By Caley Cook

For San Diego's Channing Cope, the fewer the better

Sprinting along the sidewalk that lines the edges of Balboa Park, Ali Deniz Ozkan looks less like the frontman of a rock band and more like a frontman for Manchester United. Decked out in a matching top-to-bottom uniform, Ozkan is working his magic for a Saturday morning game of pickup soccer in the park, and mangling a few opponents on the way.

Before long, one of his quick shots slips into the side of the opposition's net and with little fanfare, the lanky 28-year-old jogs back to his side of the field and prepares for more.

Not much excites Ozkan. He's not serious, but he takes everything seriously. Music is one of those things.

"I've played in bands since I was 14. There was a period where I didn't play in a band for almost two years and it was the most miserable time in my life," says Ozkan. "I can live without the girlfriend. I can live without the job. I can live without a lot of things. But without a band, I'm not me."

The latest object of Ozkan's musical affection is Channing Cope. Formed last year from the ashes of a couple of local projects, there is nothing run-of-the-mill about the band or its members. Starting as a three-piece, they were always seeking their fourth. Luckily, they never found it.

"It's just exciting because for most of us-well, most of the three of us-working as a trio gives us more space and it's easier to collaborate as far as interpersonal issues," says bassist Chris Connor. "Three is enough. Just the amount of sound that we produce among the three of us is enough."

All three work day jobs to self-finance their releases. But under their glossy, local-band exterior is an unsettling singularity. Ozkan didn't even know English until he moved to the States four years ago. Now, he converses fluently in English and Spanish. Connor moved thousands of miles across the country to San Diego from New York City only a few years ago to "find something new." Guitarist Kenny Schulte is a black belt in San Soo-an ancient Chinese art of hand-to-hand combat that incorporates punching, kicking, biting, jabbing and any other technique useful in self-defense.

Put these three stooges together and Channing Cope is a three-man Behind the Music episode waiting to happen.

When the band recorded and released its debut EP, Leaving the Ramp, with Rafter Roberts (Bunky), they hadn't even played a live show together. Fast-forward a year and they've already completed their first West Coast tour. This is the Doogie Howser of local rock groups.

Musically, Channing Cope is well versed in the less-is-more aesthetic of new-gazers like Mogwai, Shellac and Tristeza. The songs from Leaving the Ramp saunter from the breezy and lighthearted side of Schulte's guitar to the haunting bass lines that Ozkan is so good at meandering through. Their newest effort, an unnamed smattering due out as soon as mastering is completed, is a more mature book of hooks. "Jung Hao" creeps from bass to cymbals and back, with Ozkan yelping in the forefront.

"We tried adding a guitarist or putting in extra tracks to add extra noise to our tracks when we record. It's just that more sound doesn't add anything," says Ozkan. "You can add a million tracks but it takes the sound away."

As he finishes his thought, he looks around at Connor and Schulte, who sit silently in agreement.

"Sometimes it's the little emptiness that makes it more."

Channing Cope performs on Dec. 20 at the Casbah. www.channingcope.com