INTERVIEW: The Wonder Years (USA), April 2011

I’ve been a huge Wonder Years fan for years and years and years now. Genre regardless, I see them as one of the realest bands one could hope to encounter in the current musical climate. There’s no bullshit here, no genre politics, just a group that want to be the best band that they can be in their own way. I’ve interviewed Dan Campbell, their lead singer, twice now. Despite being a fan, I felt slightly unprepared for both; and, in turn, they’re not features that I think are my best. Dan does give me some pretty good insight here, though. As I’ve said before, I really start to find my way as an interviewer around 2011. Everything here is purely for archival purposes – and for my own measly entertainment.

– DJY, February 2015

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Last year, The Wonder Years released a remarkable sophomore in The Upsides, subsequently tearing venues across Australia apart with en-masse singalongs and stage-dives aplenty. Having just warmed up crowds for Parkway Drive, we now turn our attention to the band’s brand-new album. Entitled Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, there is no doubt it will keep both old and new fans satisfied with its aggressive streak and endearing choruses. Australian Hysteria got the chance to catch up with the band’s irrepressible lead singer, Dan “Soupy” Campbell, to chat about the album, the shows and that funny-looking bird that’s turning up everywhere…

Australian Hysteria: Hey Soupy, how’s it going?
Dan “Soupy” Campbell: Hey, it’s goin’ good! Got a little bit of a headache, but we’re on tour and we’ve pulled over to do a couple of interviews. We’re in the middle of a seventeen hour drive, so I’d rather be doing this than sitting in the back of the van doing nothing. [Laughs]

Let’s talk about the new record. It’s come out quite quickly – about eighteen months, in fact – since you guys released The Upsides. Was that a conscious decision, to get the material out as soon as possible?
Y’know, it’s not like we were writing along the way and just needed to put out all these songs. It was actually that we had toured non-stop for about a year, and then we said ‘Okay, let’s take two months off and write a record.’ The difference between our first record [2007’s Get Stoked On It!] and The Upsides was a couple of years because we were in school and we weren’t able to take the time that we needed away from that to focus on writing a record. Now that we’re a full-time band and don’t have anything else holding us back, we were able to say when we finished touring and to take that time to write a record. I mean, you can only tour so much before you start boring kids at shows.

How much of this material was written on the road?
I think that there are two songs on the record that had started before we sat down to write the record. Neither of them were finished products, though. They were more like little ideas. So, really, everything on this record was written during that two-month block that we set apart to write the album.

What has the response been like to the new material when you’ve been playing it live?
It’s been great, actually. I’m a music fan, and when I go to a show and I hear a band say “Hey, how about we play a new song?” I just go “Goddammit!” [Laughs] It’s like, I don’t wanna hear a new song. I wanna hear the songs that I know. So, for us, it was like “Let’s not play any of these songs until the kids have heard it.” So we released Local Man Ruins Everything and made sure people had a couple of listens before we started playing it at shows, just so that people could be engaged with it and be a part of the experience. I think a lot of Wonder Years shows are about the group experience. It’s less us performing towards you and more about all of us doing it together – the crowd and the band. For us, it makes more sense to let you in on the song than for us to spring it on you.

Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing – That is an incredible title that you’ve put to this record. Tell us a bit about it.
It’s actually based on the first line of an Allen Ginsberg poem, America. His line goes “America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” So it’s a bit of a re-contextualisation of Ginsberg. The record is, to an effect, rooted in that poem. I feel like it’s consistently in dialogue with America the same way that Ginsberg was in his poetry. It made sense to co-opt that line.

It might seem weird to some long-time fans to see the same band who used to sing about Cap’n Crunch not too long ago write these very heavy melodic punk songs. Was there a notion to make Suburbia… more of an aggressive record?
I’d like to start by saying that while this album was written by the same people that wrote Get Stoked On It!, I don’t feel like it’s the same band. A lot of times in life, you’re a different person as you grow up. Obviously not physiologically, but you know what I’m talking about. I think where we are, in our mental and emotional state right now, it’s completely different from when we wrote Get Stoked On It! I almost consider it a completely different band.

As far as the aggressive edge to the record, I feel that the answer to that is twofold. The first is the production of Steve Evetts. Steve’s goal was to capture the raw live energy from when The Wonder Years play shows and to translate that to record. I think he did an amazing job of it. Secondly, I think it’s a lot about how people perceive it. We’ve had people listen to Local Man Ruins Everything and tell us that it’s so awesome that we’re way more aggressive. We’ve also had people listen to the song and tell us that it’s so awesome that we’re more chilled out. It’s really about what you, as a person, take away from a song.

Geoff Rickley from Thursday wrote this awesome article for Alternative Press where he said that for the several months in-between recording and releasing a record, it is your record. But as soon as the fans have it, it is their record. They’re going to perceive it based on whatever schemata they already have in their brain, they’re going to receive it differently. So, you might think it’s more aggressive, and someone else might think it’s more chilled out – and, in some respects, I agree with both. The goal was to do all of that. We wanted to make a record that was louder and quieter; faster and slower; harder and softer than anything we’ve ever done. Why just stretch in one way? Why not prove to people that we can do all of this and still be a pop-punk band?

He’s on the front of The Upsides reissue, he’s on the cover of Suburbia…, he looks like he’s the seventh member of the band in the new press shots. Who is this bird, and what can you tell us about him?
He’s a pigeon. We’ve named him Hank. He’s a bit of everything. I would describe Hank as a physical manifestation of The Wonder Years. I know that’s a bit of a mouthful, but what I mean by that is a pigeon that, as an animal, lives exclusively where it is not wanted. It’s a tough life, but the pigeon doesn’t give a fuck. I think, for a long time, this band was a band that couldn’t get noticed by anyone in the music industry. A lot of times, that would indicate that it’s time to pack it up and move on to another project, onto a new part of life. The thing about The Wonder Years – and the thing about this current pop-punk movement in general – is that we all said “Fuck that! Fuck you if you don’t want to be on board. We’re going to do this ourselves.” While the pigeon doesn’t have the consciousness to say something that, I feel that’s more or less how the pigeon would respond.

That’s very true about the pop-punk movement. We had some great pop-punk tours in Australia last year – you guys, Fireworks and Valencia, to name a few. Even though not all the shows sold out, all the reports would talk about just how passionate the fans were, and how big the energy was in the shows. How important has The Wonder Years’ live show become?
I think our live show is everything. I think that our live shows show the passion that we have for this music that can’t be shown in our records. You have to be there, you have to watch our faces. You have to see what we do. You have to be a part of it. The great thing about The Wonder Years is that it’s a shared experience. I remember the first show we played in Australia was a sold-out, 300-capacity room. That’s amazing for us. It doesn’t always have to be 3000 people there for it to be a unique experience.

A lot of the time, the greatest shows I’ve ever seen have been in basements or houses or legion halls. It doesn’t have to be a huge sound system with a fucking laser system and a fog machine. Sometimes, your favourite show is watching your favourite singer throw himself off a speaker stack into a crowd. That’s what a lot of pop-punk does right now. As a scene, we kind of banded together and said that we don’t need the rest of the world. If you want to be a part of it, you’re welcome. But if you don’t want to be a part of it, it’s not going to stop us. That’s the same way with Man Overboard, Transit, Fireworks, Such Gold, Title Fight…we’ve come together and we’ve said that we’ll be here, whether you like it or not.

Anything else is contrived and derivative. If you’re spending all of your time as a band trying to get signed to a major label, then you’re not doing it right. There are bands out there that can make entire careers out for themselves without any use of a label, especially now with the advent of the internet. I mean, look at Odd Future [Wolf Gang Kill Them All] right now – they’re killing it. They did it by themselves. If you want it bad enough, you can get it.

 

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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Two: 80 – 61

In case you missed out on part one, you can check out the previous 20 songs here. If not, then let’s get right back into it…

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80. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch

Four albums in and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is still searching. Not just for himself, or some kind of greater truth; but for what can be found and what can be learned in the ways other people. He remains one of the poignant and powerful voices within contemporary indie rock, and this is cemented with the resolute, belligerent opener to April’s Cope. An occasionally-cacophonous affair, Hull remains centred at its core. “I know there’s no way to fix it” isn’t a line delivered with despair – it’s a line delivered with acceptance. The search continues.

79. sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches

The last twelve months have seen sleepmakeswaves translate their cult status among fans of local music into something far greater than any of them could have anticipated: top 40 chart positions, ARIA and Triple J award nominations and a reputation as our single greatest post-rock export. At the centre of this has been “Something Like Avalanches,” which lead us into their exceptional Love of Cartography while also serving as quite possibly their single finest moment. Its whisper-to-shout progressions, seemingly-endless array of left-hooks and bursts of energy tidily summarise why we’re dealing with one of Australia’s most important bands right now.

78. Run the Jewels feat. Zach de la Rocha – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)

A hip-hop behemoth, an effortlessly-cool underground king and one of the true rock revolutionaries of the 90s – what could possibly go wrong? On what was one of the year’s most badass numbers, Mike and Jaime bark with authoritative force over malfunctioning, bass-gurgling beats; dropping references to everything from Al Pacino to The Anarchist Cookbook. This all happens before leading in the former Rage Against the Machine frontman on a verse that is potentially his most vital since The Battle of Los Angeles a whole fifteen years ago. Old dogs, new tricks and a certified banger to show for it.

77. Mere Women – Our Street

The idea of impermanence within the confines of a relationship isn’t something that’s often brought up in songwriting – we’re either at blossoming, tender beginnings or the hateful, bitter end. “Our Street” is a song that looks at that moment where you see the end in sight – the hook of “I’ve walked down this street so many times” is one of both familiarity and frustration through boredom. It’s backed by some of the best guitar sound on any record in 2014; as well as a minimal but noticeable shade of accessibility shining through the band’s art-rock exterior. Misery loves company.

76. The Decemberists – Make You Better

Colin Meloy’s days of drowning children, barrow boys and giant whales are behind him. That’s not to suggest that he’s lost any of his imagination in his hyper-literate songwriting, but more that he’s focused back in on reality. On his band’s first single in four years, he guides his acclaimed wordplay through a romance that seeks co-dependence and relit flames while maintaining an honesty about what it all means. It’s unpretentious in its delivery, and yet it still leaves an impact just as strong as any of their more melodramatic numbers. A great mind of modern music has rebooted.

75. The New Pornographers – Champions of Red Wine

Less than a year after dropping an exceptional solo LP, Neko Case was at it again; this time with the Canadian collective she made her name with all those years ago. Years have passed since the last Pornos offering, and yet it immediately falls back into place; albeit with slightly different surroundings. An earth-orbiting synthesizer leads the fray; which weaves in and out of a washed-out acoustic guitar, a sturdy kick-kick-snare backbeat and some truly beautiful vocal interplay between Case and A.C. Newman over a wordless Irish-folk-flavoured refrain. No time for losers – The New Pornographers are still the champions.

74. Modern Baseball – Two Good Things

Detached, disillusioned, dissatisfied, dissociative… this, people, is how youth of today are feeling. Modern Baseball did a better job than most (if not all) of reflecting this on You’re Gonna Miss It All, providing a song that’s both endlessly quotable (“Mathematically, that can’t be more than one end of a candle/Bottom of the night, can’t find my socks”) and meticulously crafted. As one of the more subdued moments of the album, it recalls The Weakerthans in structure, while also alluding to doo-wop (see the “da-da-da” rounds following the first verse) and late-2000s pop-punk. Here they are now – entertain them.

73. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Divorce and the American South

Last year, Dan Campbell was asking himself “Did I fuck up?” on The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through a Screen Door.” Here, he flat-out confesses “I’m a fuck-up.” Well, sort of: He’s saying it as Aaron West, the titular character of his solo project. West pleads with his estranged wife on an answering machine, revealing more of his inner turmoil than he’d care to do in person. Little else touches Campbell’s solo performance, but they’re justified inclusions – pedal steel adds guiding lights to this sad country song; while a lone trumpet sounds out the finale with a trace of hope.

72. Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater

Without getting into too much detail, it wasn’t a great year for Bill Cosby. His choice of clothing from the 80s, however, was doing just fine. Alluding to a famous photo of Biggie Smalls wearing the titular jumper, the Hoods returned to the limelight with one of their most fun singles yet from a thoroughly-consistent new album (a rarity if said album is your seventh). If the rollicking beat wasn’t enough, the energy and tongue-in-cheek cultural references (Oprah, Pat Benatar, chess legend Bobby Fischer) from MCs Suffa and Pressure ensured that it went over the line. And it’s all good.

71. Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

70. Death From Above 1979 – White is Red

A teenage romance ending in tragedy is as old as the hills – and even they’re sick of hearing “Last Kiss” over and over. It’s an intriguing concept, though, when it comes from a band normally inclined to skip the foreplay – their last album was called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, for shit’s sake. “White is Red” recalls love turned sour on a late-night runaway drive going anywhere. It’s sprinkled with clear influence of heartland-rock storytelling, yet delivered in a manner best paralleled with the band’s “Black History Month.” A colourful song that also revels in its darkness.

69. Future Islands – Doves

Releasing the doves has always been a grandiose gesture going well over the borderline of the flat-out ridiculous. This kind of theatricality is brought to mind by the title alone of this cut from Future Islands’ fourth studio album, so imagine what happens when it actually kicks in with its arena-sized snare flams and John Oates synth-chimes. It’s yet another example of the band potentially coming off as too out-there, too cheesy, too goofy… and then just nailing it entirely. A pop smash best served with that slithery dance move Samuel T. Herring does that recalls SNL‘s “sloppy swish” sketch.

68. Royal Blood – Little Monster

The backlash for rock’s next big thing arrived just as quickly as the cover stories and Dave Grohl soundbites proclaiming them to be saviours of the genre. Wherever you ended up on the spectrum, it was hard to ignore a track like “Little Monster” – if for no other reason that it was a loud motherfuckin’ song. A hybrid of QOTSA at their most stoner-metal meeting Muse at their ballsiest, the track simultaneously kicks up dust and kicks out the jams. “You say you got nothing/So come out and get some,” offers bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr. Don’t mind if we do.

67. Slipknot – Custer

Dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da, dun-dun-da-da-da. It might look like a slap-dash use of onomatopoeia, but it served as a dog whistle to metal fans returning to the world of Iowa’s premier nu-metal survivors. Genre politics aside, the fact that the band is still standing at all after all they have been through is a miracle unto itself. To deliver a song like this, however – an all-guns-blazing sensory assault that makes a song like “People = Shit” sound like Jack Johnson – surely cements them as a band that have paid their dues in full and one that deserves far more credit.

66. Collarbones – Turning

It’s always important to note the creativity in each single from Collarbones: What can initially seem like something that’s going to collapse into itself steadily and surely turns itself into a pop-and-locking wonderland. It’s as if they’ve rearranged puzzle pieces where they were clearly not originally intended to go and created a different picture entirely. In this instance, it’s a choppy, jolting slice of electro-pop that’s as much rnb come-ons as it is Macbook-hunched techno. “You make me feel like someone new,” sings out Marcus Whale – and it’s enough to get you excited for who they may be next.

65. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

We’re past the casual sex and the pained relationships of Jenny Lewis’ days in Rilo Kiley. As she approaches 40, she finds herself considering her own position in relation to her friends, her public perception and the supposed ticking clock following her around. Of course, we all know that Lewis is far more than “just another lady without a baby,” as she puts it; but it’s hearing her come to that conclusion on her own accord that makes this dreamy pop number all the more worthwhile. Now, about that tour with Kristen Stewart and Anne Hathaway as her backing band…

64. Weezer – Back to the Shack

The first words out of Rivers Cuomo’s mouth on Weezer’s first single in four years are “Sorry, guys.” No shit. Who’d have thought the man responsible for Make Believe and Raditude would be rushing to make amends with the die-hards? Perhaps it was their extensive touring of The Blue Album that made him reconsider what makes a great Weezer song, but the mojo is very much swinging in this two-chord rocker. “Maybe I should play the lead guitar,” he considers, “and Pat should play the drums.” They do just that, and we’re rocking out like it’s ’94 all over again.

63. Oslow – Cliffy

Cliff Young – aka Cliffy – was an Australian power-walker who won a marathon with a simple but clearly-effective shuffling method. Whether this was an influence on the third single from Oslow’s exceptional second EP is anyone’s guess, but a) It’s fun to speculate; and b) It’s reflected in the band’s focus on the groove and the spaces that go between each note as opposed to filling every gap. Oslow are clearly winning the race when it comes to the field of forward-thinking indie-rock emerging from Australia, so you’d best catch up – at your own pace, of course.

62. TV on the Radio – Careful You

One of the more understated romantics in alternative music singing in French? That’s how you do it. TV on the Radio have rarely shied away from romance in the past, ranging from the yearning (“Will Do”) to the R-rated (“Wear You Out”). It’s a little more subdued here, with Tunde Adebimpe sending his heart-on-sleeve lyricism into the ether with cooing keys, buzzing bass and some truly old-school drum machine loops. This is how TV on the Radio enters their forties – not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with a kiss. Stop the world and melt with them.

61. La Dispute – For Mayor in Splitsville

Each room in the house that was conceptually centred around the band’s third album – titled, er, Rooms of the House – allowed vocalist Jordan Dreyer to explore memories, lost lives and a seemingly-forgotten past that’s slowly pieced together. At this point, he’s come across a particularly-ruined space, triggering memories of his childhood, as well as both the proverbial and literal tonne of bricks that came crashing down in the demise of his adult life. It’s clear that when he screams “I guess, in the end, we just move furniture around,” he’s not just talking a couch and a chair.

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