The Wonder Years to hit UK shores in 2011.

Pending an official announcement later on today, The Wonder Years are set to be the final recent addition to the Kerrang Relentless Energy Tour 2011. The tour, which commences in February of next year, will stop at eleven cities across the UK.

Frontman Dan Campbell expressed his excitement at the band’s upcoming appearance, “We’ve been to the United Kingdom four times in the last three years on a DIY agenda, so it’s a real honour to be making our fifth appearance on British shores as part of the Kerrang! Tour. It’s going to be intense!”.

The band will play alongside Good Charlotte, Four Year Strong and Framing Hanley, who are already confirmed to play on the line-up. Tickets are onsale now.

The Wonder Years Interview – July 18th 2009.

Tonight in Edinburgh, a little less than fifty people witnessed something very special. After the show, sat in a van belong to Save Your Breath, The Wonder Year’s front man, Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell spares some time to talk. He’s immediately talkative and likeable, which he even tries to apologise for, “I ramble in my spare time. It’s like, a fucking hobby”. He holds nothing back. Trying hard to stay on a positive note, he’ll speak, stop to think about what he’s said, look up and ask, “Do I come off as jaded in this interview?”, laughing and quipping, “I don’t want to come off as an asshole!”. The band have nowhere to sleep tonight and this show was far from his favourite of the tour, but he smiles and jokes and laughs. He doesn’t take any of this for granted.

Sitting in Save Your Breath’s van, your attention is immediately drawn to some of the objects casually strewn about. A broken computer monitor. A desk fan. A red cape. “There is a story behind this“, Campbell explains. Save Your Breath were friends with a dorm manager in Leeds, where they played a few nights ago. As it was the end of term, the students were warned that anything left behind would be taken and destroyed. When the band descended on the dorm, they began a room raid. “We would burst in SWAT-team style,” Soupy grins proudly, “We stole a bunch of worthless shit”. He indicates to the straw hat in his hand, which spent much of the show being passed out amongst everyone, “I got this cool hat”. He confirms that the red cape belongs to Weebo of Save Your Breath. If that’s not a cool tour story, I don’t know what is.

Tonight’s crowd was somewhat disappointing. Some shows will always be better than others, but what is the driving force behind The Wonder Years? “The fulfilment I get from this band is that I get to see the world at twenty-three,” Campbell explains, “That’s something my parents never did. They had me when they were my age so, when I was growing up, I always thought that people were supposed to have kids aged twenty. Then I realised that I could go and live a life first”.

Campbell realised that he wanted to be in a band by attending an Inkling show. “They played this packed, sweaty little hall,” he smiles, “Everyone was just moshing and losing their shit”. Campbell explains that he felt comfortable there, then came the moment that sealed the deal, “There’s this line that goes, ‘I am my own mountain’. The lead singer dropped the mic and everyone in the room screamed it,” he laughs, “And I knew that I wanted to do that”.

“I like to perform,” he pauses, looking for a new angle, “I finished college. I was a teacher for little kids… but I stopped, and now we do this. I figured that I can go back and be a teacher in five years. But I can’t play shows in Edinburgh whenever I want”. He explains that his band mates are in the same position, “We all did college together. [Mike] Kennedy has his last semester left because of his particular major. The rest of us all finished college”. The Wonder Years is the primary focus in each of their lives, “I don’t see anyone in this band deciding to just up and leave it. This is all we have, really”.

Given that The Wonder Years are based in South Philadelphia, how does it feel to come halfway across the world and have people singing their songs back at them? “See, here’s the thing,” Campbell explains, “We’ve played Detroit, what, six times? I know those kids know the words and that’s cool, it’s not weird anymore. But we’re going to Russia next week and if people sing along in Russia, I can’t deal with that. Fuck”.

Is it better to have ten kids in the audience singing their hearts out, or a roomful of people standing around motionlessly? “It’s a hard call to make. I want to be that DIY punk rock fucking dude who’s like, ‘I’d rather play to two kids that give a shit instead of fifty that don’t care’. But, legitimately, the van doesn’t run on my DIY ethics, and hopes and dreams”.

In a sense, the band are living their dream. They get to travel the world and play music. But they work for less than minimum wage. Campbell shrugs, “It is a living. But, I mean, I’m not fucking buying shit. I’m homeless. I don’t have a car, I ride a bike. On tour here, we live on three pounds a day — so I eat on three pounds. We live in a van, we live on tour, because there’s nowhere else to go”. He often comes home to find that relationships with loved ones have diminished, “A lot of our friends left us,” he shrugs apologetically, “We have some friends at home, we don’t have as many as we did when we started this band. Some families are supportive, some aren’t – some are supportive in different ways”. He reasons, “A lot of them would prefer that we would get real jobs, I guess. But we don’t ask them for money anymore”.

Even before The Wonder Years, Campbell was obsessed with the idea of looking on the brighter side of things, “I made a stencil that read ‘Everything is going to be okay’ once. I would take it and spray-paint it on, like, dumpsters. I thought it might be uplifting for someone, if they walked past it after a shitty day at work or whatever”.

The Wonder Years are recognised a lot for their ‘head above water’ message. When asking Campbell how this came about, he can’t honestly say. ‘At the beginning, almost all of the songs were jokes,’ he admits, ‘I mean, you can’t really connect to songs about sea turtles. Then we wrote ‘Won’t Be Pathetic Forever’ and people would come up to me after a show and tell me that my music has helped them out a lot’. He looks genuinely humbled as he speaks, “That makes me feel like I’m contributing to something. That I’m not as useless as I maybe once thought”. He continues, “What’s really alien, I guess, is that people have lyrics that I wrote tattooed on them. You can’t wash that shit off! I appreciate those people who go the extra mile and take really stock in what I say and apply it to their owns lives”.

So, just what is it that connects listeners of The Wonder Years – or even listeners of music in general? “I’ve started to realise maybe that it’s kind of a nature vs. nurture question. Maybe there are people that listen to music that isn’t top-forty radio because we share and a lot the same experiences and emotions. We have the same brain chemistry or something”. He stresses that the mentality of The Wonder Years is to see the brighter side of things, and not to dwell on depression, “The whole point that we’re trying to get across is that, sometimes, I fucking hate my life too. But we live in a really privileged country. We’re not starving. We don’t have to worry about people pillaging and raping in our towns and murdering everyone. You have to think about that when you’re upset because girlfriend breaks up with you. Shit could always be worse”.

He sees himself differently to everyone else, although not to the extent where he feels out of place in society. “It’s not like, I shop in Hot Topic and paint my nails black. My life isn’t that black,” he shrugs, “But there’s a reason that I would rather go and see Fireworks play, stick my middle finger in the air and scream, ‘Fuck your world, I’ll take mine’, than go to a dance club and listen to Britney Spears”.

With a seemingly indestructible attitude, just what would it take to end the band? “The band will end when people stop caring,” Campbell answers instantly, “I don’t want to be one of those bands on their sixth record, when sales have dropped to basically nothing”. He looks realistically, “We’re going to do this until it runs out and then [when it runs out] I’ll go and get a fucking real job. I don’t have to end up on MTV. If the bottom drops out tomorrow, then it’s over. But at least I’ll have had the experiences that I’ve had”.

Today, a band can be signed without playing a show. Isn’t this a kick in the teeth to all the bands that pour blood, sweat and van miles into what they do? Take Panic! at the Disco, for instance. “I remember being real pissed when that band got signed. They hadn’t played a single show, and their first show was with Fall Out Boy and Motion City Soundtrack and The Starting Line,” Campbell laughs. “Motherfucker”. He remembers the first time he heard ‘Nine in the Afternoon’ on the radio, “It sounds like a goddamn Beach Boy song. If you have that kind of talent, you deserve to be on a record label”. He admits that the harsh reality of the industry is all about who you know. “I think a lot of it comes from connections and, really, we just don’t know shit. We have our friends, but we don’t know the head of Warner Brothers. We’re just hanging out. Maybe eventually we’ll get picked up by a bigger label, maybe we won’t. Either way, it’s cool”.

We discuss how the internet affects The Wonder Years, and even music in general. Campbell is quick to stress how much he appreciates the internet for what it is, although part of him wishes that he could just dismiss it. “The internet has made it easier to be a band and has simultaneously  destroyed a lot of what is cool about music,” he sighs a little, “It means that any fucking idiot can start a band. They don’t even have to play a show. You can just take some cool promo shots, put up some songs and get one of those friend-adding robots”. He admits, “I can’t complain, it makes my life easier. Imagine how hard it was to book a tour before the internet? You’d have to fucking cold call venues and hope for the best. The internet makes everything accessible”.

On the subject of MySpace, let it be known that The Wonder Years have never added a single MySpace friend. Every friend they have found out about the band and added them all by themselves. Not a friend-bot in sight. “We don’t add people. I don’t want to bother people like that. I fucking hate it when bands send you a message telling you to listen to them,” he grimaces a little, “If I wanted to fucking check your band out, I would”.

Similarly, he stresses that record labels do actually pay attention to MySpace action. “We were in contact with one particular record label and they were super interested in us. Then, one day, they sent me an email which basically said ‘It looks like you guys have done a lot, you just don’t have a whole lot of MySpace friends’. What does that mean? Fuck that”.

As soon as The Wonder Years land back in the US, they hit the ground running. Working with Vince Ratti (Zolof and the Rock’n’Roll Destroyer), who produced the band’s last two seven-inches, the band are ready to begin pre-production. The album is well underway, with fourteen new songs already written. While giving little away, Campbell reveals, “There’s actually a new Wonder Years song that was written about the last time we were in the UK”.

Campbell talks about how the writing process for the upcoming album has been exhausting, “We wrote the record up until the day that we left for this tour. We’ve got three weeks in the studio when we come home, then we’re straight back out on the road with Set Your Goals”. He explains that the entire band had been living on the floor of a house that Campbell shares with his girlfriend. They would wake up in the morning, write songs in the basement all day and spend the night answering emails and routing tours, “We made sure we were always on top of things, then we would wake up and do it again“.

The Wonder Years work hard. All the time. “If you want to do it, you always have to be doing it. It’s not a part-time thing,” Campbell says simply. “I’ve always been doing stuff for The Wonder Years. This semester I was going to school and I was teaching little kids. I would wake up seven in the morning, when my brain was fresh, and I would write melodies. I would go to school and answer emails and messages. On weekends, we would go and play shows. We would come back tired as shit on Monday mornings. It doesn’t ever stop”.

With that in mind, one question remains: is it all worth it? Campbell smiles, “I knew all that I wanted to do, when I wanted to start a band. I wanted to be able to fill one hall, just one. Now I’ve toured the whole US several times. I’ve toured the UK,” He counts countries on his fingers, “Man, we’re going to Russia. I got to play a show with Motion City Soundtrack, that was amazing”. His face lights up, “We’ve met so many friends and had so many great experiences. This has already gone way further that we ever thought it could. If it ended tomorrow, I’d be happy with what we’ve already done. Definitely”.

He stops for a second, stares out of the van window, and grins, “Not that it will end tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll play Glasgow”.

This interview was one of the very first that I’d done. I got it by approaching the lead singer after the band played a show to thirty people in the GRV in Edinburgh. At Slam Dunk Festival, a little less than a year after I conducted the interview, I watched security turn away people trying to watch their set because the room maximised its capacity. I think it’s incredible how far buzz, particularly online, can carry something. It’s nice to see such a gratuitous band starting to do so well. That man didn’t have to agree to talk to an awkward sixteen year old girl with a dictaphone that night — nor does he have to humour replies to my emails now — but I’m glad that he did. I’m also horrible aware that the things I’m posting here don’t really qualify as “news” but I thought this would tie with learning about interviews/interviewees at least.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s good to see something like Kerrang! taking a relatively unknown band on tour with some of the genres biggest names. Hopefully I’ll be there to see it…!

    • It is, yeah. While I know the first band on the bill is usually relatively unknown, I expected it to be UK favourites of theirs – someone like Futures or Francesqa. There’s not a single UK band on the tour next year, but it should be a good one.

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