Nobunny Interview: Originally from issue #53, now an ebook with updated intro By Billups Allen

Jun 11, 2015

To download this interview as an ebook, click here.

Nobunny is an interesting creature. As the old saying goes, he’s more than an oft-pantless man behind a dirty rabbit mask. He’s a one-man army with a personality that drifts between sincere and space cadet. He’s an enigma, an animal-man who both wants the spotlight but needs to be masked to truly embrace it. He’s a loner who prides himself in his one-man band style (much like his self-professed idol Hasil Adkins), who yet relies on musician friends to help with his over-the-top live performances. He’s a masked marauder known as Nobunny. He’s also an impressive lyricist and recording innovator named Justin Champlin (though the latter is occasionally up for debate).

Nobunny has certainly kept to his word since this interview’s publication in 2009, producing a number of albums, B-sides, and EPs, experimenting and evolving his signature sound in new and weird ways, while also playing with the different forms of music creation, publication, and distribution. Later in 2009, Love Visions was re-released on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records on vinyl and CD, while Burger Records did a cassette-only release of Raw Romance.

The following year, Nobunny played at Third Man Records in Nashville, which was recorded to analogue tape and released on vinyl by Third Man. Later that year, Goner Records released his second official LP, First Blood. The last track on this LP, “I Was On (The Bozo Show)” provides a psyched-out, down-tempo track detailing his lost innocence on The Bozo Show, which both pays homage to the show yet also acts as a confession from a former addict. It reveals a duality between acid dreams of innocence on a bizarre variety show and coming to terms with addiction to those actual drug-induced hazes.

In 2011, Raw Romance was released on vinyl and CD. Nobunny celebrated both the release and his tenth anniversary in appropriate style, with an Easter performance at the PlayboyMansion. The next year, Goner Records released the raw Maximum Rock N’ Roll EP for Record Store Day. (Though Nobunny no longer considers himself a collector, but does enjoy records and record stores.) The album featured his trademark ‘50s-inspired sounds, but was controversial for its so-lo-fi-it’s-almost-unlistenable quality. 2012 also saw the Suicide Squeeze release of the La La La La Love You 7”, which took over two years to make and featured the exclusive B side “Drei Blondinen,” which completely took his sound and turned it on its ear. It’s a sparse, strange, and somber piano-driven tune.

Over the course of 2013 to the present day, Nobunny has spent most of his time touring North America, with three stints in Europe. In late 2013, he released Secret Songs: Reflections from the Ear Mirror on Goner Records, which features all of his EPs from 2010-2013.

In 2014, Justin Champlin re-released a rarities compilation cassette, Mr. Pro Bono, on his own King Song Productions label. This comp featured tracks he recorded between 1995 and 2000. On Halloween of the same year, Nobunny released a short film music video called “Nightmare Night,” which featured his song “Lizard Liars” from his 2013 album Secret Songs.

When he’s not playing shows, Justin Champlin DJs as his alter-alter ego DJ GG Allin.

Whether it’s Nobunny, Justin Champlin, or DJ GG Allin, the man always delivers an unforgettable performance—causing either feelings of ecstasy or violent reactions from his crowds. A man, myth, and legend all wrapped into one, Nobunny’s one worth studying. And no matter how you feel about him or his music, remember: Nobunny loves you. Nobunny will live forever.

–Jamie Rotante, 2015

You are always little people when you enter the nightclub at the Hotel Congress in Tucson. Stripped of my bag, I am herded into a guarded area where people guilty of the crime of wanting a cocktail stand around staring at the bar. Through a large mesh net, a milieu of underage onlookers occupies the space between the old farts and the performers. In front of me is a hole in the net, possibly the worst glory hole ever conceived. Instead of experimenting, I greet a friend through the net with a three-fingered handshake and await a glimpse of a person known only to me as Nobunny, a rock’n’roll masked marauder who performs in his underwear from behind a smelly rabbit mask.

His album Love Visions is a unique blend of ‘50s- and ‘60s-infused punk recorded using a large stable of musicians and an occasional drum machine. Tonight, Nobunny is backed by The Rock n Roll Adventure Kids, an awesome band in their own right. Devotion to The Ramones seeps through during the set when the lyrics for Nobunny’s “I Am a Girlfriend” are abandoned and replaced with the lyrics for “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” The four burn through most of Love Visions, a few new songs, and a cover of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy” as if they had been a solid lineup since the beginning. Backed with a great band, the crowd is pleased and the man in the mask, who prefers to keep his life separate from that of Nobunny, disappears from the stage. This behavior could be seen as reclusive, but Nobunny is a strong performer and adept at performing with or without a band.
–Billups Allen, 2009

Interview by Billups Allen
Photos by Amy Shapiro
Originally ran in Razorcake #53, 2009

Billups: Knowing you’re into records, is Nobunny more of a priority as a conduit for recording, or is it more about the live shows for you?

Nobunny: I guess it’s pretty obvious that there are a lot of influences. First and foremost, I consider myself a rock’n’roll fan. I go to shows and I like rock music. I take a lot more time and care and effort with the record, for sure. As for the live show, obviously, it would be good to play and be “on.”

Billups: Do you shop for records much anymore?

Nobunny: I sold all my stuff, pretty much, about two years ago, including all my records. I bought a van with that money from The Knockout Pills. I’m just getting around to where I can listen to records again, at a friend’s house.

Billups: With all the musicians, drum machines, and other unorthodox variables, it seems like it might be quite an undertaking for you to make a record.

Nobunny: Yeah, but the reason it goes so slow is that I’m pretty unorganized. We never practice. With switching the lineups, we never get to learn new songs too much because, as a group, I’ve got to teach them basics: Nobunny 101.

Billups: You mention Hasil Adkins often. Was he an influence on your music?

Nobunny: Definitely the music. I like his whole lo-fi recording style. I don’t think it would even sound that good if it wasn’t recorded like that. I love the whole West Virginia madman persona. I saw him when I was underage and we got to drink together and hang out. I blacked out and remember very little of it, but the pictures were really awesome and I remember he was very nice.

Billups: Where was that?

Nobunny: That was in Chicago at IntuitiveArtGallery at an outsider music fest with him, Daniel Johnson and, I wanna say Wesley Willis, but I can’t say for sure.

Billups: Do you think the one-man band aspect of Hasil Adkins was a factor in what you do?

Nobunny: Oh, yeah, definitely. The one-man band aspect of it is funny because Hasil is always referred to as a one-man band. He certainly did what most people consider the traditional one-man band, but his one-man band is not so much in the recordings. They are tracked recordings. I’m assuming it is simple two tracks stepping (on the tracks) over and over, but it still counts as a bedroom project. That being said, I’ve still done it traditional, one-man band style. It makes it fun [whispers] and I like having control.

Billups: The Ramones must also be an influence, based on the cover of Love Visions.

Nobunny: The cover, while I certainly love the Ramones to death, I kinda feel like a lot of people give it a quick judgment (on the Love Visions cover is an homage to the Ramones first, self-titled record). Maybe they think it’s novelty music. I love novelty music, especially in performance and entertainment, but I kinda wish I had done a different cover.

Billups: From my perspective, I usually don’t like parodies. But I liked the cover. Not so much because the music reflected what I would expect a Ramones album to sound like, but the music on the album was sort of a new look at what I was already a fan of, in the same way the Ramones changed how people thought about ‘50s and ‘60s music. I wonder if other people look at the cover and make snap judgments about Love Visions, thinking it’s a novelty record.

Nobunny: …or thinking that it’s a shitty Ramones rip-off or something. In some ways, I’m sure the cover did help. To some people it’s attractive, whereas to some, it’s probably a big turn off. The next one is slightly more classy.

Billups: You also cite Chuck Berry in your music. Does he have some influence on what you do, musically or personality-wise?

Nobunny: Just like thinking about Hasil, personality-wise, they are both characters. I like that he’s dirty. Have you seen Johnny B. Bad? The porn?

Billups: No.

Nobunny: That’s special. I like his tunes and that he was going for a white market, playing rock’n’roll. He’s weird. So weird. The music, first and foremost, but there’s a good back-story about a creepy dude. Makes me gravitate more towards it.

Billups: You’ve also mentioned the Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton dynamic.

Nobunny: Yeah, whether they are the same person or not, I love that just when everyone was confident that Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman, Andy would come out. I think he was a genius. Or is, if he’s still alive.

Billups: I’m really interested in that because you’ve mentioned keeping your upfront persona outside of yourself. Was it a conscious decision to mix the persona and the music?

Nobunny: Yeah, sort of. When I started, I wanted to be an Elvis impersonator, like an animal Elvis. But the mask, I’d been in a lot of masked bands before. Also, the first issue of Roctober Magazine I ever bought was the “Masks” issue. That was when I got into garage rock and rock’n’roll and it had the Mummies and the Phantom Surfers in it, but it also had Michael Jackson in it wearing a mask because of his plastic surgery, Kiss with the makeup, and old shit like what was on the cover of the Blank Dog record. I thought it was cool how they went into how it was a tradition in theater and performance. But I find it a lot easier to do what I do with the mask, for sure. Even, sometimes, when I’m actually not in the mood necessarily to go on stage. Sometimes, if I’m tired or not feeling well, as cheesy as it sounds, when I put the mask on, I mean, I’m very well aware that I’m myself, but at the same time, it’s so much easier to get into character. I feel better.

Billups: Is it the same mask you’ve always used?

Nobunny: No, I’ve been through a bunch now. They’re harder to find than they once were. I used to be able to find them in any standard, crappy costume shop, or any decent costume shop. Now, no one seems to carry them.

Billups: [Laughing] Are you saying there is a shortage of bunny masks?

Nobunny: Yeah, the kids are buying them up. Maybe there’ll be a bunch of Nobunnys for Halloween this year.

Billups: Do you have a Halloween costume that has your picture on the front of it?

Nobunny: Actually, I was talking to a guy in Sacramento who wanted to make old-style Ben Cooper brand masks. The popular, crappy, plastic ones. I was like, “Of course I would be interested in that.” That was one of the last things I collected, Ben Cooper masks.

Billups: Not the latex ones, but…

Nobunny: They’re the really crappy plastic ones with the rubber band on the mask and a picture of who you’re supposed to be on your chest.

Billups: I like that.

Nobunny: Yeah, they’re awesome.

Billups: I saw your Chic-A-Go-Go (a Chicago-based public access TV show where people are encouraged to come down and dance in costumes) appearance on video. I wanted to ask about it because it seems like a pretty wild program. Did you enjoy being on?

Nobunny: I think Chic-A-Go-Go is the best thing going in Chicago. I had heard about it for a long time. It’s produced by a husband and wife team, and he (Jake Austin) does Roctober Magazine. It’s so cool, so positive. A mix of people, age-wise.

Billups: It was interesting seeing you perform among all the little kids that came down to dance. Did you get to interact with any of them?

Nobunny: Well, that was on December 31st, so I really didn’t have the excuse of being hungover from a New Year’s Eve party ‘cause it was New Year’s Eve-Eve. I had gone to see The Zero Boys and stayed out way too late and had too much to drink. They film Chic-A-Go-Go fairly early, on Sunday mornings usually. Yeah, so I went. I was so hungover. I was just excreting booze—coming out of every pore—just breathing it. And my friend and I went to this place called Sarcus where they have this sausage and onion sandwich. I had one of those on top of my regular filthy, stinky self. I really thought I was gonna drop dead on Chic-A-Go-Go. Seriously, I felt really rough that day. But the show must go on. I used to dance on Chic-A-Go-Go.

Billups: So you’ve been on the show several times?

Nobunny: Yeah, I’ve been on a bunch of times. Actually, one time, not to give my unmasked self away, I won’t say exactly which person, but there is this crappy movie called The Big Bounce with Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. It’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s not a very good movie, honestly, but there’s a part in the movie where Morgan Freeman is watching TV and Owen Wilson is looking through his window and he’s like, “What the hell is he watching?” and it’s an episode of Chic-A-Go-Go that I’m on.

Billups: Was it weird lip-synching to your own album?

Nobunny: Well, they played the wrong song. I wanted them to play a different song. I really don’t remember which, but, either way, I was sitting there waiting for it to start and “Chuck Berry Holiday” started. Yeah, the lip-synching, I barely remember. It was all kind of a blur. It’s actually really hot there, too, in the actual TV studio. It was rough.

Billups: You seem to take a different band almost every time you go on tour. Is that due to a certain necessity?

Nobunny: Yeah. For a long time I was just hopping in people’s vans. See, I was doing Nobunny so I could go with touring bands and have them back me up. The aforementioned van that I sold all my records for lasted only about six weeks, or something like that, and I had to sell it for peanuts. I didn’t have a car. Then I went on a tour with The Romance Novels, from Indiana. They drove me around and I did it one-man band style. After that, with the Okmoniks, one-man band style. The Wax Museums backed me up. Then The Smith Westerners from Chicago backed me up. I guess I have been out with a lot of bands. The Rock ‘n Roll Adventure Kids are along with Jason Testasecca, who is the only other permanent Nobunny member at this point.

Billups: Do you ever feel like your stage persona brings out any really weird fans? Do you have any stories about coping with people?

Nobunny:Some of the people react really strongly and bizarrely when I’m performing, for sure, which is good. The weirder the merrier.A lot of people definitely feel it’s okay to rip my clothes off, pour beer down my pants, and spank me and stuff, not to go and say that it’s not okay to rip my clothes off and pour beer on me. It’s interesting that people seem to do things that they might not normally try to get away with. A lot of performers are not rolling around on stage in their underwear. At the same time—don’t know exactly what—but we’re taking a break and I expect the Nobunny show to change.

Billups: Really?

Nobunny: I’m kinda getting tired. To me, the idea was that I could do anything with this band and it wasn’t genre specific. I kinda wanna switch it up so people don’t say, “Aw, it’s some jerk in a bunny mask jumping around in his underwear. I’m not into it.” I definitely wanna switch it up a bit, but still keep it fun; something a little extra from just standing up there.

Billups: Do you ever feel that people latch on to the wrong thing about it?

Nobunny: People definitely get really focused on things that are not there, maybe. If I hear anything that are expectations, I wanna switch it up.

Billups: I think that’s important on some level. I would hate to see you get pigeonholed.

Nobunny: The next record, I imagine there are definitely people who won’t like it that may have really liked the first one. Some will and some won’t. We’ll see. It’s not actually done, so we’ll see what the hell happens. I don’t think it’s gonna sound anything like the other one.

Billups: Are you shying away from the ‘50s and ‘60s pop sensibilities that, at least I perceive, to be prevalent? Maybe you don’t agree.

Nobunny: I was gonna say less punk, but then this won’t get published in Razorcake. Perhaps less traditional guitar/bass/drums rock band style, I guess. Actually, perhaps even more ‘50s and ‘60s, because I wanna experiment more, still play rock’n’roll music without the traditional punk band setup either. Keyboard or not. Make rock’n’roll out of non-traditional instruments.

Billups: That’s interesting because it’s the rock’n’roll influence that comes across very natural to me. I’m not usually into records with drum machines.

Nobunny: Me neither.

Billups: But your songwriting is so influenced by the traditional sound.

Nobunny: For me, it’s oldies über alles. The simple way to describe my musical preferences is oldies and punk is where it’s at for me. I emphasize a lot of other stuff besides that, but, at the end of the day, I just love good oldies.

Billups: So, either way, there’s a new album on the horizon?

Nobunny: I’ve started a couple of times. It’s kinda different ‘cause I’ve never sat down to record an album. I’ve always recorded just a song at a time, when an idea would hit me or whatever. I don’t want it to sound as if I sat down and had one session. I want every song to be its own thing. There are obviously tons of great records that have a consistent sound, and that’s cool and all, but not for me. At least not right now. Not this record. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with recording. I keep starting and I just don’t know… I’m the king of self-sabotage.

Billups: Is there a story behind why you were reunited with your shoes recently?

Nobunny: I’m just an idiot. I got in the van without my shoes and didn’t realize until we had to stop for gas the first time that I didn’t even bring shoes. I did have to catch an international flight soon after that.

Billups: Did you get on an international flight without your shoes?

Nobunny: No, thankfully our traveling bass player known as Bedroll Eddie is beyond prepared on that level. He brings extra amplifiers. He brings extra guitars, extra basses. He plays bass and he still brought two guitars. And, of course, he had an extra pair of shoes.

Billups: I can’t believe he brings extra shoes.

Nobunny: I’m not making any of this up.

Billups: He really had an extra pair of shoes?

Nobunny: And an extra guitar amp.

Billups: Wow.

Nobunny: And he played bass.

Billups: You mentioned that you could picture Nobunny going beyond yourself. Do you really mean that, like, do you think you could hand the mask over one day?

Nobunny: Yeah. Absolutely. When this body drops dead, I definitely want Nobunny to still play every once in a while. There are already a couple of Nobunnys that traipse around too, and know that if I die, that’s my dying wish for them to be doing it. The rest of the band changes all the time. Who’s to say Nobunny can’t change? And who’s to say who’s Nobunny. Nobunny is Nobunny. If I saw a flyer that Nobunny was playing in a state or town where I wasn’t gonna be, I’d be thrilled to know that Nobunny was going on without me somehow.

Billups: So there are people out there already in place to step to the front?

Nobunny: That happened recently where—and some people were aware that it wasn’t the normal guy behind the Nobunny mask—and, yeah, they were bummed and pissed that they had spent money on it and stuff. Even though most people—I wasn’t there—but most people, from what I heard, were really entertained by it. Nobunny did a good job and Nobunny performed the Nobunny show. I guess he forgot some words and, you know, got a little taller.