Fast forward three decades later to the fateful spring of 2001 when The Ramones lead singer, Joey Ramone, passed away, and the lasting impact of their legacy could still be seen and heard. Ramone’s death coincided with the formation of NOBUNNY, the alter-ego of Justin Champlin, whose sound is drenched in homage to the punk-rock scene.
Though having idolized The Ramones frontman for years, Arizona’s Justin Champlin first found his footing as an animal Elvis impersonator. Paying tribute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, NOBUNNY added the dimension of wearing a bunny mask as he sang Presley’s familiar bluesy rock and belting anthems.
It wasn’t long before Champlin began crafting his own music, losing the cover aspect but maintaing the signature bunny mask. He quickly began touring the country and releasing limited edition CDs and tapes. His formative years as NOBUNNY were largely characterized by the “do-it-yourself” methodology, wherein he even generated homemade cassettes of his work. To date, however, he has released five LPs, and has been a part of numerous record labels, though currently handled by Goner Records (Memphis, TN).
Wilmington show promoter Fred Champion says Champlin’s approach allows him to keep some mystery and fun in his music. In essence, the frontman only has to answer to himself and show-goers. “People will gladly pay to be entertained and NOBUNNY does not disappoint,” Champion states emphatically.
NOBUNNY captured the attention of Champion when he brought California band Shannon and the Clams to The Calico Room in November 2013. They told Champion about NOBUNNY and his arrival in Wilmington was set into motion. He will play The Calico Room this Tuesday. Local label Doctor Gone Records, which operates out of Carolina Beach, and is run by Travis Burdick who plays in Wilmington’s two-man group Deadly Lo-Fi, also are integral to NOBUNNY’s local debut. In fact, Deadly Lo-Fi will open the show, as will garage-punk duo The Hussy, out of Madison, Wisconsin.
NOBUNNY’s filthy, intentionally low-brow sound comes to life through Champlin’s raucous onstage antics. Often scantily clad—or not clad at all for that matter—his assaulting presence recalls the Alice Coopers and Ozzy Osbournes of performance. A typical get-up for the artist comes in the form of a leather-jacket and fishnet tights—of course with the face of a dirty rabbit. His sound thrashes and wails, and often assaults and energizes every music lover’s adrenaline.
Though Champlin has noted he may come across as a gimmick, he dismisses his critics. Underneath the onstage persona, he harbors a passion for art—specifically, his art. Despite the often times cartoonish nature of his cheeky lyrics (“Oh don’t you look so sweet girl/It puts the lotion on it’s skin/Or else it gets the hose again because/I am a girlfriend,” “I Am a Girlfriend”) and frantic guitar riffs, the performer’s madness does have method.
“When he is not onstage performing, he is very shy, soft-spoken and enjoys playing Scrabble or spending time with family and friends,” Champion explains paradoxically.
The bunny mask allows him freedom to become “nobody.” In doing so, his music transcends the vein of a typical singer/songwriter; instead, it’s an integral part of the artistry. His showmanship is just as important as the actual song. The mask and craziness captivate audiences, but the music gives merit to the insanity.
NOBUNNY now tours in support of the latest release, “Secret Songs: Reflections from the Ear Mirror.” From “It’s Pathetic,” to “Little Bo Bitch,” to “Red Light Love,” the tracklist boasts a style that harkens images of sweaty, heavily populated music venues where a bar brawl could break out at any minute. Mostly, though, folks will just be rollicking to the sounds—which will happen Tuesday, February 11th, 8 p.m., at downtown’s Calico Room.
“Expect raw rock ‘n’ roll and some catchy garage pop hooks from a guy singing in his underwear wearing a old dirty bunny mask,” Champion enthuses.DETAILS The Calico Room 107 S. Front St. Tuesday, February 11th, 8 p.m. Tickets: $8