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Missing link

A creature both lovable and creepy, the garage-rocker known as Nobunny rocks out in weird ways

By Peter Holslin


Missing link

The Locust have bug costumes. Bob Log III sings through a customized motorcycle helmet. The Residents wear tuxedos, top hats and giant eyeball heads.

But none of these shticks compare to that of Justin Champlin, the weirdo behind Nobunny, who performs in a furry bunny mask and tells interviewers that he is looking for the blood of female virgins, “top dollar paid.”

Nobunny, he insists, is a creature with a mind of its own, born nearly nine years ago in the desert an hour outside Tucson, Ariz.

“Before I was born, days were dark and nights were long. Poison was in the blood infecting the system. Leaving cysts on the mind and destroying the soul. Time had run out and a choice was going to be made, for better, or worse, or both,” he tells me in an e-mail interview that’s by turns mystical and perverse. “I am called Nobunny ’cause I am Nobunny. Nobody. Nothing. A tiger can’t change its teeth.”

Nobunny is perhaps the missing link between bubblegum pop and G.G. Allin-style shock rock. Despite his creepy vibes, his 2008 album Love Visions is nothing if not cute. Recorded at home and clocking in at only 22 minutes, its 12 garage-rock gems capture The Ramones’ raw energy and Chuck Berry’s flair with layers of distorted guitar, junky keyboards and Champlin’s delightfully high-pitched vocals.

The opening track sets the mood with Nobunny’s adorable mantra: “Nobunny Loves You.” But an unsettling perversion shows through in sadomasochistic love songs like “I Am a Girlfriend,” with happy hand-claps, silly processed drums and lyrics that reference The Silence of the Lambs: “But don’t speak, girl / Not a peep, girl / Oh don’t you look so sweet, girl / It puts the lotion on its skin / Or else it gets the hose again.”

Known to strip down to bikini briefs as he barks into the microphone, Nobunny puts on live shows that are fast, sloppy and crazy. “Americas Funniest Home Videos is my favorite television show of all time. I’m a big fan of Amateur Hour,” Champlin explains. “Professionals certainly get my respect too, but it ain’t really my style.”

Champlin gained his edge from a potent combination of influences: The Cramps, Appalachian rocker Hasil Adkins, Mad magazine and John Waters films, not to mention the “smell of female” and the “taste of teens,” as he puts it. He took up music and considered being an Elvis impersonator while holed up in the Arizona desert in an effort to get off drugs. He donned the bunny mask in 2001, playing his first show in Chicago on the day Joey Ramone died.

In the years since, he has gained a devoted following. “I really don’t know how all this happened,” he says. “I get actual physical fan mail. Ink on paper. Love in letter form. I am very lucky. I could die tomorrow and I’m OK with that.”

These days, he lives in Oakland, tours regularly and plays drums for garage rockers The Okmoniks. But aside from that, a lot of mystery lies behind his well-worn mask. He tends to disappear after shows. Champlin’s booking agent doesn’t know his age. He speaks of his life in vague terms, often going on introspective tangents.

“I went to a bodega last week in east Oakland and had the best samosa I’ve ever had,” he says, randomly, when I ask how he came up with the bunny mask idea. “I’m thankful for the whole wide world. It is an incredible time to be alive. To be able to watch Devolution happen at such a swift pace is fascinating. I don’t subscribe to the 2012 theory, but I can’t really imagine the world lasting that much longer. You can go for the gold or stay in and reach for the remote. We have all been here before. Everything will work out. I’m sure of it.”

The way Champlin sees it, his adopted persona is not a marketing tool so much as a way of life. “Like anyone, some days are better than others. The moon helps a lot so long as I schedule rendezvous accordingly,” he says. “I’d like to send a warm witch’s embrace to Venus, Earth, and, of course, the moon.”

As for the mask, why is his so special?

“We all wear masks. Some are just easier to spot,” he says. “What makes a man put on a tie?”

Nobunny plays with Black Lips and Slab City on Sunday, Jan. 24, at The Casbah. http://www.myspace.com/nobunnylovesyou.

This article was published in this week’s issue of San Diego CityBeat.

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