fact Keegan, Camp Trash’s lead guitarist, recalled a portentous service trip to Wekiwa Springs where he learned to play the bass in real time after being told he was about to hop on stage and fill in at bass during a worship service that was going woefully long. 

Even as their religious fervor died out and Keegan left Florida the two kept sending bits of songs they were working on back and forth. They’d by then graduated to those basement and coffee shop shows playing under the name Friendship America just for fun whenever the two of them, Keegan’s brother Levi, and their buddy Tony were all in Florida together. As the years piled up however, they realized a couple of the songs the two of them had written together were actually really good. They started thinking of the more seriously considered songs as a separate project, with their friend Alex hopping in for Tony on drums. After a fateful show where the newly minted Camp Trash showcased the tracks they were proud of while opening up for their alter ego Friendship America and fellow Florida DIY luminaries Worst Party Ever, they decided it was high time they got some of these songs properly recorded, just so they’d have the files for themselves. Keegan got to joking about the semi-real group on twitter, not really imagining that everyone would end up hearing this Camp Trash band he kept talking about. They shacked up with their dear friend, producer Kyle Hoffer, for a long weekend in Orlando to record the handful of tracks they had finished. By the end of the weekend they were happy enough with the end result that they turned from “Maybe these will be good enough where we can put them on BandCamp without being embarrassed” to “Hell maybe we could shop this around to a label”. When the now officially named Camp Trash heard that there was interest from Count Your Lucky Stars, a defining emo revival label whose releases essentially soundtracked Bryan and Keegan’s college years back when they had just started sending some of these songs back and forth, it felt like a match made in heaven.

Their debut EP Downtiming is the end result of a decades long labor of love from these lifelong friends. They had been workshopping songs like “Bobby” for almost as long as Bryan and Keegan had known one another. “Bobby” in fact was the first song that the two of them split 50/50, and its lyrics are a grab bag of inside jokes from Bryan’s family. The song nearly didn’t make the tape either. That was until Keegan’s wife Raquel suggested it be included seeing as it was the most fun of all their songs, changing the trajectory of the band forever and cementing the song as a personal favorite for both families. The tape’s other standout single “Weird Carolina” similarly documents those earliest memories of their friendship, with Bryan saying it was written shortly after he’d moved to Florida. Right as Bryan felt like he had the kind of friend group in Florida he had left behind in Michigan his new friends were ready to move out of their hometown and head for the mountains of North Carolina. While both songs were written almost a decade ago they sound as fresh and catchy as anything released in 2021. While their sound is certainly of and indebted to the modern DIY emo scene, the band readily admits they sound more like the Gin Blossoms than any of the bands they’d play shows with, which if anything is a testament to how catchy these tracks really are.

I had the opportunity to chat with Bryan and Keegan last week. We talked about the recording processes of both Downtiming and their upcoming debut LP, their origins as a Christian pop punk band, and how hearing demos from fellow Florida DIY friends has helped keep them sane during the pandemic. 

GSC: What are your names and how do you identify?

KEEGAN: I’m Keegan, he/him pronouns. Cis white male, as we say in Portland living on stolen land.

BRYAN: My name is Bryan, I am also he/him, Cis white man.

KEEGAN: Not a lot of diversity between us.

BRYAN: We’re both Irish.

KEEGAN: We try to occupy as little space as possible, show up, play our little pop songs, and get out.

GSC: So the name of the band, Camp Trash, is it garbage at a campsite? Is it trashy people at a camp? Or is it something else entirely? When you hear Camp Trash what does that mean to you?

KEEGAN: It was originally just a thing to call ourselves because our other band was playing a show and in the middle of it we were like let’s play some new songs and call ourselves something else. Bryan came up with Camp Trash on the spot and I still don’t know where it came from.

BRYAN: Keegan was living in China for a while. Him and his wife came back to Florida for like a year, and he and I decided we’d play some of the songs we’d written throughout high school and early college. I feel like we just had a long chain of texts back and forth about what the band name could be. Then we had a show that we could play and we just like decided on one of the names, there wasn’t really a lot of thought about it. We came up with the name, played the show, and we have the YouTube videos to prove it. We can’t get away from it now, we are Camp Trash forever and always. 

GSC: I like it a lot, I’ve heard you guys say there is no such thing as a good band name but it’s certainly not a bad band name. 

KEEGAN: The best thing you can say about a band name is that you don’t think about it.

BRYAN: To answer your question though I don’t even know, I don’t know if it’s trash at a campsite or trashy people at a camp.

KEEGAN: I think it might be like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something. Campy trash movies, that seems cooler to me. Somebody else said that and that seems cooler than what I had in mind.

GSC: That seems cooler than what I had in mind too.

BRYAN: I have no idea where our brains were in 2016.

KEEGAN: We were drunk I’ll tell ya that. Not necessarily a great time in life.

GSC: The cover for Downtiming is absolutely gorgeous. I love the colors of it, the picture too. The way you have it laid out feels like Nothing Feels Good or Power, Corruption, & Lies with the color scheme up top and at the bottom. What was happening in that picture? How did that cover come together?

The Album Cover in Hi-Fidelity

KEEGAN: I love that you pointed out Nothing Feels Good because we intentionally ripped off that album cover. The photo is something our drummer Alex had taken in Europe of some people he knew. We had a Google Drive where we’d upload photos and that was the one that immediately felt like the right mood, it was the right colors. Our music doesn’t sound super emo but we grew up with emo music and listening to it and it is definitely a huge part of what we like about music so I kinda wanted there to be some references to classic emo albums throughout. So my brother Levi and I took some colors we eye-dropped out of the photo and left some color bars on the top and bottom like Nothing Feels Good. Then the song titles on the front and the “Recorded in Hi-Fidelity” bit was taken from old 50’s pop records. I love those old records that have the information on the front and just very kinda commercial stuff on the front, and it felt really funny to have our little at the time unsigned band’s EP to have these hallmarks of big old school commercial records. We had to take them off for the Spotify release though cause apparently Spotify doesn’t let you put the track listings on the front, I don’t know why but the distro said no.

GSC: Are they on the physicals?

KEEGAN: Yep they’re on the physicals.

GSC: That’s weird, is Apple Music the same way?

KEEGAN: I don’t know, Keith from Count Your Lucky Stars said the distro was steering us away from that. Most of the art for the EP, pretty much all of it comes from Alex the drummer who does a lot of great work with graphic design.

GSC: So you’ve got some incredible press for this record from Brooklyn Vegan to Stereogum, I even saw you guys got into a Spotify playlist which might have been them playing nice after you took the song titles off. I know you’ve talked about how your online presence drew a lot of attention to the band but obviously if the songs weren’t good nobody would be bothering to write about them. What do you think has made these songs stick and make an impression so quickly?

BRYAN: I feel like we really followed our instincts on this one. There wasn’t a lot of intention behind what we were trying to sound like or do. Like I said Keegan and I have been writing songs together for so long we have a style and method to how we write, I think a lot of it was inspired, at least for me, by what I was listening to in high school and college. While I still listen to a lot of new bands we became a band that really captured a pop sound. We didn’t know what this was gonna be or if people would like it but we’ve got some really good feedback. I guess people like pop songs.

KEEGAN: Like Bryan said we didn’t really have time to think about what we were doing with it. We recorded the entirety of Downtiming in four days. That was with a bunch of technical difficulties, we were missing cymbals and had to go get cymbals from somebody in the middle of recording. So we were just recording as quickly as possible, our producer Kyle Hoffer whose a great friend and also a genius agreed to do the EP for really not too much money, for really what we could afford to give him, and agreed to do it in the week we all had together on the same coast. So we just picked four of the songs that we had together that we’d been playing for a while and enjoyed playing.

BRYAN: And that we’re finished. 

KEEGAN: Yea, that were finished. That was the other criteria, they had to be done. And we just tried to get them out as quickly as possible. But I think we aren’t really interested in creating super obscure or difficult music. When we met when we were sixteen Bryan’s favorite band was Cartel and my favorite band was New Found Glory. We like a lot of songwriter-y stuff these days but those are still bands that influence the way we write and what we like to go see and shit, we’ve always wanted to write catchy songs that we wanted to sing.

GSC: Like you guys alluded to you’ve been best friends since high school, and Keegan I know your brother is also in the band, I understand you have a bunch of siblings right?

KEEGAN: Yea I have seven siblings, I am the oldest of eight.

GSC: Love that, I am the oldest of five, that’s the Irish Catholic in us I guess. Is it particularly fulfilling to be working with people you’ve been so close with for so long? Does it feel like the culmination of some lifelong friendships?

KEEGAN: Yea, it’s the only way I think I’ll do it. I’ve said it a bunch, there’s this great Dogs on Acid song that goes “If you quit the band I quit too, there’s nothing more worthwhile than writing songs with you.” I think whenever Bryan decides he’s done making music I’m done making music. The only time I’ve really had fun making music is in the capacity of working with Bryan and Levi. Levi was in our other band when we were in college and he was in high school. I think there are a lot of people making great music on their own and whatnot but I’m not one of those people. I love making music with my friends and Camp Trash is just the next phase of what Bryan and I are always doing together. 

BRYAN: I think even if I wanted to play music by myself or with other people it just wouldn’t work out. I’m a songwriter but I’m not necessarily, I don’t know. Keegan just understands what I am trying to do a lot of the time and elevates what I do. We’ve been playing since high school, he gives me shit about what I write sometimes and I can give him something really unfinished and he elevates it and makes it really good. So, even if I wanted to do something else with others or on my own it wouldn’t work, it’s definitely a really good partnership here. 

GSC: And I think it’s something that fueled your friendship sending songs back and forth right?

KEEGAN: Yea, it only became the formal writing process sometime after “Weird Carolina” and “Sleepyhead” the last two or three years of working on songs for the full length which will hopefully be coming out the end of this year, early next year. It really started to formalize where Bryan would write a verse and a chorus or a couple verses and the first line of a chorus and would send it to me and I’d kind of finish the half of a thing that was there and send it back to Bryan. He’d take the parts there that felt like his original vision and cut out the parts that didn’t or would add a couple lines. The full length is I think four of my songs and eight of Bryan’s and of the eight of Bryan’s I think two of them were total half and halves, we each have a verse and half a chorus or something. Bryan is the primary songwriter and everything definitely rises and falls on him, like he’ll come in with a perfect song every now and then. “Weird Carolina” was done the first time he did it and I was just like “Well I’m not going to do anything to this cuz I’d fuck it up.” And the last song on the LP is another one like that where in ten minutes Bryan had it and we were like well we’ll leave that as is, it’s a perfect song. The way that we work as a song as it’s formalized is Bryan creates the creative center of something and I’ll work on structuring and composing that until it feels like it’s doing something new and interesting for us as a band. 

BRYAN: I don’t overthink anything which I think is a good thing but I think sometimes I should think a little bit more about what I’m doing and Keegan is the perfect offset where its like here is a song I clearly didn’t think through at all, could you give it a little bit of love and make it something, so that relationship has been working really great.

GSC: Well if you wrote “Weird Carolina” in ten minutes I don’t know how much time you need, but I love that kinda like a Yin and a Yang to each other. I forget where but you talked about how Camp Trash has some Christian Rock origins, starting off as a Christian pop punk band called Last Place Victory. Do you feel like any of those seminal influences shine through in the EP or LP?

BRYAN: So much chorus effect on the guitars. 

KEEGAN: Hillsong United is the real influence. I learned how to play guitars so I could play the little lead from “The Inside Out” that goes “do do dot do doooo,” like I learned to play guitar so I could do that in a worship band. That is actually where Bryan and I met originally was doing worship music for Charismatic Youth Services when we were sixteen. 

BRYAN: We needed a sound system.

KEEGAN: So basically we faked a passionate love for Jesus to get access to the place.

BRYAN: The love was very real.

KEEGAN: At the time yes.

BRYAN: We were very authentic.

KEEGAN: But southwest Florida is so so much different than people think. When you’re not in the big tourist cities you are in the heart of Charismatic Christian Churches and really unusual kinds of freaked out spirituality. I learned to play bass, Bryan you remember the weekend at Wekiwa Springs?

BRYAN: Oh yea.

KEEGAN: There was a worship service that went five or six hours and I learned to play bass because in the middle of the event someone turned to me and said “Hey you, get on stage you’re gonna play bass.” It was just the weirdest, most chaotic environment. 

BRYAN: I grew up in Michigan and I moved to Florida in 2007 so I was like 15, and in Michigan at least where I grew up there weren’t churches. Like there were people who grew up Irish Catholic and we had a big Jewish community so religion was around but it was nothing like what it was in the south. It was a little bit of a culture shock moving to Florida seeing people walking to class with Bibles in their hands, I had never seen that in Michigan. I was a sports kid, I grew up playing hockey. I fell in love with bands like Hit the Lights and Cartel, like pop punk bands and I wanted to do the same thing, I wanted to write some pop songs. At the time it felt like the only avenue for it was the youth group church bands, that was the way to do it. Last Place Victory was a Cartel wannabe band that was never close, but it’s okay.

KEEGAN: Yea church bands was where most of us learned to play. Most of our families were in church at one point or another and our friends in high school would invite us to these youth groups. It was a place where you were allowed to get up in play because you wanted to not because you knew how. Somebody would teach you if you didn’t know and that was something really appealing. As much as I think the whole institution is really fucked and there are a lot of reasons that I am glad it’s less of a presence in young kids lives now than it was back then, it still was a place where I met older people who were really excited to teach me about how to play guitar. Shout out Dontae Harris who was leading youth service there, also a devout Christian guy, really cool dude who still does church music. He’s a masterful guitar player and he also was the one who would tell us about bands we were too young to know about like early Jimmy Eat World or Hot Rod Circuit. I heard about The Promise Ring thru Dontae and he showed us which Get Up Kids records were good, and he was one of the first people who taught me how to play guitar in different ways but also showed us emo music. We were pop punk kids and when we got into other music it was indie rock like Neutral Milk Hotel and Dontae showed us a lot about what old emo music was, which became really influential.

GSC: Love that. You guys can’t see it but I’m sitting under a felt recreation of the last supper I got at a GoodWill in Worcester, MA.

KEEGAN: Righteous

GSC: The Lord is blessing this interview one way or another.

BRYAN: As always.

GSC: You guys talked extensively in your E Word interview about how a lot of these songs were written before you became a band. Obviously there was the moment where you had the free slot and decided to play these songs under a different name but was there a particular song you felt most proud of where you decided you wanted to take this more seriously?

BRYAN: I think it was more the opportunity to play. I think at the time we played a full band show for nobody at a coffee shop and we played another show opening for our other band which is basically the same band with a different drummer, and it was that show where we really worked on the songs and a set we were really proud of. It wasn’t like one song but was more that one show where we opened for Worst Party Ever and our own band and I think Farseek. That was like last Christmas right before the pandemic, and we got really good feedback from people saying we should record those songs and do something with them. We were definitely inspired by that show. At the time Andy [from Worst Party Ever] had just got back the first mix of here, online and shared it with us and we were like this sounds awesome. Kyle was in Orlando so we were just like let’s go find time to go record with Kyle and it was just an opportunistic, random spur of the moment type of thing that worked out. 

GSC: I love “Weird Carolina”. I agreed with the Eve 6 guy, I heard some of the Built to Spill influence, and I thought it was particularly interesting cuz I was once a guy who moved to North Carolina out of nowhere. What made you want to write a song about the places that were taking your friends away? I found that particularly interesting. Did you end up having a sour taste in your mouth with Carolina as a result?

KEEGAN: We wanna go on the record as saying FUCK North Carolina.

BRYAN: And South Carolina fuck em both. I feel like for me the Carolina/Georgia reference was in the moment of writing I had a lot of friends who were talking about wanting to move to the mountains of Georgia or to Asheville, North Carolina. For me I had just moved from Michigan to here when I was 15 and left a lot of good friends back in Michigan and I felt like I was just starting to get my footing with my friend group in Florida and they were all ready to leave their hometown and go somewhere else. So it was just like a combination of finally finding a thing that I had and that’s leaving so I’m tryna write a song that captured that moment.

GSC: That is exactly what it captured. I loved “Bobby” as well, the specificity of it especially. Did you have a real life Bobby you’d go to Port Heron, Michigan with and crash your Grandparents Trans-AM?

KEEGAN: Hell Yea!

BRYAN: So Bobby is my brother and growing up whenever we were at family get togethers and it was time to leave the cue was my father telling him to put his shoes on, it was like “Bobby put your shoes on we’re ready to go.” And my uncle caught onto that and would mimic my dad so it just became a funny thing in my family that we still say and talk about. So I just wanted to use that line. The song is about my family in general, in a lot of different ways. The story about Port Heron is a separate story of me and my cousin John who at the time ditched his job and his girlfriend to go see, I don’t know if you remember this band but Every Avenue, super pop punk, I think even at the time I was too old to like them. It was like the day before my cousin graduated high school and we went up to Port Heron and like his mom kicked him out of the house, it was like a whole thing, but yea it was a very specific story. That’s another song I wrote so long ago, we’ve had that song since I was 21 and like I’m edging 30 now.

KEEGAN: This is the one that almost happened too long ago to really talk about. We were so done with it we played it forever but the reason we recorded it was because it was done first of all, but also it always was a song where even when we didn’t love it the kids always love it, we’d have people singing along at house shows and stuff and I felt like we wanted to keep that energy. This was the first song that Bryan and I wrote half and half where Bryan wrote the verses and I wrote the chorus so it felt symbolically important for the first song on the release to be something that we shared together. 

BRYAN: We actually almost didn’t record the song, I don’t know what we were gonna record instead.

KEEGAN: We were gonna record “Soft” which will be on the new record which was not done at the time.

BRYAN: Keegan’s wife Raquel suggested the idea that we should record “Bobby” and it was done so we made it work, and it just turned out to be a song that sounded really good recorded.

KEEGAN: Without a doubt Raquel saved the band. We wanted to record a collection of songs. I was very dead set on it with that coke dreams mentality, saying we gotta do it for ourselves. We’re nearing thirty and we always wanted to take music more seriously, let’s just record good sounding versions of these songs for ourselves. “Bobby” was a song that got way more popular with people than we expected. I think just because it’s fun, it’s easy to hum along to and I think it has put us in a different place where we have more opportunity now to record the full length and release it. There is a very real way that Raquel enabled us to exist at all. She was just like “Bobby is the most fun song, why would you not just do the most fun song?” And she was right.

GSC: Wow so the song is almost like a grab bag of inside jokes from the band and both your families. That’s so cool, it became as personal as a song could be. You guys have talked about how the different Florida emo bands that have been important to your development. What about Florida makes it such a good breeding ground for good emo bands generation after generation?

KEEGAN: Boredom, there ain’t shit to do. There aren’t even bands coming down is the thing. There are so many bands forming all the time in Florida cause there isn’t music to go see. If you want to go see music and you’re living south of Tampa and Orlando there aren’t many bands that come down, unless they go to Miami which is way the other coast, so you’re either driving six hours to see a show or not seeing anything. We were surrounded by so many talented bands and musicians in Sarasota because anyone we knew who even liked music a little bit started their own band. We were playing shows in garages and coffee shops and storage units with Andy from Worst Party Ever, and Cameron from Farseek, Mike Evertt the drummer from Snacking played in like a hundred bands, Brian Campbell whose out in Philly now plays in a band called Null but at the time was in a chiptune band called Shady Nasty. There was Dirty Talk and Cute Fills and Betterment and like every kid we knew started a band, cuz there was not much else to do and it created a community where we’d be together once or twice a month playing a show just for the hell of it. 

GSC: So I believe you guys already have the new album recorded right? All locked and loaded?

BRYAN: Pretty much, I’m heading up this week to finish some vocal stuff but we’re pretty much done. 

GSC: That is so exciting. How do you feel like this collection of songs is different or the same from Downtiming? Is it more material that you’ve been sitting on for a while or more songs that have come about since the band has been rocking and rolling.

BRYAN: I’ll let you field this one Keegs.

KEEGAN: There are two or three songs on the record that are old songs. The first song is once again the lead off song on the record cuz it’s a throwback to an earlier time and an earlier mindset and just seemed like the right thing to lead off with. There’s a song at the end that’s like a heavily redrafted version of a throwaway song that Bryan had written that I dusted off. Last minute we cut a brand new version of that track and also went back and pulled a really old track we had never recorded cuz we felt it didn’t have the right parts. We spent several days when we got to the studio playing together before we recorded anything. Just the four of us in a room for like three days playing the album over and over trying to feel out what it was supposed to sound like, what it was supposed to be like, what the shape of it was and how we could make that a reality. And that was when we felt like we finished the last old song the right way, it took a pretty good shape and it fit well in the record. But for the most part most of the songs are ones we wrote after we recorded Downtiming. Bryan and I really kicked into high gear and started turning out a lot of songs quickly that had a lot of the same emotional throughlines to them, they all seemed to have a similar urgency. So it kinda felt like we were writing the record really early on, was this early 2020 then Bryan? 

BRYAN: Yea, it woulda been because we recorded January thru March.

KEEGAN: Yea we recorded it all in January and went back in March for a weekend. From January of last year up until October/November we were writing the songs that would end up on the record.

BRYAN: I feel like any band or artist writing a new record we would probably like to think that it’s a totally different direction than the previous release. I think it’s a little more indie rock than, well I don’t know Downtiming is indie rock, but I think it’s more indie rock than the pop route we went but at the same time I think how I write vocals it ties it up as pop songs in the end. As much as I think we wrote a cool edge record, it’s probably just a pop record. 

KEEGAN: The guitars are a lot louder, there are a lot more guitars. It’s a lot more influenced by 90s and 2000s bands like Superchunk and stuff we like a lot but couldn’t play because we weren’t that good at our instruments and I think as we’ve got better we’ve been able to incorporate more of that guitar forward sound. But I think as Bryan said our goal was to write things that feel fun to sing along to, that is the highest achievement for us is when a song and it’s chorus makes you want to sing along to it, that’s when we feel like we have a song done.

GSC: I couldn’t be more excited to hear it. Ending on an easier note, what’s been getting you through quarantine? Do you have any tv, movie, gaming, podcast, or book recommendations? Whatever kinda media has caught your attention, what’s helped you stay sane?

BRYAN: I feel like writing the record was very helpful. We spent a lot of time on it, that was probably the biggest thing. But aside from that I think I rewatched Community like 20 times.

KEEGAN: Bryan has always been more of a tv guy than I have, Bryan likes comfort TV and I only like TV that’s like upsetting or slightly confusing. We both actually really fucked with Search Party this year.

BRYAN: Oh yea sooo good.

KEEGAN: Search Party rules, it’s like if that tv show Girls was a murder mystery instead, its the perfect mix of self absorbed millennial humor that’s actually funny and this cool unsettling story. And truthfully our friend’s music. I think what gets me through is when Andy from Worst Party Ever sends me stuff, and their LP I can’t say a lot about it but it’s gonna be absolutely insane. Hearing those Snacking songs come out into the world, I think Ryan is an incredible song writer, a lot of what gets me through is when a new voice memo from one of my friends, that is the best feeling.

GSC: That is one of the best answers to this question I’ve got.

Listen to Downtiming on Spotify, Apple Music, buy a vinyl or a shirt on the CYLS web store, grab it on BandCamp, and follow the band on twitter and insta.