TMF meets The Wonder Years
Sometimes the simple things in life are the best. When it comes to music, it can be hard to beat something with a bit of zip, a tune and a lot of heart. So when the critics look down their nose at the whole punk pop genre, unable to see past the frat-boy element that can be its public face, they deny themselves a simple pleasure, like a hot bath or a slice of newly baked bread. It's like comfort food: mostly safe, mostly predictable, but still what you reach for on a damp Autumn evening when the dark is drawing in.
Pennsylvania's The Wonder Years typify the new breed: smart, independent and more interested in talking about adult themes than making fart jokes or appearing in videos with scantily clad cheerleaders. All the modern elements of the genre are in place: it's no longer permissable to just re-cycle the same three-chord Green Day riffs (not when GD seem content to use them over and over themselves) and the rhythms owe as much to the lighter end of hardcore as they do to the 1-2-1-2 beats of Tommy Ramone. It's tough, it's fast but there's always enough of a melody to catch yourself mouthing along with the words.
This year's Suburbia: I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing album gives The Wonder Years yet another excuse to stay out on the road, on track to record over 250 shows in 2011 alone; proof, if any were needed, that this is a band on a mission - and one with an audience eager to hear it.
We caught up with vocalist Dan 'Soupy' Campbell before their recent performance at Carlisle's Brickyard.
You're three or four dates into this tour ...
Yeah ... this is actually our sixth time in the UK. Initially they were really low-key: I was booking the tour with our friends, we didn't have work permits, no label - we were just doing it to do it. This is maybe our third higher-profile tour.
You did the Kerrang! tour here, then you've done Warped over the summer and then once you've finished these dates you're pretty much straight into the Pop Punk's Not Dead package back home.
Yeah ... New Found Glory, Set Your Goals, Man Overboard, This Time Next Year and us! That's primarily about friends going out on tour together. It gives people the chance to see bands they like all on one bill. Sometimes it's 'I wanna see the headliner but I don't care about the opening acts', but kids who like this genre of music will like all of these bands. One price: five bands!
What do you know about the UK now that you didn't the first few times you came?
Everything closes at six o'clock except for bars! If you want to do something, do it before then because it's impossible to accomplish afterwards. That's something to remember consistently, but then you forget it until the next time you come back. 'After soundcheck we'll go get ...' [laughs]
Some people might be surprised about how resilient the pop punk genre has been. Do you see yourselves as being part of something has quite a tradition and history now?
The longevity doesn't surprise me. You get the comments about it not being 'punk rock' but it's evolved over time. For me it's about the sensibilities and accessibility of pop music, but with the ethics of punk rock and the underground. I'd be surprised if it ever went away.
Do I feel part of it? Absolutely. This is a really tight-knit scene - and it's not just pop punk bands, it's indie rock bands, it's melodic hardcore bands, progressive-sounding hardcore bands. I'm proud to be part of a scene that I think champions doing things the right way.
The accessible nature of the genre means it's an entry point to music for a lot of people.
Yeah, you hear something like Blink 182 on the radio and you think 'Oh, I like this a lot more than that ...' so where can you find more? So maybe you find New Found Glory and then maybe us!
It's not necessarily something you grow out of either - a lot of people are really excited about the Blink album.
The adolescent lyricism of some bands is something you might leave behind, but I don't feel we're part of that. Fireworks write some of the best lyrics I've heard in a long time. It doesn't have to be simple songs about girls all the time - it can be, if that's what you want to write about, but that's not an excuse to write off an entire genre.
The places you grew up, the friends and scene you had round you - these seem to inform a lot of what you write about.
If you are going to write, you need to have a base from which to write from and these people are going to continue to inspire you. Sometimes it's subliminally, sometimes it's uh ... liminally. Is that a word? If there's subliminal, there has to be liminal, right? And superliminal! You ever watch that episode of The Simpsons where the navy is trying to get everyone to join and they have a boy band and they're like 'We have three ways of marketing these guys: subliminal, liminal and super-liminal.' And Lisa says 'I know what the first two are, but what's super-liminal?' and it cuts to a scene: 'HEY, JOIN THE NAVY!'
My first proper attempt at writing was actually a Wonder Years fanzine. I hadn't thought much about it in a long time until today, and I was thinking about how that show was set in a particular time and place that would be nostalgic for a certain demographic. But I liked it, and that maybe meant I was already nostalgic for events in my life that had only occured a few years previously.
I find myself being nostalgic for things from 2005! And then I find myself nostalic for things I was never a part of. You see photos of 1950s Americana and it just looks fucking cool, man! Cool-ass motorcycles and cars and people look so stoked. It's interesting how people get interested in things that they had no connection with. We have friends in a band called Defeater that's all about post-WWII America - that's the basis of their record. It's all about a family during that period and they built what they do around that concept.
What were the big crazes when you were at school?
Do you remember Tamagochis? Those egg-like things you kept on a key-chain and it was a virtual pet. When I was in middle school I remember tech vests - they were like fleece vests and they were the worst looking things in the world. First of all everyone was 'Yeah, tech vests! This is cool!' but then ... (laughs) Oh, jawbreakers? Not the band - although that would've been cool - but the giant ball of candy.
They would last all day.
I don't know where that came from but everyone had a big fucking jawbreaker.
If you could bump into your 14 year-old self, what would you say to them?
I think if you were to give advice it would be because you were unhappy with the outcome and that would change everything, but I'm really happy with where I am just now. I'd say there's some stuff to get stoked for ... but then I'm thinking if you said 'Don't worry when it gets shitty,' I wouldn't have things to write about down the way! So I'd probably avoid them ...
Cross the road ...
Yeah, that's some Back To The Future shit and then I'm not born or I would die!
Do you get kids of that age writing to you with their problems?
Maybe a little bit older. We get a lot of letters. I had to shut down my Facebook. Twitter. Every avenue they can find. And while I appreciate the effort and dedication and how our lyrics touch their lives, you have to kind of emotionally shut it out. If you were to let all those issues and problems in you would just collapse. I can't be responsible for shouldering that weight. A lot of the time they should be talking to professionals - which I am not!
Do you feel like you've had to sacrifice other things to get to where you are?
There's always sacrifice: you don't have a lot of money, it's hard to keep up with the bills and student loan payments. I have a degree, but I wouldn't be able to go and get a job because I have no experience. We graduated college and went right on tour.
You sacrifice relationships and friendships sometimes. Even anonymity - when we go out when we're at home, my girlfriend rolls her eyes because I have to sign things or get a picture, which is fine, it's 30 seconds of my time but you do lose the right to just go out. And you have to keep an eye on what you do, because someone, somewhere will notice. It's like living under a microscope.
When you'd had a bad day and you just went home and closed the bedroom door, who made it alright again?
Most often, I'd say The Get Up Kids were my go-to. Something To Write Home About was an incredible record. Yeah, The Get Up Kids.
The Wonder Years' album Suburbia: I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing is available now via Hopeless Records.