With only a Radio 2 session to precede it, the debut album from brothers Michael and David Champion appeared like a bolt out of the blue.
And for believers in the environmental influence on music, it makes sense the Champions hail from the hamlet of Niton outside the Victorian seaside enclave of Ventnor on the Isle Of Wight, as Down Like Gold sounded beautifully out of time and place, even with artists they could call peers. Combining elder brother Michael's exquisitely melodic, intensely dreamy and persuasively heart-breaking songs with their folk-pop leanings, his affecting vocal timbre, David's empathic lead guitar and reinforcing harmonies that only siblings seem able to make, the album was a unique statement - much like the word 'Vamala', which fell out of Michael's mouth as he was singing along to a new tune. "It had a nice ring, like a Croatian girl's name," he thought.
The follow-up album 'VAMALA' followed only a year on after their debut.
"The record-buying attention span is shorter these days," he reasons. "There's so much new music out there, so we wanted to get an album out quickly. But only as we had the songs."
The anxiety of transience penetrates almost every CHAMPS song, in the
brothers' lifestyle (needing cities for work, treasuring their island's
rural beauty) and the trick of making relationships work while always
moving. The island, says, Michael, "has little to do." There is no
official venue dedicated to live music, while "nightlife is the pub,
full of angry farmers." This meant that music became its own escape.
"The weather is often rainy and foggy, so you hunker down and get creative," says David. "You've a lot more time to think."
Though the brothers grew up listening to the same music (favouring
R.E.M., The Beatles, Beck and MGMT), they initially had different bands:
Michael on a Flaming Lips tip, David more Fleet Foxes. Then Michael began stockpiling more "downbeat" songs - closer, in fact, to David's modus operandi - that he felt didn't suit his band: "I had a different vision of what I wanted, something sparser, more personal and sincere."
United at last, they began recording Michael's songs, one of which, 'St Peters', found its way to Radio 2 DJ Dermot O'Leary, who quickly commissioned a CHAMPS session. Likewise 'Play It Again Sam' signed the band on hearing early tracks and helped them complete what became 'Down Like Gold', named after falling leaves. "It felt like a very autumnal record to me, moving into winter," says Michael.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the band are currently in the studio making their third LP for 'Play It Again Sam'. Stay tuned...