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Lifestyle

Weirdo beardos

The dudes in Child Bite take facial hair south and north

MT photo: Doug Coombe
Chin Music: Child Bite's Norton.
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Published 5/6/2009

A straight haul from New York City to Los Angeles — according to the folks at MapQuest — takes 42 hours, 16 minutes. And that's a long-ass haul. Consider this: The drive from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Crazy Sarah's back yard in Anchorage, Alaska, is 43 hours and change. Now consider this: Child Bite, the wild and wooly Ferndale spazz-rock quintet, will make the latter trek between upcoming tour dates. Why? The answer lies somewhere between "Why not?" and a genuine quest.

First, a little background info. There's nary a press mention of Child Bite that doesn't somehow marvel at the members' collective facial hair. Beards have been a centerpiece of "indie rock" fashion for a few years now, of course, providing a fashion lingua franca of sorts between the white-belt set of the early '00s and the military caps and homemade fashion of the recession era. And, hell, beards have had a starring role in rock 'n' roll from the Beatles' hippie era and Michigander icons like Bob Seger and John Sinclair straight through to Texas beardos ZZ Top (whose Frank Beard is the only member without a beard!).

But the boys in Child Bite have taken it to that sports-centric-colloquialism known as "the next level." Much of the ink spilled on the band is focused on vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist Shawn Knight, he of the Rasputin-wild beard, mane and wild onstage mannerisms. But if you've caught Child Bite over the last year or so, you've probably noticed that the group's collective hair has grown right along with its hard-won critical acclaim, thanks to some serious touring and a brilliant Suburban Sprawl long-player, Fantastic Gusts of Blood.

All of which brings us to the band's present quest-lark and the reason they're making the equivalent of a transcontinental trek to play a couple loosely organized shows in Anchorage — namely, "The World Beard & Moustache Championships." Yes, the band will be Detroit's ambassadors of all things beard-related for three days starting May 21 in Anchorage, when competitors from around the world descend upon Alaska's biggest city to face off.

A little history may be in order, though: Child Bite's beard-centric look came about as a result of an unhappy accident.

"Sean [Clancy, the group's bassist] has grown beards, off and on, for a long time," says Knight when MT caught up with him via phone as the band was driving to Baltimore to record basic tracks for their next album.

"He was first, but I started growing mine two years ago," he recalls, "after I jumped off a balcony, being stupid, and fucked up my foot. I was on crutches and was just kinda miserable. So I was overcome with some kinda weird 'Fuck it, I'm just gonna let it go' attitude. From there, it was like people were laughing, 'How long are you gonna let it go?' Then I started wondering 'Well, how long can I let it go,' he laughs. (For the record, Knight's facial hair is currently about mid-chest).

"People then started seriously asking, 'Have you ever seen this Beard Team USA website?'"

Knight checked out the site — www.beardteamusa.com; motto: "Growing Beards for America!" — and saw that the World Beard & Moustache Championships were looming in Alaska. He then decided that he was going to go if for no other reason than to give purpose to his beard.

"My wife and I were gonna fly out for it, for a fun little trip," he says, "but flights were super expensive! But, you know, I just had to go!" Soon, he was an entry in the upcoming competition.

When Knight first mentioned the competition to MT in December, it was hard to determine how serious he was. But now that the competition is just weeks away, it's clear that Child Bite is in it for the long haul ... even if drummer Danny Sperry says he's terrified of the prospect of the long drive.

Nevertheless, being ever-ambitious and budget-conscious lads, the band has decided to make a tour out of it. They'll be playing shows across the northern part of the United States on their way to Vancouver, British Columbia, before hunkering down for the lengthy haul north.

"It's really miles and miles of nothingness and that's when I start to get terrified of the idea," drummer Sperry says. "Not to sound ignorant or anything — but the idea of driving through nothing but mountains and Indian reservations is a little foreign to me. I loves me some nature, but ..."

Once in Anchorage, Knight will compete in the Full Beard "Freestyle" category where anything goes (this is especially fitting for a dude who's made his beard part of his stage persona by adorning it, tying it up and otherwise fashioning it into a presence unto itself). Clancy, meanwhile, is competing in the Full Beard "Garibaldi" category — which will recognize and reward classic manicured full beards (think Santa Claus!). Zach Norton will try his hand at the Partial Beard "Alaskan Whaler" division, wherein one shaves off the moustache portion and retains only the facial halo. He will naturally wear a nautical wardrobe for the affair. And the travel-phobic Sperry will try his hand in the Moustache "Natural" contest (no hair below the lips; no aids like gel or coat hangers or god knows what else).

Despite the humor behind it, the beard competition is dead serious. If you check out the blog for Beard Team USA, it's chock-full of tales of interstate rivalries, fundraisers and yarns of beard-growing exploits from various members across the land.

"What's awesome," Clancy says, "is that we were originally just going to go out there and have an adventure and be weird ... now we're going to be playing three shows up there."

Knight figures their show tonight at Ferndale's Woodward Avenue Brewers is an extended family and friends kind of send-off.

"We wanted to have something that's kinda central for us, and the WAB is just a regular place where people go to hang out," he says. "We've been talking about doing this for such a long time so we wanna show people how we'll be looking for the thing, talk about it for a minute.

"And the proceeds could help us with the gas. It's gonna be a money pit just driving to Alaska."

They'll be performing songs from their previous records, plus the new stuff they've tightened down through recent recording — kinda like a preview of the new album. It'll be Child Bite's final show in town for at least a month and a half, as they'll continue to tour through June, even after they hit the roof of the world.

Norton has a few ideas he might want to just try out at this final show too.

"I had an idea for a beard rub booth," he laughs. "Kinda like a kissing booth, but geared toward burly dudes. Participants can give a quarter or 50 cents and, in exchange, they get to run their hands through our beards. Or we can rub the hair on 'em.

"I thought it would be funny, too, if Danny could eat a cupcake and people could pick the crumbs out of his moustache," he continues. (Turns out, though, that Sperry's not having any of that!)

The question remains, though: Will they return from the competition and tour as a clean-shaven crew? And if so, do they think people will still recognize them?

For his part, Clancy — the band's OG beard (or OB), says his day job might force his hand.

"I deliver pizzas, so my bosses have been giving me a little leeway 'cause they knew I was doing this," he says. "But they might make me shave when I get back. It's not like I work in the kitchen or anything but ..." He laughs. "They might let me keep it if I wear a beard net or something."

Child Bite's "Gas for Alaska" fundraiser takes place Wednesday, May 6, at Woodward Avenue Brewers, 22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696. With Bars of Gold and are opening for Dan Deacon will be performing Saturday, May 9, at the CAID, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit.

Chris Handyside writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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