By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
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.)
And what about that hobgoblin of guitars, the turntable? Is it the Champs' intention to revitalize the electric guitar and reverse the trend of turntable sales outstripping guitar sales? "If people are buying turntables, they can certainly use them to play our records. The same could not be said of guitars." Smith's response implies more than a humorous disregard for the turntable as a rock instrument; that second sentence hints at the lonely path the Champs have chosen. They know it is easier to listen to their music than to play it, especially for novices, and he perhaps despairs of anyone's following in their wake. The Champs are alone in the music world, with only their guitars for solace. Genius can be cold comfort.
This brings us, finally, to their intentions. Pure Music is what the Champs call their sound, and that is their sole intention: to create pure music, free of words, imperfections or technical flaws. They wouldn't even taint their music with the intrusion of titles if a friend did not do so for them. For the Champs, Pure Music is one contiguous sound, unburdened by anything that is not music. All they ask is that people listen. So the Champs wander the world, waging their solitary war with the ruling anti-rock hierarchy, unnoticed by their guitar-playing peers, supported only by a few sympathetic comrades in arms. To whom do they look for inspiration in their lonely hours of need?
For the only time in the interview, the wall of reticence crumbles: "Please please please print the whole list. Thanks, Josh." We reprint it in its entirety because it says more about the Fucking Champs than any answer they gave:
"Brian May, Billy Gibbons, John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, Elijah Eckert, Bill Blair, James Hetfield, Scott Gorham (heck, all the Lizzy dudez), Jeff Beck, Walter Becker, Skunk Baxter, Bill Steer, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Buzz Osborne, Al DiMeola (kinda), the guy from Krisiun, Trey Azagthoth, that Cathedral dude, Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, Uli Jon Roth, all the guitarists of Budgie, Ritchie Blackmore, Keith Richards, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Page, Fred Frith, Caspar Brötzman, Pat Metheny, Alex Lifeson (very underrated), Mick Mars, Ace Frehley, Greg Ginn, Robert Smith, Robert Fripp, Andy Summers (I'm totally serious about this), Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Adrian Belew, Warren Cuccurullo, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Lightnin' Hopkins, Bernhard Bertrecht/Sumner, Eddie Phillips, James Honeyman-Scott, Marco Peroni, Andrés Segovia, John Lee Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, Jon Spencer, Thurston Moore, D. Boon, Larry LaLonde, Demonaz Doom Occulta, Andy LaRocque, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Hazel, Kevin Shields, Steve Cropper, Mathias Von, Joe Perry, Akira Takasaki, Pete Townshend, Syd Barrett, Danny Coralles, Ian Eagleson, Robin Trower, Tom Verlaine, Peter Green, Bob 1, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, Fast Eddie Clarke, Doyle, Yngwie "Fucking" Malmsteen, Steve Howe, Alan Holdsworth, I don't know his name but the guitarist from Goblin on "Roller," Nocturno Culto, Frederick Thorndall, the brothers Young, the brothers Reid, Prince, the brothers Allman and Steve Shelton."
Even this torrent of names, seemingly exhaustive, reveals something important in its omission. Eric Clapton is not on the list. In the Champs philosophy, God does not exist. Only guitarists matter. Pure Music.