Erin Campbell and Lee Dyer aren’t big on planning. Last summer, the two Michigan natives, who record and perform together as Aunt Vicki, spent several months out on the road, living in a 1986 camper van, before finally making their way to New Orleans. The fact that they didn’t know a soul in the Crescent City wasn’t a problem, so long as there were a few venues to play and some restaurant work to supplement their income.
As luck would have it, Dave Clements, owner of the tin-roofed dive bar Snake ’n’ Jake’s, took the two strangers under his wing.
“Dave’s the closest we have to family in New Orleans,” says Dyer. “He let us park our camper across the street in the backyard of this beat-up old house that he owns. We lived there for a few months and then we got an apartment right down the road.”
Earlier this summer, the band released its self-titled debut album. A beguiling collection of psychedelic folk originals, Aunt Vicki serves as a drum-free showcase for the duo’s atmospheric folk-pop, ethereal vocal harmonies, and layered electric guitars that recall Daniel Lanois’ more ambient work.
Songs like “This Old Blue World” convincingly capture the sound of classic Simon & Garfunkel, while “The Names of Things” and “Head in the Grass” respectively suggest Elliott Smith and Young Marble Giants. Onstage, the duo provides further clues with Beatles and Jefferson Airplane covers.
“Ultimately, I feel like the Beatles are my favorite thing in life,” says Campbell. “We both agree on that.”
Aunt Vicki was recorded at the Fountainbleau, the one-time hotel and apartment building on Tulane and S. Carrollton, that’s been carved into storage units and rehearsal studios. “It’s in total disrepair—there’s like piss on the floor and in the stairwell—but you can go there at any time and make as much noise as you want,” says Campbell. “Our whole floor was like rappers and metal bands.”
In July, the couple got married and headed out on tour just as the city was bracing for Tropical Storm Barry. “We left town and it was 99 degrees, bright and sunny,” says Dyer, “but if you turned around, you could see these threatening black storm clouds. And then a few days later, the flooding started.”
Once the summer heat subsides, Aunt Vicki expect to return to New Orleans. But for the moment, they’re playing it by ear.
“Being able to pick up and leave your life, and just try something new, is both a bad decision and an awesome decision,” says Campbell. “It’s made my life so much more interesting and complex, in both good ways and bad ways. But at the end of the day, it’s opened more doors than it’s closed.”