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Champale dazzles. Their music begins with lovely melodies and ascends to layered, sincere combinations which leave no doubt that it's possible to make something completely fanciful, genuine, and plain enjoyable right here in Brooklyn.

Champale began in 1998 as the trio of Luna drummer Lee Wall, ex-44 songwriter Mark Rozzo, and bassist David Voigt, accompanied by David Knowles on trumpet. The band -- which takes its name from a disreputable brand of malt liquor -- soon expanded to include Erin Elstner, who had toured with Pizzicato Five, on vibes; Jason Glasser on cello (Clem Snide); and Andrew Innes on sax and harmonica. More recently, Ira Elliot, from Nada Surf, has joined on drums and Len Small has joined on bass.
listen
"Hard to Be Easy" (real audio)
 
 

We posed some questions to Mark Rozzo about being a band in Brooklyn, band vans,
and subway performers...

Free Williamsburg:
Is Brooklyn Better?

Mark Rozzo: I love living in Brooklyn; it reminds me of places like London or Dublin -- cities you can walk around in and get lost. I like the bricks and the leaves on the trees. Of course, I probably wouldn't live here if it weren't so close to Manhattan. Still, I think Brooklyn is the most happening part of New York city right now. Manhattan has become a giant mall: Virgin Megastore, ESPNzone, Williams-Sonoma, H&M, Banana Republic, Starbucks... I think you get more of an old New York flavor in Brooklyn than you do in Manhattan. I also think Brooklyn is a more creative place because people live here to get stuff done rather than to just pretend, and no self-respecting indie rocker can afford to live in Manhattan without a trust fund.

Since I've lived in Brooklyn now for almost 8 years (after stints in SoHo, the East Village, and Chelsea), I've come to view Lower Manhattan as a kind of New York with training wheels, a theme park where young people end up who don't yet know anything about New York. There are probably about five people who actually grew up in New York who live in Manhattan below 14th street. In Brooklyn, I might be surrounded by a lot of newcomers, too, but I'm also surrounded by people who have lived in my neighborhood (Boerum Hill) all their lives. I go to produce shops and cafes and hardware stores and butchers that have been here god knows how long. There's a neighborhood vibe here, a community vibe that extends to musicians, too. That doesn't exist anymore in Manhattan.

Of course, most of this is driven by economics. Still, if I hit thejackpot, I'd probably prefer to stay in Brooklyn than move into a doorman building uptown or into a tribeca loft.

Champale spends most of its time in a blue-carpeted basement in Park Slope that has barn siding on the walls and which is conveniently down the street from a bar called Great Lakes. They have our cd in the jukebox and the bartender is always nice to us. Our cello player lives two blocks from me with his girlfriend and their baby. I see other musicians out here -- and
in Williamsburg -- all the time, as well as tons of writers. (writers -- at least writers under 35 -- don't live in Manhattan, you may have noticed.) It's mellow, it's friendly, it's real.

Free Williamsburg: Who's your favorite subway performer?

Mark Rozzo:
My favorite subway act is the one that Ira (our drummer) and I dreamt up, which would be the two of us dressed in white jeans, blue keds, t-shirts, and windbreakers with racing stripes playing hot rod music. Stuff like "GTO." it would be so uptight and jive. It would be hilarious. Actually, "GTO" is one of my favorite all-time songs and I've recently started up an e-mail friendship with John Buck Wilkin, the guy who wrote and sang it with Ronnie and the Daytonas. He liked the Champale record.

As for subway performers who actually do exist, I really dig that dude with the trumpet and beatbox, but I haven't seen him in a while. I think he might only come out during the holidays.

Free Williamsburg:
Does Champale have a Band Van?

Mark Rozzo: We used Nada Surf's giganto van last winter when we were down south. Other than that, we tend to tool around town in an older, pre-SUV white jeep cherokee that looks like a tonka truck that was fed growth hormones as part of some scientific experiment. A most banal automobile, alas. And it's way too small. There's always people on each
others' laps and guitar cases ramming into the backs of our heads.

Champale's debut album, "Simple Days" was released this summer to unanimously good reviews. Visit their label's website, Pitch-A-Tent, to buy it, and visit the bands own site champalebungalow.com for more band news, reviews, and bios.

Champale has two CMJ appearances coming up in September: Saturday September 15 at Mercury Lounge -- a pitch-a-tent showcase featuring Champale, Gem (members of Guided by Voices), and David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) and Sunday, September 16 at Luna Lounge -- A release party for a Big Star tribute record that they contributed to.



-Bret Nicely
Free Williamsburg