Torched Magazine is excited to introduce you to some pure California gold today with Craig Camp and Clara Hembree and their band Maheekats. The self-prescribed “haunting dream rock” duo originated from Santa Barbara, CA in 1999 and later moved to the Tahoe area where they’ve continued writing and creating new music. Their sound can be defined by its otherworldly vocals, surreal and poetic lyrics, edgy post–punk, dreamy psychedelic, alternative art rock, old school goth and progressive sonic experimentation.
I was introduced to Maheekats by a friend back in 2001 when he gave me a copy of their first release ‘God Has A Cadillac Too’ which really struck a chord.. My first thought after giving this album a spin was that their sound was quite special and would appeal to wide audience because it brings together many different elements across a wide spectrum of genres all the while keeping the music uniquely their own.
Maheekats would go on to to release their sophomore album in 2012 with ‘Phosphorus Man’ and the single ‘Devotee Bees’ in 2014 featuring Alesis. A new version of ‘Devotee Bees’ featuring Mario Calire (The Wallflowers, Ozomatli) on drums was released in 2015. Their third album ‘Songs From The Woods’ was released in 2016 followed shortly by a remastered version by Paul du Gré in the same year. In 2018 they would release an album of singles entitled ‘Maheekats Singles’ followed by the single ‘I Want My Heart’. Their entire discography is currently available for listening and purchase through their bandcamp page.
A fine example of their surreal lyrics can be found in the single ‘Devotee Bees’ which tells the story of Sri Yukteswar and how “the devotee bees sought the divine nectar of the liberated master.” When you’ve had it with the world and nature is the all-accepting force. Remember we are not alone. Nobody is alone. Also, remember, follow yourself.
Craig Camp and Clara Hembree give us an inside look at Maheekats with the following exclusive interview.
Did you grow up in a musical environment? When and where did it all start for you?
Craig- Well, sort of. There was classical music playing all the time, and Broadway Shows. My grandfather worked at Paramount Pictures, my father was an art professor and my mother is a professional artist also. So, in a way, I was influenced heavily by the arts. Some friends invited me to their house and one of them played bass and the other played guitar. The bass player had a snare drum because he was in the marching band in junior high. So I just grabbed the snare and started playing along with them. They said “That’s it! You need to get a drum set!” My sister had been taking drum lessons so I pulled my sister’s orange sparkle Ludwig out of the garage and just started teaching myself how to play.
Clara – I didn’t grow up in a musical or artistic environment but my mom used to play a lot of vinyl records like Jim Croce, ABBA and Cat Stevens. Haha! We would go to see symphonies at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. No matter where we went, I always brought a notebook and some pens. I loved to write. When I was 12, I had a babysitter who played guitar. One night as she was falling asleep, I started gently strumming the strings in the other room and tripped out on the sound. I guess she heard me because the next day she asked me if I wanted to learn how to play. Of course I said yes!
What was the inspiration behind your 2016 release ‘Songs From The Woods’? Were there any differences in the 2018 remaster?
Craig – We had moved from Santa Barbara to Lake Tahoe and we finally had enough room in the house we were renting to put down some songs that we had been sitting on. So the inspiration was really just to get some work done. So we released it ourselves. At some point, can’t remember when, we contacted our friend and mastering engineer, Paul DuGré in Burbank. One thing led to another and we were going to have some CD’s made so we decided to have him remaster it. We had to remix a few tunes also.
Are your lyrics generic or based on real experiences?
Clara – The lyrics are mostly based on real experiences. But I also like to explore imagination. Shotgun is about living in this world where war is still a reality and how it needs to stop. But the song, When Lightning Strikes is about two vividly imagined characters who I built a story around. Bedlam Bo Peep has several meanings but the thread throughout is about struggling with depression and seeking a higher consciousness.
How would you explain the sound of your music and your process in creating a song?
Craig – Hmm, well, that sound is based on feeling really. We put together sounds that resonate with something we want to hear to match the rhythms. Like, that’s a cool guitar sound, let’s put that here. Or this bass line will compliment the vocal melody and drum rhythm. It depends on the song which instrument will be recorded first. With an idea, any instrument can be laid down first. And when we go to record, it’s usually drums first, then bass, guitar, keyboards. Vocals are almost always recorded last. It’s like making a collage and stepping back and looking at it to make sure the colors and shapes are working well together. So in the end it ends up being a unique sound and we’ve heard people say “I don’t know where to put you in my playlist” or “your music is genre adjacent.” It’s good to come up with something different, right?
How has your music evolved since you first began playing together?
Clara – Well, I started out writing abstract indie type acoustic songs. Which was really odd because I was into bands like Killing Joke, The Mighty Lemon Drops and The Cure. Christian Death, Skinny Puppy and Rudimentary Peni phased in and out too. I went dancing at goth clubs in Hollywood and those artists were my influences. So instead of evolving, our music is actually revolving back to my original influences. As it turns out, Craig was also listening to mostly the same music. But in the past, he has also been in a really popular ska band and a punk band.
Craig – So, we are evolving to revolve! I guess that answers the question?
Photo by Forrest Conifer
So much has changed in the music business since you first started out.. Have these changes helped or hindered your creative process?
Craig – In the past, we were focused on writing the music in hopes of getting a record deal of some sort. Then going to a recording studio with a producer and engineer who handled those jobs so you can focus on being a songwriter and musician. Yes, we are now in Hindergarten! On the other hand, there’s a lot of freedom in doing it yourself. Because you can put down your ideas and put them up on the web without any obstacles. So I guess it’s good and bad.
Clara – I think it has hindered out creative process because we’ve had to focus on publishing our music on all the different platforms and keeping everything updated instead of focusing on writing more music.
Do you have any hobbies outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
Craig – Going for walks in the woods really helps because I get all these big ideas. It seems to stimulate ideas.
Clara – Yeah, I like going for long walks in the woods and watching the birds and enjoying the patterns of tree bark and lichen on boulders. Listening to the wind through the pine needles or watching the yellow aspen leaves flutter in the wind. Collecting an oak twig and pretending it’s a magic wand! Nature seems to rejuvenate my creativity.
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Craig – One of my influences is actually a producer named Steve Lillywhite. I liked what he did with U2 on the albums, War and Boy, XTC’s Black Sea, and Simple Minds, Sparkle In the Rain. Not my quote, but I heard someone say he gave them a bombastic sound. Classical music was another big influence, like Holst, The Planets and Voyage en la Balloon (Jean Prodromidés)
Clara – Classical music has also been an influence for me. I really enjoy Beethoven and Handel. They’re like my two favorite composers. Letting my mind wander with my imagination while taking a bath or watching the fireplace or the snow fall. Sometimes those moments are my greatest influences and I try to grasp the feeling. The Emptiness is a song about one of these moments.
Do you have any plans for live shows? If so, when and where?
Craig – Not at the moment. We’re putting together the proper ingredients.
Is there anything else that you would like to share that I may have missed?
Clara – We would like to add that we’re consistently working on writing new material and would like to release a new album this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us!
Craig – Thank you so much the interview.
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