Brooklyn’s Sam Champion were one of the only unsigned bands to play this year’s Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. They knew someone, and that someone passed along some music to the promoter, lead singer Noah Chernin got a call, and that was that. To celebrate, the quartet made up 1,500 Sam Champion wristbands: Instead of taking bong hits backstage post-showtime, they walked around and politely asked curious festival-goers to check them out. It worked. “Between our two sets, probably a few thousand heard us,” bassist Jack Dolgen tells me.
They probably didn’t need to do this, of course. “In this town, you can’t sit around and wait for people to do shit for you,” Chernin explains. Consequently, Sam Champion have shared bills with tons of top acts—Ween, the Hold Steady, Cold War Kids—without the assistance of a manager or booking agent. They network themselves, and they’re pretty good at it, too. They have to be—their limited experiences with the label system have all ended badly. Their first record, Slow Rewind, was released on Razor & Tie in 2005, but that relationship didn’t really work out. “Mainly, the a&r guy got fired,” Chernin recalls. “He was the one championing us, no pun intended, and after that they didn’t seem to know what to do with us. So we split.” Last winter, the band funded the recording of their second full-length, Heavenly Bender, by hooking up with Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the arts. Dolgen spearheaded this initiative himself.
The result: 12 songs steeped in time-honored two-guitar rock, backed by Chernin’s wry, nasally, self-deprecating delivery. It’s a little Malkmus-heavy at times, but more often it’s pure south-of-the-Mason-Dixon barback rock. They’re indie guys who still listen to a shit-ton of classic rock; the band agrees that Heavenly Bender would make a perfect summer guitar-pop album.
Summer is (finally) over now, of course. I ask when the new record will ever see the light of day, and they all shrug their shoulders pensively. “We’ve given it a light push,” Dolgen says. “Well, more like a nudge.” Drummer Ryan Thornton mildly disagrees: “Yeah, but it has been sent around.” Chernin breaks the awkward silence that follows: “This time, we’re just waiting for the right situation to present itself, and we want to make sure the person who puts out the record cares about it as much as we do.”
Sam Champion have several CMJ shows this week: Tuesday night at both Club NME at the Annex and Pianos, Wednesday at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Thursday at the Gothamist House, and Saturday at the Orchard Bar; stay up to date at www.myspace.com/samchampion.