Former Champions
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Former Champions

Richmond, Virginia, United States | SELF

Richmond, Virginia, United States | SELF
Band Rock EDM


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All bands have to start somewhere, and for most bands, that place is nowhere. No fans, no place to play, no identity, no plan.
What happens next can be a great moment: If the stars align, the band goes from nowhere to somewhere. That somewhere is often a self-contained creative world populated by understanding fans and curious listeners. With enough work, that world can spin up sufficient gravity to pull in casual passers-by.
Richmond's Former Champions are at that critical mass, and they are starting to tug on some ears.
They draw capacity crowds at their weekly Cary St. Cafe gigs, and they're starting to expand their orbit a bit. They opened for String Cheese Incident electronica offshoot EOTO in Raleigh recently, and are scheduled to open for Tea Leaf Green at The National in Richmond next Friday.
They will play The Colonial Tavern downtown Saturday night--their first trip to the Fredericksburg area.
"We play street music, for lack of a better term" drummer Geoff Bakel said. "It reflects the music of today--music you'd hear if you were walking downtown in Richmond."
Bakel, along with David Ashby (bass), Matt Walton (guitar) and Ben White (keyboards), play jam-rock that veers from the jazz background they all share into a contemporary, electronic realm.
Breakneck beats underscore a swirl of organ, synth and guitar. Elements of '70s prog-rock mingle with dance-club grooves.
If this is street music, it's from the far-out fringes of techno town. It's not exactly the Ke$ha you'd probably hear blasting from a passing car on Cary Street, but it does have a gritty acid jazz creativity that reflects the artistic side of the capital city.
Along those lines, the Former Champions are working to be as visually impressive as they are sonically. Moving lights--and a lighting director--are integral parts of the show.
Lyrics and melody play a significant role in their songs, but the Former Champions also draw from a deep well of improvisational skills to expand and stretch their tunes when they play live.
"Collectively, we're working on material together," Bakel said. "We all respect each other, but we're not shy about offering up advice."
As the elder statesman of the band, Bakel draws on more than 10 years of experience in the Richmond scene, much of it spent with funk/jazz outfit Homemade Bread.
He feels good about the Former Champions' progress, and thinks they have the right attitude to succeed. Bakel said that each member makes important contributions on and off the stage.
Ashby makes posters and fliers, for instance, and each member is involved in booking gigs and searching out new places to play. All the money they make goes back into the band for equipment and expenses.
"I'm still writing a lot of the lyrics," Bakel said, "but we all have different strengths."
Focusing on those strengths could help the Former Champions avoid what is often a quick trip from somewhere back to nowhere.
"It's definitely not easy keeping the four of us together to practice and write and get a product we're happy with and do the business side of things," Bakel said. "But our biggest goal is to keep doing what we're doing and enjoy it."
If things keep progressing, Bakel might realize his greatest rock 'n' roll fantasies, but he's keeping his day job for now.
"I would never close that door totally," he said of a career in music, "but I like to be realistic. It's a great outlet. When we're dialed in, it has that feeling that moves people. It's a rush."

Date published: 4/1/2010
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036

Link to Online article?
- Fredericksburg Freelance Press

"Tuesdays with Richmond"

Entire article -->
by Lucas Fritz

...The crowd continued to pick up as The Former Champions took the stage as the home team (the Champs play every Tuesday at Cary Street Cafe and have for quite some time now). This electronic quartet could at first look like a Phish wannabe jam-band but don’t let the light show fool you: these guys know what they are doing. Guitarist Matt Walton, bassist David Ashby, and key/synth player Ben White all have attended or currently attend VCU to study Jazz Performance. White’s use of the Nord running through a Moogerfooger (an analog effects pedal made by the Moog company) coupled with his Korg MS 2000 and Korg Triton produces sounds ranging from a deep-space alien attack to some funky clavinet a’la Stevie Wonder.

Drummer Geoff Bakel never seemed to lose the groove that he and Ashby had established right from the start. To the right of Bakel’s set was a table-top covered in all sorts of auxiliary percussion instruments ranging from the standard cowbell to things I had never seen before and to the left, an electronic drum pad with numerous samples activated with a quick tap. I left before the band finished their second set but most of the crowd wasn’t ready to stand still and stop dancing (let alone leave!).


"Former Champions - Various Reviews"

“Sensuous, funky grooves flowing in and out of free-form improvised sections, a sense of freedom within structure and a passion for making music. Overriding feelings of joy and discovery, a melding of talented musical personalities… The Former Champions are highly recommended.”
- Alex Jasperse,

“All the instruments are played so superbly and in varying fashion, that each song is unique in its own way.” - Celebrity Cafe by Sari N. Kent  

“The Former Champions bring us Funk.. They're fresh...driving up-tempo or dancing on waves of lightening, the band gives their
audience a varied and fun-loving product.” - Cadence - July 2007

“absolutely terrific compositionally, soloistically... Catch these musicians around Richmond. You'll be glad you did.”
– Antonio Garcia – VCU Director of Music - VCU Jazz E-News, Vol. 6, No. 9

“Quite exceptional.” - John Book, Music For America  

- As Noted Below

"Magazine 33 Launch Party Review"

Magazine33 Launch Party
By Authors: Ben Cokeley Thu, Oct 01, 2009
The Magazine 33 Launch Party! By Ben Cokeley. Photos by James Young.

MAGAZINE33: The Launch Party at Emilio’s.
Four Stellar Acts Ring in a New Era of Rock & Roll Literature.
The lights began to flicker, which so solemnly signified last call, and like so many last calls before, reality began to sink its dreadful fangs into my free spirit as if it were imperative to be awakened from the groovy trance I was being so effortlessly sucked into. Now I was forced to acknowledge such peevish obligations as paying my tab and attempting to calculate how hung over I was doomed to be in the morning. Thank God my girlfriend was sober so I could avoid the whole transportation conundrum that too often leads to over-confident derelicts making poor choices. I was in no position, or mood for that matter, to make any choices at all. I just wanted to rock all night long until I passed out on the floor. Why is that too much to ask? Former Champions were hitting it hard, transitioning from one jam to another so seamlessly, that toward the end of the set, countless agreeable rhythms were reminiscent of that common tangent that takes place in a conversation that has you ask your peer, “What were we just talking about and how did it lead to this?” And then, just as I was about to give in to the depressing reality of the party’s close, just when I thought the night was maxed out like a credit card when you need it most, they belted out one of the best covers of “L.A. Woman” I’d ever heard….

Magazine33 vows to have the chops to undoubtedly secure its niche as one of the new influential music publications of the next generation. The style in which this magazine is structured to embellish in the country’s independent music industry is unlike any other publication that boasts a similar stance. From in-depth features that focus on bands and musicians from a slew of genres, to full coverage of local events and events abroad, be prepared to have your finger on the pulse of an exciting new music industry that’s eager to explode. With such excitement surrounding this new project, it was only appropriate to celebrate the premier issue with a rockin’ launch party.
For me the night started early. I of course had to make a few of my usual rounds before I got to the Magazine33 Launch Party, for arriving at the main event fueled with anything less than super-charged energy and high spirits would be poppycock. I like to hit the ground running, if you know what I mean. By eight-thirty we waltzed in through the Emilio’s entrance half-buzzed, half ambitious, curious as to what kind of party this was going to turn into. After mingling with the magazine staff and ironing out a few worthy business-mannered chats, it was time for some live music to give this event the jolt that it needed.
Brand New Groovement opened with a reggae constructed blend of jazz and fusion, seasoned with a hip hop-influenced lyrical flow that managed to fulfill all the required energy needed to set a party off. I at first found myself baffled by the flamboyant frat boyish approach to what seemed like an interpretive dance the lead singer, Percy Soul, was manifesting before the crowd. But it wasn’t before long I began to realize that his twisting torso and animated antics became the straw that stirred the band’s drink, for he was the catalyst to all energy that was created by the ensemble. Sharing the stage was Roberto Curtis on the saxophone, an instrumental sensation. Showcasing a EWI [Electric Wind Instrument], members of the crowd were clueless to what exactly his toy was. It sounded like a sax and it was obviously electric, but its unfamiliar appearance and operation quickly became the gossip within the crowd. Nevertheless, it made for a flashy solo. Curtis nonchalantly slid up and down his scales as the band’s thick following cavorted across the dance floor.
The lone Danny Plotnik took to the stage as the second act of the night. It’s never an effortless task for one man with an acoustic guitar and kazoo to follow a seven piece outfit. I felt bad for the poor guy when he walked up there alone. It looked like he was set up for failure. But I quickly learned the truth. His stage presence was larger than he was. A dose of humor and charm won him the crowd with ease. He played your typical college bar music—little ditties about drinking beer and acoustic medleys of old rap songs [“Whoomp! There It Is,” “Ice Ice Baby,” “Baby Got Back,” etc.]. Nothing fancy nor original, but it needn’t be because it was solid and it moved right along at an attention-maintaining pace. My personal favorite was his humorous yet convincing take on Louis Armstrong’s vocal range in a rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” You could sense Plotnik knew exactly what he was doing up there and knew he did it well. Because if that wasn’t the case, there’s no chance he would be up there at all. End of story.
Transitioning from a solo acoustic set to a Queens of the Stone Age-inspired rock show exposed the type of patchwork that is symbolic of Magazine33 in and of itself. Bad Motivator came to Emilio’s with one goal in mind: blow everyone’s eardrums out. Matt Sthreshley, the band’s lead singer [who graciously helped organize the event] couldn’t even hold back the childish grin from his face when he warned us of their loud ambitions. By the end of the first song, I was surprised [and a little disappointed] that every ear in the building wasn’t oozing with blood. The lively front man struck his guitar with sociopathic desperation while he slung himself around the stage like a junkie in need of his fix. Let’s get this guy a bigger stage already. You never saw Angus Young pinned up against a wall did you? Pete Townshend? You know what he would do. It’s inhumane. I was anxiously anticipating the moment he would accidentally kick the mic stand over, or better yet, the drummer. Amazingly, he had enough composure to rock out confined to a 4X4 slot without destroying everything. I loved how loud they were, and even more so, I loved the classic structure to their rock & roll.
Former Champions stepped up to the plate next to earn their crown back as the final act of the evening. The electronic induced jam band delved into a well-ordered set with enough variables to constitute an algebraic equation. All the musicians complemented one another, however individually rising to the occasion when called upon for their respective moments. Spacey sound effects were summoned stage left, while the drums and guitar played in unison. Calm baselines transfused the cosmic vibe from the band to the crowd and an effervescent aura lingered like an orange sunset before the stage. It was toxic and addictive. We wanted more, but time was no friend and the night met its end after their spectacular interpretation of “L.A. Woman” served as the grand finale of the storied Magazine33 Launch Party
- Magazine 33. Author Ben Cokeley

"Richmond's 'Champions' back in Charlottesville"

Richmond’s ‘Champions’ back in Charlottesville

Published: September 8, 2009
On a warm summer evening in Richmond, a large, friendly dog named Sterling pokes his head into a basement rehearsal studio. The old rugs and carpets that line the walls do a great job of keeping sound out, but a poor one keeping the music in, and the Weimaraner wants to be part of the fun.
“Get out of here, Sterling,” Matt Walton shouts from his corner, and the door is shut behind the clatter of canine toe nails.
Walton trails his own bare foot absently over his guitar pedals — distortion, delay, fade. Rope lights and exposed incandescent bulbs glow dimly from the ceiling. Posters of Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead hang between the sound-mufflers. An ancient-looking fan oscillates from atop a stool. The Former Champions, who return to Is Venue in Charlottesville on Friday, have paused in their practice to get a mid-song transition just right.
“Why don’t you guys sing that part — the new part — together,” drummer Geoff Bakel suggests, “and then you come in over it?” Walton is more than willing to give that idea the old college try, but, after another go, it’s the joining and splitting with keyboardist Ben White that troubles him.
“Can the unison come earlier?” Walton asks White. “And then maybe you …” he trails off, demonstrating a line on his six-string. White, for his part, is silent, frowning down at his keys as if they were misbehaving children.
“Ben, you need to take that synth to the street,” Bakel calls encouragingly.
The Former Champions are a jam band, and mostly that’s what they do: jam. A stop for this long is unusual. But the group’s cheerfully funky and chaotic rock/jazz fusion sound takes a lot of effort. Sometimes a member closes his eyes, just grooving on the music he and his mates are making; sometimes eye contact is crucial, as two sync up or someone new takes the lead.
But if there’s method in the madness, there’s madness in the method too. The roles within a song are constantly changing — who’s the rhythm section, who plays the melody, who improvises up into the stratosphere. Different performances of a song are rarely exactly the same, and the quartet records all their rehearsal sessions for future analysis.
“A big thing is reaching commercial viability without sacrificing artistic integrity,” says bassist David Ashby as the Champs take a break a couple rooms away. Sterling clatters around knees and ankles. A widescreen TV plays the Discovery Channel on mute. “We try to always strive to make our songs enjoyable for us to play as much as make other people enjoy them.
“Songs are never really done.”
“There’s nothing we don’t add to,” Bakel agrees.
All of this originality and experimentation makes them well-suited for small, intimate venues, like Is, with its double-bar reverberating design, and the Champs are happy to be back.
“We want,” Walton says, his fret hand tapping on the table, “to truly improvise with each other in, like, any setting. It’s a cool space for that.”
The Former Champions cite influences like Frank Zappa, Phish and Pink Floyd, but all four have a background in jazz (for one, Ashby, that background can be traced to Albemarle High School’s jazz band). It might not be too much to say they play rock songs in a jazz style. You know — they jam.
“Musically what I’m striving for,” says White, “is to create, like, a united sound that is completely unique to us four … one that can’t be recreated by anyone else.”
“That’s deep, man,” Ashby grins at him.
And what about that fatalistic name, which seems to speak of glories finished, not lying ahead?
“Well, we used to be really good,” Bakel jokes.
Everyone laughs, stretches, gathers himself and heads back to his instrument for more practice. Free-flowing, spontaneous improvisation can sure be a lot of work.
- Charlottesville Progress (Newspaper)


Former Champions released their first studio album in 2011. Check out the audio samples here.



2011 has been a great year for Former Champions. They have played festivals like Camp Bisco 10, FloydFestX, and Camp Barefoot 5 in support of their debut studio album that dropped in April. Featured here are six songs from the album.

Former Champions music combines elements of rock, electronica, jazz, funk, and world beats. Vocal driven compositions mixed with in the moment improvisations and a live show not to be missed, FC's music is progressive, high energy and uniquely identifiable.

FC have recently shared the stage with The New Deal Conspirator, Perpetual Groove, Papadosio, Tea Leaf Green, EOTO, Zappa Plays Zappa, The Mantras, Deer Tick, Brother's Past, Biodiesel, and Damn Right among others.

“It was toxic and addictive. We wanted more." 
- Ben Cokeley, Magazine33

“A melding of talented musical personalities… The Former Champions are highly recommended.”
- Alex Jasperse,

“All the instruments are played so superbly and in varying fashion, that each song is unique in its own way.” 
- Celebrity Cafe by Sari N. Kent  

“Quite exceptional.”  - John Book, Music For America  

“The roles within a song are constantly changing — who’s the rhythm section, who plays the melody, who improvises up into the stratosphere. Different performances of a song are rarely exactly the same”
-Tristan Lejeune, Charlottesville Progress

“Breakneck beats underscore a swirl of organ, synth and guitar. Elements of '70s prog-rock mingle with dance-club grooves.”
- Jonas Beals, Fredericksburg Freelance

“the band finished their second set but most of the crowd wasn’t ready to stand still and stop dancing.” - Lucas Fritz,

Former Champions continue forward with inspired energy and a dynamic presence ready to unleash their sound into the atmosphere.