Challenger Interview

The faithfully busy Al Burian of Challenger (and Milemarker) was kind enough to give us his time on these questions (some odd ones) – and quickly at that. Again, Challenger is our artist of the month for January 2004, which makes this all the pertaint. Although, Al didn’t offer up an answer to our bonus question. However, several people have been sending us answers to the question, so one of these days our dreams will come true.

At heart how does Challenger differ from Milemarker?

In terms of ideals and ethic it’s the same. I think the main difference is in the musical approach. Milemarker came out of the hardcore scene, and was intent on breaking boundaries and knocking over the musical convention that we saw at that time (this was when Maximumrocknroll started refusing to review records that didn’t sound "punk enough" and things like that- we saw that sort of rigidity as antithetical to our idea of what punk was). Now that the music scene we’re in has sort of "caught up-" using a keyboard or a sampler is almost as required now as it used to be reviled- we decided to try something else. The idea of challenger is to make straightforward, aggressive punk rock, but try to find ways to communicate our
political, personal, and aesthetic agenda within that. It’s like being a painter and focusing on abstract art for a while, and then deciding to try doing some landscape painting for a change. You accept a set of rules so that you can see how far you can push yourself within them.

How long do you expect Challenger to exist as a side project?
(Not saying that it would take over Milemarker or anything)

I don’t see Challenger as a side project. I see it as a new band that I’m in. And there is no grand scheme at work, we work on a much smaller scale than that. I was happy to get the Challenger record done, now I’m
excited to go on tour with the band. When that’s accomplished, we’ll think about what to do next. I’ve found that bands with big long-term world-domination schemes tend to implode in six months, whereas bands like Milemarker or Challenger who don’t plan past the next tour tend to go on and on for years. So we’re sticking with the formula that has worked for us.

Who is your favorite Democratic presidential candidate at the
moment? Is there someone you would rather see rocking the campaign
trail?

I’m not a big proponent of the Democratic Party. I do hope that Bush loses in 2004, but on the other hand, I have no illusions that a Democrat in the White House is going to turn things around in some drastic way in this country. That’s going to require a lot of grass-roots action, and the general public’s non-reaction to Bush’s blatant vote-fraud in the 2000 election doesn’t point to that being on the horizon. US foreign policy
now seems to function similarly to the Israeli model- they put the right-wing guy in, he annexes some territory, then they put the leftish guy in, and he apologizes for the last guy, but they still keep the territory. Whether Bush wins in 2004 or not, we’re still going to be stuck with the repercussions of the invasion of Iraq for decades. And that invasion, as far as I can tell, was being planned already during the Clinton administration. So, I don’t know– vote against Bush, yes, but I think more radical politics at a more grass-roots level is what’s needed in the long run.

On a similar note, what do you think of punkvoter.com? Do you
think they can have impact on the 2004 election?

Well, again, the fact that Bush wasn’t actually elected didn’t seem to have much of an impact in 2000, so it’s hard to say that anything can have much of an effect on the actual outcome, since you can apparently now just get a relative to rig the ballots for you. I do think that every little thing helps, I think it’s just awesome that Fat Mike (I believe he’s the organizer of punkvoter.com?) is using his influence to re-inject some sense of political involvement and social thought into punk, especially the more warped-tour end of it which seems to really lack that. Of course, every little bit helps. Hopefully it won’t end up being a one-issue movement,
though, where people get excited until the election and then drop off again. I think the bigger impact would be to get kids politicized in a more permanent and long-term way.

Is there any way you would have Ben Davis coming in with
Challenger on any level?

I would always be honored to collaborate with Mr. Davis. Hopefully we will again soon. It’s more likely that he will show up on a future Milemarker recording than with Challenger, though.

What are your touring plans? How does it conflict with Milemarker?

We plan to tour the US in March-April and Europe in May-June. It doesn’t conflict with Milemarker plans, really, since at the moment there are none. I imagine that Challenger is probably more likely to be on tour in the foreseeable future, while Milemarker is more likely to take advantage of its non-mobile status to start making recordings which can’t be reproduced live.

What advantages do you have in Chicago starting a band up that
you didn’t have in Chapel Hill?

Well, Chicago just has a lot going on. There are tons of musicians, tons of people involved in music industry. Among the bands, there is a lot of camaraderie, and a surprising lack of ego– people help each other out,
and it’s relatively easy to find people to play music with. There are people here playing in five or six bands at once! I appreciate that greater sense of fluidity- people have offered to play with us when we needed it, and
I’ve filled in for friends’ bands and gone on tour with them- it’s really nice to have that sense of working towards the common goal of making music for the sake of making music. Dave and I started Challenger with the expressed idea of keeping the line-up amorphous. Like early Black Flag, we liked the idea that it took the emphasis off the individuals. You never knew who the singer was going to be, so it became more of a community project than someone’s claim to fame.

If they made an H2 (the small Hummer) as an hybrid with good gas
mileage would you drive it?

That’s a weird question. I doubt it would be in my price range. One of the worst things about being in a band is driving all over the place in gas-guzzling vans. Milemarker drove from Chicago to DC to play an anti-war protest, and when we thought of how much gas we had used to play at the "no blood for oil" rally we felt pretty idiotic. So I support fuel-economy in all its forms, if that’s what you’re getting at.

Who do you see as a hot new band that most people have yet to hear?

In terms of new bands I have to admit that I usually like my friends’ bands. So: Russian is a great new band from Chicago, Kerbloki is from Carrboro, NC and rules, and overseas I like the German bands Robocop Kraus, Amtrak and Endmonster.

At the end of the day, where would you like to see Challenger end
up?

I would like to see people re-engage with music as a visceral force, I’d like to see more alternative and underground spaces opening up, I’d like to see "alternative culture" meaning something again, expressing some values and ideas that are actually alternative to the mainstream. I’d like to see people give it up and go crazy a little more often. Music is a cathartic thing for me, I don’t have time to fuck around and fake it, I try to throw down in the bands I’m in. I think the cultural climate now is very passive. There is not a lot of hope or belief that we can make things happen, that we can be the agents of change. I guess I hope that the energy we’re putting out might in turn energize people. My hope is that we could be part of something bigger, that things might become exciting.

copyright exoduster.com 2004

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