Best Lifer

Devin Ocampo,
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

It takes two years for a band to find its footing, says Devin Ocampo—which should thrill fans of the longtime D.C. punk musician, since his two main creative outlets, The Effects and Warm Sun, are each straddling year three. Not that their first two felt unformed. If The Effects was a Terminator robot, it would be the T-1000—lithe, muscular, and direct, like liquid metal. Warm Sun, meanwhile, is a wanderer: If it can give the musical predilections of its members a poptimistic slant, it’ll go there.

For nearly 20 years—behind the drum kit, at the recording console, and leading outfits as a singer and guitarist—Ocampo has been a mainstay of your favorite punk bands’ favorite really smart punk bands. He drummed in idiom-damagers Smart Went Crazy; gave math rock a post-hardcore tune-up in Faraquet; backed up Mary Timony’s solo vision quests; and in Medications, showed that a D.C. band could prize technique and fury and a certain poppiness—that it could have a huge appetite and impeccably good taste. Ocampo might have the most packed CV in D.C.’s broader punk-rock constellation, one that also includes his work with Beauty Pill, Chad Clark’s project of widescreen, genre-agnostic art-pop. Make a Venn diagram of musicians who like really exotic time signatures, can write choruses you’ll remember three days after hearing them, and seem to work all the time. There’s Ocampo.

He’s also one of D.C.’s most generous collaborators. While The Effects is an outlet for Ocampo’s compositions, the power-trio is “just now starting to sink our teeth into what we are and what we’re about,” Ocampo says, largely because it’s become more of a team effort. At first, he says, “I’d bring completely written demos, completed songs” to his bandmates, drummer David Rich and bassist Matt Dowling. Now, “we’re trying to take all the directions a song might lead before we decide it’s finished.”

If The Effects is Ocampo’s workhorse, Warm Sun is a more relaxed beast. The project started as a way for his wife, Renata Burger, to learn drums. “At first, it was a way for me to have an outlet for music I had in my head that I would call more accessible or pop, maybe stuff where I would say, ‘Ah, it’s not serious enough, it’s too straightforward.’” Now the challenge is keeping things simple. “A lot of what has changed is that she’s gotten so good.” Completing the band are Basla Andolsun (another Beauty Pill member) and Jason Hutto (who also plays in Soccer Team).

Ocampo, who also does audio post-production work for television programs, has more in the works. Medications is still a going, if occasional, concern. Ocampo and his wife are toying with an as-yet-unnamed project in which they both play drums. And he’s currently backing former Jawbox frontman J. Robbins, including during a mini-tour later this spring.

Though there’s a sonic through-line in Ocampo’s work—particularly his three trios, Faraquet, Medications, and The Effects—he isn’t quick to describe it in aesthetic terms. “What defines my various bands is my work with the various members,” Ocampo says, channeling the utilitarian ethic that’s as evident in those groups as their intelligent songcraft. Even though he can play about any instrument he’d need in a band, “I’ve never been able to get away with a solo project—it’s very hard to do it yourself in a vacuum,” he says. “There’s no feedback. That part of the process is very important to me. [My bands] all have that push and pull, you really have to put your ideas into the process. When everyone nods their head, you finally know it works.”