After-School Activities

A band that’s half high school teachers brings some of the most danceable rock ‘n’ roll to the Spokane scene

I don’t know many high school teachers willing to come out to a pub to get drinks and talk about their band on a school night. But now I can say I know at least two: Mark Robbins and Eric Woodard, of local bar-rock group The Camaros.

They’re both teachers at Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High School — singer Robbins is an English teacher (and, oddly, also the face of Northern Quest Resort and Casino’s often-hilarious commercials) and Woodard, lead guitarist, is a film teacher. The two are joined onstage — and at the bar tonight — by Robbins’ wife, Kristin, the Camaros’ bass player, and drummer Robert Shugert.

After a few minutes with them, I’m convinced these guys would be here even if I wasn’t — they’re obviously best friends. They’ve got each other laughing to the point of tears in no time. There’s no band pretensions or images being projected. They’re just here to talk and have a beer.

“It’s all Kristin’s fault,” Woodard says, when asked how the Camaros came to be. Shugert agrees. Mark and Kristin don’t.

“I thought Eric had wanted to play music,” Kristin says.

It’s always charming when no one wants to take credit.

“We were essentially an X cover band,” admits Mark, thinking back a few years. X, one of the great, early L.A. punk bands of the 1980s, has had a remarkable impact on American punk music, both now and in the past — not the least of which is seen in Spokane. Mark’s tone isn’t apologetic, as it shouldn’t be — an X cover band is a pretty awesome thing to be. Instead, he’s reminiscent and thoughtful.

He says the Camaros have come a long way since those first cover shows, progressing into a fully original rock and roll band. In fact, they’ve come so far that they’ve been established as an essential part of a local scene — one that’s pushing vibrancy to new limits.

Today, the Camaros have reached a stage in the band’s life that they never knew they’d achieve in the first place: this Saturday, the group will release its first recording, a CD with 12 original tracks, brilliantly titled Ladies? The cover image is one with the potential to become iconic: a backside shot of four lovely ladies watching the demolition of what looks like a historic building.

The recording, a tight and earnest collection of their best originals, perfectly captures the quintessential Camaros performance. It’s a studio record to be sure, but it maintains a naturally swaggering feeling — something the group felt was very important.

“Minimal overdubs,” Shugert chimes in, referring to the recording of the album. “We didn’t go back in and punch stuff in. We played it from beginning to end. We’re a live band.”

“We wanted it to sound as close to live as you can plan in a studio,” Mark says between sips.

The group owes a partial debt to the record’s engineer, Spokane mainstay Norm Gall of underground punk legends The Fumes and, more recently, The Blowouts. Recorded mostly in Gall’s home studio, Woodard says Gall was almost like an honorary fifth member.

“It kind of sounds like a Norm record,” says Woodard. “Every time we say we’re working with Norm, no matter who it is in the music scene, everyone’s always like, ‘Oh yeah, Norm, he’s great.’”

This all so perfectly speaks to what music — and this band — means to Spokane. Working with a local figure like Gall is something a group like the Camaros can actually accomplish in a scene like this city’s. They say that Spokane’s music scene is easy to infiltrate because it lacks the limitations and pretensions of one that’s bigger and more competitive.

“It’s a big enough scene where we have places to play,” Woodard says, “but it’s a small enough scene that it was easy for us to become a part of. If this were Seattle, we would have never been able to get as far as we have.”

A lot of that, the band says, is thanks to the owners of Neato Burrito and the Baby Bar, Tim Lannigan and Patty Tully. The Camaros, among countless other local artists, were able to play their first few shows in the tiny burrito bar. But the venue has also been instrumental in creating a community of artists that the Camaros proudly consider themselves a part of.

“Some of the songs that we’re playing right now, that I’ve been writing recently, have been influenced by people we play with a lot, like other local artists,” Mark says, noting locals like Whiskey Dick Mountain and Myth Ship in particular.

The journey from friends who love music, to local fame as a bar band, and all the way to that great feeling of holding a finished recording has been a trip that has really touched the Camaros. “It’s really flattering,” says Woodard, “When somebody likes our page on Facebook and we don’t know them, I’m like, ‘I should add them as a friend!’”

Their hard work has, undoubtedly, earned them a nice spot in the Spokane local rock hall of fame. And they’re just now putting out a CD. 

The Camaros with Duck Duck Suckerpunch and the Catholic Guilt • Sat, Nov. 24, at 8 pm • Baby Bar • Free • All-ages until 9 pm • 847-1234

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