October 19, 1995 * Vol. 5, No. 31
State Champs win big with their not-to-scale brand of arena
by Randall Brown
It's usually a little awkward the first time you meet a local band in order
to write about them. As a writer, you hope they'll be at least as interesting
as their music (or in some cases, more). As a band, they don't trust for
one minute that you know anything about music, especially theirs.
But I was able to bond with the State Champs recently when our conversation
almost immediately digressed into celebrity name-dropping. While pondering
one fan's suggestion that their sound was like 'Butthole Surfers meets Vanilla
Fudge,' I mention to them that I once saw ex-Fudge drummer Carmine Appice
at IHOP. They are duly challenged.
"The only famous person I ever met was Bert Convy," says bassist/vocalist
Sweet Bobby, a.k.a. Rob Matthews. "I was at Epcot Center and they were
filming 'Win, Lose or Draw.'"
"I met the whole 'Facts of Life' team," says guitarist/vocalist
Johnny Turbo (nee Seth Severance), playing something of a trump card. "But
when I was younger, my family saw 'Hollywood Squares' being taped. I met
Eric Estrada and John Candy. And ALF. But, ALF, you know... "
"I met Jerry Springer just recently," offers drummer g (known
to his mother as Chris) leather (his real name, I swear).
"I met Alex Haley up at the Museum of Appalachia," says guitarist
Freebird McQueen, a.k.a. Kelly Sprouse.
"I saw him at IHOP, too," I mention.
"This is where we obviously go wrong," laughs Turbo. "We've
got to start hanging out at IHOP."
Celebrity hobnobbing notwithstanding, the State Champs are one of the more
down-to-earth ensembles on the local scene, and are remarkably unself-conscious
for early twenty-somethings. Their lack of inhibition comes out in the
array of image gimmicks they employ, from matching shirts to their religious
adherence to stage names.
"It's all about the overall entertainment value," explains Turbo,
hitting on the State Champs' basic manifesto.
I experienced the band's entertainment value some weeks ago at a small
on Broadway. They wailed through the gig with what could be called actual
rock 'n' roll abandon, stumbling and bouncing around the stage in matching
"Favorite Mart" T-shirts, trying to out-cheese each other with
rock star poses. The crowd was sparse, but the band put on a real show,
giving their all to the far-less-than-full house, even awarding their obligatory
State Champs "Best Fan of the Night" prize, an autographed chair,
to yours truly in an admitted display of ass-kissing. It was refreshing,
a mixture of selfless humor and energy rarely seen since the demise of Smokin'
Dave and the Premo Dopes. And then an anonymous fan confided that "they
seemed kind of tired tonight."
They are taken aback when I mention that they were originally described
to me as a "low-fi" ensemble.
"Does that mean we suck?" asks Sweet Bobby.
"I think we're actually arena rockers in the bodies of a small club
band," counters Turbo.
The ambiguity of "low-fi" aside, they do have a raw rock sound
guitars cranked to distortion, straightforward, no-frills drum pounding,
untrained vocals projected with gutsy confidence. But I won't insult them
with suggestions that they are "heavy alternative." They fall,
locally, somewhere between the garage passion of the Tuffskins and the controlled
madness of Stinkfoot USA.
Lyrically, the State Champs' songs run a thematic gamut. They have the usual
"lost love" songs, like "Jenny, a Woody and Me" and
"Too Proud to Beg," but they also tell some interesting tall tales.
A late night at a convenient store becomes a party in "Hot Fries and
Beer." College exams are revealed as the metaphor for lifelong angst
that they are in "Dear Mr. Overachiever." Most significantly,
the gentrification of the American South is discussed in "Railroad
Tracks: Cause for Cultural Segregation or Merely the Foundation of Mass
Transportation in America?"
"Somebody from the Beacon ," says g leather, "wrote that
'If John Candy were wrestling Roger Rabbit in the Louvre ...'"
"... 'the State Champs would be the running commentary,'" adds
Turbo. "That's pretty descriptive."
"We were like, 'Is that a compliment?'" says McQueen. "What
are they trying to say?"
"We don't mind being related to John Candy," says Turbo. "But
we kind of want to get away from cartoon characters. Maybe John Candy and
Eric Estrada. That'd be a good fight."
Though confident enough in their music to display such a sense of humor
intact, the State Champs are not a joke band. Amidst playing with their
"image," fan giveaways and pop culture worship, they want to do
something as a band, to become "known."
"I really feel like we've got something to offer that a lot of people
don't," says Turbo, "and that there are going to be some people
out there who are going to find worth in it."
"We'll be a footnote in Knoxville music history," predicts Sweet
Bobby, "and I will make it into a Jack Neely article."
***State Champs' legal names are published against their most vehement
© Metro Pulse