Quit Your Day Job

Quit Your Day Job: Sam Champion

I caught up with Sam Champion just before they headed down to Bonnaroo. The Brooklyn quartet may initially get your attention for sharing a name with the area’s sunniest weatherman (or, maybe, possessing some of the area’s best hair … much like that weatherman, actually), but before long the angular start/stop Pavement implosions and southerly warble of vocalist/guitarist Noah Chernin (and his band of group howlers) eclipse the moniker.

Chernin has a job. He does production (etc.) for Bowery Presents and works as a barback at the Bowery Ballroom. As he (as well as last week’s interview subject, Galen Polivka) pointed out, there’re “a thousand rockers” bartending and barbacking, so the focus here’s instead on two of Chernin’s bandmates: Drummer/vocalist Ryan Thornton, who teaches at Beansprouts Nursery School in Park Slope, and singing guitarist/keyboardist Sean Sullivan, a Promotion/Production Manager for events at Pam Bristow Inc. For a couple years bassist/vocalist Jack Dolgen worked in the State Parks Department but he’s currently giving all his time to music, not trees.

Following the Q&A check out “Be Mine Everyone,” a boogying, amp-fried (icky thumping … sorry), dynamic-stuffed rocker from their forthcoming sophomore full-length Heavenly Bender. (Hey savvy industry folk, still no label or release date…) Not enough? You can also hear them today at 3 p.m. EST on Air Lounge Act at woxy.com.

Ryan Thornton, drums/vocals

STEREOGUM: You’re a nursery school teacher at Beansprouts. Did you go to school to teach?

RYAN THORNTON: No, well, kinda. I went to Lafayette College in Easton Pa. By that time I had already been playing drums for about four years with my first band Rana and had decided that drumming was what I wanted to do. But in high school I was a peer group leader and stuff like that which convinced me that teaching may be something I wanted to do as well. So I went to college not knowing what to concentrate on. I love you Lafayette College but the music program left a little to be desired and there wasn’t an Education major available. So I majored in American Studies, which was very broad in an amazing way. I took every Education course they offered and almost all the Music courses. Basically everything fit into that major so along with the History, English, Art History, and Film courses I took I got a great background in Education and Music.

STEREOGUM: What’s the general course of instruction at Beansprouts? What do you hope the kids have learned by the time they leave Beansprouts and head off to Kindergarten?

RT: My Pre-School is really cool because there isn’t a “Beansprouts Way.” I was kinda thrown in there and learned by experience. Once the directors believe in you, they trust and encourage your own personality to shine through. It’s the first year of school ever for most of the kids in my class, so the day is focused on cooperation and numbers and colors and listening. It is their first time hanging out with kids their own age! This is endlessly fascinating. Sometimes Billy grabs a toy boat out of Lucy’s hand you know? Lucy gets upset. How is she going to deal? By the time they head off to Kindergarten i hope they have learned what friendship means, that it is OK to be sad, and the difference between pink and red.

STEREOGUM: Does touring get in the way of the school year, or are there a number of instructors? There’s a summer camp program, too. Do you ever work at that?

RT: The directors are extremely understanding and patient with me when it comes to gigging. There are substitute teachers around. But right now I feel that Sam Champion is about to go off in a couple of months to rock the country again. I can’t rightfully commit to teaching next year. So if the album blows up (which it should) I’ll go back to touring and being a sub at Beansprouts. We have an agreement “If I’m in Brooklyn I’m at Beansprouts.” And yes I do the summer camp and I’m excited I get to have the oldest group again. They are six, seven, and eight year olds and we go to a lot of Cyclones games and play a lot of baseball in Prospect Park.

STEREOGUM: How many kids do you have in a class, generally? Seems like everyone n Park Slope has a child. Must be packed.

RT: My class this year was thirteen kids. It is the smallest classroom. Some classes go up to 21 kids. There are a ton of kids in Park Slope, they are all awesome, and Beansprouts has a waiting list.

STEREOGUM: Do any of the kids or parents know you’re in a band?

RT: Yes, and many parents are in bands themselves. Very artistic parents in Park Slope; everyone is doing something creative it seems. Parents and other teachers have come to my shows, which makes me really happy. Four kids in my class have gotten drum kits this year, which makes me so happy that I cry.

STEREOGUM: Do you offer mini-lessons?

RT: Yeah, I give mini lessons on the little snare drum every once in a while. (Click here for an adorable illustration.) I teach them really basic beats like “boom, boom, boom, boom, boom” or just how to clap along at a steady pace. I taught drums at The School of Rock before this so I got pretty good at teaching drum lessons to little kids. But none of them were as young as three!

STEREOGUM: What sort of music are the kids listening to? Raffi?

RT: There is a definite anti-Raffi and anti-Wiggles thing going on at Beansprouts. The parents like to expose their kids to true substance even at the start. Not that there’s anything wrong with Raffi or the Wiggles, but you know, these parents would rather their kids listen to Sgt. Pepper’s or Graceland.

STEREOGUM: I noticed the Beansprouts website has a bunch of MP3s: “Skip To My Lou,” “Ham Bone,” “The Wise Old Man,” etc. Is that you on any of the MP3s? Do you use your musical ability at all in the classroom?

RT: Those MP3s are before my time. I have a mini snare drum and mini sticks that I end up playing for about two hours a day. I play along with the music teachers who come in twice a week and I do a song everyday before lunch. Here are the words … “I have a friend at Beansprouts (Jesse) is her name, get up and dance Jesse, get up and dance Jesse, keep on dancin’ Jesse, now go wash your hands. I ask every kid if they want me to play it slow medium or fast and then I improvise off of that. And man, can you imagine the reaction when I tell them to “wash your hair” or maybe even “hug a bear”? Being a pre-school teacher has saved me.

STEREOGUM: Ha. Has hanging out with children all day changed the way you interact with people your own age?

RT: There is no filter when you are young. These kids are brutally honest and I admire that. They say what they think and don’t know about all the social complexities that keep us adults from doing the same thing. They are not afraid to ask for help, and they know what they want. The hard-candy shell has not developed yet and it is very refreshing. I tend to look for this in adults these days.

STEREOGUM: So, can folks at Bonnaroo expect a full-band performance of the Beansprouts song?

RT: “I have a friend at Bonnaroo, Stewart Copeland is his name, get up and dance Stewart, get up and dance Stewart, keep on dancing Stewart, now go fight with Sting.” We could rock that, and the name/command combo possibilities are endless. Though I’d probably drop a stick or flub a fill if Stewart Copeland was on stage dancing with us! OK, I’ll talk it over with the guys.


Sean Sullivan, guitars/keyboards

STEREOGUM: What’s Pam Bristow, Inc? I hear you hang out with models…

SEAN SULLIVAN: The easiest way to describe Pam Bristow, LLC would be to call it a “creative marketing company.” What happens is that Pam will dream up an event for one of our clients with the goal of getting the brand out there. From there I get busy with the logistics of making it happen and my other colleague works the press. Sometimes I’ll get into design and decor, which I like. These brainstorming sessions are full of adjectives and jazz hands. I think it’s really funny.

Because we also represent a champagne called Palmes D’or we get involved in a lot of fashion stuff. We’re busiest during Fashion Week. Last February I had to go to like 40 parties and I called two shows, which was insane. At this one show I was being screamed at by a stylist and slapped by a designer while girls got undressed all over the place. These people are prone to terror. We just took on a vodka brand, Christiania, so that means everything will be doubled this coming Fashion Week.

STEREOGUM: How long have you been there?

SS: I started like two years ago.

STEREOGUM: Do you have an official title?

SS: Job titles are too sassy for a small company, but I think I’m Production Manager.

STEREOGUM: What are your duties at “Production Manager”?

SS: What happens is that there are only a few of us so I do whatever needs to happen that week. One day that might mean looking for cheap silver wigs and another day I’ll have to find specialty glass vials for a booze promotion. One time I managed a roller skating team. You know those dudes in Central Park? A lot of them have my cell phone number.

STEREOGUM:: Ah, what were they like?

SS: Attitudes ranged from nominal kid sister Diva-ness to cell phone throwing, potty mouth Diva-ness. They skate danced around city parks promoting a new cell phone plan.

STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved this? Any specific background required?

SS: An old band mate of mine was hawking A/C units off the back of a truck
and got me in the door. It could’ve required a specific background, but not really. You sorta have to fumble around until you get it right; like everything else.

STEREOGUM: Where’d you work before this?

SS: I was a barback at APT.

STEREOGUM: Ah, Noah was right. So, generally, beyond the models and the skaters, what sort of events are you promoting/managing?

SS: This week we’re running a six-day event for the New York Observer called Location. It’s been like managing a retail store, a club and a gallery at the same time. We’re showcasing six fashion designers who are auctioning off these weirdo installation outfits. The money raised will support an outsider art beneficiary called Creative Growth. Each night has been a busy program and the crowds are all mixed. It’s been a serious task making this work every night, but I’ve never been to a party like this and people seem to be asking questions and talking to each other, which is good. But we’re really small and my list of duties has ranged from taking out the trash to setting up for No Age to organizing the take down of this whole installation.

STEREOGUM: No Age is great. How did those guys get involved with Location?

SS: One of the featured designers Susan Cianciolo booked them. I think she and the band book each other on their respective coasts. That whole crew is radical. No Age is cool in a way I haven’t seen since MySpace started and I was happy to work that night.

STEREOGUM: Have you ever been tempted to book your own band for an event?

SS: I’m still trying to figure it out. I keep relatively quiet about Sam Champion at work. I think my boss thinks we do open mic nights on MacDougal St. and I don’t want to force it. But there have definitely been times when I wish we could play.

STEREOGUM: Is there a general philosophy to what events Pam takes? It seems pretty various.

SS: It is, but bigger companies tap into us for specialty projects. It nice going project to project, seeing stuff wrap and then doing something completely different.

STEREOGUM: Ever run into the real Sam Champion at one of these things?

SS: No, but I’m trying to book us a show on Fire Island this summer. It’d be like the Sex Pistols playing outside Buckingham Palace.

Sam Champion – “Be Mine Everyone” (MP3)

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