The Wonder Years: Just Like Heaven
The Wonder Years know what you’re going through. They had to go through that, too. Their brand of self-described “realist pop-punk” has served as a guiding light for many keepers of the faith over the last half-decade or so – and that looks to continue into the band’s fifth LP. BLUNT spoke with vocalist, lyricist and occasional guitarist Dan Campbell about trying new things, turning it up to 11 and the bigger picture of The Wonder Years.
Every cloud has a silver lining. You’ve got to put up with the rain if you want the rainbow. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Your eyes have probably rolled so far back into your head that you look like The Undertaker right about now, but these sayings are clichéd for a reason. In order to get to the good things in life, one has to go through the ringer once or twice. This much is true of The Wonder Years, the Philadelphia natives that were supposed to play in Australia last year on their first headlining tour in four years in support of 2013’s excellent The Greatest Generation. Things, however, didn’t quite go to plan – at least, not at first.
“We were supposed to come to Australia in September,” begins Dan Campbell, AKA Soupy, who is the band’s lead singer and lyricist. “I don’t know what I can or can’t say on the matter, but needless to say we were extremely frustrated about the whole thing. Suddenly, though, we had two weeks free – we made the snap decision to start writing songs, and we ended up writing three songs for the record. One of them was ‘Cardinals’ and I think the frustration and the anger that we were feeling at the time really plays into how aggressive that song is. So if you were disappointed that we didn’t come out for those club shows, you should at least know that we used that time to start making this record – so there’s a bit of Australia, inadvertently, in the first three songs we wrote.”
The band eventually made it back to Australia at the start of 2015 as a part of Soundwave Festival, and have since completed their fifth studio album, No Closer To Heaven. It’s a further continuation of boldly emotional, resonant and defiant music that exists on the outer spectrum of pop-punk, encompassing new ideas and dynamic shifts between the core six members of the band. Perhaps the best example of this comes with new song “Cigarettes And Saints”, the record’s second single, which marks the first Wonder Years song in which Campbell plays guitar and guitarist/vocalist Matt Brasch plays drums. It’s a clever change for the band, and one that Campbell and co. happened upon entirely by chance.
“We were demoing the song, and we had all the amps set up in one room facing the wall,” he explains. “The drums were played in a whole other room, and I was in the hallway between the two recording vocals. When we tracked the song live, the drums were getting picked up by the drum mics but also by my vocal mic. It ended up having this really cool effect, almost doubling the drums. We got the idea of running a second drum track in that part, and it ended up going to Matt. He was hesitant at first, because he had written a guitar part that really beefed up the last part of the song. That was when I suggested that I play it – there’s a really great break in the song that allows for Matt to pass me his guitar while he moves over to the drums when we play it live, so it all worked quite well. We’re not going to be doing a lot of this kind of stuff, but it’s cool how it became this little happy accident.”
“From The Upsides on, it’s almost like a diary that I kept; I can go back and look at it like a time capsule. The weird thing for me is the fact that everyone has my journal.”
The Wonder Years were barely out of their teens when they began, and thus have done a fair share of their own growth and development as both musicians and people in the public eye. While that may feel unnerving to many, the band have come to accept it as part of who they are, where they have come from and where they are headed next. The albums the band release thus become snapshots of who they are at a certain stage in their own lives – for better and for worse.
“It’s almost about the mission statement,” says Campbell. “When we were writing [debut LP, 2007’s] Get Stoked On It!, we just wanted to write some funny lines about nothing and put it to some fun music. That’s who we wanted to be at the time. When we switched it up, it changed our perspective on what we wanted out of playing music. I guess, in turn, that meant seeing the band that made that first record almost as a different band entirely. From The Upsides on, it’s almost like a diary that I kept; I can go back and look at it like a time capsule. I may not agree with this idea, or I might have said something different, but I can still look at it and appreciate that’s who I was. The weird thing for me is the fact that everyone has my journal.”
With the release of nearly all of the band’s LPs, Campbell has included a short personal essay on what the record means to him and where the inspiration for the themes that go along with it come into play. Think of it as the rolling text that leads you into each Star Wars film – it sets the scene for what you’re about to experience and perhaps lends a bit of insight into your protagonist. According to Campbell, a unifying theme – without getting into prog-rock conceptuality – is a must when putting together a full-length release.
“I think that’s what makes a record a record,” he muses. “We like to think that we make records. We don’t just take the 10 songs that we’ve written and stick them together; it has to connect. I totally understand why artists will do the singles thing and move away from the album format. In the climate that we’re in, it’s a smarter business decision to spend the money on one song. We’re too caught up in the art form to ever do that. We love how the songs unite.”
Touring is imminent for No Closer To Heaven – Campbell says the band will return to Australia “as soon as humanly possible”. One tip if you plan on seeing them anytime soon, though: Bring earplugs. And maybe some back-up ones, too, if they blow out. “We’ve honestly had sound guys refuse to mix us because we’re too fucking loud,” Campbell says. “We’ve had guys snap at us and be like, ‘You’re not Sunn 0)))! You’re a pop-punk band! Turn the fuck down!’ We were on tour recently in the Netherlands, we were doing a soundcheck, had all of our levels set and then the sound guy timidly said to us, ‘Can you turn all the guitars down?’ We were like, ‘Won’t we have to re-check everything?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, but I still think you should turn it down’. We called over Tanner from You Blew It!, who we were touring with, and played a song to check our settings one last time. We asked him how it sounded and he gave us the thumbs-up. That’s when we told the sound guy, ‘We’re NOT turning down’ and just walked off the stage.” That, sir, is pretty badarse. “What can I say?” laughs Campbell. “We like playing loud.”
No Closer To Heaven is out now through Hopeless.