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State Champs: The Finer-er Things

State Champs
Photo by Sandra Markovic.

Think the new State Champs record is just a retread of their first? Think again. BLUNT sits down with guitarist Tyler Szalkowski to vibe on what makes Around The World And Back an entirely new beast for “pop-punk’s next big thing” to tackle.

Okay, so you’ve heard the spiel a thousand times now – State Champs are the next big thing. They’re going to take over the world. They put the punk in pop-punk… The hype train has definitely hit peak velocity, so there’s understandably some scepticism over whether or not the quintet actually live up to any of it. Released just last week, their second album – Around The World And Back – puts those worries to rest with a straight ‘n simple “yes”. The record has received almost unanimous praise (including our 5-star review), one of the biggest calling points being that it’s not ‘just another pop-punk album’. As guitarist Tyler Szalkowski fills us in, that was well and truly intentional.

“It was definitely a conscious decision [to evolve our sound],” he begins. “There are some synth parts on this record, and that’s some shit that we wouldn’t have done two years ago because we would have been a little scared. We really like records with cool production and stuff like that, so this time around we were like, ‘Let’s push some limits on this record!’ We didn’t want to make another Finer Things – we wanted to make The Finer Things On Steroids.

“The way we look at it is that you’ve got to keep pushing boundaries. Keep the core of the record the same, but take a few parts and move them in a little different of a direction, y’know what I mean?”

Of course, few would have complained if the boys came out with another Finer Things. That record itself was an anomaly, and having caught the attention of bands like 5 Seconds Of Summer and All Time Low, a breakthrough in every sense of the term. Revisiting the record, Szalkowski admits that there was an adequate chunk of nervousness that went into piecing together the disc, which in turn helped them approach the studio differently the second time around.

“It was our first record and I was really freaked out, but I realised that, like, we’re going to make other records,” he states, explaining that it only took a few days for the band to warm up to their newfound studio habitat. “We don’t need to put pressure on ourselves. You get into all of this music stuff to have fun and to write songs that you like, there’s no reason to get freaked out over a record. We went into this record with a little more of an open mindset. None of us were like, ‘This is all or nothing! If we mess this up…’ No. If no one likes this record, then we’ll just go and make another one. But I know that’s not going to be the case, because I think we made a record that a lot of people will like.”

Experimenting with new and different sounds is a big step for any band. It would be unreasonable to expect State Champs to take the plunge with The Finer Things, but with Around The World And Back, it would have been easy – I mean, they knew what they were doing this time around, right?

“We thought we knew what we were doing,” Szalkowski laughs. “We were like, ‘Yeah, we got this, we’ve made a record before’ but then we stepped into the studio, and we were working with someone new, so we had to find that ‘vibe’ with our co-producer and engineer Kyle [Black], and figure out how to work with him. I think with making records, it’s less about the mechanical and recording stuff, and more about finding the right fit of people to work with.”

Before the new record even hit shelves, State Champs were finding success from it. Lead single “Secrets” was their biggest track debut yet, and as it should surprise a grand total of zero people, it was sought after as the perfect tune to crown the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 soundtrack.

“I think I’ve played every single one of those games up to Project 8,” Szalkowski enthuses. “Those soundtracks were a very big part of my youth, so it’s always been a dream to be on one of them. And y’know, the first Pro Skater is how it all started for Goldfinger and bands like that.”

There’s a new THPS game on shelves, Nickelodeon are reviving all of their classic cartoons, pop-punk is once again the coolest genre on the block, and hell, they’re even bringing back Yowies. It goes without saying that nostalgia is a massive part of our millennial culture, and with so much of the ‘90s coming back into the mainstream, the question must be asked – are we in the midst of a ‘Nineties: Part II’?

“One can only hope!” Szalkowski says, unsurprisingly hopeful. “Flannels are pretty popular nowadays too, and you definitely have your fair share of grunge/emo revival bands. I would love a ‘Nineties: Part II’! Growing up in the ‘90s and the early ‘00s was awesome. I mean, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up now, but it seems like it would be a lot worse [laughs].”

As it was recently announced, State Champs will be returning to our shores this coming January for a string of co-headlining shows with fellow pop-punk powerhouse Neck Deep. When asked what he’s keen to get up to in-between busting out some sick riffs, Szalkowski chuckles, “Honestly, I think at this point it’s just all about eating the food. We’ve already seen all of the sights, man – I’m trying to get back to Lord of the Fries!”

Around The World And Back is out now through Pure Noise/Sony.
Grab a physical copy: JB Hi-Fi | Webstore

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Neck Deep / State Champs Tour Dates

Wed Jan 6th – YMCA HQ, Perth (AA)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Wed Jan 6th – Rosemount Hotel, Perth (18+)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Thu Jan 7th – The Triffid, Brisbane (AA)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Fri Jan 8th – The Triffid, Brisbane (18+)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Sat Jan 9th – The Metro, Sydney (AA)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Sun Jan 10th – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (18+)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Tue Jan 12th –  The Basement, Canberra (18+)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Wed Jan 13th –  Fowlers Live, Adelaide (AA)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Thu Jan 14th – Arrows, Melbourne (AA)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Fri Jan 15th –  The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Tix: livenation.com.au
Sun Jan 17th – Unify Festival, South Gippsland (18+)
Tix: unifygathering.com
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