Jim Camacho Talks Little Haiti Rock City, The Mouse King, and Touring With Linda Perhacs
Photo by Fernando Perdomo
Welcome to the Swamp.
Nope, we're not talkin' Tim Tebow's breeding ground up in Gainesville -- we're talking the 2014 Miami Book Fair International's pop-up lounge. And performing at this year's Swamp is Miami composer and adult alternative singer/songwriter Jim Camacho.
Joined by fellow SoFla music legends Charlie Pickett and Rob Elba, the Swamp will also be presenting a special screening of the trailer for Franco Parente's upcoming Churchill's Pub documentary, Little Haiti Rock City, where Camacho and his crew share their unforgettable moments at the Little Haiti gem.
Last Spring, Camacho debuted his latest work, Everywhere, a five-song EP released under Forward Motion/Broken Records. Named one of the top albums of 2013 by us here at New Times, it features the title track and standout singles "Hold On Ariel," "Clear Design," and "Big Little World."
But with the holidays right around the corner, the music junkie will be presenting Mouse King, a musical reworking of The Nutcracker from the mice point of view, featuring master puppeteer Noel MacNeal at the Mandelstam Theater in South Miami in December.
County Grind caught up with Camacho to discuss the Book Fair show, his upcoming holiday musical, touring with folk legend Linda Perhacs, and whether money beats soul.
County Grind: Because your next gig is the Miami International Book Fair on November 19, we have to ask what book are you currently reading?
Jim Camacho: Right now, funny you should ask, I'm reading the new Gene Simmons book, Me Incorporated. It's interesting to hear about his beginnings. I didn't really know anything about him, but his mom survived the Holocaust and came to America with a dream. It's just a beautiful story about how awesome America is, where you have a chance, a shot to do anything you want.
Have you played the Book Fair before?
A long time ago I did, maybe about seven years ago. It was great fun. I played an acoustic set, but this time it will be a full band -- a different experience. I'm looking forward to it.
What are your thoughts on playing on the same bill with Rob Elba and Charlie Pickett?
I've played with those guys many times, and I have a lot of respect for Charlie and Rob. If I had to choose my favorite people from this scene, it would probably be them two, no offense to anybody else. Those guys are awesome, and it's going to be great to share the stage with them.
I would agree in terms of longevity and what each means to their genres.
Yeah, Charlie was finishing up when the Goods (Camacho's former band and Mercury Records' recording and touring artists) were just getting started, and we played and became friendly with him back then. He was a guiding light for us, as he'd been through it all before. When we opened up for Pearl Jam, he hung out with us during sound check, helped us with our guitars and stuff -- it was just an honor to have him there with us.
In a sense, that moment was sort of a passing of the torch.
Exactly! He was kind of going back and trying to find a way to get away from the music business, and getting a career going in law, which he did and he has really kicked ass at that. Yet he is still as amazing as he has ever been. When he gets on the stage, no one can touch him.
Tell us about your personal history with Rob.
I met Rob at a wedding, before the Goods even existed, before the Holy Terrors (Elba's well-known post-punk band, which once featured current Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino) even existed. It was a random meeting -- we were seated at the same table. I have this belief that in life you are surrounded by the people you are supposed to be around, and I would say that would be the case with Rob because my brother (Goods' keyboardist John Camacho) and I met him before any of the musical shenanigans we ever got in to. It's really funny how that worked out. I don't even remember whose wedding or where that was -- maybe Rob would remember better. I think there are some pictures from that night.
Something else that is going at the Swamp the night you are all playing is a special screening of the trailer for Franco Parente's Little Haiti Rock City documentary. What is your favorite memory of Churchill's?
I've got so many favorite memories, but Churchill's is a special place for me. I just recently did my interview for the LHRC documentary, so I don't know whether it will be in the trailer, but I spoke about a few of my favorite moments during it. I would say one of my favorites is the Goods' first show, back in 1989.
Isn't everyone's first show at Churchill's?
Yeah! (Laughs) Brian (Warner AKA Marylin Manson) and Scott (Putestky AKA Daisy Berkowitz), when they were first starting out, I remember hanging out with them there at Churchill's and them asking us if they could open for the Goods. So they did for their first show at Churchill's.
So Marilyn Manson's first show was opening for the Goods at Churchill's?
That's rock 'n' roll history right there!
Yes, but it was a horrible experience for them. They had a very tough night. But everything they wanted to do was already there -- the raw power of what they had was already there. They didn't have a drummer yet, and it was very raw, but I've always had a respect for them. Both Brian and Scott are very nice and smart guys, very talented people. Also, doing Fools' Paradise [Camacho's first musical, which also starred Elba] for the first time there was very memorable. I remember Dave [Daniels, former owner of Churchill's] being very happy that night. I think the Goods had the record for the most amount of people [for a performance], but then we broke it with Fools' Paradise. Actually, we're going to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of FP coming up.
How do you feel about being a part of the upcoming LHRC doc?
I'm happy that he [Parente] is the one doing it. I feel like he really gets the scene. The team making it understands what it's about; they have a good perspective on what it is. They have the right cast of characters being a part of it, from Iron and Wine and Iggy Pop to the Holy Terrors, Charlie Pickett, the Jacuzzi Boys -- they have the right perspective on Churchill's. There is no one better to be doing that. These guys have an investment, a rock and roll soul and ties, experience, blood, sweat, and tears. They grew up in the scene, enjoying it and were a part of it. I feel like it's an honor to be a part of that and think it will be an accurate tombstone (laughs) if nothing else, or an accurate time capsule. I couldn't think of a better person than he; it's all heart. He will take it to the finish line in the right way, I'm sure of that.
What's it like working someone as accomplished as MacNeal?
I love Noel, his enthusiasm and his energy and his commitment to the blank page. He believes that anything is possible -- he has all these things and he wants to move real fast on them and it's really an inspiration to work with him. I'm really happy that we've collaborated on what will be our fourth show together, our fifth production, but our fourth show. We've worked on three shows at the Bronx Zoo, three different shows over the last three years and each one gets better. Our relationship with the Zoo is great, the audience is really enjoying it and we've been adding more and more shows each year, and it's been a real success. James Wojtal, Jr. has also been a part of the team there, everyone from the puppet builders to the performers has been great. It's been a great honor to be a part of that whole show.
So, Noel conceived Mouse King but you are the musical muscle behind the production?
You could say it that way. Mouse King was something that he'd been kicking around for some time while I was living in New York. We met through a mutual friend and his wife, at dinner, suggested we work together. When I heard the idea of Mouse King, I thought it was such a wonderful concept -- I nudged him on it. Actually nudged him a few times until we met a coffee shop and brainstormed an outline of where the songs would be and how to take it from a page to a stage. So we did that and now we have it and we're putting it on for a second year in a row. Last year, our first two shows sold out, which was really like a dream come true.
What's new about Mouse King this year?
I'm pumped up about this one -- we added another show to satisfy the demand and we have some exciting surprises. It's has a bigger production value, it's become more of a story, there's more music and there are more puppets. There's going be just a little bit more all-around than last year. It's going to be a special production and fun for the whole family. There's always a chance if we sell out all three shows that we add a fourth.
See also: Jim Camacho Does It for the Kids in Nutcracker Musical Backstory The Mouse King
Some much goes into putting on a production like this. What is your favorite part about preparing for a musical?
That's really tough, I mean, it's the hardest thing that I do, is producing musicals, much more difficult than putting on a musical like Fools' Paradise and Guru the Musical (2009), where they are more like concert versions. But an actual production is more of a challenge. My favorite thing about it is, I would say, at the end of the day, having had it come to life as close to what you have imagined.
Sitting there, relaxed and in the afterglow. That's my favorite part, the afterglow. Feeling that you have accomplished what you desired, what you fought for, what you worked hard for and accomplished. I mean, if you really knew the amount of work you had to put into something you really wanted to do, you wouldn't do it (laughs). I don't think of it that way, instead I think, 'I would love to see that on the stage, this music, this song by this puppet, in this scene.' Then you don't think about the work, you don't think about the time, you think about the joy of doing it and how good it's going to feel when you accomplish your end result. That, plus you think of having smiling kids, a smiling audience and a full house of people who really enjoyed themselves.
Which is your favorite song on the MK OST?
I like all the songs, I mean, I know that's a cop out, but I really do. I try not to be too married to things, since this is a brand-new show, it's still evolving. There are still minor changes there happening. I need to stay open to musical changes that can make the show better, the story clearer, or make the whole experience stronger. I guess I kind of want to have a healthy distance from really falling in love with the song, although I'm really proud of the work that we did.
Come on, Jim, what's your favorite?
I really liked 'How Could She Be Bad?' I like 'How Odd,' 'The Kingdom of Sweets.' I'm proud of the whole thing, but at the same time, I'm open to whatever changes have to be done to make the show stronger.
You toured your latest solo release Everywhere this past spring and summer, traveling to the West Coast and to England with folk legend Linda Perhacs. What was the best moment on tour with her?
I enjoyed all the shows on the tour; all of them were great for me. But for me, the one that felt more sacred was the one at Hollywood Forever. I loved playing Seattle, but it wasn't the same. The cool thing about that tour was that the venues were all unconventional: converted churches, or like in Pioneertown - an amazing ghost town - in the middle of a Joshua tree forest. The choices of concert halls had to do with Linda, who is such a spiritual person, a sweet soul and a musical force for good. Getting to hear her music every night was a real treat.
What was is like to play Hollywood Forever?
I felt a little more empathetic to the spirit in the room. I did feel a spiritual connection (to the Hollywood legends interned nearby), it's hard not to. There's something special about that place. Playing there was probably my most intense experience on this tour.
What was your favorite city from the tour of the NW and why?
I enjoyed playing Portland, love Portland. We stayed at a woman's house, Sadie, a friend of Linda's manager; she was nice enough to take us in. On a day off, myself and Linda's band, we created our own band and we wrote a whole album in one day, which we're working on now and are planning to release sometime in 2015.
Tell us about the recording session at Capitol Records.
We had another day off and there was a song that everyone was really excited about from 2005's Stalker Songs called "Ophelia", and I felt like I was in a really good place with it. We decided to try to capture the energy of that tour in a big place so we figured "let's go to Capitol" and we did and recorded it plus vocals for some other songs from my new record, which will be out in 2015.
Is there any new music on the horizon?
Yes, there's a Jim Camacho record in the works and the collaborative record by the Linda Perhacs' touring band. I'm always writing and what's great about being an independent artist is that you don't have anyone telling you, 'You have to get it done now,' so I can let the songs grow. I've got so many songs that are ready to go, that just need to be recorded; it's a real gift, a real luxury to be able to take your time with them and get them just right, and then release them when they're ready.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Continue to support good music, don't give up on original ideas and original, creative souls, because they still exist. Just because people are selling out very large venues with people playing records and people are jumping up and down to the emperor's new clothes, don't give up on the soul, because it still exists.
So does money beat soul or does soul beat money?
I think soul exists with money and without money, it has nothing to do with it and everything to do with it. If you have soul, if you are giving people great value and hopefully, if you are not an idiot, then there can be money made from it. And it's not a bad thing to make a lot of money. I guess that was an off-handed shot at DJs who play other people's music and have a bunch of people jumping at them while they are playing a record.
Jim Camacho. With Charlie Pickett and Rob Elba. Wednesday, November 19. The Swamp at the 2014 Miami Book Fair International. Presented by the Knight Foundation. Miami Dade College - Wolfson Campus, 300 NE 2nd. Ave, Miami. The event starts at 9 p.m., and is free and open to the public. Call 305-237-3000 or visit miamibookfair.com.
The Mouse King. Friday, December 12 to Sunday, December 14. Mandelstam Theater, 8530 SW 57th Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $20 plus fees mousekingtickets.com. Call 305-662-2736.
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