Caamp: Letters to Your Future Self
January 13, 2021—it’s nearly 4 a.m., and Taylor Meier is in a hole.
Morning is coming—he knows it—but right now the sun feels so far away. He’s all alone, the sounds of silence pressing down on him. He picks up his guitar and fills that space; nothing special, just some familiar chords. But then a melody begins to grow, like a vine winding from his strumming fingers to his lips. He picks up his phone and presses record, and “Sure Of” tumbles out—a minute and 15 seconds of whispered reassurance. He’s reminding himself that it won’t always hurt this bad.
“All I know is the rain has left me still standing/ And you can’t be sure of the morning,” he sings, his gravelly voice so hushed it sounds like he’s trying not to wake a lover who isn’t even there.
A year and a half later, “Sure Of” is the stunning last cut on Lavender Days, the third album from Caamp—the Columbus, Ohio band that Meier has led since 2012. It arrives after 11 sparkling, stripped-down, and straightforward folk anthems—each one catchier than the one before it. But where those 11 selections are crisp, clean recordings, the “Sure Of” that appears on Lavender Days is Meier’s original iPhone voice note, completely unadorned and unprofessional. For that minute and 15 seconds, listeners are right there with him, a few hours before the sun rises. And that’s exactly where he wants his fans to be.
“I was feeling the same way I had felt for months and months, and I was just questioning myself—my mind was full of self-hatred, misty-eyed thoughts, doubt and dark. But I listened to it during the following days and weeks, and it became medicine over time,” he says now. “Some songs are letters you write to your future self. You don’t realize until the time is right.”
Lavender Days is full of those songs— written as Meier recovered from a breakup in the heaviest days of the pandemic. They are not only songs about loss, forgiveness and understanding, but also celebrations of the everyday highs that balance out those devastating lows.
“See through it all/ Like you’ve got a gold pocket looking glass,” he offers on “Sure Of.” “I hope when you’re looking back/ You look back with love.”
When he sits for this interview mid-June, Caamp is in the midst of a massive outdoor arena tour with modernfolk troubadours The Lumineers. It’s a leap forward for the band, introducing their songs to thousands upon thousands of new listeners.
Though the members of Caamp are currently rolling across the country on a 12-bunk tourbus—no small achievement for any musical act—their mode of transportation is still puny in comparison to The Lumineers’ touring juggernaut of multiple buses, trucks and a whole crew. Meier and the band—banjoist Evan Westfall, bassist Matt Vinson, keyboardist Joseph Kavalec and touring drummer Henry Allen—are intent not to let this opportunity slip by.
“We’re a pretty good match sonically with The Lumineers on this tour, but their fans are tenacious for them. They are here to hear The Lumineers, there’s no mistaking that,” says Meier. “And it’s not a game or competition, but we are trying to win them over—capture their ears and eyes and hearts—in the 45 minutes we got onstage. We wanna convince their fans why we fit—why we even exist.”
Lots of bands have origin stories that begin in high school or college. But the seeds that grew into Caamp were planted even further back, when the future bandmates were still actual children.
Meier and Westfall both grew up outside of Columbus, Ohio, in a sprawling suburb where families water their lawns and football is basically a religion. When Westfall remembers aloud how he met Meier, his eyes light up, and a grin expands across his bearded face. He’s immediately transported somewhere; he’s a kid in the Midwest once again.
“I had this girlfriend in the fifth grade, before there were cellphones. I asked her out on the last day of school, but then I didn’t see her the rest of the summer,” he says. “And on the first day of middle school that August, I heard she was going out with Taylor—some kid from the other school district. So I was like, ‘Oh, this dude.’ Then we ended up in the same peewee football league. We were doing a drill together, and I couldn’t tackle this bigger guy. I was really hard on myself. I remember turning around, and there was Taylor. He patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘It’s all good. You got this.’”
Since then, Meier and Westfall have been basically inseparable. By high school, they were playing music at neighborhood parties for their parents’ friends. Meier says that they mostly focused on “white boy reggae,” packing their setlists full of, as Westfall explains, Sublime and Slightly Stoopid covers, and high-school rock band standards like “Heart of Gold” and “All Along the Watchtower.” After The Lumineers’ debut dropped in 2012, the duo worked “Ho Hey” into their repertoire.
They briefly parted ways when Meier headed to Athens to study at Ohio Universtiy and Westfall remained in Columbus at a community college. But their separation didn’t last long.
“Evan felt like he was goin’ nowhere, just spinning his wheels. So I told him to move to Athens and, at the very least, we’d have some fun,” Meier says.
They hit the college town coffee shops, and began swapping out the Sublime selections for Meier’s new originals. The aching, gorgeous “So Long, Honey” had the crowd at Donkey Coffee stunned silent—and the duo knew they were onto something.
Leaving college in the rearview, the lifelong friends released their sparse, self-produced, self-titled debut in 2016. The 10-song, 29-minute set was more of a slow burn than a massive hit, and their beautiful, acoustic sing-alongs— all anchored by Meier’s passionate, full-throated vocals—eventually crept into numerous folk-rock playlists and gathered millions of streams. On the road, Westfall and Meier would trade off who played kickdrum, giving their folk cuts some backbone.
By the time they dropped By and By in 2019, Caamp was a trio with their old friend, bassist Vinson, on board. The shows got bigger; they traded support slots for headline shows. Caamp expanded once again in 2020 when they invited Kavalec to join their gang on keyboards.
“Joe’s one of my best buddies, too. He was in Cleveland painting and working in construction. I told him that if he learned every single Caamp song and knew them better than me, then he could be in the band,” Meier says with a laugh. “And, well, he did.”
Caamp was now a well-oiled machine, driven by a group of best friends who were trucking around the country. They brought fishing rods on tour to catch dinner when there was a watering hole near the venue, and footballs and frisbees for when there wasn’t. They learned to navigate each other’s strongest and most annoying qualities. And every night, they lit up the stage with a mix of bittersweet folk songs that, from the beginning, were always about celebrating life’s more mundane, everyday moments—just like catching up with old friends.
On the road with The Lumineers, Caamp has been thrust into a new realm of touring life. Meier says that it’s hard to find peace and quiet for his morning coffee and cigarette. But they still refuse to take themselves too seriously.
When Meier is asked about the gash under his eye—clearly visible during his Zoom interview—he says that he broke his nose in three places and got seven stitches under his eye from “genuine horseplay two weeks ago in West Palm Beach, Fla.—and a valuable lesson learned about poolside etiquette.”
“Nothing against the state but, fuck, weird shit happens in Florida,” he says with a laugh. “You should’ve heard the nurse when we went to the hospital. She said we are the reason Florida gets a bad rap: People from Ohio come down and do crazy shit, and it gets reported as ‘Florida man.’ She might not be wrong there.”
So far, the band’s thoroughly enjoyed playing their Lavender Days material live; the compositions are already some of the strongest in their arsenal. Westfall even calls first single “Believe,” a jolt of energy that may as well be subtitled “Good Vibes Only,” one of “the heaters.” On the record, that song actually begins with the sound of a popped-open beer can, and Meier crowing, “And when that sun shines through ‘till the break of dawn/ Baby grab the keys and leave the dogs at home.”
But Lavender Days’ hopeful tone actually emerged from a place of darkness. It was 2020, and Meier’s longterm relationship had fallen apart—he lost a partner and their shared pup, just as the pandemic locked everyone fearfully in place.
“I’d never seen him quite like that before, ever,” Westfall says. “All I knew was that I needed to be on call. I didn’t know exactly what to do other than just be there—even if we weren’t talking, just sitting together in the same room.”
The medicine of music helped; throughout 2020 and into 2021, the members of Caamp would regularly meet up in Columbus in order to test out the songs that were pouring out of their grieving leader.
In early 2021, they cut a cover of Tom Petty’s solo tune “Square One” and dropped it as a stand-alone single. The Petty-Caamp connection goes deep. On tour, they’ve been routinely joining The Lumineers to play “Walls.” Its lyrics read like one of Meier’s mantras: “Sometimes you’re happy/ Some days you cry/ Half of me is ocean/ Half of me is sky.”
Meier calls Petty “the common man’s hero, and a rock star at the same time,” writing straightforward songs that cut to the heart of any matter. For Westfall, a longtime Petty-devotee, The Heartbreakers were always an aspiration: “You can tell they were best friends, and it shows in the music.”
As Caamp assembled Lavender Days, they kept The Heartbreakers in mind: “Mike Campbell says their motto was ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,’ and that stuck with us throughout this whole experience.”
Indeed, with Lavender Days, Meier and the rest of Caamp were sure not to get in the way of their refreshingly simple and straightforward tunes—which are, in turn, heartbroken and hopeful.
“It’s so easy to overthink your way out of the best, simplest and most direct ideas,” Meier says. “You can trip yourself up in your own vernacular, but what you wrote down first, or recorded on some voice note, probably hit the nail on the head. I’m a staunch believer in unadulterated art; I don’t want to overanalyze my songs.”
“Lavender Girl” is the best example of Meier’s method: a tried-and-true concept made fresh, Meier singing, “I’ve never danced/ Till I danced with you, my love/ Couldn’t hear the music/ But I’m sure it was good stuff.”
“That song involved no overthinking at all,” he says. “I was in a very dark place, and just kept strumming those chords. I had the boys over and I played it on my old piano—five times through, me crying my eyes out every time. Fuck, it was heavy— and simple—and exactly what it was supposed to be.”
Caamp recorded some of Lavender Girl with Brad Cook at Sylvan Esso’s studio in Durham, N.C., before returning to Columbus to wrap it up. By fall 2021, it was in the can. The album is lovelorn and lovely, Meier mourning the end of love by remembering the everyday moments that lit him up.
“I really think you’re cute/ When you’re working in your garden/ And you think I’m handsome when I play the guitar,” he sings, audibly grinning, in “Garden Song.” In “Apple Tree Blues,” he and his love are “Walkin’ in the sugar cane/ And wander ‘round the country in the pouring rain.”
“I’m no follower of any religion, but I do know there’s god in these small acts,” Meier says. “Everyone takes walks, everyone gets caught in the rain, everybody over analyzes kisses. It’s just the language of the common man, our common heart— the mundane, the underrated.”
Lavender Days hits a peak at its halfway point with “Light,” tune Meier co-wrote with Vinson during a particularly low point. It’s yet another track that revealed itself as medicine the more he strummed. The tune’s chorus sounds like a compassionate plea from a best friend watching you writhe and struggle: “What lights you up?/ What makes your blood run cold?/ Until tomorrow you can drown away your sorrows/ But nobody likes drinking alone.”
“That was a question I was asking myself,” he says. “We all have our ways of working through self-doubt and heavy questions.”
Meier’s ‘utmost hope,’ he says, is that “this Caamp album strikes people in the right way.”
He adds, “I hope it’s sonically and spiritually uplifting to anyone who hears it. I hope that it reassures you that, wherever you are in your life, it’s going to be alright.”
He pauses and runs his fingers through his mustache.
“And that’s advice I’m giving myself, out loud, even now.”