In a strange mix of fate and awesomeness, my week has been full of Hey Champ, a band based out of Chicago. They have previously toured with Lupe Fiasco and are now the fresh releasers of their latest EP, “Anything At All.” I downloaded it, danced around my living room, and later that week (coincidentally) had about six other people mention Hey Champ, the must listen music with a disco, indie-house-rock feel. Plainly put, the music is superb, and the trio that makes up the band, Saam Hagshenas (Vocals, Guitar), Jonathan Marks (Vocals & Drums), plus Pete Dougherty (synths), are a group of seriously gentlemanly, (and well-educated) rockers. Saam couldn’t be on the phone this morning but I got to talk to Pete and Saam about beer, inspirational lullabies, and a lack of hacky sack.
Thrillcall: What are some of your fondest musical memories?
Pete: The memory I go to most often is when we played at Lollapalooza two summers ago. I mean, playing a huge summer festival in your home town, especially when you’re right in the middle of downtown, it was really everything we’d been working towards.
Saam: My favorite musical memory is when my parents bought a piano when I was about five years old. The other two guys in the band are professionally trained, studied music. I’ve never been trained, so when I was five and I got to sit down at the piano and hit the keys, that’s when it all started making sense to me. Honestly I don’t even know why my parents bought a piano because they aren’t musical, I guess they just expected us to be.
Pete: Wait, I want to change mine then… I really loved piano too, always had one growing up. But the first synth I got, even though it wasn’t that great, was a Roland JP8000. Learning to play that, and use the synthesizer to design sound was definitely my favorite. I think I was 16 or 17 at that time.
Thrillcall: So, word on the street is that you guys are fans of “good beer.” What is your favorite Belgian Ale?
Pete: Well, our beer expert is out of the country right now at a wedding. Does it count if it’s Belgian style and not from Belgium?
Thrillcall: I think I will accept that.
Pete: I think we’ll have to go with a triple made by Onibroue, called La Fin du Monde (French for “End of the World”).
Thrillcall: Who would you consider to be some of your biggest influences, either within the music industry, or otherwise?
Saam: When I was younger I literally listened exclusively to Mozart and The Beatles- Abbey Road. I didn’t start listening to pop music until I was about fourteen years old. It wasn’t so much that The Beatles blew my mind, but each one of their songs became a lullaby… something you could listen to over and over, and stuff that you could sing to your kids for years to come. I’ve always wanted to approach music that way, just make incredible songs that you will still hear forty years from now.
Pete: The music that I listen to and am influenced by changes all the time. I’m really ADD about all that stuff. I guess I would say Trevor Horn as a producer, Chic, Nile Rogers for R&B Disco sound, and then of course 80’s stuff like Madonna and also all sorts of classic rock.
Thrillcall: How do you guys prepare for a big show? Do you have any ritual that you always have to do for good luck?
Saam: Jack Daniels? [Laughs] Nah, really, we were thrown into the fire quickly. We’d been pretty small just doing a few shows here and there… and then we got signed by Lupe Fiasco and the next thing we know we’re performing in front of 24,000 people. And I don’t know about you Pete, but that was the last time I can remember feeling so nervous. I was thinking “Oh my God… what are we doing?” But once we got going, we just remember that we’re all friends. We love hanging out, and then we realize, “Oh it’s time to play?” and then afterwards we just go right back to hanging out again.
Pete: Yeah… we’re really tight knit. There are a couple cocktails but no group prayers.
Saam: Or hacky sack!
Thrillcall: Do you guys have favorite places where you like to go on tour?
Saam: Okay, I know this is going to sound like pandering but it’s really not! We love playing in San Francisco [Thrillcall’s headquarters]. I think our first show was at Cafe du Nord, and our second show was at Popscene… but it was crazy because people actually knew us and loved our music out there. We’re a Chicago based band, with a lot of Chicago elements, but all the San Francisco fans totally accepted us and brought their friends, it’s just so welcoming to see people again and visit. We also love just walking around, and like how every neighborhood is completely different.
Thrillcall: So what’s next for you guys? What are you working on now?
Saam: Right now we’re working on a mixtape release that’s coming up in a couple weeks. The thing about Hey Champ is that we wear, and have built, many hats. We’re producers, and we perform live, and we have a mixed tape we’ve been working on and a new music video that’s coming out today, too. It’s premiering on MTV actually, called “Silver City.”
Pete: … And to continue that plug, yeah we’re just working on creating lots of new material. But we’re one of those bands that does everything. Would we call it a mix, or mix tape? Anyway it’s a new 3 part mix that will debut next Thursday. So we’re just excited for all of this new stuff to get out there.