Champing at the Bit

The Fucking Champs wage their solitary war on the wuss hegemony, the indie-rock cabal, the bass and soundmen

The Fucking Champs, as the name oh-so-subtly implies, is not a band that minces words. In fact, they rarely use words. Of the 37 songs on their last two albums, only four have lyrics -- which means the remaining 33 songs are rock instrumentals. No, wait! Come back! Don't be afraid of the rock instrumental! Yeah, we know, the "rock instrumental" conjures up images of Yngwie Malmsteen's Paganini-inspired solo vortices or Joe Satriani's new-wave space-age noodlings. And you're right to fear those guys. That's some bad shit right there, buddy.

But the Champs (abbreviated so moms everywhere can read this without flinching) are different. They create what they call "Pure Music," which is a unique amalgam of classic rock-guitar pyrotechnics and intricately turned musical composition. One listen to "These Glyphs Are Dusty," from their most recent album, IV, and you can't help but roar, "Awwwoooooogah!" or some other war-whoop-type exclamation of delight. "These Glyphs Are Dusty" is, bar none, the finest example of twin-guitar devastation ever. Ever. No arguments for "Master of Puppets" (Hammett and Hetfield) or "Electric Eye" (Tipton and Downing) or "2 Minutes to Midnight" (Murray and Smith) or even "The Cowboy Song" (Gorham and Robertson) will be tolerated. The aforementioned guitar workouts just don't stand up to the muscular and scientific riff gymnastics performed by Champs Josh Smith and Tim Green during the four minutes and 30 seconds it takes for "Glyphs" to take shape, explode, reform, erupt, coalesce and then blast itself to the edges of the universe. "These Glyphs" is clean guitar fury, unsullied by vocals or even a bass guitar. It never wanders into guitar wankery, showy theatrics or "Look, Ma, no hands!" noodlery. It is a carefully orchestrated series of movements that utilize mathematics and massive amplification to achieve full visceral impact. If you are not prostrating yourself in front of the speakers, fists clenched and jaw slackened, as the final notes disappear into shimmering infinity, then you are dead inside. And yeah, the rest of the album is pretty damn good, too.

You'd think a band touring on an album this strong, this well-composed, this technically precise and brilliantly executed would be eager to expound on the esoteric knowledge and structural integrity necessary to craft such intelligent and rocking music. This is the same band that lists the minute details of the recording process in its liner notes, down to the splicing tape and razor blades used in sequencing. (What else are they going to put in there? It's not as if they have lyrics to transcribe). However, when the Champs were contacted through the dreaded "e-mail interview format," they were somewhat terse in their answers. Terse like Harold Pinter. In fact, as with Pinter, it appears that what they did say is not as important as what they didn't.

Take the matter of aesthetics. Smith stated in a previous interview that the Champs' aesthetics "exist squarely outside the current wuss hegemony." When asked whom the wuss hegemony comprises, he gave "the indie-rock cabal" as his succinct answer. This is noteworthy, considering that Drag City is the Champs' current label, and Drag City is pretty much indie-rock headquarters. Is the Champs' "Esprit de Corpse" a morbid pun on belonging, at least tangentially, to such a cabal? Is "C'mon Smash the Quotile" some sort of rallying cry for other fifth-columnists who may have infiltrated the cabal? What, exactly, is going on with these strange titles?

"Our titles are supplied by our colleague Andrew Maxwell, who holds a degree in literature from the University of California," was Smith's only reply. Hmmm. So the Champs don't name their songs; someone else does. This is rather curious, considering the amount of control the Champs maintain over their recordings. Is this a ruse, perhaps, to throw the agents of the hegemony off the Champs' trail?

This is unlikely, for Smith's answer to another question about control reveals an iron-fisted method of smashing obstacles. When asked how the Champs maintain control over their sound on the road, taking into account indifferent or lazy soundmen, Smith replies with an answer that is both blunt and invigorating: "The simplest technique is to perform at sound-pressure levels in excess of 130 dB, thus eliminating the need for said soundmen." (Rock fans everywhere, rejoice!)

Clearly, when it comes to representing their music, the Champs pull no punches. They do not resort to subterfuge, relying instead on frontal assault, which would rule out Andrew Maxwell's status as some sort of blind to hide their intentions.

And what are those intentions? Recognition and understanding from the major guitar magazines -- Guitar World or Guitar Player?

"No. Well, maybe Bass Player." This is indeed a telling remark, for, you see, the Champs don't have a bass player! They are two guitarists (Green and Smith) and a drummer (Tim Soete). The Champs want bass players to realize that the bass is unnecessary to their style of music. You can rock without the four-string, and you can rock hard. This is practically a declaration of war on the bass, implicitly lumping bassists into the wuss hegemony. (Local bass guru Mark Deutsch confirms that most bassists are in fact wussies -- excluding himself, of course.)

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