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Longevity marks Camaros’ success

Fri., July 11, 2014, midnight

Behind frontman Mark Robbins, the Camaros are a mainstay on the Spokane live music scene.
Behind frontman Mark Robbins, the Camaros are a mainstay on the Spokane live music scene.

A lot has changed since the Camaros played their first show at the Baby Bar in December 2008. Back then, they almost exclusively covered songs by L.A. punk legends X, copying the band’s fast, furious playing style and back-and-forth guy-girl vocals, and they were content to play for free beer and burritos.

Countless shows and two albums of original songs later, the Camaros are one of the most popular and enduring live acts in Spokane. Since ’08, local venues have opened and closed and bands have formed and broken up, but the Camaros are still around when the dust settles.

You’ll likely recognize frontman Mark Robbins as the star of a popular series of commercials for Northern Quest Resort and Casino; he and guitarist Eric Woodard are both teachers at Lewis and Clark High School. Bassist Kristin Robbins is Mark’s wife, and Woodard and drummer Robert Shugert have been friends since they were kids.

The Camaros’ first album – “Ladies?” – was released in 2012, a collection of a dozen catchy licks that captured the band’s raucous barroom performances. Their new LP, released today, is almost a response to its predecessor, both in its title – “Fellas?” – and its style, which is more versatile and reaches beyond the straightforward rock of their debut.

Some of the songs have been fixtures on the band’s set lists since before their first record dropped (the new album’s closer, “Box of Shoes,” is the first song the band ever wrote), but midtempo tracks such as the contemplative “Lovers Lane” and the loud-quiet-loud dynamics of “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” are the most striking examples of the band’s shifting sensibilities.

The lyrics, written mostly by Mark Robbins, offer unpredictable and often hysterical riffs on typical rock themes, such as dysfunctional relationships (“I thought I knew you / but I didn’t know there’d be so much not to like”) and drunken hookups (“Nothing’s ever on the tip of my tongue / but a high-price martini and some cinnamon gum”).

But there are also funny portraits of middle-class predictability and suburban ennui: “Cognoscenti” is probably the only rock song to ever written about a square who “got his kicks with a coupon at the Valley Mall” and “saves his money for a Taurus and a rainy day,” and “Weekend Warrior” promises, perhaps facetiously, “the salad days are on their way / you don’t need that fancy calendar.”

“You’ll be able to see the split in the record,” Woodard said. “When you hear ‘Lovers Lane,’ you will say, ‘Three years ago, they never would have played this song.’ It’s slow, it’s got an acoustic guitar in it, it’s very reverb-y.”

“This is not a guitar album,” Shugert added.

“Much less so than the first one,” Woodard continued. “But to us, it feels like every song is produced a little bit differently.”

In discussing the sound they were striving for on individual tracks, the White Stripes, AC/DC, Love and Rockets, Gary Numan and the Jesus and Mary Chain are all invoked. They’ve come a long way since defining themselves as an X cover band – though “Lovers Lane,” the standout on the record, would be right at home on one of X’s later, more stylistically experimental albums.

As with the band’s first record, “Fellas?” was produced by local engineer Norm Gall, whose band the Blowouts will be opening for the Camaros tonight. A majority of the recording was finished last August, but the band has been fiddling and fixing certain songs since, and there are more harmonies, overdubs and synth hooks this time around.

“Norm has probably given us over a hundred hours, and we pay him in Kokanee,” Woodard said.

“Like the Hell’s Angels at Altamont,” Shugert added with a laugh.

And that seems fitting, because a Camaros show is probably best experienced in the back corner of a dive bar, beer in hand. They take their music seriously, but starting a band was essentially an excuse for them to all be in the same room together.

“I don’t know what would make us stop doing it,” Woodard said. “These are the three people that I want to hang out with on a Friday night anyway.”

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