INTERVIEW: Champ De Mars
How is this record different from some of your previous releases?
I think the songwriting has evolved over time. In the California version of the band, we were very REM, Wilco influenced, and I had a tougher time writing lyrics. I like being varied stylistically, but the earlier records always felt a little non-cohesive. This one’s probably still got some bits to it that feel a little outlier, but I did feel at the end of the day, this was the first time I’ve done a record where I felt like all the songs fit together as one statement. Yes, ‘Mono, Stereo’ and ‘This machine kills fascists’ are worlds apart sonically, but they’re still cut from the same tonal texture.
This record seems the most overtly politically tinged of your all releases – is this a theme record? How much does what’s going on with this administration shadow these songs?
It’s a theme record in the sense that the band is based in Washington, D.C. and you pretty much can’t remove yourself from this feeling of divisive politics in our landscape right now. But I don’t think it’s a political record as much as say, some of those old U2 records or anything, it’s more a reflection on the national psyche as a whole and, I suppose, a logical concern for it. To the point of the lyrics – I think things just seemed to fall more into place with this one. A song like ‘45’ might be construed to be a reference to a presidential number, but it can also be an age at which people start reflecting on New Year’s resolutions getting longer and more introspective.
Keyboards and piano play a bigger role in this release, how did that come about?
Uhm, mostly by accident. I’ve always loved piano but couldn’t play. So I bought one recently and just started putting minor chords together with fingers in different positions. A song like ‘Mono, Stereo’ which I love, I will never, ever, ever be able to play live. I have no idea what chords I was playing, but I liked how it sounded. It’s kinda like spending ten years to find a weird Sonic Youth’y guitar tuning that just matches the sounds and moods in your head, but you have no idea what chords you’re playing. It’s thrilling in some sense to just explore textures and have no real math behind it.
You’re now the father of two kids, does that impact your songwriting at all?
Obviously ‘Nite, Nite Frances’ is a reference to my two-year-old daughter. It’s actually a tune that I would sing to her to get her to fall asleep – with perhaps, drastically more serene lyrics. But I also think that when you become a parent you start scoping the fragility of the world out a bit differently. There’s probably a part of Frances in “Forlorn cowboys of Nuclear Winter’ as well, a complete terror of dystopian 21st century landscapes.
So, speaking of the album opener, which has such a depressing refrain of ‘carry me to the fallout shelter’ – all the way through a song that seems to be about immigration, and you have themes fascism, and lines about ‘the new cold war’ – where is there signs of hope for you in this album landscape?
It took me a moment to think about that, because you’re right – much of the portrait on the surface is painted in some stark reliefs. But I think if you treat it as an album, as I treated it, then toward the end, as cliché and silly as it sounds, there is this theme that evolves that despite politics and age, road rage, nervous breakdowns, and chemicals etc … all the things that define 21st century modernist collective psychology – there is the one enduring legacy of relationships and love. Russian River Roulette is a love song – so is Ordinary Woman – so too is Nite, Nite Frances. In the end, that is what will survive any of the divisiveness.
What’s next for you?
I’m always biting off too much. There’s basically four things. We’re rehearsing a live set for at least some kind of small tour that would touch on the Champ catalogue, as well as a fair number of old Bellstar tunes (as we’ll do shows on the West Coast). I’m probably going to record a real quick acoustic album of a number of tunes that have been floating around for years, basically playing them live Neil Young like in the studio. Meantime, looking forward to a third Champ record that would be a bit more upbeat – a rock record that brings in a bit more Guided by Voices, or Weezer or something into the veins, or Royal Blood – I love Royal Blood right now. And finally, I’m working on finishing a new novel, called ‘American Bars and Tone.’