Major keys keep Champs’ instro-metal upbeat



By Steve Newton

When the Straight calls up Tim Green of the Fucking Champs, the San Francisco–based guitarist is on vacation with his girlfriend, visiting his dad and stepmom in Maine. He says they’re not too far from Bangor, the fabled hometown of Stephen King, which kinda makes sense since Green got a little scared the night before, on his 37th birthday.

“My girlfriend and I went to this rundown amusement park,” he explains. “There were tons of people when we came in, and all of a sudden everyone was gone, like the whole town was deserted. We had to walk through this amusement park to get to our car, and it was pitch black, totally eerie. We were like, ‘Man, this is kinda spooky.'”

Don’t expect Green’s unsettling experience at the fair to inspire any disturbingly toned Fucking Champs songs, though, because his ear-bustin’ trio is more prone to upbeat vibes. The instrumental combo–which includes drummer Tim Soete and Trans Am guitarist Phil Manley, who replaced Josh Smith in 2004–distinguishes itself from a lot of today’s heavier guitar bands by favouring major-key harmonies.

“Usually metal is more minor- and dark-sounding,” points out Green. “We have some songs like that, but we usually strive to do more major-, happy-sounding stuff, ’cause it’s more uplifting and less predictable.”

It’s been five years since Vancouverites were treated to the FC’s joyful six-string racket–which Green jokingly describes as “instrumental barbershop”–but he remembers the Richard’s on Richards gig quite well. “I think I fucked up my back a few days before that,” he recalls. “I could barely move, and I was on all kinds of crazy pain medication, so it was kind of a rough show, but a lot of people came. I think we played with that band 3 Inches of Blood. Are they still around?”

Indeed they are, although Green might not recognize the rampaging metal outfit now, as three former members have since jumped ship to form the more melodic, ’70s-inspired Pride Tiger. Like that band, Green is a big fan of Thin Lizzy’s soaring twin-guitar sound, but the only picker he adores more than Gary Moore is John McLaughlin.

He vaguely remembers his stepmother owning a copy of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 1972 Birds of Fire album, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he got seriously turned on to McLaughlin’s talent. “I like his soloing,” says Green, “but I just love his songwriting. The songs are really beautiful, but there’s something just strange, not quite right about them, kinda haunting.”

As far as his own guitar skills are concerned, Green is a self-taught player, and as a teacher, he wasn’t too strict. “I don’t know scales,” he admits. “I don’t even know how to read tab or anything like that. For me, it’s all just instinctive.”

Judging by the sound of the Fucking Champs’ latest CD, VI, Green’s instincts are spot on. The 12-track CD continues in the exhilarating prog-metal vein of 2002’s V–which sounded like Rush without vocals–but includes a few surprises, like the version of the 1847 Christian hymn “Abide With Me”, which Manley figured they should try.

“I don’t know where he came up with that,” says Green, “but it was a good idea.”

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