The ‘Round The Campfire Interview Series is Pop Break’s preview series, curated by Lead Music Writer Andrew Howie, for Summer Camp 2023.
With just about a month left until the annual pilgrimage to Chillicothe, IL for Summer Camp Music Festival, the hype is real. The buzz of planning the trip, forgetting what you need to pack in all the hubbub, and finally being on-site and making the most of a (hopefully) sun-soaked Memorial Day Weekend is a perennial ritual for music lovers near and far.
Every year I set up a series of interviews before the festival, and to kick things off with my 2023 run, please enjoy my conversation with Jared Cowen [guitar, vocals] of Baked Shrimp. They’ll be bringing their eclectic mix of noodly, bluegrass-tinged prog-funk to Three Sisters Park for the very first time and can’t wait to play for you. Check it out!
Andrew Howie: I was listening to some of your live shows the other day, and I didn’t hear a lot of covers; in the jam scene, there are typically a few standards that get passed around. Is that a conscious decision to avoid covers?
Jared Cowen: Original material is insanely important to us. A lot of our shows, upwards of 75-80%, we don’t play covers. We also love them, but original material is just paramount. I’ve been writing music from a very, very young age, probably since I was eight or nine years old, and I already had a lot of material when Baked Shrimp started. Jager [Soss drums/vocals] and Scott [Reill, bass/vocals] also have a nice chunk of original material, and they’re always working on more, so when we put everything together we end up with a nice repertoire. We try not to repeat songs in a given run of shows, and we have more than enough material to be able to do that and keep every show fresh.
AH: You’re playing Summer Camp this year – have you played before, are you familiar with the fest?
JC: I actually attended SCamp as a fan in 2016, my freshman year of college. It was just an unbelievable experience. The grounds are really unique and cool, and the lineup this year is spectacular. The fact that we get to share the bill with Willie Nelson is something super special for us to share. It’s a festival that’s always been on our radar, and it’s a dream come true to be able to play it this year. We couldn’t be more excited.
AH: If I’m not mistaken, you also have a festival of your own; what can you tell me about managing an event like that vs. your average gig/run?
JC: LonCon was started in 2021, in honor of our late friend Lon Conscious Gilman. We did it the first year at Arrowhead Ranch. It’s a whole different animal than just playing any given show or run of shows. Finding the talent, hiring staff, crossing your fingers for weather of course. It was a lot of fun! Unfortunately we weren’t able to do it last year, but we are hoping to bring it back this year. LonCon is super special to us.
AH: Your album Pork Etiquette is tough to nail down stylistically; it’s pretty all over the place. That seems to be more and more common these days. What, in your opinion, is driving this sort of breakdown of genre boundaries?
JC: I would say people are just taking more risks now. You gotta branch out a little more. Being unique now sometimes isn’t even good enough. There is so much music out there that you have to continue to push boundaries. Pork Etiquette is super special because like you said there are lot of different sounds on there. A little bluegrass, a little prog, a little straight up rock ‘n’ roll. We are all very different songwriters too, and we write different material, so it’s fun to put that all on one album and hear it come together.
AH: So bring me up to speed with where things stand right now for Baked Shrimp: shows are in full force again, tours are off to the races, etc. What are your plans for touring, new material, all that?
JC: At this point, last year  was a huge year for us. We did 120 shows. Halfway through, we just kind of were able to feel the energy from the other person onstage. You knew exactly when a change was going to happen. You just felt it, you could feel what the other guys were going to be doing. We’ve come to be so close as musicians and played so many shows together, but we also have very different influences, and it creates this unique sound of Baked Shrimp, and it all comes together and it’s really cool. In addition, the chemistry we have on stage, the live aspect is where we really feed off of one another. It creates this magical experience for us. Our other albums we did together were laid down, scratch tracks, everything layered. This time we’re going back to the studio in a month. We’re rehearsing for it and doing it live. Maybe some overdubs on top, but the majority of the record is the three of us just playing live in a room.
AH: This new studio record, will the fans be familiar with these tunes?
JC: A lot of the material has already been played. A few haven’t, we’re not sure about playing those on spring/summer tour, haven’t decided on that yet, but a lot of the material is stuff that people have heard live before. We tried to keep a lot of songs off tour until we were ready, but we’ve had a chance to play a lot of these songs live and really work them into the repertoire, so the studio versions should be everything we are envisioning them to be.
What’s fun about the studio for us, even though we’re a live band and a trio, we kind of really let our minds run rampant on some of these arrangements and songs. You know, things like ‘Why don’t we get some strings or horns or something, this could be a cool part for funky claves or organ.’ Even though we try to make the studio and live sound very different, we just let it go wild. Live we just focus on bringing that sound strong and big as a trio and sometimes those arrangements can go off live. We can end up playing a song for 15 minutes.
AH: They say the triangle is the strongest shape in nature. Do you find that to be the case with Baked Shrimp?
JC: Like I said before, the chemistry between the three of us is stronger than ever. I imagine it will be even stronger five years from now. Things are amazing now but we can’t even imagine down the line. We have learned to really work within pushing the boundaries of a trio. Expanding isn’t something that we’ve ruled out. We’ve thought about adding members and whatnot, but right now we’re rockin’ as a trio as we’ve been for the past six years, so we just have a lot of fun doing it. Not ruling out any possibilities down the line, but we’ve learned to really have a big sound playing as a three-piece.
We had a huge year last year, for the first two months of this year we’re taking it easy, getting in the studio and practicing. Live off the road for at least two months, because the road is a lot. That said, we were given an amazing opportunity to open for The Disco Biscuits the other night at Penn’s Peak in PA, so we couldn’t turn that down. We jumped on that opportunity and played with them, that was tons of fun. We can’t wait for tour though of course!