Guest Post: Chris Wrenn – Champion Australia Tour Journal 2004
I’ve been hounding Chris from Bridge 9 records for a while about doing a guest blog post, but apparently he’s a busy guy (shocking, given the amount of stuff he has going on 24/7). But here it is and the timing could not be any better; 10 years to the exact date! This definitely brings back some memories, and there’s a tiny bit of crossover from my “Van Wars Down Under” blog post I published a about a year ago, so check that one out after reading Chris’ if you haven’t already. Thanks Wrenn!
I joined up with Champion on their first tour to Australia in December of 2004, which was exactly 10 years ago today. The tour was with Miles Away and Against, lasted three weeks, and was one of my favorites – I was close with the guys in Champion, we had just released their “Promises Kept” album a couple of months earlier. I haven’t done much journaling in my life, but when I went on that tour I knew I wanted to document it. Every night I detailed what had happened that day. I can’t say I ‘m much of a writer but this was my firsthand account of the tour, which is only now finally being released a decade later. It doesn’t seem like this much time has passed. I hope everyone that I met on that tour is still doing well and doesn’t mind hearing about it from my perspective all of these years later!
– Chris Wrenn
December 2nd, 2014
Thursday, December 2nd, 2004
My last connecting flight was in Brisbane to Perth, which got in at 8am. Customs was a bit tricky because I was entering on a tourist visa and I had to explain what I was doing with 300 “promotional” CD’s. They ended up changing my visa to a business one but I had to sweat it out a bit. Telling the customs guy that I had only $300 cash on me, was staying for 3 weeks, and didn’t know who and when I was meeting up with the person I was staying with didn’t exactly grease the wheels in customs. I came to learn that my next flight was ELEVEN hours away. I had to kill the entire day at the airport and was bummed. I called Ryan from Common Bond Records (he booked the tour) to let him know what was up, and he called Chris from Against, who came out and picked me up and took me into town. Instead of sitting in the airport all day, we went out to the mall, got lunch, checked out a record store and then the tattoo studio (Allstar Tattoo) that he owns, and went out to the movies and saw National Treasure. I got back to the airport in time to make my connecting flight around 7pm, flew into Perth around 11pm, and met up with Ryan and some of the guys from Miles Away, who we were going to stay with. 40 hours after leaving and I was finally here on the West Coast of Australia. We rolled back to their place, dropped my stuff off, and went back at 1am to pick up Champion, who were flying in from Europe.
Friday, December 3rd, 2004
Slept in for the first time in ages. Hung out most of the day with a few of the guys from Miles Away, who we’re staying with. The show tonight is a few blocks away from the Indian Ocean, so we walked down to the beach and hung out for a bit. The show was good – it was my first time seeing Miles Away and they were good – it was an 18+ crowd but there were a ton of people there. Perth doesn’t have a good hardcore music record store so kids were psyched that I had brought a B9 distro, ended up selling over 40 CD’s. After the show, we all went to some shot party, where we left to go get falafel, head back to Cam’s house and crash for the night.
Saturday, December 4th, 2004
Saturday’s show was at a skatepark, and was all-ages. The place was really cool and the weather was beautiful. Aram and I walked over to get some food soon after getting to the venue and I was almost hit by a car as I crossed the road. I keep looking the wrong way when crossing the streets (Australia has British style driving) and if I DON’T get hit by a car on this trip it will be because of dumb luck. The show was the biggest show in Perth, as it was the only all-ages one, and a ton of kids turned out. Tons of stage diving.
Sunday, December 5th, 2004
Final show in Perth – it was small and 18+. Aram and I broke out for a while and walked down towards Fremantle Beach. Fremantle is a large port so there were tons of huge tankers out on ocean. The show was fun despite the low turnout – during Champion’s set, I was asked to do guest vocals for their cover of SSD’s “Glue”. Couldn’t of been an easier song to sing (only 5 words, duh) but it was my first time ever singing anything on stage, so it was a trip.
Monday, December 6th
Day Off – PERTH
We had the day off today and our flights back to Brisbane weren’t until 11pm, so we decided to head back down to Fremantle Beach. It was probably one of the most amazing beaches that I’ve ever been on, which isn’t much considering I’ve grown up in New England. Big waves, bright blue water, clean beaches, and a strong sun made up the key ingredients. I came unprepared so I had to dish out tourist prices on flipflops and a beach towel. A few hours in the heat, and surprisingly no sunburn (50 SPF helped).
Tuesday, December 7th, 2004
Day Off – BRISBANE
After traveling all night and into the morning, we got into Brisbane around 10am. We met up with Greg Against and got some breakfast, and then went back to his apartment, where we ended up crashing and sleeping for the rest of the day. That night, we all ended up going out for dinner at Sizzler and got $18 all you can eat salad bar. I went to sleep full but woke up the next morning feeling like I hadn’t eaten in days. Soon after going to sleep, I was awoken by the commotion caused by the rain. The beautiful weather couldn’t hold out and a total downpour began, one that would end up lasting several days. We were staying in a basement apartment, and the water began flooding outside the door, and pouring into the apartment. We had to build a wall out of towels to keep the water from getting in.
Wednesday, December 8th, 2004
Greg’s girlfriend, Rachi, is a tattoo artist at All Star Tattoo, the shop owned by Chris from Against. We rolled over there early in the morning, so that Brandon and Aram could get tattooed. I didn’t want to get stuck at their house all day so I went along for the ride. The day was spent between the shop, the mall, and a trip down to a river a few blocks away, where I came face to face with a 3 foot lizard. Brandon ended up getting a kangaroo with boxing gloves, saying “G’ Day Mate.” Aram picked two caskets, one with a lock, the other with a key, for the tops of his feet with the words “Hard Times.” I thought he was crazy for tattooing his feet when he knew that he was going to be playing shows for the next two weeks.
Before the show we went back to Greg’s house to pack up the gear for the night. While I was waiting, I heard what sounded like cats fighting. I walked outside, and saw the bats that come to feed on their neighbor’s mango tree. Bats in New England are no larger than 6 inches wide, wings stretched. These looked like dogs with wings that were no smaller than 3 feet wide. Unbelievable.
This was the first of two Brisbane shows, this one being 18+. I missed the first band, Knife Fight Opus, but got back in for the 2nd band, Just Say Go. During their set I noticed that Chad and the rest of New Found Glory were there. Before the 3rd band went on, I walked over and said what’s up, cause we had been introduced at a Terror / Madball show in San Diego last year. We ended up shooting the shit for the rest of the show. Turned out NFG had just gotten into Australia that morning, heard about the show, and wanted to check out Champion, which was cool of them.
Thursday, December 9th, 2004
Today’s show was in Byron Bay, about 90 minutes south of Brisbane. We got up, watched the Lost Boys, and loaded up in two mini vans to head out for the show. On the way we stopped at some surf spot that is supposed to be one of the best in Australia… Byron Bay is a touristy community with tons of surfers and hippies – we rolled into town around 5pm and parked at the youth center that the show was happening at. We walked into town all got food – I opted for my 4th falafel kebab this week. Aram and I walked up to the beach to watch people surf. We then walked back to the center to prepare for the show. The first band was called New Kid, and the singer was wearing an Outbreak shirt. Real young band, and REAL sloppy. The 2nd band was too singy and screamy and after suffering through a few of their songs I opted to break out and walk back towards the center of town and check out the beach again. Way better listening to the waves than that band (sorry Ryan!). Hung out for a bit and then headed back in time to watch Against, who were good and got a great reaction, tons of singalongs. Champion played and kids went off. It was a REAL young crowd, but kids knew the words and danced a ton.
After the show, we headed back into the center of town, to get something to eat before heading back to Brisbane. We ducked into another Kebab shop that was across the street from a nightclub. It was about 11pm and there were tons of people hanging out on the sidewalks – all sorts of girls, some kids from the show, and these two really drunk guys, one wearing a shirt that said “World’s Greatest Street Fighter”. He was more drunk than his friend, and he was asking people to fight him, because he “was the best.” We stuck around because we figured something might happen. After a minute of no one instigating, we started to get in the van, and noticed that the guys had started talking to some kids from the show. We got in the van and pulled over on the side of the street next to the crowd, just in case the guys started anything with the kids. I rolled down my window, and watched the exchange. One of the girls with the kids from the show pointed at us and told the guys that we wanted to talk to them. The “Street Fighter” stumbled over to our window, and started asking if there were any girls inside the van. Once he realized that there was only guys, he started saying “you guys are fucked, you’re not going to get any girls, you’re all guys,” and out of nowhere, Jim grabbed the guy’s baseball hat off his head through the window, and Ryan hit the gas. The guy tried to get his hat back and held on to the van for a second, let go, and proceeded to run after us. We slowed down a few times, and then sped off, leading him in a chase for a couple of blocks, before we turned the corner and disappeared with his hat.
Friday, December 10th, 2004
This was hyped up to be one of the best shows, and it ended up being pretty good after all. Lots of horrible haircuts and eyeliner on guys. A band called The War opened up, it was their first show and they are a militant straight edge band. Lots of songs about killing emo kids, loving the edge, yadda yadda. I’m not sure if they take themselves seriously, and if it’s all fun and games, cool, but they actually believe what they’re preaching, they’re not going to last too long. The kids who preach sxe the loudest are always the ones to fall the hardest – it’s like an unwritten law. It was funny to see kids with eyeliner looking around nervously though. A band called Live Today played and kids went off. They played hardcore that was more in the ballpark to Champion, with tons of stage dives. The singer had a ton of energy. I missed the 3rd band, xWish For Wingsx, but saw Daylight Curse, which was very Trustkill-esque and little girls were sweating the singer the entire set. Against owned, since it was their hometown and Champion closed it out. Tons of stage dives. During “The Decline” Jim gave up the mic to the singer of Live Today, who is a big Champion fan and was psyched.
Saturday, December 11th, 2004
Newcastle was a ghost town when we rolled in… The drive took all day to get there, including a stop at a beach & a $200 speeding ticket. A band called Taking Sides played, who were pretty decent, but it’s evident that they draw heavy influence from American Nightmare. Since so few bands get to come to Australia, the ones that do seem to have a lot of influence on the local kids… Hopefully the next time Champion comes through there will be some more melodic, straight up hardcore bands. There is way too much metal in this scene. Ryan’s band, Perish The Thought played, which was cool to see him up on stage… They covered Gorilla Biscuits.
Sunday, December 12th, 2004
We didn’t wake up until after 2pm, since getting to bed so late. The area that we’re in is full of little stores and great restaurants – we got to meet up with Graham at Resist Records and check out his store, which is great. Jim and I went to an Asian restaurant called the Green Gourmet, which served good vegan food but didn’t have menus – the wait staff brought out trays of appetizers and we just picked what we wanted to eat. At 6 I met up with Graham as well as Dave from Stomp Distribution and some of their friends, went out for a Thai dinner and headed out to the show. The first band was called Strength Within, and were pretty good. They covered Ten Yard Fight’s “Hardcore Pride.” Against played 2nd and got kids moving around more. The third band is one that I wanted to check out, Last Nerve, because they had released a split 7” with Internal Affairs and were one of the few Australian bands that I knew about before this tour. They had a lot of energy and did a Bad Brains cover so they’re OK in my book. Champion closed it out and played a great set. The turnout was about 100 or so kids – which I guess was pretty good for a Sunday night in Sydney. After the show we went to an all-night Pancake restaurant just across from the Opera House in downtown Sydney with like 30 kids from the show, which included an Aram look-a-like photo contest and a mini food fight that some girl from Melbourne started. We left the restaurant and headed back to the hostile – on the way Chris was shouting out the window, and a few of us began screaming as loud as we could at people walking down the street.
Monday, December 13th, 2004
Day off… Slept till about 11, got up, and went and ate a tofu burger at Burgerlicious, the third time going there. Greg, Ryan, some other core dudes from Sydney and the rest of us drove towards the Opera House area of the harbor, to do touristy site seeing stuff. We first went to the Aquarium, to see the shark exhibit. Spent about 90 minutes walking around, taking pictures of sharks, crocodiles and penguins. Walked around the harbor taking pictures, until it began to rain. We headed back out towards the Newtown area of Sydney and during the drive it was raining REALLY hard. The streets started flooding and it was a mess. As we’re driving, Ryan all of a sudden says “There it is, this is the one” and cut across a lane of traffic towards the curb, where he cut through a HUGE puddle and sent a literal tidal wave over 8 or so people. It happened too fast to fully take in, it was just a blur of people who didn’t know what hit them and had no chance of taking cover. We all had a good laugh (note: we were total assholes) and Ryan reasoned that the work day was over so they were headed home anyway.
After getting back to the hostel, we regrouped and went across the street for dinner at an Indian restaurant. After dinner, Aram, Pete from Last Nerve and I hung out and shot the shit over ice cream. When we got back to the hostel, Jim and Brandon walked back up to the room, Brandon dripping with egg after an apparent hate crime. Apparently they were hanging out on the main road and someone tossed an egg at them from a moving car and said they were “gay.” Brandon didn’t even care because he figured it was karma after our screaming and splashing incidents.
After Ryan, Greg and then Pete left, we were still a bit stir crazy and wanted to go out and take in more of the city. We decided to take a train back towards the Opera House, but for whatever reason the trains went out of service for repairs 30 minutes before we got to the station. So, we hopped on a bus, headed towards the downtown area, and then walked about 20 blocks to the harbor. It was a clear night and the area down there is beautiful, so we wandered around, commenting that here we were in such a beautiful area, with couples wandering around, and we were each with a bunch of dudes. We headed back over to the Pancake house, and then hung out there for about an hour or so. By this time it was almost 2am, so we started walking back towards Newtown. We must have walked about 30 or so blocks, until we realized that we had no idea where we were going… After chasing some animal that looked like a lemur around a park, we hailed a cab and took it back to the hostile.
Back at the room, I made a phone call and afterwards could hear a bunch of people talking down in the pool area. One sounded American so I walked down to say hello. Turned out it was two people from England, one from Germany, and another from Canada, who had sounded American. I ended up talking to them for a while, and I happened to comment on how nice everyone that we have met in Australia has been. I told them about how the bus driver let us ride for free, and the cab driver didn’t want to make change for us so he took a smaller fare because we only had a $5 and a $20 bill. They agreed that everyone had been super nice to them too, but that there had been a few jerks. Apparently they had been walking down the road today during the fierce thunderstorm, and during the middle of all of the rain, some guys had shot across traffic to a big puddle on their side of the road, sending a tidal wave over them!
Tuesday, December 14th, 2004
2nd Day off in Sydney. We got up and were ready to meet Ryan at noon but he didn’t show till 4, I guess in the past day or so Posi Chris and Greg had been goofing off and dented the side of one of the mini vans, so Ryan spent the day trying to get the dent out at a body shop. We spent most of the day hanging out in the Newtown shopping area.
Wednesday, December 15th, 2004
Canberra is the capital of Australia, and is about 3 hours away from Sydney. It’s the smallest scene on the tour – we were told that in January TERROR only did about 62 kids, so we didn’t expect much. Driving into the city, we saw a homeless man washing windows, and tossed him some coin to clean off all the crap that we had sustained from Greg on the road. The venue was called the Green Room, and 3 bands played… Against took the night off and would be meeting us back in Melbourne. The show had a small turnout… but by the time Champion went on, there was 52 kids paid at the door, which was great considering the small size of the scene. I walked around the neighborhood before Champion’s set, just trying to get some time to myself and enjoy the fact that it was warm and I was in Australia. During the show, someone got a few loafs of white bread, and had layered the slices all over the front of one of the mini vans. After everyone was loading out, a bread fight spontaneously broke out.
Thursday, December 16th, 2004
The drive from Canberra to Melbourne was about 5 hours, and there wasn’t much to it. We got into town, and went directly to PBS, a local radio show. Champion was supposed to play live but ended up just picking the play list and doing an interview on the air. I met up with Dave from Stomp Distribution, and he took me across town to their offices, where I could meet up with the label manager, Ben. We hung out, I went into detail about the raw deal that Lumberjack had put us through, and left with everyone having a better understanding about each other. Apparently B9 is only the 2nd hardcore label to really come over here and meet up with people, so it was a great deal to meet up with everyone at Stomp. Dave dropped me off at the station to meet up with the guys, and we headed over to the hostile, to drop off our stuff. We left to go get pizza, and meet up with Against and the Miles Away guys, who were finally meeting up for the final leg of the tour. The food was ok but it was good company – and afterwards we headed over to the venue. It was called Goo, and we had been warned about it from kids leading up to the show. It’s a weird set up – over a thousand kids turn up for their “hardcore/metal” dance night, which is held downstairs, and the bands play upstairs, with their backs to a big glass window, which overlooks the dance floor. There is no stage, and a rail separates the band from the kids, but Champion made the most of it and from what I heard afterwards, had one of the best reactions of a band at that venue. Aram played his guitar while “crowd surfing”, Jim took the wireless mic outside of the upstairs room, onto the catwalk over the oblivious dance crowd, and back. After the show, we were looking for something to do, at first consisted of driving around yelling at people.
Friday, December 17th, 2004
The day started around 8am, and we faced an 8 hour drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. It’s a long drive with pretty much NOTHING to look at. We had to wait at first because Chris (Against) couldn’t be found, until finally they left a message on his cell saying “get the first flight to Adelaide” and we were off. I was already exhausted from not sleeping much the night before, so as soon as I got in the van, I was leaning over trying to fall asleep. It didn’t take long and as we drove off, I was out. About 2 hours later, I cracked my eyes open, and saw that we were in a city. I knew there was absolutely nothing in between Melbourne and Adelaide, so I came to find out that we had been driving in circles and basically still hadn’t left. I still slept a good chunk of the way to Adelaide, but it was a long drive and there wasn’t much to see. I counted about 5 dead Kangaroos, and had not seen one live since the Perth conserve. When we FINALLY made it to Adelaide it was 8 in the evening, 11 hours from when we left. There were a TON of kids waiting for the doors to open so the show looked really promising. Brandon and I broke out to get something to eat, and had to settle on some shot noodles dish. Getting back to the venue, we came to find out that it wasn’t ALL AGES like it had been advertised, so a lot of kids were turned away. That SUCKED. I also saw Chris (Against), turns out he had flown in from Melbourne and had planned on it, the girl he told to tell Greg never passed the message. There was still a good amount of kids at the show (including the ones the guys were able to sneak in) but it could have been way better. The show was awesome, I did the SSD cover, stagedove, and after the show got to talk shop with some vinyl collectors.
Fortunately the hostile was only a few blocks away from the venue, so we headed back there and dropped off our bags. A few guys went to sleep and I got up to go find a phone to call the states. As I walked out into the lobby, the guy behind the counter saw my “Believe In Boston” t-shirt and he said “You’re not a Red Sox fan are you”… Surprised that someone knew about baseball in a land full of cricket bullshit, I ended up chatting it up with him about the 04 season, as it turned out he was a born and raised Yankees fan, named after Mickey Mantle. I hopped online to check out airfares for the flight back to Melbourne, because if Chris was smart enough not to make that drive, I was down to join him. His flight was only $100 US so for cutting out 9 hours of driving, I felt it was well worth it. I bought the ticket and went to sleep.
Saturday, December 18th, 2004
I woke up with the Champion guys and headed over to the van with them, but as they left for the airport, Chris and I headed out for breakfast. We ate lunch under a tree in a park and talked about his shop, All Star Tattoo. We headed out to the airport and got on our flight, which lasted only 50 minutes. Better than an 8 hour drive! We went to the hostile, showered, and then headed out to the shopping district. We went to a record store called Missing Link, which was cool because it is one of the bigger record stores that carry hardcore music in Australia, and they had a ton of our CD’s. We got something to eat, headed back to the hostile, and slept for an hour or two, until the guys finally got back. The show was at a club called Arthouse, only blocks away from the hostile, and it has been considered one of the most consistent venues in Australian Hardcore. Every band comes through there, and the show looked promising. A band called Hit List played and stood out – Madball-esque hardcore done well. Miles Away and Against did their thing, and Champions set was one of their best of the tour. When it came for the SSD cover, Jim brought me up on stage, and had everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to me, cause it was my 29th. We went right into “Glue”, and I flipped off the stage into the crowd while the kids in the crowd finished the chorus.
Back at the hostile, no one but Jim seemed interested in going out, so we headed over to a bar that we were told had a large black flag poster (like 10 feet wide) on the wall. We sat around for a while, but it was depressing – people who purposely tried to look ugly, horrible music, we didn’t last long before bailing and heading back to the hostile.
Sunday, December 19th, 2004
Today was the last show – and it was an all ages matinee about 30 minutes outside of Melbourne. Van wars have escalated – and soon after arriving at the show, it became known that the Against van had their window smeared with shit. Apparently Greg walked over to the van, and with his bare hands, scraped it up and proceeded to smear it all over the Champion van, tagging it with the word AGAINST. I didn’t see this but was told that when called out on handling the shit, Greg said “Who cares, it’s just shit, it will wash off” or something to that effect.
A bunch of bands played – starting out with a young band called My Struggle – the kids are like 14 years old and have songs about cartoons and stuff. Miles Away and Against both played great sets, and it was sad to see their last sets… The band of the hour was Mindsnare. In every city, kids asked us if we had heard Mindsnare – they have been around for over 11 years and have the respect of pretty much all of Australian Hardcore. They played a good set – and the singer was wearing an old Slapshot t-shirt. They played good, fast hardcore, that seemed less metallic live than on the CD I had heard. Champion closed it out – and their set was great. This was Melbourne’s only all-ages show, so a ton of younger kids turned out. Their set was great but because there was no stage, diving was limited. Halfway during their set I pulled two chairs into the pit, so kids could run and jump off of them into singalong pile ups.
Around 7pm we headed for what proved to be the biggest “Show After The Show” I have ever seen. There was an open call to anyone who wanted to hang out for dinner afterwards, and about 70 or so kids joined in. We hit up an Italian restaurant and what proved to usually be a nightmare ended up being pretty organized dinner, with everyone being served in an orderly manner. Greg got everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. We ate, then proceeded to take crew photos outside of the restaurant. We were against another building so I climbed up onto the window sill above everyone’s heads. As photos were being taken, I jumped off onto everybody but didn’t fully commit and ended up mostly landing on one of the younger kids from My Struggle. He was a bit shaken but took it pretty well. Sorry dude!
We went back to shower at the hostile, with plans to meet up at the Melbourne Crown Casino. We got there around midnight, and played a roulette for a while. I started out by losing $50 on red AGAIN but made it back and then some over the next hour. There were about 20 people from the show left around 1:30 so we all headed over to a strip club a few blocks away. We took over an entire pole dancing table area and threw $20s around to get lap dances for each other. We broke out around 4am, and headed back to the hostile. Jim and I didn’t want to sleep, so after a few phone calls home we headed out to talk around Melbourne in the early morning, watching the sun come up.
Monday, December 20th, 2004
Since I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night, I ended up walking over to Starbucks with Jim to download my email. I went back to the hostile and then walked back over to Starbucks with Aram. I was so shot from staying up all night that I was going to need at least two mochas. We got a late start to the airport, made a few wrong turns, and ended up getting to the terminal an hour before our flights. The Champion guys had one flight to Sydney and LAX, and I had another. As the guys divvied up their bags to be checked, Branden realized that he had one too many, so I ended up taking his cymbals. We checked into our respective flights, said our goodbyes to Greg, Tyrone and Ryan, and headed out. First flight was into Sydney, then an hour layover turned into 3, then a 14 hour flight across to LAX. Somewhere in customs I realized that the worst smell ever was coming from the cymbal case. I guess Greg had the last laugh this time around, because I opened up the case to find a dead fish wrapped in plastic in the case. I quickly dropped it behind some luggage left for flight transfers, and started to head over to my new terminal. On the way out, I heard a baggage handler say “Does anybody smell that? My God what is that smell???” I laughed and headed out.
I was slated for a 7 hour layover, which was shortened to about 5 because of the delayed flight out of Sydney. I figured it was no big deal as I could just go online on my laptop. The 5 hours stretched into almost 9 hours as the flights to Boston were delayed TWICE. I was going out of my mind pacing around, checking email, getting something to drink, and then doing it all over again. My final flight into Boston got in at 3am, and when I got off the plane the cold air knocked me over. 3 weeks of the Australian Summer had worn down my tolerance for cold. My first thought was why the hell do people even live like this? With places like Australia, why does anyone live in New England?
The Ojai Women’s Center
Ojai, California; population: 7,000. Not exactly a thriving metropolis, but in the early 2000s, this little one-horse town was the hotbed for west coast hardcore. The town was synonymous with Carry On, and the southern California hardcore scene’s rise to awesomeness paralleled and symbiotically elevated that band, as the band elevated that scene. And the Ojai Women’s Center was thee venue for that exciting time.
There were other venues; The Chain Reaction in Anaheim, the Living Room in Goleta, Headline Records in Hollywood… but none of those venues quite rivaled what was happening in Ojai.
The Women’s Center was in the middle of nowhere; Ojai was probably a 30 minute drive from the 101, between Santa Barbara and Oxnard. No one was from the town, aside from Graham from Annihilation Time and the young skater kids that were pulled into the HC scene as a direct result of that venue; bands like Beartrap and Built to Break consisted of 13-16 year old kids from the town. But the location was somewhat centralized, as kids from Thousand Oaks to Anaheim called it home.
The first time Champion played there, we played with Whatever it Takes and there were maybe 30 kids there. But, every one of those 30 kids were moving the whole show. Fast parts; 30-man circle pit. Breakdowns; everyone scattered and 30 kids stomped the floor in unison; the Ojai Earthquake. The whole room shook.
Carry On’s “A Life Less Plagued” record release was held at that venue. American Nightmare’s first shows on the West coast were there. Some of Terror’s earliest shows were there. And Champion had a ton of memorable shows there.
The last time we played there was with Bane, 25 Ta Life, Over My Dead Body and more (can’t remember if Terror played that one…). There were easily 500+ kids in this venue that held 300 max. When Bane played, you couldn’t even walk into the room. It was so packed, you had to be floated in.
My favorite Champion set there was maybe our third time. Our van had broken down that morning; we were in Thousand Oaks jumping off cliffs and our transmission blew. It was our first transmission failure (of three!) and we found out before the show that the repairs would cost $2,400. I don’t want to get into exact numbers, but we didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of money.
We called Chris from B9 and he agreed that after the show, we’d figure out how much money we were short and he would float us the money we needed to repair the van. But it was still a depressing situation. We didn’t want to go into more debt beyond the money we owed for merch, not to mention, having to worry about figuring out how to get money wired to us (this was pre-PayPal).
We piled all our gear into the back of Corey Williams’ truck and headed to Ojai. That cloud over our heads was something you can only understand if you you’ve been in a touring band that experienced a breakdown, wreck or van break-in. And it’s not something you want hanging over you as you head to the show that you’ve been looking forward to the most for that tour.
It was definitely a dark feeling. As we watched and pitted for the opening bands we tried to put on a good face and leave the van problems at the door. But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re 1,000 miles from home and don’t know how you’re going to be able to afford gas to get to the next town. We set up our gear that night, still in the worst of moods.
From our opening note that night, the climate change was immediate. 150 kids simultaneously rushed to the front of the stage piling over eachother to get to the mic and to jump off the stage. To that point, it was the craziest reaction we had ever received… by a mile… For 30 minutes, the van and money problems were gone. It was an amazing feeling. While we’ve played many bigger shows since, to this day, that show is in my top favorite sets ever.
After our set, the money problems returned to mind, but the cloud was much might lighter. We were all so stoked on the insanity that had just transpired. Again, I don’t want to get into money numbers, but that night we sold probably 8 times as much merch as we’ve ever sold at another show. We actually made enough to pay for the van repairs and for gas to the next town. What an incredible feeling.
Looking back through my tour photos, I don’t have ANY pictures from this amazing venue… maybe because I was always having so much fun at those shows, I couldn’t be bothered to snap a single picture.. Most of the pictures and flyers from this post are courtesy of the homie, Marlon Moreno. I was also able to dig up some old YouTubes of some memorable sets there. Check them out below.
A few micro stories:
- One time, our roadie Mark Kelly was MIA. No one knew where he was. He wandered into the club at the end of the show. He had broken his finger moshing. I guess he didn’t want to be an inconvenience, so he walked a mile to the hospital to get his finger X-rayed and splinted, then walked back.
- Our drummer Todd once walked straight into the end of an open door, knocking himself unconscious. It was so abrupt and violent that I thought he was faking. Nope, he was out cold.
- When we played with 25 Ta Life, Rick took a Champion hoodie that a girl had bought and returned it, saying it was his girlfriend’s and she couldn’t afford to eat if we didn’t refund her. He then gave the girl a Comin’ Correct tape and her change from the refunded money. Haha Classic.
- Once a girl baked Jim a pie with X’s and hearts. Aram called it “The Straightedge Love Pie.” Jim had it sitting in the front seat and someone, not seeing the pie, flung a water jug into the front seat, smashing the pie. Jim lost it, to a hilarious level. He was so mad that it was impossible not to laugh… which made him even more furious.
- A million Graham stories… the time he realized his parents were wife-swapping (not really..); the time he told us about how he beat up a 13-year old at his work (the skate park); the time he chased some teenage kids who had allegedly squirted him with piss-filled squirt guns; the time he realized (audibly) “Double the tax, that’s the tip!!!” The time Aram convinced him that some indigenous cultures kill people and skin them, filling their carcass with feces, and using it as a poo-filled piñata. To which Graham responded, “That’s barbaric!”
I have way too many good memories of this place to include them all, but feel free to chime in on the comments section if you have any favorite memories or shows from this venue!
Van Wars Down Under
General Douglas MacArthur (and Vizzini, in The Princess Bride) once famously said, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” I, not so famously, learned in Australia a few years ago, to never get involved in a van war with descendants from a prison colony…
In December 2004, Champion toured Australia for the first time. I can’t begin to emphasize how amazing this experience was. We toured with Miles Away from Perth, and Against from Brisbane. All three bands had a van each and a fourth van hauled around all the gear and merch. Greg, the singer of Against, drove the gear van.
This story begins at an undisclosed gas station off the freeway in the middle of a long drive. Someone—I honestly don’t remember who, or from what band—bought some spoiled yogurt and after one bite, realized that this bad yogurt needed to get launched out the window… at one of the other three vans in the caravan. The yogurt was hurled and a four-van all-out war had begun. Any and every food within reach was a potential weapon.
Thus began an epic van battle that lasted beyond the end of this two-week tour and spanning two continents.
Enter the city of Canberra. Jim and I wandered out of the club and down the street. We found a huge plastic bag filled with bread and roles. So naturally, we covered Miles Away’s van in bread. It was a stupid prank, but stupid pranks are sometimes the best form of tour entertainment.
After the show, a giant bread fight broke out. Every kid at that venue was running around trying to pelt each other with bread wads; everyone but Greg, who was dutifully loading our gear into the van. I felt bad that he was loading our gear, so I called a timeout in the bread war and went to help him load. Greg turned to me with a sinister grin and said, “Ay mate… throw this one…” handing me a wad of bread that was too heavy to be just bread. “Nah, I better not,” I replied, weighing this bread-covered rock in my hand, “I just called this truce to come help you load up!”
At that point, I was beaned in the back of the head with a bread-projectile… all bets were off. I turned and asked evenly, “Who threw that?” A somewhat intoxicated show-goer raised his hand slowly, with a sheepish smile on his face. The truce was broken; it was not only my right, but my responsibility to lob this bread-padded stone, right into his jaw. He frowned, hilariously, and raised his hand to massage his sore jaw.
A few days later, someone in Champion found a dead bird and put it in the glove box of the Miles Away van. They found it the next day and gave it back to us at a stop light. The windows were down and one of the MA dudes ran up and tossed it into my lap.
There were other things that happened in that van war, including a roll of toilet paper tied to Miles Away’s van, which made for a pretty amusing few minutes as the roll unraveled to form a good 50 foot tail that survived a few good miles… But the culmination was Melbourne. We played an awesome day-fest with the legendary Mindsnare and a bunch of other bands; maybe 10 in total. It was a warm one; 100+ degrees F.
We arrived at the venue early and Jim was bored, so he dropped a deuce into a glove he found, then smeared it all over the windshield of Greg’s van. The smell was something out of a horror film. The van was parked half a block from the venue, but on this hot mid-summer day, you could smell it from the front of the club. And the flies… apparently, every fly in the city of Melbourne had heard about this windshield turd and they all showed up to party.
Brandon and Jim followed Greg around for a while, waiting for him to head to the van. When he did, he discovered Jim’s present on the windshield. Greg looked at the windshield, looked back at Jim—who was grinning from ear to ear—looked back to the windshield and scooped up a handful of Jim’s feces with his bare hands, then walked over to our van and crammed the handful under our door handle. Jim’s smile faded quickly.
That wasn’t the end of the story though. The score was not settled in Greg’s mind. He bought a raw fish from the street market around the corner and put the cellophane wrapped dead animal in the pocket of his cargo shorts, waiting for the appropriate moment of revenge. We were all terrified by the possibilities.
The fish, which was not well-wrapped, sat in Greg’s pocket all day… On a 100-plus degree day… in a venue that was hotter inside than it was outside… as Greg moshed for nearly every band on that 10-or-so band bill… and played a set with his own band… through all that, the fish sat in that pocket, it’s rancid-smelling oils seeping through the cellophane and permeating into the fabrics of those cargo short pockets.
Back to the fish in a minute. At some point during the show, Greg decided that it would be a fun idea to draw a curly mustache on his own face with a Marks-a-lot pen (you can make out this mustache in the picture below – white “Drug Free” shirt). He later told me that his tour stubble made it impossible to fully clean the drawn-on mustache from his face… so apparently this grown human man had a Marks-a-Lot mustache on his face for a week or so after the tour…
The Melbourne day-fest was the last show of the tour and that night, we all went out for a celebratory Italian dinner. Greg apparently wasn’t within reach of a napkin, so he used his white t-shirt to clean the red tomato sauce from his filthy face… So, this dirty animal had a drawn-on mustache, tomato stains all over his white shirt, human feces remnants behind his fingernails… all the while, smelling like he spent the night in a fish hatchery.
We took pictures after dinner—as all bands do at the end of a tour—and returned to our hostel. Greg was staying with a friend that night, instead of joining us in the hostel. But because we didn’t want to leave our gear in the unsecure vans in downtown Melbourne, we had to load all our possessions into our hostel for the night.
Before bouncing to his friend’s house Greg helped us load the gear up the elevator into the room. He still had the fish in his pocket some 12 hours after buying it. While loading gear, I jumped on an elevator going up, right after he came down. The elevator smelled so much like rotten tuna, that I was certain he had hidden the fish in that elevator. Nope, that was just the leftovers of his essence from spending 20 seconds on the elevator previously…. And it was unbearable.
We thought for sure, that he was going to stash the fish in our room. But after he left, there were no traces of a smell. We were safe for now… A few minutes later someone opened the front door to our room and before taking a step into the hostel hallway, noticed that Greg left a surprise on the floor in front of the door. Nope, not the fish. This Brisbanian monster apparently squatted and dropped a turd right in the hallway… no glove needed. Classy!
The next day, Greg took us to the airport and we left that beautiful country behind. Thankfully, nothing came of the fish in Greg’s pocket… or so we thought…. But remember, I said this war lasted beyond the tour and across two continents.
We were flying home for a few weeks before starting a tour in Boston and had extra merch that was printed in Australia and needed to redistribute some luggage to get under the two-bag-per-person requirements. Chris Wrenn, from Bridge 9, lived in Boston and was kind enough to take Brandon’s cymbals, which we would pick up at the start of the next tour.
Chris was on a different flight than the rest of us and when he transferred at LAX, he had to pick up his bags and take them through customs before setting them to be put on the connecting flight. He later told us that when he set the bags down he smelled something a bit… fishy…. “No… he didn’t…” thought Chris. He unsnapped the cymbal case and popped it open. Out flopped Greg’s fish onto the floor. The putrid smelling carcass instantly stank up the entire airport. As Chris told, instantly, hundreds of airport travelers started to gasp and cough and curse, “What the $#&@ is that smell?!”
Chris kicked the fish behind some other bags and scooted off to his connecting flight, leaving the LAX janitorial staff to deal with the hazmat situation.
Well played Australia…
12.10.13 edit – Against has a new record! Stream it free here: http://againsthc.bandcamp.com/
7.13.15 edit – Bread fight story updated to remove the names of the innocent.