The four guys inGrand Champeen are originally from Virginia and now one of Austin's best rock 'n' roll bands.But they sound a lot like they're from Minneapolis about 15 years ago, immediately bringing to mind the Replacements and Soul Asylum with their loose, noisy, melodic sound.
So is that intentional?
"Absolutely," said Channing Lewis, who writes the majority of the band's songs, sings and plays guitar. "Our touchstones are the Replacements and various other bands of that era, many of which were from Minneapolis. That's always been the kind of band we wanted to be - not sound like them exactly, but embodying the same sort of thing."
That embodiment goes beyond energetic live shows that can wind up frenzied. Instead, it starts with respect for the song, crafting music that has some meaning, something Lewis has learned from 'Mats songwriter Paul Westerberg.
"There's a lot of bands out there doing rock 'n' roll that are more likely to kick over their amps than we are," Lewis said. "But underneath that brash extreme that Westerberg had, there's a sincerity there. I see a lot of bands today that have nine of the 10 elements. They just lack that one thing for me, which is the song that connects emotionally."
Lewis, who wrote nine of the 14 songs on "The One That Brought You,"Grand Champeen's 2003 album on Austin indie glurp, says his songwriting, like that of most of the best tunesmiths, comes directly out of his life.
"Lyrically, I think I've gotten a little more obtuse over the years,"he said in a telephone interview from his Austin home. "On our first record, everything was from personal experience, a literal one-to-one translation. I still think it comes from that. It's a little more disguised. But we don't have any songs about space or England. It's all stuff we're around."
Those lyrics are set in music that is fuzzy and hook-filled, that swings and rocks and can get heartfelt when a ballad rolls around. Too dirty for power pop, with too much of a backbeat for straight rock, Grand Champeen's music, live and on record, is pure rock 'n' roll - a rarity these days.
Lewis, lead guitarist MichaelCrow and drummer Ned Stewart grew up together, joining forces first while in high school in Virginia in the early '90s.The trio all went to different colleges but agreed to move to Austin later to put the band back together.
Lewis arrived in Texas in 1997, and by 1999, Stewart and Crow had joined him. They formed Grand Champeen in late 1999/early 2000 and set out to make a dent on the city's always dynamic music scene.
"Austin has been really good for us," he said. "Probably the thing we've gotten the most out of is that before we moved here, we weren't surrounded by really good bands so we didn't know what a really good band should sound like. Then we'd go to the local clubs and see all these good bands. It kind of gave us the kick in the pants we needed."
In 2000, they released their debut album, "Out Front by the Van," and added bassist Alex Livingstone. In 2002, "Battle Cry for Help" was released on glurp, and the band got its first national notice.
In the past four years, Grand Champeen has become known as one of Austin's hardest-rocking outfits, expanding from a home base at the legendary Hole in the Wall to play gigs all over town, with more offerings than it can do. Grand Champeen has also toured relentlessly, including gigs with Spoon and Centro-matic, and has been one of the standouts of the past three South by Southwest Music Festivals.
Wednesday night, Grand Champeen will make its first Lincoln stop, playing a 10 p.m. show at Duffy's Tavern.
"It's been a long time coming,"Lewis said. "Considering how much we've toured the Midwest, the fact we haven't played Lincoln is almost astounding. We've heard Duffy's is a great place to play. It should be good."
Like their Minneapolis role models,Grand Champeen is building a following the old-fashioned way.Rather than aiming to get signed to a major label as soon as possible, Lewis and company are content to put out indie records and hop in the van and play clubs across the country.
"It's a lot harder this way,"Lewis said. "It's a lot of nights of playing to 10 people or whatnot. But ultimately, it's pretty rewarding. Most of the bands I know that went straight to a major (label) have fizzled out. We've looked at it as a longer arc.
"We're having a good time. And we figure if we do it long enough, people have to stop ignoring us."
Reach L.Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Grand Champeen with Anonymus American
Where: Duffy's Tavern, 1412 O St.
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday