The Wonder Years are quite possibly the best thing to happen to pop-punk since Joey Ramone started sniffing glue. Hailing from Philadelphia, PA, these guys have been rocking their infectious brand of pop-punk for the last two years through DIY tours, EPs and a full-length. In the vein of bands like Set Your Goals, Say Anything and Four Year Strong, the Wonder Years are a crucial part of the new pop-punk movement that combines the influence of genre legends with the honesty and energy of hardcore punk.
I Breathe the Underground recently sent the band's frontman, Dan "Soupy" Campbell, some interview questions over email to discuss popular television, the band's progress on an upcoming full-length, the state of pop-punk and the lyrical genius of...LFO.
I wanted to lead off with the question on everyone’s minds…when are you guys going to give in and cover “With a Little Help from My Friends?”
If we’re covering any theme songs, it’s going to be Hey Sandy by Polaris from Pete and Pete. Half the world covers Beatles songs. I mean, you know that sign in the music shop in Wayne’s World that says “No Stairway” that the guy points to when Wayne starts playing Stairway to Heaven? There should be on of those in every acoustic guitar section that says “No Blackbird."
Where do you guys stand on the writing/recording process for the next full-length?
We’re seven songs deep right now. I’m not going to say that all of them will make the record, but we have seven written and I think a lot of it is our best work to date. I think the stuff that isn’t will get weeded out eventually. We just moved all of our shit into my basement in South Philly and will be pissing off my ICP-loving neighbors for the next 5 weeks while we write everyday. We want to get at least 15 songs before we go in to record this but we do have studio time booked in August with Vince Ratti and we hope to have this record out in November. I’m having some trouble naming it though. We’re trying to work out the legality of the name we want right now so if you know anyone who will give us free legal consult, let me know please.
Which sitcom character do you most relate to?
I thought about this for awhile and I decided it would have to be Cory Matthews from Boy Meets World. He’s from Philadelphia. All of his friends are cooler than he is. His girlfriend is way more attractive than a girl he should be dating and he’s super neurotic and paranoid. It’s pretty much my life aside from the curly hair.
The Wonder Years’ lyrics convey an honesty and personality that seems to be disappearing from pop-punk. Where do you find lyrical inspiration?
I think I’ve written the answer to this question and deleted it three times now because it’s simpler than all the shit I’ve been writing. The lyrics are about my life. Well, our lives-- my best friends and I. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it and cover it in metaphor, but I did want to include the comedic aspect for two reasons. One being that I agree with this dude Scott Bryan Wilson who says that comedy is the only real way to represent the range of human emotion and so the sad parts of our songs can only really be sad because their represented in humorous ways. The other is that I think that my group of friends has this innate ability to find the humor in everything that shouldn’t be funny at all and I wanted to make sure that was represented in the lyrics. I really wanted to write songs that were about exactly how I was feeling and exactly what I was doing and when I did, this weird thing happened. Kids started coming to shows and telling me that it was like I was video taping their lives and writing songs about it. I started to realize that a lot of people were experiencing the same things I was and living the same shitty life and that we were kind of all in this together. That was a good feeling. Head above water this year, boys.
Do the Wonder Years do anything to try to rise above the stigmas that mainstream pop-punk carries these days?
I’m not sure if we really DO anything. I think it’s more about what we don’t do, if anything. I see bands on tour with racks of clothes in the trailer and hair straighteners plugged into the van’s cigarette lighter. We’re just dudes and so we don’t try to be anything different. A good friend of mine said once that on stage he tries to portray “fun and sexy” because that’s what “the girls like.” It took everything I had not to laugh at him. Maybe I’m the one in the wrong here, but pop punk for me has always been about playing your heart out and being exactly who you are without pandering to anyone and so we don’t get on stage every night wagging our fingers and asking girls to scream after spending an hour picking out outfits, but we do leave the stage every night covered in sweat and often, blood feeling like we’re going to pass out because we just gave everything we had to give. In my humble opinion, there is more to pop punk than what you look like and we try to stick by that.
Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy?
Absolutely Scrubs and I’m not just saying that to retain my manhood. It’s honestly one of the best written shows on television and I’m really going to miss it. I heard they were basically going to continue without JD but the focus of the show will be on the new interns and I think that’s a good call. After 8 seasons, I think we all “get” JD. He’s quirky. He really loves Turk. He’s going to marry Elliot. He has a mentor thing for Dr. Cox. Check. Got it. The interns are fresh and really funny and I’m excited to see where the show could take them. Plus, I really think Sonal Shah, the girl who plays Sunny, is ridiculously attractive. What up? Call me, girl. I know you read I Breathe the Underground.
Describe a typical day in the life of Dan “Soupy” Campbell.
Things are changing, man. This is a pivotal week in my life so I’m going to break down a day from last week vs. a day from next week.
Last week: 7 am I’m up and in the shower. I can only write melodies in the shower and I was having trouble writing at night so now I wake up early and start writing songs before my head gets jumbled with the day. At about 8 am I eat oatmeal, tea and orange juice for breakfast and then ride my bike about 5 miles up to school. I go to a bunch of classes I hate (save for a few) and learn to be a teacher but really spend most of the day jotting down ideas for Wonder Years. I get an everything bagel with turkey and cheese for lunch at the Bagel Hut, go to another class and then ride my bike like 3 miles to work. I teach and after school program for 1st and 2nd grade and right now, we’re working on a play so we do that, have snack, work on homework and at around 6, I ride my bike 3 miles home. I generally get home and sit on the computer taking care of Wonder Years shit for an hour or two and then get into all of the homework I don’t want to do. If it’s Wednesday, I watch Lost. My girlfriend and I never feel like cooking so we usually order out and I’m like a 75 year old man so I’m in bed around 10.
This week: School is over and so my day starts at 9 when I wake up and shower. At 10, the guys get here and we write songs until 2:30. At 3, I ride my bike up to work and teach for a few hours. Then, I come home, maybe watch a movie and make dinner. Hang out with Jess and Kennedy and Josh and a bunch of other friends and maybe work on some songs on the acoustic guitar and at midnight, we go get pretzels from the Pretzel Factory that I live a few blocks from.
Also, I play ukulele a lot and panic attacks about the record daily.
Are the Wonder Years planning for the future or taking it one day at a time?
Dude, I’m way, way too anxious and neurotic to take it one day at a time. I have a plan for almost every day up until Halloween, haha. It’s not all set in stone but we’re doing the I Call Fives tour in June, then Europe in July (including… holy shit… RUSSIA). In August we’re doing the new record and in the fall we plan on being on tour every single day to make up for this past year of us being in college.
As a recurring theme in your music, what role does literature play in the writing process?
We’re a hyper-literate band. I’d say on the 6 week tour we did last fall, we polished off maybe 30-35 novels as a band. Needless to say, we read a lot and I’m an English major (well, that and Secondary Education) so all day every day, I’m surrounded by literature and it would be wrong, I think, to keep that out of the lyrics. As I was saying above, our lyrics are our lives. I try not to sugar-coat anything and so if I’m reading Bukowski, I’m going to let you know that I’m reading Buk. I also feel like a lot of the writing I found when I was younger came from things that bands would mention off-hand and so it’s cool to think that maybe I’m getting some kids into some good books. Or not. Either way, I’m going to keep doing it haha.
What are your thoughts about “blowing up?” Do you guys subscribe to any defined ideals regarding the music industry, staying underground, signing to a major, etc.?
This is a hard question to answer. I mean, we fucking love small shows. We’re playing a basement in West Philly with Fireworks tomorrow (5/12/09), but realistically, you can’t stay alive on donations at the door and the van doesn’t run on hopes and dreams. That shit needs gas and a lot of it. If we want to be on tour non-stop (and we do), then we need to be doing some bigger shows, but that doesn’t mean that the energy changes at all. We played with Motion City Soundtrack recently and I got off stage, onto the barrier that kept the crowd back and front flipped off of it into kids at the end of Salinger. Bands get bigger if they get lucky and work hard enough. That’s what happens and I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. Honestly, if you don’t like a band anymore because some girl in you high school likes them now, then you didn’t like them in the first place. Don’t be the “I knew them when they only had a 7 inch out” guy. That guy is an asshole. As long as the band is still doing the same thing they’ve always done then it shouldn’t be an issue. Now, if we start wearing make up and start singing songs with the lyrics “girl, I can’t go on without your love,” then, by all means, throw shit at us. We’ve always said that if we’re lucky enough make it to the next level that we’re still going to do smaller shows every time we can. I think it would be cool if we played a venue one night and then the next night we did a surprise set at someone’s house or something. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just blowing sunshine up my own ass, but I think it’s possible. As far as major labels, I don’t see it anywhere in our near future. They seem to swallow most bands whole no matter how good or popular they are. I haven’t seen a lot of good come from it.
If Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties) and Larry Appleton (Perfect Strangers) got in a no holds barred fist-fight, who would win and why?
Before I answer this, I have to ask if you’ve ever taken the time to read the lyrics to Summer Girls by LFO. I’m telling you right now that there is no comedic genius greater than that song. Some key lines include “when you take sip you buzz like a hornet. Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets” and “like the color purple, macaroni and cheese. Ruby red slippers and a whole bunch of trees.” I bring this up because one lyric is “fell deep in love but now we ain’t speakin’, Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton.” I think based on that alone, I have to give Keaton the W. The dude has LFO getting his back. I wouldn’t fuck with it. I mean, they’ve always been hip to the B-Boy style as well as being known to act wild and occasionally, make a girl smile.
"Wouldn't it be cool if we were astronauts, zero gravity, two, one, blast-off?"
- The Wonder Years, "Buzz Aldrin: The Poster Boy for Second Place"