Three years ago Scott Lettera had no idea that his passion for video games and Japanese culture would collide and throw him center stage. Now things are different. During the week Lettera (22) is a typical TCNJ student with a Computer Science major, but when he isn’t designing apps for android phones, and playing his Playstation 3 he can be found playing drums for the band Ossu which he joined in 2010.
Lattera says he was originally drawn to music through the video game Rock Band. His interests soon became more serious. These days you can find him playing The Backstage at Championship (Champs) Bar and Grill in Trenton. He sports a spiked, studded, and zipper strewn outfit, accented with a red scarf and black fingerless gloves that hint at the band’s Japanese inspired look and sound. In full gear, Lattera leaves behind the world of soft spoken student and takes the stage name “Xero” (Zero).
Four strikes on the hi-hat cymbal and suddenly Ossu delivers a wall of classing sounds. The dull murmur of the waiting crowd is obliterated by screaming vocals, screeching guitars, and Lattera’s own clamoring drums. The lighting wipes about his ability to see the crowd, and Scott is drumming in a trance.
The Backstage at Champs has been supporting local up and coming metal, punk, ska, rock, and alternative bands, like the one Lettera drums for, since 2005 according to co-owner, Heather Ransome. Weekends brings a packed house into The Backstage and, with it, a diverse crowd of young artistic rockers to whom this Trenton based bar is a second home. A small, low ceilinged, graffitied room in the back of a bar becomes an oasis for bands and fans alike.
A sound system is the core of what The Backstage offers for bands who bring their own instruments and equipment to pile on to a small, slightly elevated “stage” on which they remain eye level to the crowd. The door to Backstage barely contains the raucous sounds of rocking musicians. Between sets large groups of young people in skinny jeans and tight T-shirts, linger along the entire block outside Champs, swathed in clouds of cigarette smoke.
A frequent patron of the Backstage Olivia Mahnkopf (19), a first year Liberal Arts Major at Mercer, says, “it’s small and the room is awkwardly shaped but the murals are amazing and the space they set aside for the bands is nice.”
Nice Guy Booking has brought bigger name shows to the Backstage at Champs, according to Ransome. She says that supporting local, up and coming artists is still a prominent goal, however. “Especially the younger bands just starting out…need a venue to play out so they can grow as performers. Giving them this opportunity makes us feel that we are supporting the artist and the music community and keeping Live Original Music going,” says Ransome.
While bands do receive a great deal of support from already loyal fans, Champs provides a welcoming environment for newcomers said first time guest at Backstage.
According to Amanda Koval, a second year Accounting major at Rider University “The small concert experience was definitely one I wasn’t familiar with…but it was nice to be around a different crowd of people than the usual kids I see at school…The environment seemed to be good for people who cherish that kind of music.”
According to Ransome, the Backstage was an unplanned but welcome addition to the sports bar she and her father, Hank Ransome, who is her co-owner purchased in April 2003. Shortly afterward the neighborhood changed and the bar lost much of its sport watching clientele. Ransome said, “In order to survive we had to find a way to reinvent ourselves.”