One viral hit from a self-released album unlocked huge opportunities for the Ohio band.
When Taylor Meier and Evan Westfall self-released their debut album as Caamp in 2016, it was one of their proudest moments. “We literally just uploaded it ourselves on CD Baby and paid $60 for the year and it was out,” lead vocalist and guitarist Meier recalls. Within two months, they were thrilled to see that their song “Ohio” was gaining traction on Spotify. “We were just kind of watching it, amazed that it even had a thousand plays,” he says. “Then one day I woke up and it went from 3,000 plays to 10,000 in one night. And then the next day it was at 38,000 and we were like, ‘What is going on?’”
They soon discovered that the banjo-powered track had been featured on a Spotify playlist. Suddenly it was on two more. Within a week it had reached No. 4 on Spotify’s United States Viral 50 chart and eventually landed on the Global Viral 50. Caamp had no savvy marketing plan, no social-media tricks, not even a manager—just heartfelt music that was resonating with an audience far beyond their hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
From the ground up
At the time, Caamp were playing open mics, coffee shops, and Mexican restaurants in Athens, Ohio, where Meier had attended college. The duo’s homespun blend of punchy acoustic rock and wistful indie folk attracted a small but loyal following in the university town. “It wasn’t glamorous, but we had a really fun time,” Meier says. “That's how you own your skills. That’s how you get used to playing in loud bars and not getting listened to, so that when you do get listened to it means something.”
Now they’ve got more people listening than they ever imagined. The band’s been selling out shows across the U.S. and Europe. They’ve played Newport Folk, Austin City Limits, Outside Lands, and Firefly, and their listeners on Spotify span from Seattle to South America to Australia. In the last year, Caamp have grown from two to four, with Matt Vinson joining on bass and Joe Kavalec on keyboards. The expansion reflects their evolution in sound, from the breezy picking and hollering of their debut to the full-bodied folk-rock of 2019’s By & By, their third studio album, which landed on the Billboard 200 and topped the Heatseeker Albums chart in the first week. In November, they scored their first No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart with “Peach Fuzz,” a feel-good love groove that highlights Meier’s playful poetics and husky howl.
Getting to this point has all been a bit surreal for the frontman. “Spotify was sort of our guardian angel,” Meier says. After “Ohio” went viral, tracks like “Misty” and “Vagabond” proved perfect fits for playlists like Morning Acoustic, Your Favorite Coffeehouse, Roots Rising, Happy Folk, and more. It’s on these playlists where Caamp were essentially “discovered” and introduced to attorney Jeff Koenig, who then led them to their manager, Adam Sensenbrenner. “Honestly, we hired him because he flew from New York to Ohio to hang out with us face to face. And that meant a lot to us,” says Meier. “Nobody else was willing to fly out and meet us and shake our hands and eat pizza and drink beer on the couch for a couple of days.”
Using data to plan shows
Sensenbrenner believed Caamp had a strong career ahead of them—both online and off. He realized their streaming numbers could translate into ticket sales with a little bit of strategizing. “We booked our first headline tour based on a combination of their strongest Spotify markets along with where they had played with Rainbow Kitten Surprise the year before,” Sensenbrenner says. Using Caamp's Spotify data he’s continued to successfully route the band’s tours. “It showed us that people were discovering the band on a playlist, and then they were going to their profile and really digesting the music," he says. "The data were pretty reliable in terms of, okay, these 400 people in St. Louis have all listened to this whole album multiple times, so let’s try to do a date there.” With big online audiences in places from Berlin to Boise, the band were willing to take some risks and head to cities that weren’t immediately on their radar. And they performed to a packed room every night on their most recent tour.
While playlists and streams have helped propel Caamp's career, they still see themselves as an old-school band, and their reflective, down-to-earth mentality shows it. “This past year I got so much older,” Meier croons on the track “By & By” with a weary wisdom that belies his twentysomething moxie.
“I just want to create sincere, honest art," Meier says. "I like to think that people listen to the things that resonate with their hearts. If you're not making music that does that, then it's not gonna be listened to.” That confidence shines onstage, but so does his appreciation for simply being there. “From selling out the Mercury Lounge in New York to coming back to Ohio and selling out our hometown venue,” Meier reflects, “you know, I feel like I've truly made it every day I wake up.”