The last time I spoke with Elijah Von Cramon, he was stuck at home, having just hoisted himself out of bed and into his wheelchair. His first words were exhausted and agitated, though his demeanor soon softened. It was May, and the Paint Fumes singer was still recovering.
In February, he was struck by a car crossing a street near his Charlotte pad. Fresh off a heated argument with his father, he was in search of a frosty libation when the vehicle sent him flying. He came to coughing up blood. There were cracks in his skull and pelvis and chips on many of his teeth. The tissue in his knees was torn and tattered. He was a mess.
Six months after our last call, Cramon answers in brighter spirits. He's wandering an Orlando mansion to which a friend of Fumes drummer Josh Johnson has inexplicable access. Having toured their torrid garage rock up and down the East Coast, the trio will soon jet to Puerto Rico, finally taking a trek that had been planned before Cramon's spill. Just nine months removed from an accident that almost killed him, he's back on his feet and leading his band, including at a Nov. 22 gig at Snug Harbor. He couldn't be happier.
"It feels wonderful," he says. His voice is gruff but also quite warm. "I felt so hopeless and lost for a while. Being back on the road, it has its ups and downs, but it's really great. It's a blast. It's all I wanted to do the whole time I was in a wheelchair, so it's really good to be back here and going to different cities again. The only place for me is the fucking road."
The accident couldn't have come at a worse time for Paint Fumes. The previous December had seen them release Uck Life, a searing debut that sprinted as well as it sprawled, rivaling West Coast heroes such as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. Backed by Slovenly Recordings — a frequent home for The Spits and other underground legends — they had dates scheduled across the U.S. and Europe. Plane tickets were purchased. They were ready to go.
With Cramon sidelined, the Fumes ground to a halt. They were suddenly about $3,000 in debt to Slovenly for wasted airfare. Lacking health insurance, Cramon's bills mounted quickly following three surgeries. The subsequent physical therapy wasn't cheap, either.
The band did get some help: A pair of benefits in Charlotte and Raleigh — the latter bolstered by a compilation of eccentric Paint Fumes covers — raised more than $4,000. But the band still owes Slovenly about $900, and a final surgery in December will add to the medical onslaught.
"It's nice to know that the music community would step in and say, 'Let's do what we can,'" offered Lauren Reynolds. She led the charge in organizing the Raleigh benefit in May. "Every single band wanted to do it and was just instantly like, 'Yes, I'm in.'"
The support fortified Cramon's morale as much as his bank account. During the early, wheelchair-bound months of his recovery, he wrote and demoed solo material, most of it sleeker and happier than Paint Fumes' rowdy salvos. By August, he was on his feet for a month-long residency at Snug Harbor, leading The Rolling Lords — Joint D≠'s Thomas Berkau and Brain F≠'s Eddie Schneider, plus Elijah's girlfriend, Stefania Antonucci, on drums — through new songs. The band also recorded a session with Yardwork's Bo White. Cramon hopes that Slovenly will release it next year.
But the singer's main focus is pushing Paint Fumes forward. He learned guitar to start this band and released an LP less than two years later. He's grown a lot since then and he's ready to show it. Though Johnson lives in Los Angeles, the trio will hunker down in December, playing a residency at Snug Harbor while they write new songs. If Cramon gets his way, they'll go in a cleaner, more psychedelic direction. For now, he'll settle for being back on the road — even if his body isn't all the way healed.
"I've been super-tired, but I've been going crazy with all these shows — exactly how I used to be, if not more wild," he says. "It sucks being in a van for a four-hour drive. My leg gets really stiff, but it ain't bad. As soon as I have a beer or two or a little mixed drink, everything loosens up, and I feel fine. No complaints."