Interview: The Wonder Years

In what seems forever ago, Faye caught up with Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell, frontman of The Wonder Years, while they were over in the UK before the almighty Slam Dunk Festival. The pair had a chat about his love/hate relationship with our isle, the release of The Upsides and how it leaked one month early on Christmas Eve – the same day he nearly killed an old lady, which, I assure you, was completely unintentional and unrelated.

Faye: How are you today? You told me you were tired before.
Soupy: I am tired, but I’m happy. It hasn’t even been that rainy. You see, I’m have this cool polarising relationship with UK, because there are some parts about it that I fucking love, like when I get to see my friends we haven’t seen forever, and I get to go to Le Pub and see everybody from Newport and all the Save Your Breath guys, and last night, we got to hang out with everybody in Basement, and those dudes are such sweethearts. Then there’s also all these frustrating elements of touring over here, like when you have sound guys for rooms that cap out at like 75, like why are you mic-ing my amp? It’s already too loud! Then they don’t have space for merch, they have a huge sound booth and no where to put t-shirts, I lose my mind. We’re obviously not a very big band, there’s probably not going to be anyone here tonight, so we couldn’t afford to bring our merch guy over, so we try to run around and do it. It’s kind of frustrating sometimes, but at the same time, I kind of think about how I get to hang out with so many cool people. It’s like the conditions are frustrating because we’re not used to them – not our van, there’s not our kind of food, I’ve been getting real sick because all I’ve been eating is chips and cheese, and the venues aren’t set up the way we’re used to and things like that, but, at the same time, we get to hang out with so many great people.

Faye: You were last over in July, can you give me a rundown of what’s been happening since then?
Soupy: Shit, ok, as soon as we got home, we recorded the record, it’s called The Upsides and it came out in January, then after recording it we went on tour with A Loss For Words and Energy. Then we did a couple of weeks with Fireworks and then the record came out, and we did a big record release tour, and then we did a tour with Therefore I Am and Man Overboard, then a tour with Set Your Goals and Comeback Kid. Oh, and one with We Are the Union and Such Gold. Now we’re here, then we go home and record four more songs for the deluxe edition of The Upsides for Hopeless Records who we just signed to, it’s going to come out in the Fall. We have a Streetlight Manifesto tour and then we do a New Found Glory and Lemuria tour, and then we’re doing an Australian tour, and that brings me through September when The Upsides re-release comes out with one totally new full band song, one totally new acoustic song, then we re-worked Logan Circle and an acoustic version of Washington Square Park. So, it’s going to be a busy year.

Faye: How did signing to Hopeless Records came together?
Soupy: How it recently came together is that they sent an email saying they liked our record and that we should talk, but I had spoken to them before. We were talking to Eulogy and I like John Wylie, who runs Eulogy, and a lot of people don’t like him, a lot of my friends don’t like him, but he’s always been nice to me, he’s a nice guy and supportive our band. Then we kept saying we should sign to Eulogy because No Sleep Records – which is a great label and I love Chris very much – it just doesn’t have a lot of resources, it’s just one guy working out of his mom’s apartment, and Eulogy has all these resources, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a defining factor for our band that we’re on a hardcore label when we’re not a hardcore band, because that puts us in the hardcore when we’re not that. So, we had that discussion a lot and I was talking to the guys from a band called Years Spent Cold about it, and they were like, “Well, it sounds like you don’t want to sign to Eulogy, so don’t. If you want to sign to Hopeless then hold out until you get Hopeless.” And it’s funny that a year-and-a-half later, it actually ended up being Hopeless. When we were talking to Eulogy, we sent out a bunch of emails to a bunch of labels, saying we’re talking to Eulogy but seeing if anyone else is interested before drawing up a deal memo. Hopeless did get back to us, I guess they felt like we weren’t ready yet, but when the record came out, they emailed me right away. Well, not right when the record came out, when he started to hear the new songs. We sent them the record and we flew out to California for a show, and we met, and had a couple of phone meetings, so it worked out.

Faye: You call yourself “realist pop-punk”, what does that mean?
Soupy: It’s the idea of realism in art, like they’re realist authors and realist painters, as opposed to the surreal. There’s no metaphors in our songs, I feel. There’s no allegory, there’s no real poetic devices, it’s just legitimately my life written down. I’m just singing to your conversations that I’ve had and events that have occurred, word-for-word. A good example is in All My Friends Are In Bar Bands, I was standing in the market in Philadelphia with my friend Jack, we just got a coffee and muffins, and I said, “I fucking hate the winter, dude.” and he was like, “I love the winter here.” And Jack’s a real sad kid, but in a funny, ironic way. Somehow his constant state of depression always makes me life and he laughs at it too, I don’t know why, it only works out for Jack, but he said, “I love it here, man. It’s the only time when everyone is as miserable as I am.” and I wrote that down, it’s a line in the song, it’s realism. That’s why we call it realist pop-punk.

Faye: Calling yourself that, was that to get away from the ‘pop-core’ genre you get lobbed in?
Soupy: Ah, that was our fault. I can’t fight it, we did a tour ourselves and when we started the band, we just started writing ridiculous songs about ridiculous songs, and we were like “How funny would it be if we put in this crushing, stupid breakdown in a song about Kool-Aid?” We didn’t care, we didn’t think the band was going to go anywhere, but, for some reason, kids got into it. There are bands that do it really well, I think Four Year Strong is great example of a band that can blend the two genres pretty seamlessly – we never could, we sucked at it. To be honest, most of us don’t even listen to hardcore – at least not anymore. There’s a few hardcore bands that I’ll always have a serious level of respect for, but at this point, I mostly listen to The Mountain Goats and The Hold Steady. So, we talked about it after the first record, we knew kids liked the breakdowns, but we don’t do it well and we don’t like doing it, so let’s stop, so we kind of just got rid of it.

Faye: I noticed you don’t really play many songs from the first record live anymore.
Soupy: Yeah, when we have a normal-length set, we do about two songs, but if we have a super long set, like if they want us to play for an hour, we’ll do three, maybe even four, and that’s probably a common thing, we don’t have any copies to sell anymore. We’re trying to sell the new record, and I think they’re the superior songs, anyway.

Faye: You’re straight edge, aren’t you? How’d you get into it?
Soupy: I’ve been straight edge since I was 13 and I’m 24. Well, technically, I guess I’ve never not been straight edge, but I’ve claimed since I was 13. I had really young parents, and they never told me not to drink or anything like that, but I started going to hardcore shows when I was 13 and I related to it immediately, and I subscribed to that lifestyle and I’ve never looked back.

Faye: Is there peer pressure when you’re on the road, living the lifestyle you do?
Soupy: I was just reading an interview with our friend Matt from Set Your Goals today and it was like, “What’s going to be happened backstage at Slam Dunk?” and he was like, “A bunch of dudes sitting on laptops.” There was a part last night at the house where Basement lives at, but I just hung out, talked to Adrian from City of Gold Records for a long time and a bunch of other friends. We’re not like doing cocaine off a bunch of dead hookers. A couple of dudes in my band drink a couple of beers, but that’s about it. We’re not like a party band.

Faye: The Upsides seemed to take a more serious approach, how did that come about?
Soupy: I feel like we’ve been going down that route since we did Won’t Be Pathetic Forever. The beginning of that road was that we did a couple of tours on Get Stoked On It!, and it became increasingly difficult to get on stage and sing songs about nothing, with any sort of conviction. It’s hard to play your heart out when the lyrics are about ninjas, it’s hard to relate to it. There was a period where I was like, “This band isn’t going anywhere, let’s break up.” But I really wanted to put out a 7”, just so I could say we put out a 7” and when we started writing it, I decided to write the lyrics in a different direction, just writing more about how and what I was thinking and feeling. I don’t know, it worked, it felt more natural and we stuck with it.

Faye: And it seems that a lot of people prefer it.
Soupy: That does seem to be the consensus. There’s a couple of kids that are like, “This band isn’t fun anymore.” and that’s ok, I’m sorry. I still think we’re a lot of fun to watch and at least one member of our band is airborne at least 70% of the set. We still put everything we have into it and I’d rather sing about something that has some sort of substance.

Faye: Yeah, and it’s not too serious, the lyrics are still quite witty.
Soupy: Yeah! I did this independent study with my friend Stan, this really awesome poet, and he was talking about his friend that had said, “The only way to convey human emotion is through humour in art.” To a certain extent, he’s extremely correct and Stan helped me, I was writing all these different poems on the same day and one poem was really kind of funny, and one of them was really kind of serious and sad, and he was like, “But they’re about the same thing, why are they two poems?” and I was like, “Because one of them is funny and one of them is sad.” and he was like, “But they both happened to you at the same time.” Then it kind of clicked, the human condition isn’t one of singularity, we’re constantly feeling a bunch of different things at once and why keep that out of the lyrics? Why not let that shine through? And I’m sure anyone can relate, I think Melrose Diner is a good example, in the verse it’s like, ‘Yeah, fuck that girl! I hate your this and I hate your that…’ and the chorus comes in, “I guess I’m just down, I guess I’ll be honest, I could use you around.” For a minute, there’s this kind of moment where you’re like, ‘Wait, I thought he was mad at her?’ Then you realise – my dad and I had a conversation about this – I’m sure you know what it’s like, when you break up with someone and you’re like, ‘Fuck that person!’, but then you go to bed and there’s a big empty space, and you miss them, but fuck them! There’s always a kind of duality, and more than that, there’s always plurality in human emotion, you’re always feeling a couple different layers of things. I’m just trying to let out all the layers out at once, instead of trying to skim them off for the sake of categorising songs.

Faye: Have you been surprised by the positive reaction that The Upsides has received?
Soupy: Yeah, I hoped that it was going to do what it needed to do, and people were going to like it – we worked non-stop. My ex-girlfriend and I lived in a little home in South Philadelphia and the whole band moved in for over a month, and slept on the floor in July, and it gets a lot hotter there than it does here. Every day we’d go to the basement that was smaller than the room we’re in now, and write songs for like 8-hours a day. Then we’d go upstairs, watch TV, the guys would maybe have a couple of beers, get an acoustic guitar out and work on other ideas, then the next day, we’d take those ideas to the basement. The reaction of the record has been overwhelmingly positive, I would say we’ve received about 100 reviews for it, at this point, maybe less, but I think I can probably count the bad ones on just over one hand, maybe like six bad reviews, which is just so awesome to say. It was nerve-wracking to put it out, because I knew we did our best, and if you do your best and what comes back is, ‘This kind of sucks.’ Then maybe it’s time to hang up your hat, but it seems like it hit a lot of people really hard and we get a lot of letters, emails and IMs – sometimes people get my phone number somehow [laughs], I get phone calls and text messages. People leave letters on the wind shield of our van, telling us how the record affected them and how it helped them with their life, and that’s the surprising part, because when I wrote the lyrics, they’re about my life, I wasn’t giving advice, but, consequentially, I was. In the sense I was writing about my own problems, but, apparently, everybody has those problems, so it’s kind of cool, I’m not alone, so that’s a really nice feeling.

Faye: Yeah, I can relate to a lot of the songs, like My Last Semester, I’ve just finished my final year at uni and it totally hits my current sitatution nail on head.
Soupy: Oh man, I was just talking to Alex, the bass player from Basement, because he just finished uni yesterday and he was just like, “Dude, fuck…” and I was like, “I know, man! I know!” [laughs] Everyone is on the same wave length and a lot of the time you feel like you’re the only person feeling that shit, so it’s nice to know that you’re not alone and I’m glad my lyrics help people realise that. It makes me feel really good.

Faye: Didn’t The Upsides leak like a month before it’s official release, how did you feel about that?
Soupy: Yeah, just over here! What the fuck is Spotify?! They put it online a fucking month early. You know when it leaked? It leaked on fucking goddamn Christmas Eve! You know how crushing that was? [laughs] The song Hey Thanks and a lot of other songs give illusions to a girl I was dating and living with, I was with her for two years, I totally loved this girl, and a couple of weeks before the record leaked, she and I broke up, so I was in and out of low and high periods. You know when you just end a relationship, you have these extreme highs and extreme lows, polarising feelings. Then I got a job at this retirement home, because we were home for over a month and I needed to occupy my mind, because if I sat at home all day, I’d lose it. I went into work at like 7am on Christmas Eve, and I was feeling really weird, because I did the thing where I was like, “Last Christmas Eve, I was at that place and I was with her.” and I was feeling shit about everything. Then I was making omelettes for these old people and this old woman just has a straight up seizure, and is like dying and I didn’t know what the fuck to do. There was a nurse there going “Someone do something!” and I’m like, “You’re a fucking nurse! You do something!” Then I run over and hit the panic button, and I call 911, and the 991 guy was like, “Where are you?” and I tell him, “Normandy Farm Estates”, and he’s like, “What township is that in?” and I’m like, “I don’t know, Blue Bell?” and he’s like, “That’s not a township, that’s a town.” and he’s yelling at me, then I’m getting really upset and trying to get the answers to save this woman’s life, and she goes out on a stretcher, eventually. I’m like, “I killed this lady by not knowing which township this was…” because the ambulance couldn’t come here fast enough. She ended up being fine, but I just kept thinking that someone’s grandmother just died on Christmas Eve, because I didn’t know the address of this place. So, that and thinking about where I was last Christmas Eve – actually, one of the new songs is about that day – then I’m leaving to go out to dinner with my family, and I realised that our record leaked, I just broke, I lost it, I was so mad and upset. So, yeah, it leaked over a month in advance, but it doesn’t appear to have effected a whole lot and in retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal. I feel like this sort of sounds hypocritical and maybe you might ask this later, but when people ask about the “I’m not sad anymore” lyric, I think it really fits into this answer that I’ve been given you, is that I feel like that lyric isn’t as much of a victory speech as it is a battle cry. It’s not celebrating the fact that I’m not sad anymore, I’m still sad all the damn time, we’re human beings and we have all sorts of emotions, the idea is that I don’t continually stay sad, I won’t lay down and die anymore. That day is a perfect example, I let myself be upset, because when bad things happen you let yourself get upset about something, but then you breathe and you realise it’s going to be ok, and you move past it, and that’s kind of the idea behind that lyric.

Faye: A lot of people still seemed to order the record as a result of hearing how good it was.
Soupy: Yeah, that’s what was cool, I really appreciated that. A lot of the time people are like, ‘Yeah, it’s great, but I already have it, so why would I spend £10?’ It was nice that every one bought it, thank you to whoever bought it.

Faye: Do you find there’s more hype around The Wonder Years following the release of The Upsides?
Soupy: I don’t know how to define hype, I can tell you that outside of Philadelphia in October, we played to 80 people and last week we played to 600, those were both headline shows, so it’s grown a lot and if you want to call that hype, then you can call that hype. The whole thing with these dates with All or Nothing, they’re just kind of for fun, and some time to spend with our friends before we do Slam Dunk, because if I lived in England, I’d just go to Slam Dunk, I don’t know why the fuck I’d come to see me anywhere else. [laughs] We’re on the shows with Four Year Strong and Fireworks too, one of the bigger shows, so I’m happy that anyone comes to these shows, because, for me, it was just an excuse to see my friends and hang out and have a good time, play some songs and catch up.

Faye: You’ve got a teaching degree, do you think it’s important for people in bands to have something to fall back on?
Soupy: It’s not important for people in bands, but if you want a degree, get a degree. If you don’t want a degree, you don’t have to get a degree. I’m not in the business to tell people what to do with their lives, I know that I don’t want to be playing music forever. I’m not going to be like 45 and trying to posi jump with arthritis. If you can do it, then that’s really impressive, but I just don’t think I have it in me. Teaching is always something that’s been important for me and I’m glad I got a chance to do it. There’s a lot of bands that talk to us outside shows and ask how I got a degree and kept the band going, it’s because we fucking wanted to, so we did. You can do anything you want. People say it’s impossible to go to school and be in a touring band – no, it’s not. The drummer from Man Overboard still goes to school full-time and they tour all the damn time, you can literally do anything you want, you just have to do it bad enough, so we wanted to do it bad enough. Everybody in the band finished college except for Nick, who is our new drummer – actually, he’s kind of our new keyboard player, our old drummer, Mike Kennedy, is still in the band and Nick’s playing keyboards and guitars. Nick, he’s good at screen prints and runs a really good recording studio, but the rest of us, Kennedy has a degree in Anthropology, Josh and Casey both have Music Business degrees, Matt has a film degree and I have a degree in Secondary Education in English.

Faye: Like you said before, you’re doing a tour with Streetlight Manifesto, that seems like a bit of a weird pairing.
Soupy: That tour is going to be rad. I’ve always said that I’d tour with anyone as long as they’re not dickheads, I’ll play with any kind of musician, I’ll play with any kind of band. We’ve done some tours that we’ve not necessarily fit on, like we’ve just done a tour with Crime in Stereo, we don’t sound like them and it was great. Literally, as long as we’re playing to kids, I’ll do any tour and as long as I know the people we’re on tour with aren’t scum bags.

Faye: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
Soupy: I can tell you who I’ve been listening to, and that’s primarily The Mountain Goats, particularly, the record The Sunset Tree. I’ve been listening to the new Hold Steady record, which is called Heaven Is Whenever. I listen to a lot of Frank Turner, I love the line, “I’m going to live fast and I’m going to die old, I’m going to end my days in a house with high windows” from the first track of Poetry of the Deed.

Faye: Lyrically, I can kind of see similarities between you and Frank Turner, you’ve both kind of got that blunt, humorous edge.
Soupy: I wish I could write like Frank Turner and I wish I could write like John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats and I wish I could write like Craig Finn from The Hold Steady, they’re just three amazing lyricists. Oh, and the Basement EP, the new 7” they’ve just put out, it’s fucking banging. I’m sure I’ve been listening to other things, but off the top of my head, those are the ones that kind of stick through. A Loss For Words just put out a Motown cover record, it’s awesome, really check that out, and Living With Lions is going to have a record out, I haven’t heard it, but I know it’ll be good. They’re the best band in pop-punk by a million yards, they’re just so much better than everything it just blows my mind, every time I listen to them, I’m shocked by how good it is.

Faye: Is there anything else you want to say?
Soupy: Thank you, and I’m glad to be back here to spend time with my friends and all the cool kids we meet in the UK. I’m a really lucky guy.

- Faye Turnbull.

Many thanks to Soupy for the interview, and for more information on The Wonder Years, visit: www.myspace.com/thewonderyearspa

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