Back in mid-March in Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Wonder Years’ lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell sat down with Mind Equals Blown to discuss their time spent on Soundwave, getting offered to play Main Stage on this year’s Warped Tour and their upcoming record The Greatest Generation.
MEB: Right now you’re currently on tour with Fireworks, Hostage Calm and Misser. How’s the tour going so far?
Soupy: Fantastic. We are at show number six. Four of six have sold out well in advance, while the other two have gotten close. I think Albany was pretty close and Minneapolis, I don’t want to say it was close to selling out because it was a huge, huge room, but it was a really great, really full crowd.
You also just got back from Soundwave in Australia. What were some of the highlights of that?
Personal highlights or professional highlights? Eh, personal highlights it is! One: I held a koala bear! That was cool. We were walking around Lone Pine Animal Sanctuary in Brisbane, where you can pet kangaroos, hold koala bears and see all this shit. B-Real from Cypress Hill was hanging out, I have to assume high because, I mean, he’s in Cypress Hill. That’s their whole thing, right?
Not to unfairly judge the members of Cypress Hill, but I kind of think that’s kind of like the vibe they want to go for, regardless of just looking at like a giant fucking colorful bird, just staring at it. That alone time was kind of cool. I went to see Chris Jericho of the World Wrestling Entertaiment company, who also sings in a metal band called Fozzy. Well…let me back it up. Soundwave is over the course of two weeks, and there’s only five shows, so you’re there a lot of the time when you’re there and you’re not playing festivals, and they do these things called Sidewaves. They basically say, “Hey, every band on the Soundwave festival is in Sydney today, so instead of doing a festival, we’re going to have them all break down into three band bills and have them play small clubs around the city.” One of the Sidewaves was Scott Ian from Anthrax and Chris Jericho doing spoken word, and they literally just sit there and tell stories for an hour each. And I’m a huge, huge wrestling mark, so I went to that. Everyone else went to do other cool stuff and I walked there for 25 minutes by myself through Sydney, and it was fucking killer, man. That was a huge highlight for me, Jericho’s spoken word. I met Jericho, which was also incredible; I got a picture with him, so that was really cool for me. I also got to stay on side stage and watch Blink  play.
Oh yeah, that’s awesome!
And that was phenomenal. I got to meet Mark Hoppus. I was so nervous that I forgot to tell him that I was in a band. I was just like, “Hey, great set, man!” and he said, “Oh, thank you!”. I was like, “it was really cool you got to let me stay on side stage” and he was like “Oh, dude, no problem!” And then I said, “Okay, cool, see ya!” And then I just said, “FUCK! I knew I needed to do something, fuck!” But that was still cool. Us, Polar Bear Club and Sharks took a train to the middle of Perth, which is, to those who are unfamiliar, Perth is the most secluded major city in the world; it’s in Western Australia. And we took a train from there to Cottesloe, which is a beach town suburb of Perth, and we were swimming in the Indian Ocean, and that was cool….[but] my mouth really itches. I must’ve been allergic to something. [Pauses] Ahh, that feels so good. You ever do that? Scratch the roof of your mouth with your tongue?
Oh yeah, haha.
That was cool, but me and the guys from Sharks were walking back and just, by himself, alone in this beach town on this bench with a hat on looking real sad on this beach with an ice cream cone, just sitting there…James Hetfield from Metallica. Just him…by himself…eating ice cream. We were like, “Does he need a friend? Does he want to hang out with us?” But we just kept on walking, because he probably just didn’t want to talk to me.
I don’t know. It’s just, like, by his music, you think he’d be so angry and would want to be alone?
Yeah, I didn’t just want to be like, “Yo, Hetfield! Let me eat ice cream with you!” He’d probably say, “Did you really just yell that? Fuck you! Now everyone’s going to come over here.” So we just kept on walking.
Yeah, that was probably a good idea.
It was a sight to see though. So, those are some highlights. There were a ton of highlights though. It was probably the most fun thing we’ve ever done.
Yeah, for sure. Now, it’s common knowledge that you guys do tour a lot. I think it was at the Pyramid Scheme last year that you said you’d be on the road for 235 days alone in 2013. And I was just going to ask, what are some of the personal necessities that you like to bring when going on tour?
You know what, they get smaller and smaller every tour. Because usually, we’ll just say “Fuck it, it’s already in the bag; I’ll just take that,” but I’m trying to think of what I personally bring. There’s obvious things, like my laptop and phone charger. I have to have a couple pairs of shoes because I can only play in Nikes, or else my legs will get really bad shin splints. I’ve found that they’re the only things that absorb the shock of me stomping around like an asshole for an hour every night. And even then, they’re starting to wear thin; I’m going to have to get a new pair soon. I also used to bring this cool little squirrel toy that I used to keep in my pocket, so when I’d get anxious, I’d just twirl with it in my pocket, but I lost it. And that was a big blow for me on a personal and emotional level. During football season last year I brought my Arian Foster jersey, and then this year my dad bought me a Jerome Brown jersey, who was my favorite football player when I was a kid. He played for the Eagles and then in 1991, they had the most dominant defense in years. It was Jerome Brown and Reggie White, who were just this unstoppable pass-rush combination. Reggie White was the long-standing hero, but when I was a kid I fucking loved Jerome Brown. And then he died in the summer of ’92, he didn’t play that season, and that was heartbreaking for the entire city of Philadelphia. But now I have this cool Jerome Brown jersey that I’m going to wear during football season.
Now, a few weeks ago, you announced that you were be going to play Main Stage on Warped Tour all summer. First off, congrats, that’s really cool.
Thank you! It’s humbling and daunting.
What was your reaction when Kevin offered you Main?
We freaked out, man. Here’s the thing: we wanted Main Stage so bad, but it was likely that we weren’t going to be getting it. We were in Southeast Asia at the time, and it’s hard to get internet there. Well, it’s hard to get internet anywhere on tour, but there it’s been particularly hard because in America, my cell phone has the internet on it. In Asia, my cell phone doesn’t work because I’m in another continent. So, we were in Singapore. We played the show, and then we had a flight from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. to Manila and it was a brutal fucking flight. Right when we were getting on it, just at the last second we were allowed to have internet before our phones had to turn off, Josh [Martin, bassist] got a text from Craig that said, “Guess who just got a Main Stage offer?”…and then the internet was gone.
Oh no, that sucks!
So we were like, “Is it us?!” So it’s either us, or a band we really fucking hate, because that’s the only reason it’s worthwhile. Or it’s one of our best friends and it’s like a congratulations to them kind of thing. So we had to do that whole flight, and then we didn’t get to check anything. We had to go from the flight, to the hotel. There’s only wi-fi in the hotel lobby, but we couldn’t use it because we got in at 6 a.m. We hadn’t slept all night and had to sound check at noon, so we had to rush to our room to try and get two hours of sleep, sound check, [and] have our signing at the mall. We finally get back to the hotel when it’s at 8 o’clock at night and then we get the news. We freaked out. I think there was a pool at that hotel and we were jumping in the pool, cannon-balling, screaming “HOLY SHIT! THIS IS CRAZY!” So that was kind of cool. It was even cooler to have that anticipation with it, despite being torturous.
That’s crazy. Now I know that Warped is extremely busy, so you’re not going to have a ton of free time, but when you do have free time, are there any bands you’re looking forward to seeing?
Yes! I’m really looking forward to watching Defeater as many days as I can. Letlive is another one. Motion City Soundtrack…I want to catch some Reel Big Fish sets. And then obviously the homies, you know? The Story So Far, Man Overboard, The Early November, Handguns, Citizen, Mixtapes. Allison Weiss is doing acoustic sets. I’m not only a huge fan of hers, but I’m her booking agent, so I’m actually going to try and perform with her some days as well in the Acoustic Basement. There’s a big list of friends on the tour. And I mean, Defeater, letlive and Motion City are all friends too, it’s just that we haven’t toured with any of them yet. I’ve seen Handguns play a million times, but it’s going to be cool to get to see Defeater play for the second time ever. And then third, fourth, fifth and however many days they’re on Warped Tour.
Yeah, that’s awesome.
For me as a new agent, it was really cool for me to get two bands on the tour (Mixtapes and Allison Weiss), so it was really great of [Kevin] Lyman to do that for us. He’s a great guy.
Definitely. I actually just helped book him to come do a lecture at my college.
That’s great, man. When I went up there to talk about some Wonder Years stuff, but mostly about the some of the bands that I book, my rental car was giving me trouble. The Warped Tour office is actually above a Mongolian Barbeque place. It’s totally inconspicuous, but when you get in, it’s like this punk rock kingdom. My rental car was giving me a lot of shit and Kevin came out and tried to help me fix it, so that was really cool of him. But he’s a great guy.
Now this is where the questions for the record come in. First off, where did you come up for the title of the record?
The title went through a lot of different variations of that. Originally the last track on the record was going to be the title track, and we were going to call it I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral. One of the ones that I almost stuck with was My Great War, which is actually a lyric by a band called the Minor Times, who were from our hometown. When we got down to it, I kept dancing around a couple of titles and couldn’t make a decision. The Greatest Generation just kind of encapsulated the whole thing. The last two records, I look at those records as battles. They’re battles with depression, they’re battles with anxiety, they’re battles with the world around me and they’re battles of how I fit in to it. This record is the realization that all the war did was bring us here; that all the war did was spit us out at the end, and what matters now is how we learned from that, and how we grew from it. What’s most important is what we do next. And so, when you think about “the greatest generation,” you think about a generation that grew up during The Great Depression, fought in World War II…who was selfless, who was determined, who rebuilt a dying country and who was brave. And I guess the point is that I want to be brave. I spent my whole life, my entire life, content with mediocrity. Afraid of greatness because I was afraid of failure, and I hid behind anything I could. I hid behind the way I was brought up, I hid behind the defects that you’re born with, you know what I mean? Like the hereditary things that you can’t change about yourself. I made excuses for all of those…I can’t do any more than I’m doing because of this. The realization that encompasses it is that everyone throughout the course of time has had those problems. It’s not like we’re saying that we’re the first generation to have those issues. I’d say that the cathartic moment of the record is the realization that through all of these battles that I’ve had in my life – and that a lot of us have in our lives – the point of the war is peacetime. The point of the war is that you can live after where it’s ended. The worth of the war is determined by how you move on from it. And so now that we’re moving on to adulthood, I want to take the lessons I’ve learned, I want to break down the barriers, and I want to be the man I’ve always dreamed of being. So that’s where “the greatest generation” comes in.
Was that too convoluted for you? I’m sorry…
No, that’s fine! That was beautiful.
There’s a lot of loop de loops in that. But a lot of people have said, “Is it going to be a political record?! Is it going to be an anti-religious record? Is it an anti-this?” No, it’s a personal record. It’s a record about personal growth, it’s about personal goals and the man I want to be. If that were to inspire others to hopefully be the people that they always dreamed of being, that’s great news. But, it’s a personal thing, it’s a selfish thing to a degree. As the record was getting written, you realize more and more that these life-defining moments are all leading up to one realization. It’s kind of like a wall that you chip away little by little, and you start to see a little daylight through the holes. As you break down more and more, you can kind of see the whole picture and the kind of person that you want to be, and the person that you want to be remembered for…and I want to be remembered for more than this.
Okay, cool. Now, with Suburbia, you had a very specific structure for how the record was going to be written. The way that tracks were written, for example. You went in with the record 90% written.
Yeah, we had a goal for how the flow of the record would turn out.
That’s it! Did you go into the new record with this kind of mindset?
This was kind of a hybrid of how we went into Upsides and how we went into Suburbia, because we feel we learned from both of those records. We went in with this idea that we’re going to start writing songs. We’re just going to write, and we’re going to write until we’re happy. But at a certain point, in order for the record to feel like a record, you need to start structuring it and thinking about where things belong on that record. Especially for me, lyrically, there are a lot of themes throughout the record…these different visual representations of different emotions and things of that nature I wanted pulled through the entire record, and they all need their own space to breathe. So we needed to start thinking about if there was any music that would crowd some of the images, and if the record would still flow the way we want it to flow. Because, like I said, it’s all leading up to a catharsis. It’s not like you’re hearing the point of the record in every song…you hear the point of the record once you get through every song. The record is really greater than some of its parts as far as a theme goes. So, that’s important. I think it’s also incredibly important for a record to have even flow, to have push and pull sonically. I took some time and I listened to what I think are some of the best flowing records of all-time. It took a lot of note-taking and I did a lot of self-research; all of the other guys did too. We all looked and said, “Okay, what makes this record flow well? Where does it dip dynamically? Where does it burst dynamically? Where does it add and where does it flow speed-wise, tempo-wise? Where do the keys change? Where are the emotional pinnacles? Where are the emotional valleys?” And that’s what makes a great record, I think, to me.
Absolutely. What albums did you look at for what you consider to be great flowing records?
I think Something to Write Home About [by The Get Up Kids] is kind of the archetype for what should be that. I think [Weezer’s] The Blue Album is fantastic for that as well. I think Motion City Soundtrack’s Commit This to Memory has an incredible flow. You know, things to that degree, I think are really great. The Hold Steady’s Boys & Girls in America I think has a really good flow. I think these are all albums, [that] to me feel like an album. They don’t feel like a collection of songs, where someone wrote a really good single, and then needed to throw a bunch of songs around it so they could package it. These are records that make you go, “Holy shit, this is a piece of something.”
What songs on the record do you feel people are going to gravitate toward the most?
It’s hard to tell with any record. We’re never sure. I think “Passing Through a Screen Door” is a really relatable song. I think “There, There” is the best song we’ve ever written. I think “The Devil in My Bloodstream” is my favorite song we’ve ever written. I think there are songs on that record, like “A Raindance in Traffic,” “Dismantling Summer” and “Chaser,” are some of the catchiest songs we’ve ever written. So, it depends on what you’re looking to get from it. This is a harder record to call where people are going to gravitate towards because I think that every song on the record is up to a really high standard of quality. This record is so layered, and no piece could exist in full without the others. Yes, you could listen to a song and enjoy the song, but to really enjoy the song to the very bottom of that song, you’ve got to listen to it in context. That’s why it’s so hard for me to call is because I’m so immersed in it. However, I’ve showed the record to a couple of people, and “There, There,” “Passing Through a Screen Door,” “Chaser” and “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves” are what I would say are the top four songs from people. “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral” has also been a really, really big one. Throughout the whole record there’s scattered tracks, but people might gravitate towards those. You gravitate towards whatever you want. I feel like I’m setting myself up for people to say, “Well, he didn’t mention that one so it must fucking suck!”
This question’s bad, dude. You fucked me on this!
STRIKE THE QUESTION!
[Through pretend tears] I’m just trying to do an interview!
Nah, I’m just fucking with you, dude.
Haha. Now, musically, are there any big changes that you guys have with the new record, as opposed to Suburbia?
You know, the way I look at it, Thomas Nassiff put the same way when he heard the record: “If you measured the distance we took from Upsides to Suburbia, it is that distance again.” So, it’s two steps from The Upsides, one step from Suburbia. We thought a lot about it and we said, in no context, “Hey, man, if you could write any record in the world, which record would you write?”…I would probably want to write a Mountain Goats record, or a Botch record, or a Rilo Kiley record. But after I thought about it, I thought, “Well, I’d want to write about fifteen different records. If there was no history, there’s a ton of records I’d love to write.” But there’s history. We’re The Wonder Years. You come into us to get a Wonder Years record. If you wanted a Rilo Kiley record, you’re going to listen to a Rilo Kiley record. You can pick up More Adventurous if you want; it’s fantastic. Why would I do it? We wanted to make sure that we didn’t jump out of our circle. We still belong where we are, but we grew too. That’s kind of the most important thing. You have to make sure that your fan base is going to love it, but you’re not delivering them the same record again. They’ve heard that record, they’ve loved that record…they want the next record. I was talking to [drummer Mike] Kennedy about that the other day and this joke came up. You go to Taco Bell because you want a taco. If you went to Taco Bell and they said, “Sorry, man, tacos are all gone. Now all we serve is cheeseburgers,” you’d say, “Well I don’t want to be here…I’m here for a taco.” But, then again, when you go in to Taco Bell, sometimes you want that Doritos Locos taco. How stoked are you that they have a brand new taco? It’s still a taco…but it’s now better. You know what I mean? It’s the next evolutionof the taco! So, that’s kind of a funny way to look at it, but also pretty true. If you came in to The Wonder Years and you asked us, “Hey, can I have that new Wonder Years record?” and I handed it to you and you said, “This is a Botch record. I didn’t come here for a Botch record.”
I came for your record.
Yeah, but then at the same time, if you came to us and said, “Hey, can I get that new Wonder Years record?” and I handed you Suburbia, you’d say, “I already have this record…I would like the Wonder Years record that comes in a nacho cheese Dorito shell.”
Haha, cool. That made a lot of sense in a weird way.
I’m probably going to tell that joke in a bunch of interviews, so get ready.
Awesome, I’m excited to hear it again. Now, you have a way of writing lyrics that are both personal, yet still relatable to a lot of people. If someone were to ask you for lyrical help, what would you say to them?
You know what, I was actually talking to Justin, who writes for Property of Zack about this.
Yeah, he’s a really good friend of mine!
Oh yeah, he’s a great guy, man. And I was just telling him about this Kendrick Lamar record. Have you heard that record?
I need to listen to it a lot more.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City?
It’s great. Kendrick Lamar and I are different people, obviously, for a number of reasons. So our lyrical content will be very different. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, he grew up in Compton. His record, thematically, is the journey of a kid who’s battling between his own morality, his peer pressure and what people around him are doing. So, what’s important is that I heard a Kendrick Lamar song and I thought, “That’s the same idea as a new Wonder Years song”. And when you hear that, you’re thinking, “I’m not writing a song about growing up in Compton…I’m not watching a song about my best friend’s little brother die and happen to me, but the root emotion is there.” When you listen to a Wonder Years song, you’re listening to lyrics that are directly not about you…very specifically not about you. They’re so about me that there’s no way that they could physically be about you. People always say that they connected with it, and it’s because of the emotion that that song is rooted in, you have also experienced it. And that’s what is important, is tying things into that root emotion. I’ve seen people try to loosely emulate what we do lyrically and what some of our friends do lyrically. Sometimes I think it really works, and sometimes I think it falls flat. The lyric can’t just be “sittin’ around watching TV with my friends.” The song isn’t about sitting around watching TV with your friends…the song is about an emotion rooted below that, which is bubbling through the surface of these images.
Do you have any final words for the people who are reading?
The Greatest Generation, May 14th. It’s about seven months of passion and hard work from us to bring that record to life. I think it is unequivocally our best work. I love everything that we’ve done in the past, but I think everything pales in comparison. I think we’ve put our best feet forward for this. It’s more emotional, it’s more passionate, it’s more dynamic. It’s everything we’ve done before but better. I’m incredibly proud of it and I can’t wait for it to be in your hands.
Thank you very much for doing this again. This has been a really fun thing to get to do.
Oh yeah, no problem, man.
You can check out The Wonder Years’ upcoming record The Greatest Generation on May 14th via Hopeless Records. The first single, “Passing Through a Screen Door” can be streamed at AbsolutePunk.net.