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
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.