IT'S DIFFICULT to figure out exactly where Justin Champlin ends and Nobunny begins, where real life slips into the crowd and the gimmick emerges. Can it even be considered a gimmick at this point?
By most accounts Champlin gave up his human form back in 2001 for the familiar bunny mask that is more B-movie monster than cuddly Easter icon. As one reviewer noted after an especially sweaty performance: "The whole mask thing would be weird enough if it was fresh from the box, all white and precious and new, but there is no telling where that thing has been and what kind of body fluids it has sopped up and what it must smell like."
It's not pretty. But it has afforded Champlin a certain degree of anonymity, not to mention the ability to blend into the crowd before and after performances, which he is known to do. And that mask is about the only thing he wears onstage—save for the pantyhose, and the thong (I'm thinking fuzzy bunny slippers would be a nice complement). It would be easy to dismiss Nobunny as a gimmick if he didn't know his way around a sharp pop hook.
Last year Nobunny released First Blood, his initial release on garage rock institution Goner Records and his first full-length since 2008's Love Visions. Both albums, in addition to a paper trail of 7-inches and CD-Rs, brim with two-minute bubblegum punk jams that are equally snotty and sweet. And, of course, slightly deranged. After all this is a man who once had aspirations of becoming an Elvis impersonator, and who as a child appeared not once, but twice on The Bozo Show, an experience immortalized on the aptly titled strummer "I Was on (The Bozo Show)." Champlin played most of the instruments on First Blood, receiving production support from touring guitarist Jason "Elvis Christ" Testasecca. It's essentially a slightly tidier version of his previous output. "Blow Dumb" is a very (very) good Velvet Underground knockoff, and the (literally) masturbatory "(Do the) Fuck Yourself" sounds like Spector-era Ramones with its good-time handclaps and sparkly piano runs.
Listen to First Blood and you might forget it's the work of a grown man that wears a bunny mask for a living. Just watch what you say—Nobunny will probably be standing right next to you at the show.