In Conversation with Noah Champ of Field Trip
This Friday, void pop band Field Trip released a music video for their song “Stuck,” directed by Phillip Braun and Alex Silberberg. Led by singer, songwriter, and drummer Noah Champ, Field Trip emerged in New York with the release of their debut album, the dark, psychedelic, 80s influenced Horror Vacui. “Stuck” is the latest single since the 2016 release of this debut album, following previous singles “Ether,” “Shiner,” and “One Thousand.” With Champ’s return to the West Coast, Field Trip is now re-establishing itself in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Having completed three tours in the past year, Field Trip is playing tonight, Saturday May 4th, opening for Foliage at the Echo. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Noah Champ about the move back to the West coast, his influences, video games, and more. The interview is below.
Sasha: What is Field Trip?
Noah: Field Trip is me, Noah, and it’s my creative alias but, it’s also a band name in the sense that I’m surrounded by a rotating cast of really talented people and friends. I look up to all of them and there’s definitely an intrinsic influence of all of these people in the music. So that’s why I sort of like it to be versatile because it’s a solo creative alias and a band name at the same time if that makes sense.
S: How does that work out in practice, who are the people who float into the Field Trip creative universe? Who are you bouncing off of?
N: So initially Field Trip was based in New York, so members that are currently based there or have been based there are Phillip Braun, who directs my videos and helps with a lot of the visual content; there’s Nico Geyer; also since I’ve come back to Los Angeles, Nico’s counterpart Luke White– together they’re Nitefire, and they both play for Field Trip as well. Claire Gilb is a New York artist, she’s a member of a band Sedona, and she played with Field Trip when I was in New York. There’s an artist Junius Karr who I’ve played with live and is sort of a creative collaborator as well. Will Sacks, he also plays with Emily Yacina and Yohuna in New York and he is a live touring member. Johnny Keach is a Nashville based musician. Damn saying this out-loud is crazy, there’s so many. Skyler Young is a producer and bass player in LA, he plays in the band Kid Bloom as well sometimes. Brendon Dyer plays with me in LA, and he’s in a band called Milly. I think that’s it!
S: Cool. And so you’ve got these other artists around you but creatively Field Trip is you. Are you writing everything? Can you describe your recording process a little bit.
N:I for the most part prefer the “auteur” kind of process, in the sense that I mostly like to write and record everything myself, though there are instances of collaboration. Like if somebody writes a part while we’re practicing for a live show, and I like the part and I like the way they play it, I’ll say ‘hey would you be into recording this with me.’ That has definitely happened and I like to keep it open to that, but it’s mostly an autonomous process. Up until recently I was feeling stuck on some songs doing it that way, so I recently started recording with my friend Rob who makes music as BOYO, and that’s been helping. I’ve been doing it one way for a very long time, which I think has taught me a lot, but I think I’m becoming more open to the collaborative process for Field Trip stuff.
S: I think it’s interesting because seeing you guys live the music plays off of itself so much the guitar parts come together and when you sound at your best it’s a very coordinated musical effort so its interesting to hear that you record alone because when you go out on stage it is such a group effort.
N: I think that a good way to think about it is that I get the basis alone, and I’ll usually put the songs in the live set a long while before I start recording them, so it’s like, the songs kind of become themselves when you start practicing for live shows and somebody will do something and I’ll be like ‘that’s tight, do that again’ which is always fun. That’s why I like to give credit to the live band in the sense that they kind of lead me to parts that I end up recording myself if that makes sense.
S: Going back to your process I was curious about where you go to find lyrics. I remember when you were touring you were reading some 19th-century poetry.
N:Yeah! Reading definitely helps a lot. Yeah, good eye, I was reading William Blake while I was on tour. It really comes from different places. Sometimes it’s like books or poetry or movies, and then, it’s interesting because, while there are a lot of outside places it comes from, sometimes it’s just random little phrases that come to my head, like an imaginary movie title. I kind of just use that as a jumping off point, and if there’s subject matter that I want to write about that I think that phrase is applicable to, I’ll just go from there. I also do write a lot of short prose and scatter-brained poetry for myself, and I dissect lyrics from that. I’ll write something not thinking about it as a song, just observational writing that I’ll go back to as a source.
S: Do you find that you’re recording music or lyrics first?
N: Music usually comes first. There will be a vague melodic idea, but it’s usually good to get that sonic bed recorded to flesh out the melody and lyrics. Stuck is a good example. I had a scatter brained poem I had just sitting around in my notes on my phone. Id written the guitar riff for stuck first, so I didn’t have words, I just knew that I wanted the melody to mirror the guitar riff, so I did what I just described to you where I said “I wonder if I have anything I’ve written recently that I could kind of pull from”. I recall seeing that first line, “life is just blueprints,” that I had written somewhere, and I was like “let me try that, it seems like the right amount of syllables.” It sort of just worked out and felt cool and serendipitous. That’s really gratifying creatively when that happens.
S: In “Stuck,” there the introduction bit and then the “boop boop boop.” Where did that come from, what was the inspiration?
N:Yeah, it’s actually dual inspiration. It’s a slight rip from a similar count-off from “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead and that’s just a funny little homage because they’re a big influence for me. It’s also a sample from Halo. It’s the respawn noise when you die in that game,and so I just think it has fun/wacky implications that relate to the video, where I’m dead in the video, but I’m also alive in the video so there’s the death and respawn allusion. But I’ve also just been super into video game soundtracks, and am looking at them as a big influence for this new music. Above all that, I just think it sounds cool, and I just think it’s a funny little Easter egg that kind of gets at the aesthetic references I’m thinking about for this record.
S: So you mentioned video games, do you have any other hints for what people can expect in upcoming releases or if they come out to see you?
N:Yeah sure! When I mentioned the video game influence, I specifically meant a lot of 80s and 90s games like Chrono Trigger, for example, is a big one. I like the theatricality of that sort of stuff and I feel like music from that time, the synthetic orchestral stuff is really cool to me. It’s got a distinct sort of melodrama that newer stuff– while it’s great– kind of misses. Really melodramatic pop has been very influential for me. I guess Tears For Fears has been a good reference point.
S: Field Trip is a very compelling and unique act among other reasons because you’re a drummer who sings truly does command. We’ve spoken before about David Byrne as an influence, can you comment on that, or if you have any drummer-singer influences?
N: It was mostly because I was like “I’m going try it.” Something didn’t feel quite right about playing guitar and singing at first, but I still wanted to play something for most of the set. I feel like I can be more emotive as a drummer than a guitar player. And I still have the opportunity to get up and address the crowd, because we run tracks for a couple songs. And I kind of just try to be extra crazy when I do get up to compensate for sitting down for most of the set.
S: You definitely do your sauntering when you get up there.
N: It’s fun for me to be moving around. I definitely don’t limit my performance inspiration to drummer-singers. Like you mentioned David Byrne is an important influence for me. I’m really into the idea of natural movement, like I was reading about how David Byrne was saying when he was developing his on stage dance style, he was really conscious about not trying to dance like anyone else, he would just move how the music made him move which would end up very jagged and awkward which I can relate to. I think Thom Yorke is kinda like that too. I like trying to look like I’m possessed.
S: You were in New York and most of Field Trip has been released while you were living in New York, are you here to stay, is your plan to say in LA for a while?
N: Yeah it definitely feels like a good home base. And it’s where I’m from, so New York was a cool experience to have, but I felt like I wanted to come back. I like the breathing room and I like playing here. We’ve only played a few shows since we’ve been back, and they’ve been really fun. Not that I don’t like playing in New York, too. But it just seems like a better home base for me right now. A lot of my main creative collaborators are ending up back here, so it’s kind of natural.
S: I’ve always felt that where I’m living massively affects the music I’m listening to. How much do you feel like the music you want to make is impacted by your move from New York to LA or conversely when you moved to New York did you feel like wow, I want to make some darker, heavier city music?
N: Yeah totally, I think the sonics were just darker and naturally more abrasive when I was in New York. Like you were talking about how “Stuck” is a pretty moody song and that was definitely made in New York. So I guess the music I want to make since I’ve come back to LA is a little bit more lush in terms of the sonics and less concerned with personal escapism. When I first moved to New York I felt claustrophobic and there the whole production idea behind that record Horror Vacui was like maximalist, because it was simultaneously trying to reflect the surrounding, but also create something I could hide in. I feel like the music I want to make now has more breathing room, sonically, so it’s less cluttered. I want to make less cluttered music sonically. Before, in New York, it was intentionally cluttered.
S: To be clear, “Stuck” is a New York song, so the CA recorded music is music that is yet to be released?
S: In the last couple tours was that music that was yet to be recorded?
N: Yes and it’s been recorded very recently but yeah, it was definitely stuff that was new.
S: And that’s on an album that’s to be released? Do you have any plans in that respect?
N: I’m still wrapping up tracking and need to mix a lot of it but once we figure that stuff out I’ll have to do the release planning part of it, how I’m going to release it.
S: Well I’m looking forward to hearing it when it does come out.