State Champs: Putting The Punk In Pop-Punk
Unless you’ve spent the past two years living under a rock, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of State Champs. Right before they drop album #2, guitarist Tyler Szalkowski chats to BLUNT about racking nerves, selling out, and sticking it to the posers.
After a long week of selling your soul to the machine, there’s no ailment quite as healing as some good pop-punk. No genre unites its masses so devotedly, so excitedly and so cheerfully; it’s a celebration of the good times, and a middle finger to the bad. But after a while, there’s a stark realisation to be made in that pop-punk is, for all intents and purposes, embarrassingly stale. The scene is as genuine as a Gucci handbag from Chinatown, saturated with bands that’ve voluntarily flung themselves into a churlish cycle of friends, pizza, relationships, repeat. To catch an eye in the flurry of fakes, bands need to be bold, candid, and willing to take risks, work hard, and not give a fuck about some weirdo journo telling them their genre is stale.
This is where State Champs come in. From a distance, the New York five-piece aren’t all that different from their peers – they make songs about their exes, they’re all about those up-and-downs to that 4/4, and we’re sure they indulge in the sneaky slice every now and then – but there’s something to be relished in State Champs’ attitude towards this whole ‘band’ thing. Over the shoddiest phone line a British hotel can offer, guitarist Tyler Szalkowski explains to BLUNT exactly what makes the pop-punk powerhouse one you should keep an eye on.
“We’re pretty self-aware with the current state of the scene,” he says. “I think there’s a difference between bands like us, who genuinely love the music, and then a band who started doing it because they saw other bands doing it. They just really want to be in a big band, so they’ll try out all the gimmicks like pizza, and friends, and Tumblr edits, and they follow and unfollow you on Twitter every single week to try and get their numbers up. It’s just like… What the hell are you even doing?”
As any attendee of a State Champs concert will attest, the band put on one hell of a show. Lacquered in delirium and sweat-dripping energy, the quintet deliver an experience that is entirely one of a kind. And as Szalkowski continues, that’s exactly what bands need to do.
“You have to offer people something different,” he proclaims. The passion in his voice erupts like a volcano as he unleashes upon us a truth bomb of nuclear proportions – “What makes you stand out from any other band? What’s going to make you special? Because there’s sure as hell enough fucking bands that if you don’t want to be special, if you don’t want to be unique, someone else will take that generic crown from you.”
“When I’m 60-70 years old, I want to be able to look back and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I played in a fucking arena with 5 Seconds Of Summer, and it was fuckin’ sick!’”
We’d usually read a quote like that and roll our eyes a full 360º, but Szalkowski is on the ball. State Champs made themselves stand out, approached the scene with the kind of punk rock attitude you just don’t see anymore, and essentially forced us to pay attention. The band hold no regrets, and it’s because of that that their upcoming sophomore album, Around The World And Back, is so frantically anticipated. As its title suggests, the record encapsulates the past two years of highs and lows the band have experienced following their international breakthrough. Quite literally, State Champs have travelled around the world and back.
“Since we put out the last record, we’ve gotten to do a bunch of really, really cool shit. Shit that we never thought we’d do,” Szalkowski says of the chaos that led to the new album. “Like right now, I’m doing this interview from Manchester, England. I never thought we’d be here more than once, but this is our third UK tour, and we’re headlining this time.”
The band have played in over a dozen countries since the 2013 release of their breakthrough LP, The Finer Things, and with a whirlwind of touring inflicted upon them and thousands of new ears listening eagerly, a little bit of pressure is to be expected.
“It’s as nerve-racking as it is cool,” Szalkowski continues. “You’re going to these new places for the first time and you’re like, ‘Aaaaah, I don’t know what to expect!’ but everywhere that we’ve been has just been so awesome, and all of our fans are so supportive. Just touring in all of these different countries was such a huge highlight. Before we put out The Finer Things, none of us had ever left [America]. Like, we’d been to Canada, but we’d never been anywhere over any oceans, no trans-Atlantic flights or anything, so all of that has been insane!”
As the band’s fanbase grows stronger and stronger, so does that little section of the group that can’t seem to accept the fact their favourite local band is branching out (remember when they announced they were touring with 5 Seconds Of Summer this past June?) Brushing off the age-old “sell out” hisses, Szalkowski explains that State Champs take new opportunities because, well, why wouldn’t they?
“I’m not saying we’re breaking up by any means, at all – like, that’s not even 10 years off – but everything comes to an end eventually, and we want to do as much cool shit as we can before that,” he says. “When I’m 60-70 years old, I want to be able to look back and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I played in a fucking arena with 5 Seconds Of Summer, and it was fuckin’ sick!’”
In what may very well be the perfect response to an annoying comment-rant by an entitled fan, Szalkowski wraps: “We’re not going to be like, ‘Aww damn, three people online think we sold out. Shit.’”
Around The World And Back is out October 16 through Pure Noise/Sony.
Around The World And Back Pre-Order Bundles.