The Wonder Years just celebrated their sixth anniversary as a band and in that time have already released three studio records and several EPs and split EPs with other artists. The group released its third record Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing in June to much critical and commercial success and are also one of the biggest featured bands on this summer’s edition of the Van’s Warped Tour. In this interview conducted around the time of the release of the record, lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell offers some background on the group’s origins, how the group functions as a six-piece rather than a band with four or five members and he also talks at length about the new Wonder Years’ record. We get into discussing the concept behind the new album, from where its title originates and why the band recently decided to sign with Hopeless Records. Make sure to check out the band all summer with a fall North American tour to come.
So today is the first date of the Vans Warped Tour which The Wonder Years is a big part of. Have you already played your set?
Dan: Yes we did, it went really well. It was kind of a little bit of knocking the cobwebs off of playing venues like this, but we just got done doing our record release show at not a festival basically. You have to change up your style a little bit to play like a broader audience maybe, like a bigger audience, does that make sense? So we’re just sort of readjusting to that, but I think it went well, I had fun.
So your name is the Wonder Years and you’ve been together for about six years. Does the band name come from where I think it does or is there some other story behind it?
Dan: It probably comes from where you think it does. It was kind of like a totally negligible decision, we were just like we need a band name, how about this, ok done… We didn’t think anyone was ever going to listen to our band, we didn’t really take a whole lot of care when we thought of the name. We just kind of went with something and it stuck.
Check out the song: “Coffee Eyes”
The Wonder Years formed out of the remnants of another Pennsylvania band called The Premier. Tell us specifically how that band ended and how The Wonder Years began.
Dan: The Premier was a band that I thought had a lot of potential and we worked really hard at it and we toured as hard as we could. We bought a shitty, broken van for a thousand dollars and we tried to do tours with it, but it kept breaking down. We just kind of couldn’t get a foothold on anything and so we just decided we’re going to go to college instead and see if that would work out better. The Wonder Years was supposed to be just a joke that we started while we were in college; it was just a fun thing to do on the side when we were bored. Now six years later we’re on the Warped Tour and magazine covers and we’re still not a hundred percent sure how it all happened.
To get some exposure early in your career you released a couple of split EPs with other bands form Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Do you think releasing songs in this way in the beginning helped gain the band a lot of exposure?
Dan: Yeah I mean not even in the early days, but we still do splits now, we have one coming out in November. It’s great because it’s a fun release you get to do, you don’t have to stress over it as much, you don’t have to spend a month in the studio, you just have to do a song or two. You team up with one of your friends and kind of think of a concept together which is always a blast and it exposes your band to their fan base and their band to your fan base. It just kind of makes a cool little collectible thing to do on the side in between full-lengths.
Unlike your average punk, hardcore or rock band, The Wonder Years is a six man group. Do you ever find it hard to keep things flowing well with so many different voices and opinions within the band?
Dan: I mean it’s not as easy for us to fit into one place, I would say that’s the biggest thing, small stages, small vans, small tables, everything. But I don’t see it as being as much of an issue as far as finding a flow musically. We wrote our first record as a six-piece at the beginning and then we were a five-piece and now we’re back to being a six-piece and I think that it flowed better than anything we’d written before. It just kind of worked.
So there’s no infighting or anything like that?
Dan: Well of course there is, but like just a normal band. I don’t think it’s exemplified by an extra member more than any other band would have.
Your third and latest record is called Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. How do you feel about this record compared to your first two?
Dan: We’re obviously, and most bands usually are, the proudest of our newest record. We put a lot into it; a lot of thought, a lot of care, a lot of hard work and we couldn’t have been happier with how it came out, it just really worked the way we wanted it to work. So for us we’re really excited to see the positive reviews and the positive feedback from fans and you know we just did our first week sales in the U.S. and it sold like over eight thousand records which is four or five times what our last record did in its first week so it’s really exciting for us.
What’s the deal with the album title? What’s the story behind it?
Dan: It’s kind of a re-contextualized line from an Allen Ginsberg poem called ‘America.’ The poem begins with the line “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” and when I started fleshing out the concept for this record lyrically, I was reading that poem and I came to realize that it carried some of the similar things. The record works in a way in a bit of dialogue with Ginsberg’s poem, but on a localized level; it’s not about a country, it’s about the suburbs, it’s about the place we grew up.
Now the title of the album is interesting and makes me wonder whether there is some sort of concept behind the record. Can you pinpoint a general theme running through the songs or is this just thirteen songs that make up an album?
Dan: No it’s absolutely a themed record. On a personal note it’s a record about the events through the span of a one year timeline that would lead me to believe whether or not the place that I’m coming back to, that I grew up in is still home to me. So after having spent some time away and now coming back you know, you kind of see it with new eyes and you start to find different things you didn’t before, but you also start to see it in a nostalgic way for the place you grew up. On a more globalized scale I think it’s a record about finding where you belong in the world.
Check out the song “Don’t Let Me Cave In” here.
You worked on this record with Steve Evetts, who has produced literally dozens of records over the last twenty years. How did the band and Steve hook up?
Dan: Well Steve is good friends with a guy named Jesse Cannon. Jesse produced for Man Overboard and he’s a great guy and he’s from New Jersey. And Jesse was just kind of showing Steve some new bands that he thought were good and he showed him our band and Steve said he loved it and would love to produce the next record and to get us in touch. So Jesse emailed me right before we got on a flight to England actually and we just kind of got connected then through Jesse and went and met with Steve and got along very well. We had the same goals and were on the same wavelength for making this record so we were really happy that we were able to work it out with Steve.
Now this is the band’s first release on Hopeless Records who you recently signed with. What attracted you to Hopeless?
Dan: Hopeless is a label that takes a lot of care with their signings. I feel like there are a lot of labels right now that find any band with any sort of hype, no matter what they sound like and just kind of throw fifty of them at a wall and then maybe one of them blows up and that’s great. But I feel like that’s kind of an older mentality as far as the music industry and that we need to be more caring of where we put our assets. Hopeless is a label that takes a long time before making a decision on a band, they do a lot of research. We’ve had a lot of really long phone conversations and a lot of really long meetings where we Google back and forth and we talk about ideas and how we felt about certain things. I liked how they put so much effort into it, you know, if they wanted to sign a band they wanted to make sure it was a band that they were going to love working with, they believed in what that band had to say and they believed in how that band wanted to go about saying it.
I also love that it’s a label that does a lot of charity work which is always amazing and it’s a label that gives us a lot of creative freedom. We’re really in control of how we’re put in the public eye, anything from press releases to photos to videos, anything; Hopeless loops us in on them. Nothing happens without us knowing, unless we’re out of the country or some place where there’s no way we’d be able to be in touch with them.
What is next for The Wonder Years? Where will the band be after the Warped Tour and into early 2012?
Dan: After Warped Tour we are going to England to headline and then we have a big fall tour planned and I can’t announce it yet, but I’m very excited about it. It’s going to be in North America, U.S. and Canada. We’ll probably be on the road from now until mid-December and then we’ll take a little time off because we don’t want to die trying to drive through the ice.