Something special happens when old friends grow up without growing apart — something that sounds like The Long Way, The Slow Way, the first Camp Trash LP. Now in their 30s, singer Bryan Gorman and guitarist Keegan Bradford have been building a songwriting rapport in and out of bands since they met in high school in Southwest Florida, going on 15 years ago. Even as Bradford’s moved from the Sunshine State to Virginia, China and now Portland, Oregon, the two still spend hours on the phone going line by line, trading verses and debating what each song needs. “I’ve simply never considered writing music without Bryan,” Keegan told me in an email after Camp Trash released their pop-punk-leaning debut EP, Downtiming, last year. “It’s my favorite way to write music.”
The sound of The Long Way pays homage to the winding road behind them, steeped in warm guitars, organs and anthemic choruses like the ’90s indie rock and power pop of their youth. The same is true of the album cover: taken by drummer Alex Roberts, it features an open-air laundromat, viewed from the parking lot of the bowling alley that Keegan, along with his brother Levi, who plays bass in the band, would visit every time one of their brothers graduated high school. But as in the video for their single “Lake Erie Boys,” which follows the band clinking beer mugs and goofing off between stops on tour with Spanish Love Songs, Camp Trash is also about making new memories and starting in-jokes they can share with a community of friends and listeners.
Before the album release, the band talked to VMP via Zoom — Keegan in Portland, Levi in Gainesville, Bryan in Bradenton, and Alex in New York — about the arguments that shaped The Long Way, and the bit-gone-too-far they immortalized in “Lake Erie Boys.”
This interviewed has been condensed and edited for clarity.
VMP: I know that Keegan and Levi came to Florida by way of Buffalo, and Bryan, I know you came to Florida by way of Michigan. How has that shared Rust Belt origin shaped Camp Trash?
Bryan Gorman: I think it helped us find some of that familiarity and comfort with each other right away, but, as far as styles of music and stuff, we definitely came from different upbringings. I know [Keegan and Levi] grew up with the Bradford dad being a worship pastor, growing up in Christian churches, me being someone who made friends through the church, and then eventually finding them and playing music through the church — I feel like that was where we met, but then bonded over the fact that we’re from these two northern Rust Belt towns.
Levi Bradford: I think there’s also something about being displaced as opposed to when people have grown up together, went to kindergarten together, and then go all the way through high school, and they just know all their friends throughout their entire childhood … I definitely connect more with people who haven’t grown up in the same place their whole life. But also, the football teams are bad. [laughs] … It builds resilience and loyalty, even when they let you down year after year. I think that’s great because it’s reflected in the amount of shows that we played to nearly empty rooms, growing up. Just empty rooms, over and over again. Even when we got let down, we kept going back until we finally had a band that did something.
I know you recorded with [producer] Kyle Hoffer in Orlando, who you also worked with on Downtiming. What was the conversation like going into this record, being fresh off the EP?
Bryan: I don’t think we were prepared to have to write another record. We initially were just like, “Let’s get these four songs out and have something that is recorded between us.” We’ve been writing songs for so many years that it felt like it was time to have something that we could document, and that was ours, so, yeah, I think quickly turning it into, now we have this opportunity where Count Your Lucky Stars is willing to give us a contract where we could actually do a full-length record, meaning that we actually have to write more songs — [laughs] it was a little daunting, but I think we just wanted to write a record that felt true to who we were as people. Like, true to the type of songs that we wanted to put out in the world. Initially, I think, we didn’t put a lot of thought into, “What does this mean?” … We just had songs that we were working on that we wanted to see through. I think it evolved over time.
Keegan Bradford: There were a lot of sonic touchpoints that I wanted to reference. The [song] “Through With People” by Portastatic has this really rich acoustic-electric guitar blend that I bring up all the time. There’s a lot of emphasis on Bryan’s vocals in our music. I think out of the band Camp Trash, Bryan is the one with some real talent, so we’d like to put that on display. He’s always been a great singer and a really cool writer, so trying to get his vocals out front without making him feel very present and in the room with you, and making a record that sounded warm and had hallmarks of these ’90s Merge Records albums I like a lot — giving it something of the ’90s radio pop thing, like the Gin Blossoms and stuff that I’m really into.
Kyle and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to incorporate those kind of guitar tones, and I like to obsess over things and really, really fiddle with stuff even though I’m not an expert … Kyle likes to plug a ton of shit in, twist all the knobs everywhere, and then just run and gun, so between the two of us, I think we found a good working rhythm for the guitar tones on this album, which is a little bit different than I had envisioned, but I think really suits what we’re doing.
Bryan: I think we also knew that we needed to work with someone who was already familiar with us because, again, we don’t live near each other, so we really had to chunk off a period of time where we could get together. It was like, one week. We had songs that weren’t written yet, even going into the studio. Like, three days in, we were still in pre-production, and we were like, “Guys, we have to record 12 songs in — now, like, five days.” So, working with Kyle was good just ’cause [laughs] as the good friend that he’s become, we were OK with wasting his time versus wasting someone else’s.
Alex, Levi, what was it like for you guys coming in on this?
Alex Roberts: It was great. It was my first time, other than the EP, going through a whole recording process, and I definitely learned a lot as far as recording drums goes versus just practicing and playing. Kyle did a great job bringing out my full potential and capability, and he pushed me in a lot of ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise probably played.
Levi: I liked it for the most part. I think I’m a rather contentious person sometimes, and having my brother in the band means that I feel very free and willing to argue about things, so most of the conflict throughout recording was just between me, Keegan and Kyle, arguing about what one of us disagrees about a thing. And it was almost always me disagreeing that something should happen ... and Keegan and Kyle were almost always right.
What was the biggest conflict?
Bryan: Tempo changes? [laughs] For the most part.
Keegan: We have one song — and I don’t even like it anymore, but the song “Poured Out,” we’ve never done a song this long before. Like, a five-minute song. I don’t know if we ever will again, but this was a song that Bryan and I had been working on for a really long time, and it became clear that the intro had to be slower than the rest of the song, and the question was when and where we were going to speed it up. Levi was just very sure that how we chose to speed it up was wrong.
I don’t know if it was or not, but I think it’s a healthy dynamic. Me and Kyle and Levi were often like The Three Stooges but, like, three assholes arguing in a circle over nothing. Like, just debating something that didn’t matter to death, but I really, really like that. I really like when everybody involved in the process truly gives a shit about what we’re making and, yeah, I think the tempo changes were the arguments we had. Levi was often like, “This doesn’t matter if we speed it up or not.” And I was like, [laughs] “I’ll die for this tempo change.”
Levi: That thing you said about agonizing over the things that don’t matter, I feel like that’s a very you and us thing to do. Keegan loves making lists and ranking things, really trying to parse out whether this one record is better than this other record by a band, when, in reality, they’re just minor differences. I think that’s one of the things that makes Keegan a great editor, is that he is very willing to go painstakingly over every detail and debate whether this is the best option or not, even if it doesn’t make any difference in the end.
Keegan: Right, even if it’s a big circle. [laughs] And Levi gets very tired of that process specifically, but his input is always really valuable, even if it requires both him and I to take a lap before we can figure out what the fuck we’re actually talking about. But, yeah, especially when I talk about music, I think that people think I’m doing hot takes or being controversial, or trying to argue, and I just really like music. I just really, really, really enjoy it, and the only reason I do this — you know, it’s not a secret that a band of our size doesn’t really make money. Camp Trash pays for itself, and that’s about all we can say for it at this point, but the reason we’re doing it is ’cause we really love it.
I have spent my entire life calling Bryan in the middle of the night like, “You have to hear this record.” And he’ll be like, “Yeah, I’ll listen to it.” I’m like, “No, don’t get off the phone with me until you put this song on. I just keep thinking about it.” Levi and Bryan and I have been sharing music and favorite bands since we were kids, and I think it’s that energy of sharing an enthusiasm for when you hear something and it just blows your fuckin’ face off, and you’re just like, “Why is this so good? Why does this really light me up?” … It became really fun in the process of making this record to also spend a lot of time on the sequencing, for example.
We recorded the entire album in a different sequence and then had to bribe Kyle into rearranging it for us after the fact. I just realized way too late, like, “This isn’t moving the way we wanted it to.” And so maybe all these conversations and minutiae about music don’t really matter, but they’re a huge part of what I love about it.
Bryan, were there any points on this record where you felt like you had to fight for how you were seeing things?
Bryan: A lot of my work was done in the preproduction and writing; for the most part, I was pretty confident about what I was going in wanting vocally, lyrically. I don’t consider myself a musician in the instrument sense. The guitar is really just a mechanism for me to write stuff for my voice, so I give up a lot of that to Keegan, Levi, their instincts.
There was definitely a mood within the songs that I wanted to capture, but I didn’t really have to fight for that — I feel like within the band, there’s a lot of trust in me. Keegan is someone who will definitely challenge me on certain things, but the second I challenge back, he’s like, “OK, I get it. If you’re fighting for it, then it’s worth it.” … I’m still happy with the record. I still like “Poured Out,” regardless of Keegan’s opinion on it. [laughs]
Keegan: No, I’m joking about it to be nice, but we’re right. That’s the only way to do it, and if Levi did it his way, the song would suck.
Camp Trash being built on such a long-running collaboration between you guys — obviously it was a big deal to have your first EP come out. How does it feel to be on the cusp of the full-length? Does it feel more real?
Bryan: I think that we’re all a little exhausted by the fact that it’s been so long, but the reaction from the first couple singles was really great, and it got us excited again … We’ve been going on tours and playing shows, having to play a lot of songs that aren’t even released out of necessity, ’cause we don’t have enough released songs, [laughs] so I’m just excited to be able to play it in front of people, and maybe people know it and are excited about it.
Alex: I feel the same way. I do a lot of the design work, too, so I think we nailed it as far as that goes, and I’m really excited for people to get to touch the vinyl and see the artwork. Me and another Alex, Alex Hancock — he’s an amazing designer, too. We collaborated on all the artwork, and he specifically did the CD packaging, which differs from the vinyl itself. There’s just a lot of cool little details in there that I think people will really like, and I’m just as excited for that as the music because I think they really accompany each other.
Bryan: That’s a good point. We’ve had the tour variants, but none of us have seen or touched our actual vinyl yet, so I’m excited about that, too, just being able to see the artwork in real life.
How was the Vinyl Me, Please swamp variant decided on?
Keegan: I’ll tell you what —
Keegan: The vinyl colors that we have decided upon, after great debate every single time — we get the vinyl back, and I go, “Who the hell did this?” We debate for hours. We have all these meetings. We get drunk on Zoom. We look at all the colors. We try everything. And whenever we get them back, I’m like, “This was the worst idea. What happened?”
Bryan: [laughs] I think every time, too, I’m always like, “Wait, why are they this color?” And Keegan’s like, “We agreed on this!”
Keegan: “We chose that!” The swamp one was cool ’cause I wanted something that was a swirl, and I also wanted to reference the — there is a swamp vibe to Florida. Like, the mangroves, they’re really pretty, but there’s a murkiness to that brackish water and everything in Florida that I thought fit with the swamp thing. But, in general, I cannot tell you what decision-making process was involved in the choosing of our colors. [laughs]
The “Lake Erie Boys” video was footage of all of you on tour. When was that recorded?
Bryan: When we were together in Iowa City, I think, was the first time we started filming. There was some footage on our way up, and then on tour all of May. We were intentional about wanting to do that. The video for “Let It Ride” was chaos, just trying to get all of us together to do something without a budget, so, initially, we weren’t super happy with what we got out of that. But we also wanted to have another piece of content to come out with “Lake Erie Boys” and decided, “Let’s just take some footage of us on tour. Just classic band footage,” you know? We were really intentional about making sure we got as much as we could, and our friend Trace McNabb, who is a video editor who lives in LA, very quickly, with no money at all, agreed to do it and delivered something I think is really fuckin’ awesome. He did a great job capturing the emotion of the thing.
Tell me about the watermelon smash. I must know.
Bryan: Oh, god.
Levi: This is great. Oh, this is so great. This is what we should have talked about the entire interview. I have no idea how the Gallagher bit got started. I think at some point we got into a conversation about Gallagher, and I think it was Keegan who looked up where Gallagher is now.
Keegan: No, there’s no explanation for this … I don’t know how it started, but the bit has gone so far. We now own the Gmail account firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t think it’s good to know where it came from — I think it’s better with the way I experienced it. Bryan brought me this idea, which was so pure. There’s a play called Waiting for Godot, by the famous playwright Samuel Beckett.
Levi: Where are you going with this?
Keegan: The whole point of the play is there are two people who are waiting for Godot, a person who is not described or explained. He never appears, and the play features them waiting, debating if they should go, deciding what they should do, and just — they stay there. They can’t leave. They’re waiting for a person that never arrives.
“That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth,” in the words of Beckett.
Keegan: That’s exactly how it is. You know, we can’t go on, we must go on. And so Bryan decided to take this bit of theater and say, “What if Godot was Gallagher?”
Levi: The underlying idea was we would get on stage with a watermelon and a stool and a sledgehammer. We would just set it up in the middle of the stage and not address it, and then take it down after the show was done. Never speak of it.
Bryan: [laughs] We kind of chickened out of ever doing it, ’cause we were just like, “It’s ridiculous for us to even try this,” but we were on the Spanish Love Songs tour. Spanish Love Songs had to cancel the rest of their dates because Dylan [Slocum] got COVID, so the last day of the tour, which was just us and Save Face, we were like, “Well, let’s just go Gallagher tonight. We’re gonna go home after this probably.” So in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with Ogbert the Nerd —
[laughs] That makes it so much better, that it was in Asbury Park. I don’t know why.
Keegan: I was working that day, so I was on my laptop outside, and in the group chat, all I see is Levi messaged, “Ogbert’s bringing the sledgehammer.” I’ve been opposed to the bit the whole time. Like, “We’re an opening band. Nobody wants to see us do [that], this is a confusing joke.” Levi just says, “They’re bringing the sledgehammer,” and I go, “No no no, what’s happening?” Bryan says, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not your business. I’ve got a watermelon.”
So we do it. We find the stool, we bring the sledgehammer in, we put a watermelon on stage, and god bless him, the guy working front of house at the House of Independents is, naturally, fucking terrified. He sees us setting up fruit and a sledgehammer, and he’s on stage within seconds, going, “Hey. Guys. What is happening?” And Levi is like, “Hey man, don’t worry. We’re not gonna smash it,” as if this is gonna calm the guy down. “We’re gonna pretend like we’re gonna smash it, but we’re not gonna smash it.”
We have 15 minutes to soundcheck. Everyone’s trying to get busy, and Levi’s trying to figure out how to explain the Gallagher bit to this man in four seconds or less, and he can’t, so there’s, like, three people in a circle, and the sound guy for the tour was there, like, “Hey, don’t worry. I promise they’re not gonna smash anything,” and it was like a fucking Seinfeld bit.
Bryan: The [most convincing] concern after a little bit — like, just to try to force us not to do it — was, “Well, that’s our stool.” [laughs] “We don’t need you destroying our stool.”
Keegan: So when the show was over, we had to go out back and smash it, obviously.
Taylor Ruckle is a Northern Virginia-based music writer who still regrets not collecting a full Conventional Weapons 7" set before the MCR breakup. His work has appeared in FLOOD Magazine, Post-Trash, Merry-Go-Round Magazine and more.