By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For the last half of the 1990s, singer-guitarist Chris Briggs, guitarist Jimmy Smith, bassist Jon Turner, and drummer Colin Carter played together in a band called Check. As Check, they released a six-song tape in 1997 (38 Miles to Sucktown) and a 12-song album, All-Time Low, a year later. Check wasn't completely unknown; the band made friends with Slobberbone's Brent Best (who appeared on All-Time Low, along with Centro-matic's Will Johnson and Legendary Crystal Chandelier's Peter Schmidt) and Little Grizzly's George Neal, like-minded musicians who helped them out however they could.
But Check was one of those bands that never outlived its baby pictures. They were better at the end than they were at the beginning, though no one was willing to give them a chance to prove it. Late last year, the band finally gave up trying, and Check ceased to exist. But the band Briggs, Smith, Turner, and Carter play in is still very much alive. Maybe more alive than it ever was. And all it took was trading one old word (Check) for two new ones: Union Camp.
"It was the same lineup and everything, but we had a whole new batch of material," Briggs says. "We've been playing together almost five years now. A lot of people don't want to come to see us anymore, because they saw us a long time ago and didn't quite like us." He laughs. "But we've gotten better over the years. It was kind of time for a fresh start. We were hanging out drinking at my house and decided we were going to change the name."
It was a good decision, but that's not why Union Camp is better than Check was. The songs on the group's recently released album, Fever and Pain (recorded last summer), are much better, mainly because the grip on the dirty Southern rock sound the band's always been striving for is much tighter. Songs like "War Whistle" and "Raised By Wolves" stink of cheap liquor and sawdust-covered floors, barroom workouts that recall the Georgia Satellites (in a good way) and their neighbors Slobberbone (in a better way). And Union Camp had the best kind of advertising for the name, as well as the new disc, appearing on the Band-Kits compilation that Quality Park Records issued in March.
"I've already had good feedback off of that," Briggs says when asked about the disc put together by his friend George Neal, whose band also features Carter on drums. "It was perfect timing for us. We've already gotten a lot of response from that album." Maybe Union Camp's own disc will get as much attention. If not, they can always change their name again. It worked the last time.