We’re not sad anymore, and neither are The Wonder Years. Philadelphia, PA’s pop-punk legends have been tearing up stages and hearts for a number of years. Blending some of the catchiest hooks with a downright blazing punk aesthetic, the band has seen the world over more than once and done so in fine form. Touring Australia this September off the back of stellar fourth album, ‘The Greatest Generation’, the group will remind us all how music was meant to be played. With their powerful and emotional lyricism, it doesn’t get much more honest than The Wonder Years. We spoke with lead singer Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell about touring, lyrics and the idea of music saving lives.
Hey Soupy, how’s it going?
Yeah, good thanks, man.
The Wonder Years are coming back to Australia in September. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good. I’m really excited. I love coming to Australia and I love playing there. Besides America it’s my favourite place to tour. One of our Melbourne shows has sold out so it should be good.
Yeah, the all ages show. That will be a no barrier show I believe if I know the venue correctly. The Wonder Years are known for the amount of crowdsurfers and stage divers they get live yet last year at your Melbourne Soundwave set, you had to go down and shout at a security guard for dropping and hurting kids coming over. What was that all about?
Well man, in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done that as I’m short as hell and he could’ve easily whooped my ass but I’m glad I did. I had to go down during ‘Coffee Eyes’ as he and this other guard were getting really aggressive with the kids. Throwing them down or just dropping them to the ground and then kicking them in the direction they had to go. It was just not on man.
Do you take that thing personally? I was at Chelsea Grin’s set once and there were some issues from in the crowd with security yet the band didn’t do anything. Maybe they didn’t see it but I’m still curious.
I actually do man. I mean, at my first Warped Tour I was crowd surfing and the security guard didn’t catch me and I just fell and cracked my head on the ground. I had to go to hospital in the middle of the day and it sucked. I also just don’t like bullies and this guy, this guard was being a bully. I saw him grab some kid’s sunglasses and throw them back into the crowd and laugh about it. He and this other guy were just being bullies and that’s not on.
Those were actually my sunglasses and if I recall, they were some Wonder Years sunglasses too! I got ‘em back, which was cool.
Oh damn dude, that’s lucky.
Yeah the rest of the day though was much better at that stage. The guards were a lot nicer and gentler.
Yeah, I was told that and it actually turns out that those two guards were taken off the festival date and I’m not sure if they were fired but I know they were like kicked from working there.
So as you can guess, I was at your set that day and one thing my friends and I really wanted to see was Hank the Pigeon come out but he didn’t. And now I’ve noticed he’s absent from the whole Wonder Years image. He was there on The Upsides and Suburbia, where is he now?
Well man, Hank was originally nameless. He had no name and had no story yet when it came to writing Suburbia he just fit with in that whole storyline I guess of a guy going through a rough time. He represented, I guess, the average person maybe? I’m not too sure but he just seemed to fit. Yet there is only so much you can go on with something before it becomes a gimmick.
Speaking of gimmicks, you write a lot about your depression and sadness and have done so for the past few records. Are you ever worried that will start to come off as a gimmick to some?
Yeah, I am and I’ve been singing about it less and less because of that and also because I am getting better. But it’s one of those things that a lot of bands are doing now and I don’t mean to sound up myself or boast but I think we kind of started that or pushed it forward; singing about your issues and sadness in a genre that wasn’t emo. A lot of bands are doing that now; whether it is in pop-punk or in emo, it’s a trend almost. I’m not like lessening the value of it but I just notice that really firmly it’s started to be a lot more prominent in the music nowadays.
Well I always joke that “The Wonder Years gave every lead singer depression”.
(Laughs) That’s good, I like that.
Anyways, I want to ask the big question and that’s: do you think music can save someone’s life? You’re a band and a lyricist that gets credited with lifesaving a lot so I’m interested to know.
Metaphorically yes but literally no. I’ve never heard of someone about to hang themselves and the CD Player ejected the CD so fast that it cut the rope down; I don’t think that stuff happens. But metaphorically yes. I think it can. Like, it’s saved them and maybe stopped them from hurting and feeling that pain. They hear me and other people sing about going through this stuff and they realise they’re not alone. Like, “Hey, this guy I’ve never met before is feeling like I do.” I think it gives them solace and comfort and saves them those feelings of sadness and pain.
Yet can that be a gimmick in itself? I’ve seen people at shows one by one tell a singer that they’ve saved their life. And it’s not in tears and in hug, it’s after taking a selfie and it just kind of falls out and it doesn’t seem sincere.
Yeah, that happens. A lot. I think people think it’s what band members want to hear and that it gives US meaning. And it sucks that someone would do that for attention from some guy or girl in a band or for nothing but sympathy yet at the same time I never discredit it. I don’t want to pass it off or make it seem like I don’t give a shit when in fact that maybe they don’t know how to say that. They don’t know the right way to say that our music has helped them and that’s fine. If they’ve gone through stuff and it’s hurt them yet they can’t convey like they mean it, it would be super bad if I just like ignored them or snort it off.
You no doubt get a lot of letters saying that stuff too…
Yeah a shit tonne, man.
From when you got the first letter to now, has it lost the romanticism of it and I guess the excitement of what it felt like to get those messages?
I would say it has but not in that I disregard them or they don’t have value but in that they actually impact me negatively now. Like, some of these kids have gone through hell and they absolutely pour their hearts out in these letters and messages to me. They would be having thoughts of suicide and self-harm and just terrible thoughts. It got to the point where I would read three and I would just be so down about what I’ve read that I would just mope about backstage and just kind of doze off a lot. Our tour manager and merch guy stopped giving me those letters as they could see it was negatively impacting me.
We have a band from Australia called The Amity Affliction and they sing a lot about depression and suicide and they get letters too. Their lyricist actually wrote a song about how much these letters were impacting him much like you were saying. Do you think you should do something like that to let kids know that these letters aren’t necessarily doing you good?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t discourage them to write at all; I think it helps and even though it doesn’t get to me, well most of them don’t, I don’t think that matters. It’s not me reading the letters that impacts them, I think the fact that they get all these feelings onto paper and they feel lighter and stronger about it. They’re essentially writing to someone who they can relate to and I think that’s a really helpful tool for people.
That’s an interesting point of view and unfortunately that’s all the time we have left man. Thanks so much for chatting with us, good luck on the tour.
Thanks man. Thanks for the chat.
The Wonder Years tour Australia this coming September. Dates and details here.