New Music Monday: STATE CHAMPION RETURNS!!

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Happy Monday music maniacs! Like new stuff? Great! You’ve come to the right place. Each week all sorts of audiolicious goodies are unleashed onto the masses and this is where they come to be judged. I’ll tell ya what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s a waste of your time. Thanks for stopping by!

The Big News!
If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that every once in a while I have a tendency to shut down the whole new release express schedule and focus on something more important than the latest Adam Lambert or Kelly Clarkson release. It doesn’t happen often, I think the last time was back when this site was still called 8CN and I dedicated a column to mourning the death of David Lamb from Brown Bird. Well, we’re gonna do it again, but this time it’s not inspired by bad news but good! One of my favorite bands, the Louisville / Chicago based no-fi country punk outfit State Champion, has released a new album, Fantasy Error, their third and first since 2011. And yes, despite the fact that there is a new Lil Wayne record coming out this week (The Free Weezy Album) and new Bassnectar and Refused sets to talk about, the new State Champion release is the big news this week.

Led by Ryan Davis, State Champion has very quietly become one of a handful of essential American bands. I raved about their debut, 2010’s Stale Champagne, praising the band’s “lo-fi sensibility and polite farm boy twang with 90s-ish guitar heroics”. and the follow up, Deep Shit, was a criminally overlooked masterpiece of “anthem-rich, black magick country punk”, according to Tiny Mix Tapes. Fantasy Error is even better than it’s predecessors. Tattered, torn and rarely sober, it’s a slanted and enchanted trip through the dirt roads and whisky tainted veins of a peculiar Americana. The songs are at once literate and crass, desperately epic attempts at home style garage country that cruise along with a methed out energy before tripping over themselves and crumbling in a noble ragged glory. It’s got a Replacements like accidental genius quality to it, and the country you hear ain’t Music Row shit – it’s Dylan, Waylon, Townes people like that so rest easy. Maybe this quote from LEO Weekly says it better: “This is ideal music to listen to when the temperature is warm, but mild, when you can ride around at night with your windows down and the volume up way too high on your stereo.”

Davis was nice enough to answer a few questions about the new record.

OVERMENTAL: It’s been a while since the last State Champion record, what have you been up to?
Ryan Davis: It’s insane to think that it’s been almost four years since our last record! Time flies when every single member of your band lives in a different state, respectively, with different lives and jobs and projects of their own. The fact that we’ve been able to keep State Champion afloat for as long as we have is a testament to our friendship, first and foremost. I think we mesh well musically, more and more the longer we do it, but the fact that we can get in a van and hit the road for a few weeks without having played or written or arranged anything together in 8 months and it feels like we never missed a step is something that we truly owe to our own ability to make each other laugh, or to the pleasure of absorbing new experiences through the collective lens of ourselves as a unit, tour and after tour, year after year, like little carvings into the same tree that continues to grow.
Personally, what I’ve been up to is running the record label (Sophomore Lounge) and playing in and out of town with my other band, Tropical Trash, among other things. We have our first full-length coming out on the exact same date as “Fantasy Error” actually, which is both exciting and entirely coincidental. Since 2010, I’ve been the co-founder/organizer of a DIY arts and music organization called Cropped Out. We’ve done an annual festival for the past five years here in Louisville, and while it’s only one weekend, each one takes about 8 months of preliminary planning, talent juggling, artist budgets, raising money, production nightmares, industry minutia, routing, scheduling, delegating, trouble-shooting, etc. We all kind of help make it happen, actually. Everyone in this band, assuming different tasks. It’s a real calendar burner, but people seem to enjoy it.
Additionally, in order to make “actual” money, I stay busy from week to week with various odd jobs, almost always of the part-time nature. Typically in the local arts education/presentation department, when possible. I don’t teach or anything. It’s mainly lifting and hanging and varying degrees of grunt work, but I enjoy that sort of thing. It affords me the opportunity to stay out of the service industry. I was not born with the personality to charm hungry and/or thirsty strangers.

OM: Tell me more about the other members of the band? Did you write all of the songs?

RD: The other members of the band are three great people called Mikie Poland, Sabrina Rush, and Salvatore Cassato. We all met in Chicago in the mid to late ’00s. Mikie does a rad band called Giving Up and makes a lot of cool drawings and zines and things like that. Sabrina works for a record label called Infinity Cat in Nashville and cracks the whip for bands that hire her to tour manage, drive them around, sell their merch, etc. Sal lives in Chicago where he works and plays in the great Animal City, among other things. Doug Ryan is also in Animal City, and he was one of the two people who masterminded our new record. The other person is our friend Jim Marlowe, with whom I also play in a PUNK band called Tropical Trash. We have a new record coming out soon as well. We all keep very busy. And yes, I wrote all the songs!

OM: How was Deep Shit received and how does Fantasy Error differ?
RD: It’s weird. Our first record, “Stale Champagne” got a lot of love from blogs and message board users and even NPR and things of that sort, back when the only people who knew us were our close friends and family and whoever had been standing in the living room where we played to 8 people on the earliest tours. Then “Deep Shit” came out, only a year and a half later, and — crickets. I mean, for the most part. The message board thing was still happening, and for that we were always thankful. The shows got better and better during those tours. People would show up and sing along to our music on the other side of the country, in towns where we’d never even been. But no buzz at all outside of our immediate fan base, aside from a few posts here and there. In some ways, it was disappointing because at that specific time, I was deep in the hypnosis of thinking that things like having Panache as your booking agent and a review in Vice or whatever actually mattered in some way. We were really proud of the songs and probably felt rejected by that whole world of things. But I barely even remember now. And all that being said, I think that, over time, the more people we meet and talk to at out-of-town shows and whatnot, it seems like a lot of people feel that” Deep Shit” is more of a defining record for us than the first one, or more significant to them personally, even if it’s more of a rock record. I don’t know. It’s so hard to gauge what people think sometimes. I just write songs that I think might fit well on a record together, and then I put them out and move on to the next thing (even if it takes a few years).

In comparison to that second record, which I think was maybe our subconscious attempt at trying to arrange in more of a “garage rock” style, or something, I think the new one is considerably more laid back. Maybe more comparable to the first record in that there are some bangers on there, but then there are also some moments where we’ve employed acoustic instruments in a very up-front way. Or even more so, on this new one, we’ve gone down the avenue of auxiliary percussion, synth textures, sizable chunks of silence and space that can sort of breathe throughout the album. It’s not as rushed, at all. Which makes sense, considering we made it in a house on a farm in the summertime with our best friends. If there are moments where you’re picking up on a “front porch vibe,” it’s because we’re literally mic’ing up instruments and playing that shit from a rocking chair on the front deck, or in the yard, or the kitchen because it’s closer to where we kept the beers, or whatever felt right at the moment we were making it. Not to say there weren’t stressful situations involved, but there’s an ultimate lack of urgency there, when compared to “Deep Shit,” and it’s a side of us that could have only come out in the country. If we had recorded these same songs in a studio downtown, I can say with some level of certainty that we’d have an entirely different record on our hands. And I think that could be said about almost any record. Environment is key, especially with songs of an “emotive” nature.

OM: Where was Fantasy Error recorded?

RD:The record was recorded at Rove Studios, which is actually just a house on a farm in Shelbyville, KY, about 40 minutes outside of Louisville. The house is owned by the Oldham family, and was maintained/operated as a studio for years by Will’s younger brother Paul until he eventually gave up recording and moved to California. At that point, it remained in the family’s possession, but went dormant as a studio space. We came in and cleaned it up and got it looking and feeling like a place we could live for a week in hopes of returning home with a new record in the bag.

Beyond making some of their own best albums like “Ease Down the Road,” “Superwolf,” etc., a whole slew of legendary artists stayed and recorded out there over the years, including David Berman, Jennifer Herrema, Richard Bishop, Jason Molina, etc. There are a lot of stories that those walls could tell, I’m sure. Unfortunately, ours would be the last record to be made at Rove. I caught wind that it had sold shorty after our time there.

OM: What were you listening to while writing and recording the record?

RD: That’s a good question. I’m trying to recall… A lot of Jerry Jeff Walker, I remember that. We brought a turntable and speakers out to the farm so that we could listen to records while making coffee or food or watching the sun set or whatever. We listened to a lot of Jerry Jeff, Dylan, the Dead, Bonny/Palace (how can you not when you’re in the house where a lot of that stuff was put to tape and there’s practically a library of it on the living room shelf). It’s safe to assume that I was probably listening to a lot my “usual” while writing the record as well. Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Dead Moon, Royal Trux, Smog, Lower Dens, Richard and Linda Thompson, plenty of jazz records and re-issues of underground/private press folk stuff, always and forever my friends’ bands, etc. Matt Kivel is a contemporary songwriter who I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

 

OM: Last question, did I hear the phrase “Dickensian hangover” on this record?
RD: In college, I was at a hotel party with some friends. All we had was the world’s largest jug of the world’s cheapest vodka, no mixers or chasers or anything like that. But for some reason we had a bunch of Starburst candies, and I had the brilliant idea that if we poured the vodka into the glasses from the hotel bathroom and swirled the candies around in the liquid, it would dissolve and “basically become a Cosmopolitan.” So, of course, we drank it all. Next thing I knew, it was 8 am. I woke up — not on my bed, but on the floor next to it, on top of a pile of suitcases and text books and travel snacks from my plane ride back to Chicago the day before. It was the start of a new semester. I stumbled to class and sat down in the back row of my first class — Victorian Literature: Themes of a Supernatural England. I opened my book and projectile vomited an “un-taste the rainbow” of cut-rate Russian bile onto a portrait of our boy Chucky D. I’m just kidding, the last part of that story isn’t true. It was a basic drawing class. We were dismissed as soon as they distributed the syllabi, then I went home and slept all day.

Go here to find out more about Fantasy Error.

 


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