While some suburban kids feel restless in their picture-perfect bubbles, The Wonder Years turned their frustration into positivity and have released three studio albums filled with hopeful, high-energy pop punk. Their unique blend of catchy hooks, optimistic lyrics, and familiar story has captured the attention of the music industry and fans alike—the band’s documentation of the fears and frustrations of growing up in particular has really resonated with their listeners. Their latest release, Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, is the next chapter in that journey.
Dan “Soupy” Campbell was gracious enough to invite me onto the band’s air-conditioned bus during Warped Tour’s Pomona stop to discuss the intensity of touring, the inspiration behind their newest album, and the band’s dedication to their equally devoted fans.
How are you enjoying your first time on Warped Tour?
We played a date before in 2007. We were like one of the local bands that got a chance to play Warped in Camden. This is our first real Warped tour experience though.
And is it everything you hoped it would be?
It’s very, very, very hard work. It is life-saving to have the bus because I go to bed at 9PM. We’re up at 7AM to start setting up merch, so we bring our tent over and load up our hand truck and drag that all across. Our merch is easily half a mile away today, and it’s not across pavement—it’s across grass and dirt. You’re trying to pull the hand truck, and it slips into a hole and everything goes over, and you’re angry and suntan lotion sweats into your eyes.
Then, every stage has its own truck with sound equipment, and you help them unload it. Every band does it. Well, maybe the mainstage bands don’t—they might have a tech that does it. We don’t, so we go over there and help… tons of bands do that. Once the truck is unloaded, we set up a second tent behind stage for our gear so it’s not in direct sunlight. You come back to the bus to load up stuff, and that takes two more runs.
By now it’s 10:30AM and doors are about to open. Doors open, and we try to do an appearance at some point. I’ll just tweet, “Going over to hang out at merch, come over and say hi,” because we remember what it was like to be a kid going to Warped wanting to meet your favorite bands. Not saying we’re anybody’s favorite band, but we want to be out there for people to meet us.
We have press. Every day we do a signing. That time and set times rotate. If we play at 6PM, we have to be at the stage by 4:45PM, and you won’t leave the stage until 7:30PM. You play and then load off and break everything down. Then you have to drag the cart full of gear back to your bus. Maybe you’ll get to watch one band, and then the day’s over and you go to sleep.
That sounds like a ton of work! Many bands say Warped Tour is like summer camp or hanging out with your friends all day, but that sounds a little different…
There’s some of that as far as catering goes. That feels like summer camp. You go and wait in this line with your tray, you get your food, you’re looking for your friends and who to sit with. At night, if the bus call is late, like we’re here until two in the morning, we have barbeques. It’s fun, but we’re usually exhausted. The catering people do an amazing job.
Do you miss south Philly or is it always there since most of your songs are about Philly?
I don’t live in south Philly anymore, I stopped living there a month before The Upsides came out. I was living there with my ex and we broke up, so I didn’t live there anymore. Then we went on tour for almost a full year. Last year we were on tour for 194 days. When we would come home, we’d be back for a week at a time, so there was no sense in having an apartment. My shit was in boxes in my parent’s basement, and I slept on people’s couches.
At the end of the year, it was time to write a record, and we were home for two months. I moved into my friend Richie’s house with our bass player, Josh, and that’s out in the suburbs. There are definitely times where I’m home, and I wish I could ride my bike over to this particular place to get food.
I thought you were going to say “Ride my bike to Logan Circle” and I was going to say, “Now you’re just speaking in lyrics!”
No, no. I like living in the suburbs a lot more than the city. The city for me was fun like, “I’m 21, this is cool, I live in Philadelphia!” Now it’s like “I’m 25! I’m going to bed at 9:30!”
You guys are constantly on tour. Did that help you prepare for the marathon of shows that is Warped Tour?
There’s really nothing you can do to prepare for Warped Tour—it’s just so different than most tours. It’s widely known and accepted to be the most difficult tour in the entire world. Especially for bands that we’re friends with that are doing this in a van. I would have blown my brains out by the fourth day because at the end of that long-ass day I described, you get in the van and drive yourself twelve hours every night. We just don’t have that in us. There’s no way to escape the heat. Like we’re hot and we’re doing the interview in here [The Wonder Years' tour bus], but you can’t do that in a van. The van is hotter.
We do tour a lot and we get in the mindset and rhythm of playing every day, but it doesn’t prepare you for Warped Tour. It’s awesome, but it’s also hard. Everyone will tell you at the end of every Warped Tour that it’s the best and worst tour you can do.
Fans always say your live show is really high energy. How have you and how are you going to maintain such high levels of energy on this grueling tour?
We try to bring it everyday. There are things we can’t do at Warped we do elsewhere, like there can’t be stage dives because of the barricade, but every day I do try to make an effort to climb offstage and into the crowd and let everyone sing into the mic as much as I can. We still put the same amount up that we put out every other day. The thing about Warped that is nice actually—maybe not for fans—is that we only have to play for half an hour. So we can pretty much go hard for the entire half hour and not vomit.
I can’t believe you measure your show intensity by if you vomit or not.
We hit vomit-level often. We throw up a lot. Josh one time was sick in Chicago, and we put a trashcan behind his bass cab, and he was playing bass and throwing up on stage. At Chain Reaction, I collapsed and they had to get me a trashcan. I was puking as they carried me off stage. We go as hard as we can. For us, if people are paying money to see us play, we should put up as much as our bodies will let us put up.
At Warped we are able to do that every day because it’s a shorter set, which is nice. We probably have chilled out a little though [on this tour]. There are days where we just ate dinner, and now it’s time to jump around for a half an hour.
In what ways do you think the new album is different from your first release and in what way does it continue your story?
There’s kind of this one continuing story through our records. I think Saves The Day might be doing it too with three of their records. These lyrical themes, these characters, these people keep coming up. The difference with ours is these characters happen to be our friends, and these themes happen to be our lives. It’s still a story—everybody’s life is a story, and we’re telling ours through these records. It’s a continuation of the story lines from our earlier records.
The Upsides was where we were when we wrote The Upsides. This record is where we are when we wrote Suburbia, and there’s a track to catch you up in between.
As far as the ways it’s different, we tried to push and pull in different directions musically a little bit. We didn’t want to go overboard. When you have one record out that people are into and the next record is totally different, it’s a ballsy move. I also think it’s a dick move.
You don’t think it’s a ‘creative maturation of sound’ or whatever variation of that phrase the artist says?
To some degree it is, but to another degree, there are these people that have invested all this time and energy into your band, and you’re just going to fucking one eighty on them right out of the gate? Maybe our next record will be a little bit different or maybe it’ll sound like a jazz-fusion record, I don’t know. It felt like we owed it to everyone to try to stay rooted in the genre we are. We’re music fans too. We grew up listening to the same bands that everyone else grew up listening to, and when one of your favorite bands puts out a new record that’s a total opposite, something you fucking hate, it’s really a bummer.
We didn’t want to do that to people, but we also didn’t want to put out this homogenized, bass line record. We did it with Steve Evins, who was really great at working with dynamics with us and making sure the record sounded interesting as far as how it was recorded. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to let other genres influence the music without changing the genre. Like, how can you let Envy influence pop punk without sounding like Envy? How can you let the Anniversary influence this band without sounding like the Anniversary? That was kind of the challenge for this record.
The title of your new record, Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, comes from the Ginsberg poem “America.” Who’s the poetry fan in the group?
I’m a Ginsberg fan, and I was an English major at Temple. We were trying to conceptualize the record, and I was thinking about what we wanted the record to be about and the themes we wanted to be a part of it. We went to Josh’s girlfriend’s graduation at UR, and next to her studio on the wall was [Ginsberg's poem] “America,” and I thought, “Oh I should read that again. I love that poem.” I’m reading through it and was thinking that there were a lot of similar themes. Not all of them are similar or mean the same thing, but this general push and pull between discontent with social norms and cultural ideologies versus this detached love you still have for it.
You definitely sound like an English major.
Well, you see in the poem Ginsberg doing things, saying he won’t let his emotional life be run by TIME magazine, but then he says, “I love TIME magazine. I read it every weekend at the public library.” He’s recognizing he loves these things and that he’s a part of it too. Those were similar themes to what we wanted to write the record about. It made sense to include Ginsberg’s ideas into this on a more local level.
“America” is more of a global poem than Suburbia is a global record; it’s a more localized record. At the same time, it speaks to anyone who’s growing up in a similar place. A lot of the fans of this genre are suburban kids who grow up in the suburbs and realize the push and pull, the disillusionment you find when you come back home and the nostalgic aching you have for the things you loved growing up there.
I know it’s far away, but will the third album get you out of Pennsylvania?
Will the third record be about something different entirely? I don’t know. It’s weird thinking about what I’ve been listening to recently and how we could possibly make that into a Wonder Years record, a lot of Childish Gambino and the Mountain Goats and The Promise Ring. Maybe our next record will be quieter. Maybe it’ll be more dynamic. That’s something we always try to do with each record. We want to stretch the dynamics and tempos and do things that are faster or slower or louder than anything we’ve done before. We’ll probably continue to do that and see what influences take us which ways. It’ll be another six months or so before we do that.
Who are you most excited to see on Warped this year?
Right now, Hellogoodbye is killing it every day. They’re awesome. I’m excited to see the Manzingers when they join the tour. Those are my top two. Less Than Jake is always great to see. The Sharks.
Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is out now. September we’re doing a UK tour, and in the fall we’re going to be touring in the US. Details coming soon.
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