The Wonder Years are one of, if not the best modern pop punk bands. Their stark poetry and rousing instrumentals have transcended the realms of emotional rock music – a trait most apparent on their latest release Sister Cities.
The band are making their way to Australia this week for the inaugural Good Things Festival, where they’ll be joining the likes of All Time Low, Tonight Alive and Waterparks for an incredible day of scene-spectacular. To celebrate, we sat down with their incredible frontman Dan (Soupy) Campbell to discuss the band’s legacy, their most recent album and their upcoming trip down under.
WATCH: The Wonder Years ‘Sister Cities’
DBU: Let’s take it back to around 2010. You guys were the leaders of a new wave of pop punk that blew up around that time with bands like Fireworks and Transit and The Story So Far.
Can you give me a bit of a recount of what it was like at that time, and what sort of feelings you have towards that scene, as well as the kind of experiences you had at that time?
Dan Campbell: We didn’t feel like we were the leaders of anything, in fact we felt like we were kind of behind almost everybody else. I remember pretty much everyone we were friends with getting a record deal and getting, an agent, getting a manager before we had any interest at all.
I guess kind of in 2010, 2011 was when we started to kind of catch up a little bit to everybody, but really it felt like we were kind of playing catch up for a while at that point. Fireworks were out there releasing, you know, legendary records, and doing all these cool tours, we just wanted to kind of get close to where they were.
“We made something that lasted and that impacted a lot of people”
It was really kind of an exciting time because it was a bunch of people that were friendly with one another. The Fireworks guys I’m still super close with I still see some of the Man Overboard guys almost weekly, Jeff lives in my neighbourhood, Nick works at a studio at Eight Records that I’m at pretty often.
But it was cool because all those bands when we were first started playing together, were playing literally in people’s basements, or in churches or just kind of floor shows. So it’s definitely kind of cool now to look back and say wow all these bands that, we all kind of started with nothing, you know none of us had anybody backing us or quote-pulling for us – we made something that lasted and that impacted a lot of people.
WATCH: The Wonder Years – ‘Cardinals’
DBU: You released Sister Cities earlier this year – from a fan’s perspective I think it’s your most melancholic effort to date. It does have that classic Wonder Years “hope at the end of the tunnel” vibe, but it did signify a bit of stylistic change for you guys
Did you feel any allegiance to your past identity during the creative process?
Dan Campbell: Every time we went to make a record, we felt that it was important for us to make something that moved the band forward. It wasn’t just stagnation or complacency. You can tell there’s a thoughtful, you know, step forward here. But at the same time, we recognise that it’s important to, continue on the path we’ve started -we don’t want to become a totally different band all at once. We wanna take one thoughtful progressive step every record.
I know that’s how I felt when I was younger and a band would totally 180 on me, and I thought “that’s not the band that I like – that’s a totally different kind of music”. But at the same time, I know what I felt like if a band made the same record two, three times in a row, I started to feel like okay I’ve got it, I know you can write this song, I’d like something new from you. And, so it’s kinda about striking that balance, right. How do we make something that’s both new and still rooted in the crux of what The Wonder Years are.
That was the goal this record, and that’s the goal every record. Make something that feels like a thoughtful step forward for the band, but that doesn’t abandon where we came from.
DBU: Do you look back on records like Suburbia and The Upsides now that you’re three or four records down the line and look at the kind of stories written about on those records with hindsight vision toward the lyrics?
Dan Campbell: So imagine your journal entries from when you were thirteen if you went right back through them now. You go, “I kinda still feel this way”, but there are definitely still parts where I maybe wish I, or I would’ve worded it this way, where that was a valid thought at the time.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to think about it this way, so those kind of records seem nostalgic to a degree to me. Like, they bring me back to a time and a place when we were writing them, and I still love the record. I am still proud to have made them for sure. But you know, you definitely, a lot of time has passed, and I think that the goal for me is to be better every day than I was the day before, in kind of every way, you know every way in my life to try to better myself everyday.
WATCH: The Wonder Years – ‘Came Out Swinging’
So of course you’re gonna look back at almost a decade ago and think about all the things you could have done better on that record, or all the ways you wish you would have phrased something. All the things you wish you could say to your younger self, like, hey man, you don’t need to be so angry about this thing, it doesn’t really matter. That’s just, part of the experience of growing older I guess.
“I think that the goal for me is to be better every day than I was the day before”
DBU: You guys have experienced so much growth and change over the years – what have been the most pivotal, experiences you’ve encountered and how do you take what you’ve learned into the writing of your music?
Dan Campbell: Yeah, I think Sister Cities is kind of a really great, encapsulation of that of that. A microcosm of that would be the song ‘Sister Cities’ – a song about us getting – not stranded by any stretch of the imagination – but we were in Chile without anywhere to go and we kinda felt very far in and very different and alien in that place, and this group of people from Chile said we really want you to play a show so we’ll take care of you.
And they took us in, they brought us to a place, they gave us gear to play on, they put on a show for us and they made us feel really at home. That was a big moment for us on that record, was this kind of like, this way that we could connect to all these people despite living these vastly different lives, it’s just like at our core we are all human, and we can all connect with one another way more easily than you would think.
“At our core we are all human, and we can all connect with one another way more easily than you would think.”
DBU: You’re coming to Australia for Good Things Festival soon – how do strike the perfect balance in curating a live show that both honours your past and present?
Dan Campbell: Well, so I guess the pragmatic answer here is we look at the records and we say okay, the new record hasn’t been played at all in Australia, so we have to play a certain amount of songs from it.
And then you move backwards, we say, okay, we have to play, you know you play the songs that you feel are the ones that connected with the fan base most. We have to play ‘Cardinals’, we’re not gonna not play Cardinals, and that’s a big song for people, it’s an important song for people. We have to play ‘Passing Through a Screen Door’, it’s an important song for people.