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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

The Championship’s Post-Country Album

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“Winter is on its way,” Joe Crockett cautions on The Championship’s new album, in a rested baritone that makes him sound like he himself has just woken from a deep hibernation. In some ways, he has. High Feather is the first Championship release in more than three years, following an uncertain hiatus and a couple of key lineup changes, and it’s a clear reboot, downplaying the country and folk influences of their previous releases for a dreamier, earthier calm.

“This time the four of us played music and just let it sound the way it sounds, instead of trying to sound like a certain thing,” Crockett explains. “Our first record was just the work of an excited new band, recording an album’s worth of songs and having fun doing it. But our second album was purposefully done as a country record, because there was a moment where that was all I was into. I had just inherited this LP collection from my mom, and she had all these outlaw albums, so there was maybe a good year where those were the records I was listening to. They were on old vinyl and they had that distinct sound. I was obsessed with them at the time, but after a while I got bored. Now I’m not so one-dimensional. I still love that music, but do I want to play it exclusively? No.”

Between albums, Crockett reconnected with his old R.E.M. records—a homecoming ritual familiar to anybody who ever loved R.E.M. in their youth—and binged on recent albums from War on Drugs and Beach House (“I tried to write songs like those guys, but they just ended up sounding like ours,” he says). Some of R.E.M.’s enchanted chime rings through High Feather, but the rest of it is harder to place. There are echoes of My Morning Jacket and The National, but only echoes. They never feel deliberate.

Out Oct. 16, High Feather is not only the prettiest record the group has ever made, it’s also the best. But what does that buy a band like The Championship, a local act with a good reputation within the city but little recognition outside of it? They’re still trying to figure that out.

“A lot of records just slip under the rug, even if it’s a great record,” Crockett says. “That’s why we’re being realistic and only pressing a small run of records. We’re not a huge band, but we still want to make something really cool. I feel like because of all the work we put into this record, if people listen to the record, they’ll get it and hopefully they’ll like it. But getting people to do that can be difficult if you’re a small band or you don’t have the right people promoting it.

“These days there are so many bands out there and so many free outlets on the Internet to promote yourself that the field has gotten saturated, so the only thing you can do to catch people’s attention is write good music,” he concludes. “There’s no cutting corners on that. Bands can’t just get by on cool album art or a big-name producer. You have to write great shit or people will ignore it. For me, that’s a good thing; it just means that you have to work harder. I don’t think musicians can fake it anymore; the music has to speak for itself.”
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