I met Ancient Champion when he was the leader of Ron & Nancy, a seminal post-punk band from Southern California. A solo artist since 1995, the Birmingham, England-based Champ is releasing his latest collection of new music on July 16th titled Music Inspired by the Museumgoer of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This is him answering 15 questions.
1. What inspired the new LP? Is it a quarantine album? A lot of quarantine albums are popping up right now.
Ancient Champion: This pandemic-induced quarantine will prove to be great for music over the next couple of years. It's rarely acknowledged that musicians just have the worst commutes, often traveling hundreds of miles a day to get to work. Worked to death in an industry that has little interest in music at all.
Getting off the road has provided the time to make the great and maybe more enduring records they've always wanted to make, with little pressure to be anywhere else. I don't really know any musicians, although I have met some. Often conversationally limited, but why not? You might be too if you'd spent ten years of your life in a cellar playing guitar with other people playing guitar and then another ten years looking out of bus windows at Kansas while getting to a poorly scheduled gig. So maybe this will provide an opportunity for musicians to subscribe to the New York Times or the New Yorker or sign up for Borrow Box the library book app or something and let the daylight in.
I don't know any other line of business where your bosses want you to produce three minutes of work every four months and not create anymore. This record has nothing to do with any of that and began because I really, really loved the off-kilter, esoteric and slight instrumentals EPs, (there are now about 16 of them), I’d heard on Bandcamp from the Museumgoer, who turned out to be from Baton Rouge. Hence the title, Music Inspired by the Museumgoer of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
I intended to record three or four non-song pieces in that vein, a liberating idea. Most of the music I make begins on the iPad while Ms. Champion watches TV. (As an aside, I was perhaps most creative when Downton Abbey was broadcast on a Sunday evening. I’d write piece after piece with my headphones on, on the couch, watching Michelle Dockery’s gloomy face, she can do that, she’s an actress, she can do a troubled rich person well, uncanny I’d say. Maybe Michelle is a troubled rich person?) When Matthew Crawley was killed in a car accident, I think it was too much for the nation and me to take. I changed my ways. More recently I just sit in a room at the top of the stairs looking into the garden. Tinkering.
Let me begin by saying though, I know Music Inspired By The Mesuemgoer of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a great record. My two major lockdown accomplishments are growing out my hair, here’s what people say, morning -- Jack in The Shining (see above), afternoon, Bob Harris -- (whoever said that is now an ex-acquaintance, trust me); Evening, sure, getting towards the Will Gompertz look I crave. I have a teenage daughter; she’s literally never seen me with hair before. So, that, and this fine quality Museumgoer collection of music. That’s all I got. Out of a year and a half. Thanks Museumgoer, and Will Gompertz, for inspiring me.
2. I knew you when you were a rocker, a real force on stage, the leader of the rambunctious Ron & Nancy. The band preceded the garage rock revival of 2001 by eight years, didn’t it? I always thought you were a cross between a young Billy Bragg during his Go! Discs years and Tav Falvo with a dash of Screaming Lord Sutch, for the dramatics. With your mid-’80s street punk pedigree, did you ever think you’d ever make a synth-based easy-listening album?
AC: That’s very kind of you, although I’d say that the band were a force on stage, and I am surely way older than Billy Bragg? I’m well kept. Look at these hands, they have never seen a hard day’s work. Ever. It’s shameful maybe. Tav Falco, I have seen him play many times and he should publish a grooming guide or something because how he retains his looks and his look is astonishing. Like... As you age you have to follow that LLCoolJ credo more than ever, simply do not eat anything you actually like. And maybe you’ll be okay. Maybe that’s how Tav does it.
When Ron & Nancy ended I was working with producer, Andy, in a house in Buena Park with the idea of following all of that noisy near-controlled chaos, with making the quietest band in the world. So would that have been easy to listen to? A couple of those tracks survive. Earthbound, and since it is you I will say that ‘Sunset Conversation, Early In The A.M.’ is actually from then too.
After that, I stopped making music for about 27 years and did something else. I’d always recommend doing something else, to everyone. One of my therapists, off duty, once said that people get into trouble when they are unable to think flexibly. I’m not sure I ever hear much flexibility from bands on the radio, just the same thing over and over more or less. I’d say to most of the bands I hear on a daily basis, for me at least, if they went and did something else for 30 years, it would be a mighty fine career move, for us all, and at my age I would most likely never have to hear them again. And I can reconcile myself to that.
Recently I played some of those old songs at the Chaos Acoustic Folk Club. I have the say the audience was very forgiving.
We all knew that Ron & Nancy were a great band. Why else bother with it? To make music worse than something you can already hear made by someone else? Being in Ron & Nancy, as with any band, any collective, any job, there is a lot of inconvenience. Who wants that forever?
Back then I could feel like we were like a very low-grade Jon Spencer tribute act but now those songs can stand up pretty well, much better, possibly because I can see now, we weren’t like Jon Spencer at all. More Jonathan Richman than Jon Spencer as it turns out. In a garage? Yes, sure. We played at punk venues and always wanted to be faster and louder and more relentless and more garage-punk than the SoCal punk bands. Who did it better than us? Fag Rabbit, Shemp, and the old punks like Saccharine Trust’s Joe Baiza, we played with him one time. Big mistake! He was then and still is just too great.
[Spanish] I remember that gig with Baiza! I remember it so clearly. It was just him and a drummer with one snare and a bass drum; this was in 1993, I believe. I remember at one point, Joe dropped into this mesmerizing solo and the entire bar went silent. There was no chatter, no beer glasses clanking behind the bar; just every head turned towards Joe figuring out this intricate bit on his fretboard, making it up as he went along. I couldn’t even talk to him after the set, it was too intense. It was like God was communicating though Joe’s fingers. I’ve never seen anything like it since and I’ve seen some of the greats up close and personal.
AC: It was god-like in so many ways. In the Trouser Press guide the seminal music bible, he is reckoned to be the most significant guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. He is so great. I’d love to get him to do something on an Ancient Champion tune.
3. I remember thinking Ron & Nancy’s headline position in that night’s lineup was a bad idea. That said, my question: Does it feel different? Not swinging your big old Gibson hollow body around, chastising chatty audience members from the stage between songs? I remember a gig where you took your white patent leather loafer off and launched into a guitar solo by banging it against that CBS-era Strat you may or may not still have. I shuddered at the beating that beautiful guitar took that night, but I loved the energy and the theater of it. It was your Jimmy Page-plays-his-guitar-with-a-violin-bow moment, except without the pretension. How do you capture that feeling behind a stationary keyboard? It is a stationary keyboard, right? I pray you’re not using a keytar.
AC: Well now you mention it, I’d like to get one of those keytars. I didn't really know anything about guitars until very recently. I am trying to visualize the amount of my lifetime spent in guitar shops. .00000000001%. Even that feels like over exaggeration. I am more of a music consumer really.
I guess that Fender guitar would be so old by now. And valuable. I wonder what happened to it. That was a divorce guitar. There are those around for sure. Maybe it caused the divorce, I think it did. Guitars can be used in so many ways. Ironically, anyhow, I was living in Fullerton, and since I had no interest in guitars, I didn't know Fender had been manufacturing on Fullerton Avenue down the road from my home.
Anyway, I needed a guitar and I got that Strat from a guy in Orange, he was getting divorced and he was liquidating everything. He was making sure there were no assets to be shared with his ex. Hiding the cash, he told me, in the door panel of his Hyundai. That seemed crazy, it was parked outside on the street. I think he'd reached that point where he just wanted some jail time, he just wanted to step off for a while. Ever feel like that? It was a house of bad vibes, for sure. The curtains were all drawn, it was dark, there was no art. He was keen to sell, so I got a good price for the Strat. In the end I also took a flat-packed bookcase that had never been assembled, a naugahyde BarcaLounger and this incredible toaster oven that had an integrated external hotplate for heating beans or frying eggs or something. That never really worked, but I think that began my love affair with American innovation.
That Gibson 335, I really did love that guitar, and I do miss it. So many fantastic songs and sounds came out of that thing. I loved the Bigsby and it could re-tune itself! I made the mistake of hanging out with a former model who quoted Friedrich Nietzsche to young, long-suffering bartenders. “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering…” Right. Do you want those martinis dirty or dry or what?
Her boyfriend was always calling her from jail, reversing the charges and so I sold the guitar to pay a massive phone bill. I remember being told it wasn’t collectable, but I didn’t know anyone would collect guitars. What for? I’d never collected anything. Most of the buyers of those great guitars these days are speculatory, middle-class wallets. Sadly, they will never make great music with them. But they will see the value appreciate faster than their investments in utilities or whatever. But I should look for another 335.
4. Who or what do you listen to while you’re making music? Do you ever get hooked on a genre or band? When I write, I can only listen to a very specific playlist I created that puts me in a trance and I can kind of write on auto-pilot. It’s only 10-songs long right now, but it’s my secret blend of tracks that does it for me. Don’t ask me to share the playlist with you. People have asked, and I won’t do it. Also, I began listening to John Coltrane’s Blue Train in school when I’d write, to drown out all the other distractions around me. Now sometimes I can only write if I’m listening to that album. It’s Pavlovian. It won’t work with any other Coltrane albums. I’ve tried.
AC: Well, thanks for sharing how you write. I am fascinated by that. I think what you describe as that trance-like state is important to a lot of writers. I can never listen to songs with lyrics when I am writing. Although non-english lyrics are okay despite the last thing I just said, as I am hapless with languages. Right now I am listening to Lady Wray’s Queen Alone LP. Good god almighty. Every element sounds so effortless.
When I write, maybe, while I sit here thinking of myself as a Graydon Carter with dirt under the fingernails, there are minimalist things I listen to and then things like those really popular Mendelssohn piano pieces, I could recommend Songs Without Words played by Walter Gieseking, as desolate and desultory as they can feel, the pieces are arrestingly beautiful. We inherited a massive collection of classical vinyl records, we are working through it and the slight piano pieces are mind boggling. Recently, that astonishing 19 pieces for solo Cello performed by Arlen Hlusko. I listened to that a lot while I was writing recently. Wow!
As an aside, the singing-painting-bass player, the Wedding Present’s Melanie Howard, aka Such Small Hands, paints these amazing abstract things and when you buy one, she lets you know what she was listening to while creating the piece. They are beautiful. Little Greene should get over there with a cheque for a wallpaper line. I should send her a piece of music and get her to paint something from it, with my birthday money. Imagine that… Life would be complete.
But when I am writing music, well, everything I do begins somewhere else, I’m not proud. I am not so inspired that ideas get plucked from fresh air. More often plucked from the stereo, but, I retain my musical ineptitude, my inability to make a decent stab at a cover version, so then, you get the somewhat highly original patented Ancient Champion sound. Way before I have developed some basic competency on an instrument, I ditch it in favor of another, so that I can’t lift other people’s music too easily, too elegantly, I’m too busy working out where my fingers and thumbs should land to do that.
In my musical magpie defence, artists are going to be influenced by everything they see, hear, touch, taste, feel. Every surface and every sound. It’s kind of annoying when old musicians pile on young ones or something for being unoriginal. Ludicrous. Let them be. It’s okay to pile on if they are just useless and of no use to us, though, young or old or whatever, I will routinely hate things and people will say, “Oh that’s unfair, that’s not aimed at you.” If you’re not going to aim your art at me, then I am going to take aim at you. I am bad at feeling excluded.
5. You fell in love in California. What do you miss most about Los Angeles and what are you glad you left behind?
AC: I left Los Angeles, but it never leaves me. If I say immediately after the kerfuffle over The Museumgoer subsides, there’s the Hollywood Adjacent EP which the actual Museumgoer is helping me with. He’s such a musical genius. I send bits and pieces over to Baton Rouge and it bounces back with pedal steel or Fender Rhodes or his extractor fan on it or whatever he deems necessary to bring it to life. Astonishing.
One of the tracks on there, “L.A. Proved Too Much For The Man,” (I know you’ll know that’s the opening line from Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia”) -- that’s it really. You know I was on my own, I was out on my feet, I was dying before I met Mrs. Champion in Newport Beach. She said to me one time, and this is where I was at, “Do you ever think about getting anywhere permanent to live?”
Up to that moment, I really hadn’t. I was couch surfing. My life was ridiculous. I’d never had any money and suddenly I could work for a few minutes and make more money than I’d been used to getting in a week. So I hardly ever worked. What would be the point? That’s when I moved into the Gaylord on Wilshire. I loved living there. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor had had a favorite booth in the nautical themed ground floor bar, the Bounty. I think Beck used to go there, but he was long gone by the time I got there, and took his magic with him. RFK had been assassinated in the kitchen of the derelict Ambassador hotel across the street. History!
I love Los Angeles, I miss the reassuring Jerry Dunphy “From the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California, a good evening.” Nick Owen is great here, but no Jerry Dunphy. I miss driving from Echo Park to Burbank through Griffith Park, to do laundry and the technicolor melange of the Kid’s clothes tumbling in the dryer while reading a 25c copy of the LA Times from an actual newspaper stand. Laker reports first. I miss the conversation. I miss the optimism. I miss the love. I miss the feeling that I am alive in the most amazing and diverse place in the world.
I miss the places I used to go with the now Ms. Champ, when I met her, the crowded places, like the Conga Room on Wilshire when J-Lo and Jimmy Smits might've been the owners and the Dresden in Los Feliz, and she would stand out in the room like the only in-focus person in an impressionist painting. She really is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. She saved my life.
6. Tell me about where you live now. Does Birmingham work its way into your music?
AC: Birmingham, yes. Birmingham is what I think Americans would refer to as “flyover country.” There is always talk about the North/South divide here, and even at the most fundamental level, ‘Bottom of the North’ - a piece that is written but unreleased (as I write) speaks to that I think.
The city is overlooked in the national conversation. The city is young, it’s diverse and has everything to be an exemplar of a modern city. Everything except visionary city managers who can hold their nerve in the face of developers and downers I suppose. The desire to truly take a great leap forward and not just demolish the past. Which they are good at.
In some ways it really reminds me a lot of Long Beach, without the climate and waterfront. Where a cash-strapped city desperate for redevelopment, chose rapacious profit-motivated companies and took what they were given in return. And so twenty years ago in some peculiar Faustian bargain, you got that awful downtown waterfront area which seems disconnected from the architecture and history of the city altogether. Maybe it’s got better or people don’t notice how crap it is anymore. You had a really great waterfront with those Astronaut islands already. There’s that really great Long Beach architecture book by Cara and Jennifer, a great reference not even considered by the developers I’d say.
And so, near here, Nottingham is a really great city with a very joined up feel to it, historical areas sensitively integrate smoothly with the modernities. Oh and a branch of Rough Trade records, what does it say about this place that it can’t have Rough Trade?
Right now, a great arts and subcultural area of town, Digbeth is getting ready to get bulldozed. It is difficult from what I see in the local media to find anything to feel enthusiastic about, compared to what's already there. Something like 57 historical buildings are to be destroyed, or insensitively redeveloped at best, agents of vibrancy in the area go unlistened to. It is depressing.
There are great redevelopers here, check out Javelin Block, honouring the past and reanimating buildings for the future. They do things well. That seems to be a rare skill.
But… Where I live is like San Pedro [California] or something in relation to Birmingham. Bearwood is not actually in the Birmingham archipelago of towns, and it is the ignored periphery of the borough of Sandwell it resides in. Most famous for a no longer in existence diner mentioned on the Dexys LP Don’t Stand Me Down.
I’ve lived here for ten years and you couldn’t tell me by walking down the main street that things have improved here for the residents, their choices, opportunities, for the capacity of people to open a business and get by. Maybe the restaurant car wash is a unique offering -- I’d bet you don’t have one of those. But I don’t know whether it brings people in from other neighbourhoods, I mean, for dinner and a car wash.
It feels like people have less control and less ability to make things happen here than in the US, where I was involved in groups who campaigned for change and made it happen. There are so many boarded up shops here you wouldn’t believe. Housing costs at unaffordable levels despite the degradation. Buck shifting lack of accountability. Stabbings are not uncommon. Why sugar coat it, there’s no plan to evolve our way out of that. There’s no Ludovic Technique that is going to work and no, no forthcoming maturity either. People are abandoned here, and there is no sense that they are valued. I think you would be shocked to see how small the homes here are. You might ask how this has become an ideal for living. And if it is not, where are the voices and visions for change? If you ask me, everyone is indictable. The resilience of the people in the face of the onslaught is something to be admired. But I often muse, if there is a god, they wouldn’t have made Bearwood. Ergo...
The broader area brought 2-Tone and ska to the masses; The Specials, Selector, The Beat and then it cannot be denied, Birmingham is the ancestral home of metal -- Black Sabbath of course, Led Zep. And pop, Slade!, ELO Jeff… And I think interestingly enough there is a direct connection, a hard wire of local culture animating all of that music and the most notable acts.
There is a guy here, Jez, he is a big, big booster for music in general and a local music guru in particular and a minute part of what he does is to lead Bearwood Rock Walks, where you get to see where Christine McVie lived and so on. Once I get him to put Ancient Champion on his map, while hopefully pointing to the house a few doors down to preserve my personal safety -- I’ll be like Alex Chilton, washing dishes with my bodyguard at hand -- my work in this city will be done. I mean seriously I don’t know why people stay for so long in one place? Why?
7. How does a typical day for the Champ begin and end?
AC: I am old and am beholden to the antithetical mantra, early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, Ha! That hasn’t worked. Pursuing Oppenheimer’s 25 hour clock-days didn’t work any better either. So, my days begin badly and end so too. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme begins the morning and pretty much within minutes I am distraught. The journalists have an implausible job of unpicking their way through the obfuscations of failure they are confronted with, without just being rude or just asking liars to leave the studio. Jesus. That’s not blasphemy, that’s a prayer.
My favorite thing is line-drying the laundry, but that obviously can only happen on clear days and we have near perma-gloom. Whatever, I am adding a video here, of the future. I work from home but am easily distracted. The delay switch on the washing machine is hardly radical but I do like to get a load of laundry out, so I often set that delay button the night before. My pegging techniques have evolved obviously. This rotary dryer I have, with it’s own roof, I am desperate to get a mild day to get out there and install it. I managed to get a bag of postcrete even when they were shortages. This is a marvel of German engineering.
I’m self-isolating but otherwise I drive my daughter to school, actually she is self-isolating this week too. It seems covid is becoming more prevalent as the laws designed to keep people safe, from their own worst instincts, are being relaxed. On Fridays, in the car, she takes control of sifting through the new music releases, skipping through so many of the tracks that come to us by way of an algorithmic recommendation, we often think, if that is a state of the art programmatical interpretation of our likes, we’re going to be waiting for a long, long time for anything useful to come from the AI programmers.
Then I sit at a desk from 9am or so until I don’t know, the world has gone black, dabbling, doing this and that. Maybe this should've been a one line answer.
8. I hope you don’t think I’m living in the past when I ask this, but tell me more about Ron & Nancy. I was there during the band's filet years, but I wasn’t there for its origins. I assume the band was birthed by you; the concept, the aesthetics, the songs themselves?
AC: Yeah. That’s right. But no, not exactly. Barb, the keyboard player, I think is the main impetus behind the band, So talented. I met her in London. She is a great musician. And along with Herb on drums and Scott on bass, Scott really understood the nuance and actually subtlety of what we were doing, and Herb was the drummer for us that moment in time. We’d struggled with drum players and he was just perfect.
We all really got it: the clothes, the music, the art, the act, all magically belonging sonicly in the same place at the same time. I think maybe I received more attention because when I opened my mouth, English came out. But also, Andy from Pomona, he produced that noise really. He was beyond amazing. Chris, coming in on sax, bothered to buy the trousers. And in earlier iterations, Barbara knew Mike and his brother Todd. Mike, an incredible musician.
I don’t really like to mention names because people probably have real lives, careers and families they need to protect now. But always somehow Ron & Nancy was a sum greater than the parts. I tried to stop it, I did stop it many times, but Barb, I think more than anyone had the determination and desire to put it all back together. Barb saw things I couldn’t see.
The songs, yeah, they were confident enough in what they were doing to let me do whatever I wanted. “Walter the Assaulter,” written about the couple who became my daughter’s godparents, is very affectionate, aesthetic violence. “Blow My Horn,” blowhard boastful types; “We Can Help You With Your Lust” -- a sign a guy used to carry on Oxford Street, whatever was he selling, who wants to buy that.
9. Why the name Ron & Nancy then?
AC: There was Barb and me in the beginning, and maybe there’s too much distance now to recall clearly that Ron and Nancy Reagan had been living in rarified air for too long by the time the American people voted them into the White House in a landslide, a couple of times.
They introduced hitherto unseen inequalities into society, reignited the arms race, star wars, embraced Thatcher who had done so much to destroy working-class communities in the UK… there is a lot not to love. There’s more than the relentless lauding you hear in the media. If anyone ever tried to convince you that Reagan did good things, he had the office of the President behind him, you’d have to go way, way out of your way to not do good things with that power, and that’s what he did. How many people died and how many families were devastated by AIDS before he lifted one Federal government finger?
So, we got some nice office attire, we loved dressing up. We tried to look like Young Republicans, in better-cut suits, and sound like something else entirely. As an art project, I didn’t want the iniquities of the Reagan’s to ever be far from people’s minds or forgiven. If you had power in the ‘80s, with AIDS, with inequality, you could choose to exacerbate those societal problems, you could choose to demonize Americans, you could choose to run on limiting women’s rights.
Maybe people never thought of the Reagans when they saw our name, maybe they thought we were a folk duo. And the Reagans had that fake folksy mantra too, that everyone living on the Bel Air estate has. It’s a funny name for a punk rock band of four or five people. I don’t know.
10. Interesting. That said, I really miss the days leading up to one of those gigs knowing something unpredictable was going to happen when Ron & Nancy took the stage. Usually by you. The best gigs were the ones when you’d scream during load out that you had dissolved the band (for what reason, I never knew) and were never going to perform again. On one of those nights, you actually handed me your Gibson hollowbody -- the one with the Bigsby tremolo bar -- and said, “Here, take it, it’s yours now.” And then you said, as you walked to your car to no one in particular, “I won’t be needing it anymore, ever again.” It was a great final touch on a ferocious performance only two minutes earlier, right off the stage. Did that moment inspire “I Won’t Pay For My Own Funeral?” The lyrics describe almost exactly what happened that night. Thank god there weren’t camera phones around back then. Some things are more legendary in the mind, video would only spoil the magic. Do you miss that Iggy Pop-on-smack-smearing-peanut buttter-on-his-chest stage of your career?
By the way, the guitar actually sat in my apartment for the night until I returned it to you the next day. I knew there was no way that was your last performance, that was the third time you broke the band up that summer.
AC: I am particularly grateful that there isn’t any cell phone footage from back then. And I can’t rule out working with peanut butter in the future. Live in hope! And I am eternally grateful that you never took me at my word and actually returned that guitar.
It is so strange leading up to a show or whatever the band I guess is just all about getting to a place where the hands are going to work automatically, so the performance can kick in. It takes a lot of work to even be a mediocre band. Think how hard we worked to be great. You miss out on a lot of life being locked in a rehearsal room. And I hated the cables on the floor too.
You saw that photo of a corner of the music recording space in my house the other day. No matter what musical magic comes out, the cables to get that into the machines are murderous and there is always just one patch cable to few.
I am discussing the possibility of rehearsing some of the Museumgoer music with some older musicians, mainly because I’d like to see ‘Ancient Champion with the Mammoth’ - a delightful name for a band of musicians on a poster. But only if I can get over the quantity of cables it will take.
“I Won’t Pay For My Own Funeral,” that’s quite shocking isn’t it. Of my big deficits, is my wilful neglect of my finances, I have lived like a trust fund kid with only negligible resources. Without a trust fund. It’s not even my favorite of my lyrics. It’s funny and I never wanted to be funny. It’s peculiar. I prefer “Walter the Assaulter,” or “One of the Ones About Jesus,” (Catholic, can be forgiven...), and “You’re Pouring Out of Me,” written after a lengthy phone conversation where the person on the other end of the line even had my inflections down by the end of it. Very strange.
Most everything was maybe not about what it seemed, it’s tiring to think about the lengths I went to to say nothing at all. “While I waver like a tree for felling, her heart is hotter than a Baby Belling.” Baby Belling’s were notoriously not hot, as I remember. The tree for felling is a weak erection joke. So why were the people in that song taking their clothes off in the song I’ll never know. I could go on and on and perhaps already have. Maybe check out I Don’t Recall The Songs of Ron & Nancy, and it’ll help you understand why I concentrate on instrumental pieces now…
11. You have a birthday this month. Did you ever think you’d be around in the year 2021? What are you happy you’re around for?
AC: Oddly, I never think about not being around, and what that might be like even. And yet I so often I just despair so much I don’t want to be here. What would it take to make me want to stay? The obvious things are the only things really. And then, I am happy about my collection of short stories, Six Stories About Motoring Nowhere.
I want to learn to write. But most every effort out there in the world is trite and there is little to be excited about. I used to know this old guy and he was pretty brilliant in so many ways and he would say to me, “People like you, you never want to die because you’ll always think you’re about to do something special.” His inference being that I never would. He was so right I think. Or maybe he was just a cunt, sexually exploiting someone 50 years younger than him? I don’t really feel that way but I’ll ask my therapist next time the NHS can find one with time for me.
12. What would you have been happy to have missed out on?
AC: Ha! Spanish, you know. If I could do it all again, I would do every moment differently.
13. When I first met you, you were married, but you didn’t have kids, neither did I. Now you have a daughter, and I have two. Did you ever see yourself having kids? I didn’t. I guess your mind changes depending on who you marry. How has it changed you now? Does it change your music? It must.
AC: I was not really a very responsible adult. I wasn't good parent material at all and I never really thought that children were for me. Children should be cherished and I suppose I didn't think I could do that well enough. You see great parents and they just have an awareness about themselves and their children they can pop their hands out, like stretch armstrong and catch them before they fall. I admire them.
I can remember you telling me about your daughter inscribing her name on some authentic mid-century dining table you'd acquired. Permanent marker. "You can't own anything nice ever." Was your take on that at the time. But your tone somehow quite relaxed and resigned, an "Oh well. What can you do..."
I am a really old dad. I love my daughter so much, from the moment I saw her I was completely committed to her, and because of the whole piss-poor parental leave situation in the US, her mom was back at work 8 weeks after the baby was born. I just can’t even imagine the magnitude of the wrench in having to go back to work and leave a little one behind. America should really look at that. We were living on Sunset. I was at home so that’s just how that worked out. If my schedule got really crazy some great people I knew from Echo Park would come help with her.
She changes everything. Beginning with the cavernous SUV we needed to carry her stuff in. Just walking and talking. Dance classes, swimming, trumpet, rowing I can't remember all we've done week after week. It is all so profound if that's what you want it to be. The pets! Keeping fish is harder than it looks. I always worry about whether I am engaged enough. I suppose most people worry whether they are a good enough parent.
14. Last bits about the new LP. Tell me something about it that no one would know or even think to ask about unless someone like me gave you the opportunity.
AC: A secret. I wanted to have a competition on my website where one could ‘Vote One Track Off’ the album before it was released. Seemed like a plan to make people listen. A very special sort of giveaway. But everyone seemed to suggest it would be “The Hang Ups” -- the piece I characterize as a bad ‘70s cop TV movie theme tune.
I have my reputation to maintain as the indie Tony Hatch, as the writer Lake generously says, and I didn’t want to diminish that. Here’s what few will know: that “The Hang Ups” is the only track to feature a guitar, all those lovely bendy notes brought to you by sadly not a signature Johnny Marr Jaguar, but still sounding okay. Jaguars, good size, but too many buttons...
The other thing, since you only asked for one is, I am donating the CD’s, to charity shops/thrift stores - the original idea came from Jeff from Walker Brigade. “That’s where music fans are digging around,” he told me, “it’s where you’ll find the good stuff.” Better than sitting in a box under the bed.
15. What’s your favorite Smiths song and why? Please be specific. Also, what do you recall about that time you saw the Smiths in… was it ‘84? You mentioned the event to me in passing that you and 50 other kids invaded the stage during the encore. Please tell me everything you can remember about that night -- you’re a great story teller.
AC: Thanks for asking this, great question since you know Morrissey will be reading this. Instinctively my response is that my favorite Smiths song begins with the guitar intro of “Hand in Glove” and ends as Morrissey’s voice fades away at the end of “I Won’t Share You.”
While writing this I dusted off my Smiths records, I love “Cemetery Gates,” always -- don’t you? The singles though, the melodies are relentless. “The Boy With The Thorn in His Side,” “Ask”… I often put the Smiths’ Top of the Pops performances on for my daughter to see, she indulges me of course, like when my dad put the Philomena Begley records on. But I think that’s a look of amazement on her face. Because really you can't find anything less conservative in the history of pop. Morrissey: the beads, the flowers, the melody, the words. Soon we were all buying beads and blouses from M&S to be more like him.
Back then I did think, if I could only touch the hem of his turned-up jeans, then maybe everything would turn out okay. I was a messed-up Catholic rebel. Morrissey was magical. I saw the Smiths play a number of times from various distances from the stage. And later Morrissey too in Los Angeles. It would be too apocryphal for me to say I can recall being on the stage at that college gig, they did have to bring in the rugby team to create a physical barrier between the band and the fans. Barriers should never hold. I think maybe everyone was on the stage and that’s maybe how life is.
Listen to Ancient Champion's new LP The Museumgoer of Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Spotify, Bandcamp, and other popular music streaming services.
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