by Sam Rosenberg (@2inchastronaut)
It was the Summer of 2007 at D.C.’s hallowed Fort Reno Park, and Devin Ocampo was chewing gum. He was also tearing through Medications’ hectic anthem “Twine Time” with the precision and swagger of an extremely deft raptor, but he certainly didn’t let that keep him from jawing his Juicyfruit. I remember standing generally in awe throughout this performance, but especially of his ability to navigate those switchback rhythms while keeping a completely unrelated beat in his teeth. Fast forward to the Summer of 2014: same streetlamp, same families, friends, and dogs clustered on blankets, same Ocampo but onstage now with a new band called The Effects, and sure enough motherfucker’s still chewing gum. The whole scene was oddly comforting, capturing so many of the little continuities that make our local scene exciting; togetherness, new music by familiar folks, watching a band perform under a streetlamp at dusk in a park, the rock of Devin Ocampo, etc. However, it was also a subtle indicator of growth; just as his music had taken on new strands without losing its distinct charms, he was, in all likelihood, chewing on a fresh piece.
Originally from the L.A. area, Ocampo grew up playing in many different slipshod bands, eventually forming a more serious longer term project called “Boyd” post-High School, featuring longtime friend and musical foil, Chad Molter. Ocampo says he took recording classes at a junior college, “up until the point I could record my own band, because you had to bring something in to try it out on. After that I got kind of bored.” Upon recording and releasing a 7” with Boyd, Ocampo and Molter became dissatisfied with their local music scene and, around age 20, decided to eke eastward. After a gradual cross country sojourn, they finally landed in D.C. where they found a “small but very vibrant scene with a lot of local support for bands, which is what I always really liked about DC…. In L.A, being a local band was almost something to be ashamed of... being from out of town was a big selling point.”
In the intervening years between their arrival in D.C. and the present, Ocampo and Molter more than kept themselves busy. They played together in the “jazzier, mathier” Faraquet, and later in the “more straightforward rock,” Medications. On the side, Ocampo also lent his talents to D.C.’s stunning Beauty Pill, as well as a laundry list of other local projects, produced a handful of records, toured relentlessly, and basically did everything music-related you could imagine aside from ever booking “a single show, unless it fell into my lap,” or uttering a single word between songs on stage. This he chalks up to “fear of doing it badly...If you approach me after a show,” says Ocampo, “I’ll always make time to talk to you and answer questions. I’ve just never been comfortable speaking in front of large groups.” He prefers to focus on the making and doing, ceding the between-song small talk to either his bandmates or a bizarre and unpredictable loop pedal.
Some years of making and doing went by, Chad Molter moved out to Colorado, and after a few semi-successful attempts to keep Medications available over the counter in spite of their geological disconnect, Ocampo caved and formed a new project called The Effects. In his new bandmates, Matt Dowling (ex-Deleted Scenes) and David Rich (ex-Buildings), Ocampo has found what he says is his most functional unit yet. The struggle with his and Molter’s former power trios was always been finding that ideal third cog, and he laments that he’s finally found his “favorite band without my favorite bandmate.” This doesn’t spell the end for Medications though, as Ocampo does hope to reconvene at some point.
Having been housed in the capital for a while, Ocampo has had an insider’s look at how the D.C. scene has grown and changed. He acknowledges a hiccup in the early 2000’s, where things didn’t feel as “community based.” The perceived insularity of the scene that existed strictly within the confines of ‘D.C. proper’ sometimes led to tensions with those in the surrounding areas. These days however, he and his fellow D.C. vet bandmates see a return to form with our large network of venues and people who seem to adhere to the same DIY ethos. He is amused though, by the increased use of that term, saying “DIY used to just be something we did,” as there was no real alternative, Ocampo and his peers “didn’t have a label” for it. Whatever the case as far as the evolution of his environment, Ocampo seized every musical opportunity to hone answers to what he considers the fundamental questions of his projects, “Could I play guitar okay? Could I sing well enough? Could I write songs?” If those answers weren’t already obvious enough, The Effects’ new album, Eyes to the Light, is stark evidence of an overwhelming yes on all counts.
“My one rule,” says Ocampo, “especially in this band, is that it has to be fun. There’s just no reason to spend the amount of time it takes to be in the band if it’s going to be miserable. He says this attitude “hopefully permeates through to the record,” and it does. Eyes to the Light is not only perhaps Ocampo’s densest and most ambitious record, it’s his most carefree. Elements like the joyful “Awwwww, fuck it!” at the climax of “Low Lier” or the thick vocal harmonies in “New Isolation” are welcome wrinkles in his well-honed formula. Some of this might well be due to the band writing collaboratively, a first for Ocampo, and the synergy of their union is clear in the almost celebratory performances and arrangements. In short, it’s a really fun record. Live, the band is deliberate and tight like everything Ocampo involves himself in, but also unafraid to get loose and ‘explore the space,’ to borrow a phrase from J. Robbins, who helmed the album’s flawless production. Bootsy Collins once said, “If you fake the funk, your nose will grow,” and fortunately The Effects’ bassist and drummer are no hoax. In addition to their value as songwriting collaborators, Dowling and Rich are everything you’d want from a rhythm section: maddeningly tight, bold, tasteful, imaginative, and all while sporting modestly sized snouts. Just listen to “Anchors Aweigh,” which about brings us to the end of things I have adjectives for.
So don’t take my word for it, go check out the record, and if you happen to see Ocampo beneath a streetlamp be it on stage or otherwise, don’t be afraid to say what’s up. He’s a genial, modest guy, and you’re likely to at least get a stick of Trident out of the deal.
The Effects' Eyes To The Light is out September 29th via Dischord Records.