All of us, at some point in our lives, feel like the biggest and best in the world. Whether it’s playing hide and seek, watching our club win a cup, dating the cutest person in the world or getting the best grade in the class on a tricky exam.
There is a certain cliché in wanting to be the superstar in something. Maybe because of the examples we have, listening to the radio, watching television, or scrolling through social media: there is always someone better and we take that as an example of what we want to have in our lives.
But we grow up – and it is with this growth that we often mature and realize what we want, what does not interest us and, sometimes, this notion of being the greatest ever against everything and everyone fades, little by little, from our lives.
Small victories start to feel like heroic moments and we slowly begin to value life more.
Our version as champions begins when we mix ourselves with curiosity, and it is with that drive that we are inspired today by an artist from North Carolina in the United States of America.
Stay tuned for Little Champion and his irreverent first studio album, “Curiosity“.
Little Champion is the stage name of Dustin Goldklang, a curious by-nature artist who draws inspiration from multiple spectrums of the music industry for the music he makes. From anti-folk artists like Jeffrey Lewis and Kimya Dawson to the indie-pop of The Microphones and Lake, to pop-punk with Delay or The Ergs and, closing with the more trendy Carly Rae Jepsen, this artistic mix is curious, irreverent and, above all, unique.
On his first album, the premise is intact with what it promises: Dustin does what he wants, at the time he wants, how he wants. Want to play something more pop? Let’s go. More folk today? No problem. Let’s bust eardrums in punk mode? He can do that too. And it’s this irreverent style that caught our attention: because it’s natural, it comes out of him.
To help us listen to the album, we asked the man himself for help. For each song, we’ll read what Dustin has to say about it. Stay tuned!
For “Curiosity“, almost half a word is enough, and it’s in the course of 9 songs that we see all the talent of this Little Champion.
It is with “Curiosity” that we effectively move forward on this journey. In this little folk song, we feel all the power of Dustin and we go through his life since he was a kid. If we close our eyes, we review our whole life and everything we did during the times he recounts. It’s pure, loving and heartfelt. Acoustic at its best.
[Little Champion] I started writing this song while walking on a beach in southern California. It’s about remembering, and trying to reconnect with, the curiosity that most of us find more natural as children. When I listen to it now it reminds me of that walk and makes me want to find pretty shells on the beach.
And it is on the second track that we hear the first guitars deeper. In Lisbon, it’s raining, but in the United States of America, we have a beautiful “snow day“. And it’s with the love of snow that we freeze our hearts and feel the passion of Little Champion. From small to big, the love is real and it’s very beautiful and spread in this song. A mix of folk and indie-rock, in a very beautiful and distinctive rhythm.
[Little Champion] This song is about reminiscing over a past relationship, and feeling lonely when it’s cold out. For me it’s the one song on the album that’s more about the recording than the lyrics. I was very intentional about the arrangement and spent a couple weeks getting it to sound more or less how I wanted.
Do we want the roughest, most industrial version of the artist? Let’s not wait any longer. “I saw yr boat” is just that, a revival of a long-lost style, between indie-rock and punk. It reminds us a bit of Blink-182, with less bullshit, more content and will. The power it conveys in the song is very interesting – and the instrumental part accompanies everything Dustin wants to do.
After great momentum, a beautiful ballad. Always focusing on passion and love, we have “dragon“, the sudden surprise of a caring person who, under her dress, is a dragon. And the whole premise comes off well and follows us in our heads, in a powerful folk tone.
[Little Champion] This song is about getting hurt by someone in an unexpected way.
Halfway through the journey, we come to our song of choice, which we can’t get out of our heads: “oops I got sad” is powerful and unique. We don’t feel sad, it has a fresh and loving rhythm, with a chorus that won’t leave our mouths. Music to be shared everywhere? Absolutely.
[Little Champion] This song is about trying to bring some levity to sad feelings. I love the idea of starting a song title with the word “Oops” (yes, inspired by Brittany Spears), and I think many of us have moments of sadness as a result of feeling bitter about some aspect of a relationship.
As it rains in Lisbon, this is the right, definitely right, music to listen to: “a song about rain“. Turned to true power folk, we smell our daily lives and all our wants and beliefs for another…day. Does it sound monotonous? Maybe, but aren’t our days always a mix of monotony, beliefs and wants? Right in our hearts, Dustin.
[Little Champion] I started writing this song when – surprise – I was out walking in the rain listening to John Prine on headphones, and he started singing about rain. It’s also largely about the insomnia I’d been struggling with at the time.
After the rain and monotony, pure indie-rock punk: “holiday” promises not to leave us with our feet off the ground – and it is in the midst of the artist’s greatest confidences that we recall our childhood idols, like Sum 41 or Limp Bizkit.
[Little Champion] This is the oldest song on the album – I wrote it back in 2018. It’s about wanting to feel something, anything, in the age of smartphones and online dating. There’s a Carly Rae Jepsen song called “Fever” with the line, “Go on and break my heart”, so I took that line and wrote a different song around it.
Towards the end, a more dreamy-pop approach to everything we’ve been hearing throughout the album. “tiny bottles” show the power of guitar and drums when they’re in unison with the voice that makes them up. It could be an audiobook, but it’s such a beautiful song that we listen to it on a loop.
[Little Champion] This song came out of an amalgamation of a brief and fleeting friendship with someone, as well as reading the book “Die with Zero” by Bill Perkins, in which he discusses how memories “pay dividends”. It’s about how relationships and experiences can be worthwhile, even they don’t necessarily “work out” in the end. “I thought we were special, but it was just you” is one of my favorite lines on the album.
If Curiosity is made up of stories, “bouncer” is no exception. We end on a high note, and Dustin’s passionate heart is more open and presented to us than ever. We feel him raw, wanting to do what he wants, when he wants, where he wants. It’s beautiful and unique, and that’s what makes him an irreverent artist.
[Little Champion] I wrote this song after listening to the Less than Jake song “Look What Happened”, which ends with the line, “And we’ll talk about leaving town”. I think of “bouncer” as sort of a sequel to that song, as it starts off, “I talked about leaving town, and I did it”. It’s about all kinds of personal things wrapped into one song: my history of bouncing around from place to place, a difficulty to settle for what might be “good enough” in pursuit of something better and more exciting, a lack of religion, and wanting to grow roots and build community.
We took advantage of the open door and spoke some more with Little Champion. The stage is his:
[WtMM] Who is Little Champion and how did everything get started?
[Little Champion] Little Champion is currently just me, and I recorded these songs in my little home studio. Writing songs and touring was a big part of my life in my early 20s, but before this project I had unintentionally taken a few years off from music. I just got distracted by other life stuff, and barely even picked up a guitar for 4 years. But always in the back of my mind, music was “something I wanted to get back into again”. In 2021, I made the decision to get back into making music in a real way. I started working to finish songs instead of abandoning them after two lines. I learned what I could about recording and mixing (still have a long way to go). And Little Champion was born.
Curiosity is your first album. How would you describe it?
The two main words that come to mind are nostalgic and goofy. There’s a lot of nostalgia on this album, especially in the lyrics but also, for me, in the punk influences. And there’s a good amount of humor (whether or not that comes through is a different question!), which I think is one way I cope with difficult emotions. And finally, there’s curiosity, as this album came out of a question I asked myself: “What if I spent a year diving back into making music in an intentional way?” There is also at least one explicit question on every song on the album.
After listening to the album a few times, I feel that you change your style as often as you feel like it, the way you feel like it. How is the creative process for the creation of a song usually like?
I generally write a song from one or two lines that come to me in random moments, usually while on walks. So I’ll have a couple lines, then I’ll pick up a guitar and flesh out the rest of the song. Once a song is about halfway written, I’ll have an idea of what I want the sonic vibe to be like, and it is (usually subconsciously) related to the content of the song. “i saw yr boat” has very pop-punk lyrics to me, so it’s a pop-punk song. “bouncer” is more personal and intimate, so it’s just a couple guitars behind close-up vocals. “tiny bottles” is the most experimental song lyrically, so it’s also the most experimental song sonically, with weird panned drum fills and synth lines and adlibbed guitar parts and other little sounds. “snow day” is wistfully nostalgic, and I think the recording matches that. And so on.
Your record goes from folk to a soft version of punk in a few seconds. What are your biggest inspirations?
I like the way Jonathan Richman can write a song about anything, and how he has dipped into various styles over the decades, from rock to folk to doo-wop. I like how Frankie Cosmos does whatever she wants in a song, especially when that means doing stuff like slowing down dramatically for a chorus or something – stuff you’re not really supposed to do in pop music but you can get away with when that’s what the song calls for. I like the aesthetic of calypso artists like Lord Kitchener who often wrote songs about serious topics but found ways to make them funny at the same time. It also seems like more pop records these days have songs that are all over the place genre-wise (thinking of Olivia Rodrigo, SZA, and Bleachers for instance), and I love that artists are feeling less confined to stick to one genre.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Probably Jack Antonoff, as cliche as that is. He has such a gift for production choices and making weird things sound good. But there are plenty of other producers I’d like to work with as well, and I think for my next album I want to have other people help record and produce and mix it instead of doing everything myself.
What is the biggest dream you would like to aim for with this project?
What a dream it would be to be able to make a living making music. But for now, I write songs for myself, and I share them to hopefully make people feel and think and smile. I’d like to start playing more shows and I’m going on a little tour soon, and I’ve already started writing my next album.
Any dates to see you live? If yes, where?
Yes! I’m doing a week-long tour in the southeastern United States; you can keep up with the dates at https://littlechampion.com/concerts
What have you been listening to?
I recently discovered the band Momma who I have been enjoying, and I’ve also been listening to old Jonathan Richman records.
What’s the biggest musical surprise you’ve discovered in recent times?
I also recently discovered Penny & the Quarters, which might be my favourite band name ever, and it’s tragic they didn’t record more than a few songs.
In one word, how would you describe your project?
Songsy (yes that is a word I just made up)
I am a champion, you are a champion, we are champions: and it is with this curiosity, we look up to Olympus and see the full potential of Little Champion. The artist does what he wants in his songs, we rave about this ease with the music. A WtMM recommendation.
Listen to the full album: