We recently reviewed Vamala, the fabulous new album from Isle of Wight duo Champs, giving it a deserved 9 out of 10. You can see that review in full here. It looks like we are not the only people impressed by Vamala as the album continues to collect overwhelmingly positive accolades from the music press. We managed to catch up with Michael and David Champion to ask them some questions about their new album, their influences and what it’s like being musical brothers on the Isle of Wight!
Which artists have influenced your music? What current artists do you enjoy listening to?
We love all of the classics from North America. We grew up listening to Neil Young, Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel, Cash, Orbison and Dylan so that definitely had quite an influence on us from an early age. We were also really into The Beatles and early REM as youngsters. These days we’re listening to Angel Olson, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Arcade Fire, MGMT, On An On, Natalie Prasse and BC Camplight.
Does living on an island influence your sound? Is it just me or are there sounds of the sea in some of your songs?
It definitely does! The isolation of the area really aides song writing. You can literally go for a 4 hour walk and not encounter another person. This space really gives you a lot of time to think. I also think that growing up in a rural, cut-off area by the sea allows you to experience the changing of the seasons more acutely, which has certainly had an influence on the varying characters of the songs. The area in which we grew up is steeped in history, and smuggling was a huge industry a few hundred years ago. This history gives the area a real atmosphere which has definitely influenced our music.
You seemed to appear from nowhere last year with your debut. Have things happened as quickly as they seem to have? Has it taken you by surprise?
The albums have both come together quite organically in that the songs were ready to go long before we got into the studio. This has made the process pretty easy, painless and smooth, so in that sense it has happened quite quickly. We don’t feel that there has been any real sudden moment of arriving on the scene though. We’ve never had a huge amount of hype, we’ve just kept our heads down and kept working at our music. We always hoped that it would spread by word of mouth which it gradually seems to be doing!
You use a lot of bleak tones in your imagery such as the greys and blacks from your album cover and the video for Desire. Is this a conscious choice? What are you trying to say?
The songs are all emotional. They’re all a cathartic means of expressing thoughts or feelings which we wouldn’t otherwise express in everyday life. In this sense the tone can sometimes be quite bleak. I also think that, as mentioned before, the seasons and where we grew up have influenced this. The Isle of Wight, in winter particularly, can be an incredibly bleak and stark place and this has definitely seeped into the music.
Do you find it easy to write? Two albums in just over a year seems like quite a prolific output when most new artists put all of their best stuff on their first release and struggle with their second.
Mike’s a song-writing behemoth. We’re both quite constantly writing bits at home which sometimes bloom into usable songs and are sometimes left by the wayside. There are a lot of demos in various places in various states of completion.
There is not a single duff track on your new album VAMALA which this reviewer gave a 9/10. What is your approach to quality control? Do either of you have the power of veto? How many songs do you have to have available to get an album’s worth of VAMALA’s quality?
Thank you!!! I’d say we both always have the power of veto at all times. We both respect each other’s opinions and it’s a pretty open forum. If one of us says they’re not sure about something it’s usually taken on board by the other. We do feel pretty strongly about quality control and we’d never release an album if it had what we perceived to be filler tracks on it. If the songs aren’t good enough then the album isn’t done. There’s always a backlog of songs and we’re currently writing some which we hope will appear on album 3.
Your videos are very simple and very striking. Do you use the same team to create them? Where do the ideas come from?
We’ve actually used a different team every time! The first video we ever shot for My Spirit is Broken was inspired by the fact that we used to get drunk in our local town and then jump in hotel swimming pools on the way home. We usually ended up running away from security guards with arms full of clothes. That video was shot by a skateboarding film-maker we know called Henry Edwards-Wood. He’s a bit of a genius.
The video for Savannah was also our concept and shot by a great team from London. We invited our friends, bought a shit-load of alcohol and then basically filmed everyone dancing. It was a great day but my memory ends at about 2 in the afternoon.
St. Peter’s was shot by a French film company called Jack and they came up with everything. We filmed it in the French alps during the middle of a European tour. It was all a bit of a blur.
I know it’s a cliche to focus in on the fact that you’re brothers but does being brothers help or hinder? You must spend almost all your time together. What do you like to do separately to unwind?
I think it helps massively. Because we grew up listening to the same music, we’re both pulling in the same direction creatively. I think a lot of problems arise in bands when members want to take the music in different creative directions. It also really helps live because I genuinely believe that we can kind of sense what the other one is going to do before they do it. That might sound ridiculous but I really think it’s true. Mike’s really into surfing and I’m really into road cycling so we do a lot of that separately.
You’re harmonies are reminiscent of the Everlys. Do they come naturally or have you had to work hard to get that kind of close harmony? Is it always obvious who should take which part?
To be honest neither of us know anything about the real technicalities of singing. We listened to a lot of Beatles when we were younger so I think we kind of subconsciously picked it up from there. We never spend too much time agonising over it, we usually just pick out a harmony, record it and see if it works.
The reaction to Vamala has been overwhelming positive which must be so satisfying? How does it feel to put very personal work out there and have it critiqued by strangers?
It’s probably the most satisfying and downright relieving thing you can experience. You lose so much perspective when you make a record that you start wondering if anyone else is actually going to like it. It’s so hard to listen to it objectively so you lose all ability to gauge how it’s going to be received. It’s a really strange leap of faith to open yourself up to other people’s opinions and for those opinions to then be published for others to read can be quite terrifying. We have been so, so pleased with the reaction so far though. (Your beautifully written review was a genuine highlight) – [Ed: Aw sucks!].
See Champs live on the European Tour – ticket news here.