The F**king Champs

“This band is a pure guitar orgy,” says Phil Manley, the newest member of instrumental riff mongers, the F**king Champs. Formed 12 years ago by guitarist Tim Green, the trio has been releasing albums of dense, highly melodic, yet strangely unclassifiable rock that eschews not only bass guitar, but conventional song forms. Manley—who is also a member of post-rock stalwarts Trans Am—and Green’s twisted vision of rock is fully apparent on the Champ’s newest release, VI [Drag City].
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Tim, what does Phil bring to the Champs?
Green: Whereas my style is more trial and error, Phil actually knows some scales. He can solo freestyle better than I can, and he knows how to play more Rush songs than I do. My solos tend to sound like a Juicy Fruit commercial, Greg Ginn, or some broke-ass John McLaughlin style ragas. Phil has also brought restraint. He has a less-is-more approach to writing that tempers my more-is-more approach.

What players and tones inspire you?
Manley: Leigh Stevens from Blue Cheer and Eddie Hazel from Funkadelic. Also, Billy Gibbons, Isaiah Mitchell of Earthless, and Dr. Know. Sonically, Malcolm and Angus Young are my favorites—particularly the Powerage album. Townshend and Entwistle’s tones on the Who’s Live at Leeds, and Hendrix’s sound on the Live at Winterland album are unreal, as well. Other sonic heroes include Duane Dennison and David Sims of the Jesus Lizard, Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, and Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia.
Green: It’s John McLaughlin first and foremost. Not so much for his soloing, but for his songwriting. It’s such strange, beautiful music. I also dig Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, Gary Moore, and Angus Young. Tonally, I love the guitar sounds on all the mid ’60s, Shel Talmy-produced albums from the Kinks, the Who, and the Creation.

What guitars and amps did you guys use for VI?
Manley: I used [former Champs guitarist] Josh Smith’s custom-built 9-string that was constructed by Ron Seargent from a Kay body, a Silvertone neck, and a Chandler lipstick tube pickup. The high E, B, and G strings are unison. There are two of these guitars in existence. Josh found the first one at Subway Guitars in Berkeley, California, and he liked it so much that he had Ron build another one. On our last American tour, we stopped at Timeless Guitars in Parma, Ohio, and I bought a Univox 12-string that I converted to a 9-string. I also used a Fender Tele on a song or two, and I did one solo with Tim’s Roland GR707 guitar synth. We also used our drummer’s ’79 Gibson Les Paul Standard loaded with Lindy Fralin humbuckers. Both Tim and I use a Marshall Guv’nor distortion, a Rocktron Hush, and Ernie Ball strings.
Green: I generally do one track with my Hagstrom II, which is loaded with Rio Grande pickups. That guitar has the lowest action of any guitar in the world. I’m totally spoiled by it. I usually double that guitar with a ’67 Rickenbacker 360. Occasionally, I also use a Danelectro baritone.
Manley: For amps, I typically did one track with Tim’s mid-70s, master volume Marshall JMP MKII 100-watt head, which he modified to produce more low end. Then, I doubled that track with an amp made by our friend Joe O’Sullivan in Leeds, England. It’s called a Euclid Double Fantasy, and it’s basically a two-channel JMP MKII in a Hiwatt-style chassis. It has four 6550 output tubes, a half-power switch, and five speaker outputs—two 4 ohm, two 8 ohm and one 16 ohm. Live, we place the Double Fantasy behind our drummer, and Tim and I both run through it. Each of us can kick it on when we solo. When we track, we pretty much run everything through two 4x12 cabs. This helps open up the sound, and I find there’s less speaker distortion. We would use combinations of Sunn 412L and Hiwatt cabs loaded with 75-watt G12T Celestions, a Peavey cabinet loaded with 85-watt Celestions, and a Marshall enclosure loaded with two Celestion G12s and two G12Ts.
Green: For some quieter parts, I used a Vox Royal Guardsmen head that I bought in 1985 for $90. I run it through a home stereo speaker with two 12s crammed into it. I also used a Danelectro head through a Silvertone Leslie speaker that was pulled out of an old organ.

The Champs’ music is sonically very metal-sounding, but, harmonically, it’s much different than, say, Black Sabbath.
Green: I guess we have a metal sound, but we use a lot of goofy-sounding major harmonies that most metal bands would never touch. I prefer that sound over the dark and gloomy minor key stuff. I guess our music is more life affirming. Boy, that really sounds stupid [l aughs]!
Manley: The metal element of the Champs is more about guitar tone than music. To my ears, we sound like twisted classical music, but I also like using the terms “Positive Metal” and “Instrumental Barbershop.”