Aram Arslanian has played in two of my favourite bands and plays actively in two bands that I can’t stop listening to; I have had the True Identity demo on loop! I have been lucky enough to see all of his bands bar one on a few different occasions in 3 different countries. He’s possibly one of the most approachable and nicest guys in the scene and we first met in New York (2004) at the legendary CBGB at a Champion,Blacklisted,Cast Aside and Comeback Kid show. After, Id go on to see Champion a few times in the UK along with Betrayed once, then having a really decent hang and catch up last year in Sweden with him and the guys from Keep It Clear.
DR: Hey Aram, how you been? What’s going on for you right now? Where are you based etc?
Things are great! I’m busy with a bunch of bands and keeping busy with friends and work. I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada and it’s a pretty amazing place.
DR: Let’s talk about Champion, how did you start, with who and where?
Champion started about 2 years before I joined. It was Jim and Chris and then a revolving group of people. I joined the band in 2001 right after they released their second demo. At that time we had 4 out of the 5 the core members of the band- Jim, Chris, Todd and I. We had a few different people in the bass/2nd guitar slot over the years until Andy Norton joined. Although Andy didn’t join until after Promises Kept was recorded we still consider him to be the other core member of the band. When he joined we had the true Champion line up.
DR: When I saw you last in year in Sweden you actually remembered that show where we first talked at CBGB. I thought that was so rad, but do you remember most of your bands shows from way back?
Haha I try! I’m pretty good with faces, but horrible with names! I’ve been lucky to tour with a bunch of different bands so generally the people I meet I end up crossing paths with them many times. That’s been really awesome for me because you get to know people and develop real friendships with them over time. I can say that I have very close friends all over the world, and that’s something that Hardcore gave me.
DR: Champion were together for 7 years- that’s an awesome stint for a sxe band. The message was so powerful and an awful lot of people loved/love that band… was it just time?
Thanks man! Yeah it was just time and we wanted to end the band the way that we lived it. Basically, we had just signed to EVR and were about to do a new LP, but with that comes the commitment to touring on it. We were always a band that toured a lot, and we took what we did really seriously, so of course we were going to put that same effort into the next record. We were planning on touring really hard on the new record and spending the next two years on the road. But, as we were getting ready to start writing for the record we all started to feel that the band was becoming a job, and that really didn’t appeal to us.
Our perspective was that once your band becomes your job it can affect your decision making around what you do. Things like money can cloud what’s important, and we just didn’t want that to happen to us. So, we all met at a donut shop, talked in through and decided to break up. We ended it in the right way for us and went out on a high-note so that was a great feeling, and none of us live with the “what if”. Instead we all just started new bands, kept playing, kept touring, and most of all stayed great friends.
DR: I saw Champion a few times in a couple of different countries and nothing really changed for me in terms of sound (in fact it just got better), but where are some stand out places for you?
We loved the UK- we have so many great friends there and Dead & Gone always took amazing care of us. I much prefer the vinyl release they did of promises kept to the original B9 press. Germany was always fantastic as was Spain, Poland, Hungary, and France. Japan and South Korea were very special for us as was Australia. Haha well I named a lot of places, but they were all amazing!
In the states the Bay Area was amazing and we love Gilman St. San Diego and the Che café were like a second home. Ojai California was badass and the shows at the Women’s center were insane! On the east coast we always loved NYC and CGBGs, Richmond VA and all our friends there, Boston was cool as well. Man- it was all good, too much to choose from! Of course nothing beat Seattle for us- the shows there were, and are, great and the scene has a lot of heart.
DR: I remember Come Out Swinging being released on Phyte Records, I always thought that was a bit random- was that just for CD release? Do they even still put stuff out?
Yeah that was an interesting one. Mike Phyte was in Good Clean Fun and Chris (the guitar player of Champion) filled in for them on a tour. He and Mike became great friends and he released the first EP as a favor to Chris. He was really cool to work with- he fronted us a lot of records and it took us forever to pay him back, like actual years! We didn’t pay him back until our final show and he had forgotten we owed him quite a bit of money. So, he was definitely stoked to get this unexpected payment years later!
He did put out a bunch of records on that label that were great, but they flew under the radar. I highly suggest checking out the Fields of Fire CD on Phyte, it’s legitimately awesome. He also put out a record for Affront which was really good- those guys were really nice and a great band.
Mike doesn’t releases records anymore but he’s really involved in music. He runs a management company for bands and also does a lot of workshops for people who want to make music their career. He’s a really interesting guy and has done some very cool things that are worth checking out.
DR: What was the most important Champion record for you?
Promises Kept for sure. It was the record where all our ideas and influences came together and I’m very happy with how it all came out. Getting it done was so intense, like every aspect (music, lyrics, art, etc) was hard and there were a lot of sleepless nights. But, in the end it came together and the day I held a copy in my hands I knew all the stress was worth it.
DR: So the TFS demo came out in 2001, but when did you actually become a band?
I joined TFS in 2006 right after the recording of What We Know. It was just a really natural thing, Champion was coming to an end, Betrayed was building up but not yet doing a lot, so I suddenly had more space in my life to do something else. One day I was talking with Steve and he was telling me about the West Coast tour they had planned which was the first tour on WWK. He asked me to come along and I jokingly said, “Sure, and how about I bring my guitar and play with you guys?” I didn’t expect what happened next- Steve got really stoked, he called Aaron, Aaron and Steve then both called me and like 20 minutes later it was all set.
That first tour was a try out to see how it felt for everyone. I flew into the San Francisco and stayed with Kyle from Rivalry. I chilled at his place and learned all the songs and then met up with the guys in Santa Cruz to play the first show. Right from the start it felt right, we had all been great friends for years and that showed up on stage. I had known Greg for years and played with him in Betrayed, and Izzy, Aaron, and Steve were and are just awesome guys. We had a great energy and connection as a five-piece and that also allowed for us to go nuts live, and for Aaron to add extra dynamics on guitar.
Izzy left the band a few months after that and Fred joined on drums which was also cool. Izzy and Fred are different drummers- Izzy plays very heavy and just “gets” HC so he has real instincts on how to play. Fred is very strong technically, really precise, and I think they guy could most likely play anything he wants. So playing music with each of them was fun in its own way.
DR: Open Hearts and Clear Minds is such a great record in every respect for me, it had a serious impact on me- like relit my fire with regards to SXE HC. Did you think at the time that TFS would become so special worldwide?
Well TFS was my favorite active band- like I joined my dream band. So, they were already special to me so it wasn’t a surprise that the band kept its legacy. I had a really interesting experience with the band; I was both in the band, and a fan of the band. So it was being both artist and audience. Aaron and Steve were the creative minds behind the band, I played guitar and helped things run smoothly like booking tours and shows. Greg made sure we always had merch (also with the help of Pete Russo who designed our stuff), so it was a group effort.
DR: I must have watched that west coast tour video that Larry Ransom did 50 times, it’s only then you see what it takes to do a band. Like was it always difficult to get together to practice and/or play shows?
Well, at the time Steve lived in Boston, Fred in Connecticut, Aaron in DC, Greg in LA, and I in Vancouver. So, I think we practiced as a band maybe 8 times total over the time I was in the band. Usually the first show was the practice, but we all stayed tight on the songs while we were apart. Keep in mind we were playing like 3 shows a month at the time so there wasn’t a lot of downtime between trips.
DR: What was your favourite tour you did with TFS? And where are some of your least favourite places to play shows?
The final European tour for sure. It was insane! There was a real feeling in the air for the whole trip. We had friends from all over the place travelling from show to show- they actually coordinated, got a van, and followed the tour! Every show was totally packed and people lost their minds. For me the two best shows were both in Germany- one was in Rosewein and the other was in Nuremburg. The shows were back-to-back and completely off the charts.
As for least favorite- I don’t know, everywhere has something to offer. Someone went to the effort to put on a show for you, so I keep a focus on that.
DR: How did you approach the song writing for TFS? What do you think was the most important message you guys were trying to get over?
I wasn’t involved in the writing- Aaron wrote everything, and he and Steve worked on the lyrics together. The rest of us gave some ideas here and there and those were worked in. Bu from front to back the vision of the songs and lyrics were Aaron and Steve.
I can’t speak to the overall message- that’s something that I would leave to Aaron and Steve. I can’t however speak to its impact on me personally: for me TFS was a reminder of the power of really believing in the power of speaking your mind, and saying something worthwhile. Those lyrics are inspiring- they’re about really striving for the personal liberty and the liberty of all living things. Freedom from suffering, and doing what you can to help others suffer less. I took away things that impacted me on a very personal level, and still do to this day.
Funny timing for this interview, as I type this I’m on a plane to Baltimore where I’ll be hanging out with Steve, Aaron, and Izzy for the next couple of days. Bands end, but friendships remain!
DR: When I last saw you, we were talking about how people change etc, and me, you and “Today’s Man” huddled together and you said “You know who is Straight Edge?……us… we are Straight Edge”. The Straight Edge is extremely important to you but how do you see SXE around you in 2015 as a scene, Is it strong right now in the US/Canada?
It’s very strong! I feel a real renewed energy in Straight Edge and fast Hardcore bands again. There seems to be a whole new crop of kids really into playing that style of Hardcore, and a lot of them are Straight Edge bands.
Of the new breed my favorite is Insist from England. They’re awesome, and I can’t wait to get a chance to see them live.
DR: When did you start React? And was there anyone else involved from the start?
I started REACT! in 2007 and it was just me in the beginning. After the first two releases my friend Jim Berres essentially became the second half of the label, and he often gets overlooked in the story. While REACT! was my label nothing could have happened without his involvement. He was the guy who was packing orders and doing a lot of the grunt work for the first two years. After that Alan, Chris, and Michelle joined the label and Jim took on a Label manager type role. Nothing that was done during that time could have happened without them.
DR: You put out a lot of super records from the start- did you always want to keep a varied mix of bands on the label?
Well the label was started as a whim. I looked Get the Most and wanted to have the demo on vinyl so we did it. After that it just took off and really had a life of its own. The plan was always to be a HC label, but never to use that as an excuse to turn ourselves off to awesome punk/HC music. Like 85% of what we did was very straight forward HC, but we also put out bands like Damages, Skin Like Iron, Fell To Low, and the Tranzmitors. Those records are all awesome and I am really proud that we put them out.
St the end of the day I just put out what I wanted to, and that’s the fun part of a label- loving a band and supporting them.
DR: How many React showcases were there? How come that’s not a continuous thing as the label is still going strong?
Two- the first was the best experience and the second was a shitty experience. For the first one there was a lot of hype on the label, a lot of the bands were growing, and we had 7 Seconds headlining. It was like a dream come true for me! The lead up to the show was great, everyone was really involved, everyone wanted to help, and the whole weekend was really fun.
By the time the second one rolled around things had changed. The whole “fest scene” had gone from overcrowded to oversaturated. Like I think there were at least two other fests going in the US on the same weekend as the showcase so that caused some stress. Also, a lot of the bands that had been growing the year before were now starting to come apart. As that happened the showcase went from being a thing they were excited about to an inconvenience. That really bothered me a lot. Finally, some bands became very picky about where they played and some egos started to get involved about how high up on the bill they should be. So overall the second one was not fun for me.
I know Evan has been considering bringing them back in Baltimore and I’m fully supportive of it!