By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Dirty-haired Christian Stone’s delicate 6-foot frame is slightly slouched.
He wears well-worn Converse and a vintage T-shirt that reads: i want to be ridiculously rich. He looks like an alternative rock star from the ’90s. And he is, sort of. Or almost was before his band, Campfire Girls, spiraled into a heroin-induced hell nearly
a decade ago. Before that, singer–songwriter–guitar player Stone’s and bassist Andrew Clark’s androgynous sex appeal and raw talent proved irresistible to all the pretty disasters who lived and died for broken music and who weren’t ready for their moment to end that summer following the spring when Kurt Cobain killed himself.
Maybe that’s why, soon after Cobain’s demise, the DeLongpre house where the Campfire Girls lived and played became a sanctuary of seemingly endless barbecues, jam sessions and blissed-out good vibrations. Campfire Girls — with its too fragile and too pretty singer and bass player singing about the girls who broke their hearts and the people who lived in their seedy neighborhood — became something to believe in. The band appeared to be at the center of a burgeoning music scene and provoked one of the most frenzied bidding wars of 1994. “There was an element of vulnerability that no other band had,” recalls Melinda Mara, an artist and musician who was around the scene in those days, “humble and insecure, but doing it anyway. They were like on a tightrope. You never knew if they were gonna fail miserably or be the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen.”
Yet, as with many young, sensitive musicians before and after them, the pressures of youth and success fueled a strong drive to medicate and self-destruct. “Drugs happen more often than not,” says A&R executive Mark Williams, who signed the band to their current (and second) deal at Interscope. “But it seemed particularly sad with them. They never really made it out of the gate. There was so much promise. People just had so much expectation in ’94. They definitely conquered Hollywood, but basically they never got out of the Eastside.”
By the winter of 1995, barely a year after he signed a $350,000 record deal that included the band’s own studio and imprint label, Stone was turning tricks on Santa Monica Boulevard for drug money, and Clark was in his third rehab. Meanwhile, the DeLongpre house had become a vortex for glitter-nail-polished drug addicts and sycophants. Friends, who months before were experimenting in bisexual make-out sessions, were by then attacking each other over drugs. The magic was over, and the band’s lurid misadventures and missed opportunities were becoming legend.
Ten years after it all went so suddenly right and wrong, Stone is miraculously alive and the Campfire Girls are back, having recently released Tell Them Hi, the major-label record they never got around to releasing back then. More optimistic than their earlier trademark melancholia, the new album expresses the kind of joy maybe only a person who has been given a deeply appreciated second chance can understand. Drinking iced tea at a Silver Lake café, the now cleaned-up Stone explains where that comes from: “I was a desperate person. I should be dead now.”
Thirty-one-year-old Christian Stone was “raised on classic rock and pot smoke” by hippie parents who got pregnant with him in high school. He played drums in the elementary school band and loved Neil Young, Iggy Pop and Motley Crue. Stone dreamed of making it to California, which he did as a roadie for a band from his hometown of Methuen, Massachusetts.
Once he got here, Stone met Campfire Girls’ original drummer, Jon Pikus, while they were both staying at a crash pad in the Miracle Mile district. Stone had been invited to live there by the house’s manic-depressive owner, Dano, who met Stone at a rave. Pikus was staying there rent-free in exchange for running the 16-track studio in the garage.
At the time, Pikus was using the studio to record his own band and Dano’s, as well as the initial demos for Weezer and now-forgotten but once-promising bands Plexi and Black Market Flowers. Pikus and Stone hit it off instantly, and the location proved ideal for Stone to develop his guitar playing, songwriting and production skills under the tutelage of Pikus.
“It was a dream come true,” says Stone.
That is, until their host went off his meds and painted everything green — walls, furniture, cars.
“He even painted the grass,” remembers Pikus, now director of A&R at Columbia Records.
When the house’s owner put the stove, refrigerator and microwave oven out on the lawn with a free sign, Stone and Pikus figured it was time to move on. They ended up finding a ramshackle four-bedroom Spanish-style house on DeLongpre, just east of Highland. It was there that Stone and Pikus would start recording together and the Campfire Girls began. It was also there that they and many of their friends would self-destruct.
But first, the good times.
Stone’s close friend Casey Niccoli (Perry Farrell’s ex and fabled muse) was the one who introduced Andrew Clark to the band after she tired of hearing Stone complain about needing a bass player. The story goes, Niccoli singled out the blue-eyed, golden-blond, fifth-generation Californian from the crowd one night outside Club Lingerie. She wrote Stone’s number on a dollar bill and told Clark that he and her boyfriend were destined to make beautiful music together. Clark spent the dollar without calling, but the two finally met later when the Campfire Girls opened for Weezer at the Gaslight.