Re-energized Happy Campers come through at crossroads

It’s a grown-man record, the kind of album that results from punks becoming fathers and husbands, their outlook on life expanding right along with their families.

“Dancing With Demons,” the latest disc from Las Vegas’ Happy Campers, isn’t loaded with songs about changing diapers and paying down mortgages.

But on album highlights such as “Life,” “It’s All on Me” and “Bleeding Me Dry,” the Campers confront a challenge that faces many veteran, working-class bands: growing up without giving up.

And they do so convincingly: Seventeen years in, “Demons” is the band’s best record, though it wasn’t easy getting here.

After hitting it hard for a decade beginning in the mid-’90s, the Campers eventually hit a wall.

“I was at a point five years ago where I had been doing this for 10 years, basically my whole adult life, really pushing it and just getting to the point where it was like, ‘All right, now I’m not making any money, people aren’t really caring as much anymore, I’ve given everything that I have in my life to this band,’ ” singer-guitarist Isaac Irvine recalls, reclining on a couch in the living room of drummer Jason Losey’s home. “Eventually, you get to the point where you almost don’t like the band for a little bit because that’s all you are. But then at the same time, I need to do this.”

And so after putting the Campers on the back burner for a while, the band recommitted themselves with a retooled lineup that adds a palpable newfound energy to “Demons,” which the group will demonstrate live with a free, all-ages CD release show Saturday at the Hard Rock Cafe.

First, there’s the addition of second guitarist Bill Simons, who greatly strengthens the band’s sound.

“The way I play, it’s more about thickness, the crunch,” Simons says. “I’m almost a bass player in a sense. I lock right in with Jay when we’re playing. That’s what I always thought the band needed.”

The Campers also recruited bassist Rob Detie, a longtime fan of the band who sings as well, enabling the group to pull off three-part harmonies that brighten the album in numerous places.

Lineup in place, the group splurged for noted punk producer Ryan Greene, who’s worked with such influential acts as NOFX, Lagwagon, Propaghandi and dozens of others and who pushed the band hard, capturing a full, crisp sound that’s easily the best the Campers have achieved.

“We had never worked with someone on that next level,” says Losey, arms brightly tattooed. “That’s the only way we could have gotten an album like this.”

As such, “Demons” feels like a rebirth for a band born so many years ago.

“I realize that we’ve been around 17 years, but this is the band now,” Irvine says. “We’re not the band from 17 years ago. Obviously, we have a history and a back catalog, but this is what we want people to hear.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.

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