INTERVIEW: Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell of The Wonder Years [July 2014]

By James Fox

Last year The Wonder Years – one of the biggest names in pop punk at the moment – released what was probably the album they were always meant to make. ‘The Greatest Generation’ was a gigantic achievement and was for many album of the year. The band recently returned to the UK and Punktastic headed to Brighton beach with lead singer Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell to throw rocks in the sea and talk about the past year, his new solo project, tour vans catching fire and what he hates being asked.

Hey Soupy. How are you doing in general?

Tired, really fucking tired. Sick also. You know some days you wake up and it feels like you went to bed swallowing razorblades? I woke up like that.

It’s not quite your last show of this tour but it’s your last show of the UK so I’d expect you to feel a bit tired. It’s one year since ‘The Greatest Generation’ came out and I saw you commented on that with the tweet “It’s been a long year, I’m tired all the way down into my fucking bones”.

Yeah, all the way into my fucking bones.

Busy year, right?

Yeah, let me put it into perspective for you. So we did the record January to February 2013. February into March we did a festival in Australia called Soundwave, and then March and April we did B-markets in the US, non-major cities. Then in May the record came out and the day it came out we played 4 shows in 24 hours – Philly, New York, Chicago and LA. If you’ve never been to America it might be hard to understand that. It’d be like playing London, then Manchester, then Germany, then Moscow, all in a day. It didn’t stop there because the next morning I woke and shot the cover for Alt Press, then I did two instores that day with the guitar players. Our bassist and our drummer flew home and we opened a store in Philadelphia, a Wonder Years and Glamour Kills storefront out of an art gallery that existed for a week. There were events there and all sorts of crazy shit. Meanwhile, whilst they were running that the guitar playing members of the band and I flew back home. We did instores all over New England all week. We finished the last one on Saturday. Sunday we flew to England. We did two instores the same day in Kingston and then we did Slam Dunk. We flew home from Slam Dunk and that was the beginning of June and we went right from there into two weeks of Canada with Silverstein that went right into 8 weeks of Warped Tour in the US. Pretty much as soon as Warped Tour was over we went to Japan. As soon as Japan was over we did more of the US with A Day To Remember, Pierce The Veil and All Time Low for another six weeks or so. As soon as that was over we came back over here and had Warped Europe, but along with that we did headline dates in England, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, plus Swiss, Austrian and German shows with Warped Tour, plus two shows in Poland with Billy Talent. Then we did Acoustic Holidays shows and after those were done, I came home and made a solo record with a guy named Ace Enders from The Early November. When that was done we did a week of rehearsals and then we started 6 weeks in the US, and when that was done we came here for 3 weeks. So this is the end of what I would say is fair to call this 16 months, non-stop, maybe longer.

You’ve definitely got a good excuse to say you’re tired.

Fucking tired.

Plus evidence of an impeccable memory. I wouldn’t blame a lot of people who did all that but couldn’t remember everything like you just have.

I also think that a lot of bands wouldn’t be able to do that, but their reason for that is that their manager and agent make their decisions and they just go. We have a manager and an agent but we make the decisions on a lot of that shit. There is never any of that “Oh, where are we today?” It’s like I know it because I’ve spent time figuring out the details around it: how the merch order is going to get there and where the drop ship is etc. Yeah it’s been exhausting but when I come home from this we pretty much have all summer off, except I’m putting out that solo record and playing a week of Warped Tour with that. I’ve got to shoot a video for it and there’s a tonne of other Wonder Years stuff coming up which is still secret.

That kind of leads onto my next question. In some of your music you talk about the toll touring can take on yourself, but obviously at the same time you still enjoy what you do?

Oh yeah, totally. Most days for sure. Some days I definitely don’t.

Over that whole period of time, what moments stick out over that period that remind you why you do what you do and why it’s worth it?

The big moments for us were on the last US headline tour.

Selling out Philly?

Yeah, selling out Philly was huge. I cried on stage at that show. But it’s not like we didn’t sell out most of that tour. I think that like 75% of the rooms were sold out and the ones that weren’t were jam-packed. But Philly was like, you never thought it was possible growing up. Even in my wildest dreams we didn’t sell out that venue. In my wildest fucking dreams we were only selling out a room that’s half that size that we sold out a couple years ago. We played it a couple of times, co-headlined with Yellowcard but it’s not really the same as knowing the whole room is there because you brought them there. A couple days later we played Best Buy Theater in Times Square and our faces were on the billboard out front. I took the N-Train down to this coffee spot. It’s called Stumptown Coffee and they have a really dope cold brew so I was like “I’m going to get some and take it home”. They didn’t sell it and I was all mad. They only sell it in Seattle and Portland. I get off the subway and I’m walking with my girlfriend then I stop and am like, “That’s my fucking face!” We stopped and I took a picture and started crying again. Those were the big ones.

That’s really cool to know.

You gotta juxtapose that with breaking down in a shitty sleeper van. I mean, that thing was miserable and a death-trap. The first van we rented broke down before the tour started. The second van we rented was the replacement that they said was like “so much better man”. We got there and imagine a wooden ladder – that was the beds. There was no solid piece of wood: it was just slats. There was a piece of foam on it which probably sounds dope but it was real thin and squashed to nothing. Plus nothing worked in it and it was also 28 hours late to pick us up, over a full day late. We had to stay in a hotel for a whole day and miss some shit. We left this festival called Monster Bash and we’re rolling out in this. I’m asleep for about an hour and I wake up and I say “Do you smell that? Yo, stop the van”. I get out and the side of it is more or less on fire. The hub of the wheel had locked onto the axel, locked on and fused together. It was toast man, it was totalled. We waited a couple more hours. Eventually breakdown people came but they needed more people to pull all the shit. It was a van, a trailer and 10 people. They roll up with more vehicles and we’re like, “Can you take us to a McDonalds or something so we can get breakfast?” They took us to a gas station and we sat there for 10 hours. Then we got taken to a weird hotel in Bavaria where we certainly weren’t wanted. Another van picked us up and we had to drive 22 straight hours to Cardiff. It was just miserable man. I don’t know if it sounds like it sucks as much as it sucks, but at the tail end of 10 weeks straight on tour and really 16 months straight of working – it sucked.

Outside of The Wonder Years what do you do? It can’t be all NFL and Wrestling, right?

I book a couple of bands: Mixtapes, Living with Lions, I Call Five. I just did that solo record. I do watch a lot of football and wrestling, and read a lot about football. I was running a talk show for a while called Talking With Soup. That was cool and I was approached about getting that made into a podcast recently. Within the format it’s more beneficial for it because it’s really a bitch for me to lug around the video camera on tour and everything. Especially when we’re international and have such limited room.

How did Talking With Soup come about?

I interviewed Evan from Into It. Over It. for Alternative Press and it was so much fun that I thought “I could do this all the time”. The idea was just to ask questions that other people won’t ask. I want anyone to at some point go “How did you know about that?” I do research on them beforehand or I just know about it because we’re homies or whatever. But I think if you watch the Talking With Soup series you learn a lot about the people in it that you wouldn’t know about them otherwise. I don’t think anyone knew Jack from All Time Low’s parents were Lebanese refugees fleeing a civil war. I don’t think anyone knew what it was like for Sean to be battling cancer in Yellowcard. I don’t think anyone knew what it was like for Ace when The Early November was just starting etc.

Recently another thing you’ve been involved with was the Renditions session with Letlive. for ‘The Dope Beat’.

They sent me the track and I wrote the part. I actually recorded whilst I was in the studio with Ace. I did that vocal part, a part on the Handguns record and a part on the Driver Friendly record, all while I was doing the solo record. I did it and Ace mixed it down so that it was the length of the entire track but just silence until my part so they could just put it in and it would just line up. But we didn’t bother sending them times. Somehow in the Dropbox upload, some of the silence got snipped a very miniscule amount or a marker was set wrong, so it comes in like two and a half beats too late. It was a little off and I called them about it and said “Yo, this isn’t how I wrote it”. And they were like “Oh shit, well, we think it’s dope” so I thought “if you guys like it then I’m in, that’s fine”. And we left it.

Let’s hear more about this solo record.

The project is called Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties. I was trying to self-critique a little bit with things I could do better lyrically. I was listening to my favourite things and what makes them so great. I was listening to The Weakerthans and The Mountain Goats and these really incredible lyricists and I was thinking about the fact that it’s all fiction. Not all of them from either band but you think about Reunion Tour, All Hail West Texas and some of the best lyrics ever written, ever penned as fiction. But I really love the characters and I really care for them. I want to worry about them and I want to know how their lives go. I started to think about the fact that all The Wonder Years lyrics are non-fiction and people tend to do that, but those people don’t know me. So conceivably it could be non-fiction. It’s not, but it could be. People are relating to someone they don’t know via the songs that I’m singing. So I thought, “Could I push myself and write a piece of fiction that is so dense, so real, so raw and so unnerving that you find the same connection with it that you would with The Wonder Years lyrics that are non-fiction?” To you as a listener it’s the same thing. If I’m singing a song about something that actually happened or didn’t, you don’t know. So I created a character and his name is Aaron West. I tried to learn everything about him. Like everything. I wanted to know about him before I wrote his story so I wanted to know where his parents were from and I wanted to know how they met. I wanted to know what kind of god he grew up knowing and what his religion was. I wanted to know if he drinks too much. How does he drink too much? When should he stop? I wanted to know what football team breaks his heart every year. I wanted to know how he met his wife, what they were like when they were younger and how the relationship has changed as they’ve grown old. I wanted to know how he handles death, how he handles loss. I wanted to know if he has it in him to quit smoking. I wanted to know all of it. And then I wanted to craft a story so I wrote a story about this guy. I wrote the worst year of his life but I didn’t write it as a book, I wrote it as an album. It’s a character study. The album’s called ‘We Don’t Have Each Other’ and it’s coming out on July 8th. Ace Enders produced it and played a bunch on it too. I play guitar on it and I sing, Ace played bass and he also played lap-steel, banjo and keys. The Wonder Years drummer Mike Kennedy came in and played drums on it for me and then I had a three piece horn section come in and I rip up a harmonica on it. It’s really exciting. It’s got this feel of early New Amsterdams meets the alt-country Bright Eyes shit with tinges of Weakerthans and The Mountain Goats and kind of like Spinning and a little bit of a Kevin Devine/Frank Turner thing going on. I’m super fucking excited about it. I put so much thought into it and into making it feel as real as any Wonder Years record. Ace said when he was mixing it he almost started crying a couple of different times just from how the lyrics hit. I think it’s mission accomplished so far but we’ll see what people get to when they get it. But I’m excited and it’s a super exciting concept piece. It’s somewhere between Americana and alt-country and then the stuff I’ve always been playing.

I checked out some of your setlists for this tour and it’s not a completely different setlist every night.

No, there’s about twelve stand alone tracks that always make it in.

But it’s also a fairly malleable thing it seems?

Yeah, we’ve been changing it a little bit more since we’ve been over here as we’re a little more fried and are like, “Holy shit I can’t play that song tonight, I just don’t have it in me”.

So is that literally it, the limits of higher keys?

In America some of the shows were only two hours apart and some were only an hour apart. You play two sold out shows an hour apart and some of those kids are coming twice. In Southern California – LA, Orange County and San Diego – the total distance between them is two and a half hours. So there’s kids here coming to three shows, and if you’re coming to three shows we should do three sets. We try to do that a little here too because these cities are close so we shift it around a little bit. We think with Brighton, some people might be coming from London to Brighton, so let’s do a different set to London.

That’s smart. A lot of bands don’t bother doing that and it can get predictable.

Totally. I mean we open and close the same way but we try to give you a couple songs you didn’t hear last time.

You played Baltimore recently. Tell me about this GoPro-headstrap-frontflip-stagedive?

Oh yeah! It was so embarrassing if you’d seen the whole video. Nobody has seen the whole video. In Baltimore, they wanted to put a GoPro on my head for this tour update video just for one song. I’m looking out to my right and I would say 15 feet out there, there’s a bar. There’s the stage, next to that is security and a barricade of some sort, a table where I guess they were checking IDs or whatever and then the bar. So I think, “I’m gonna front flip off the bar”. I get out to the corner of the stage and I realise the barricade is really thin, like a bicycle rack. I reach out and grab someone’s hand and start tight-rope walking this barricade. Mind you, I don’t play with my glasses on. A bunch of kids rush up because they see that I’m over there and knock the barricade over. I fall and a security guard half catches me and I’m flailing my legs trying to get back up. There’s the table with a circular black top with a table cloth on it. I swing my leg over to put it on the table…and it’s not a table. It’s a trash can. But I didn’t know because I didn’t have my glasses on. I fall into the trash can, roll over then climb up on the bar and front flip back into the crowd.

Is that full video going to be released sometime?

I’m sure at some point we will do. We wanted to do it with commentary because you’re seeing it from my point of view.

What’s the one question you’re hoping I won’t ask you?

Where’d you get your band name? What’s your craziest tour story? Why don’t you play songs from ‘Get Stoked On It’? We did a question and answer panel with fans on the last tour. One person asked me what colour my pubes were. I don’t want to be asked that. That’s pretty much all of them. The questions I’ve been asked literally 150 fucking times I don’t want to answer.

Personally, what things defined your discovery of music growing up?

I guess my parents. My mom listened to sadder pop-rock like Counting Crows and my dad was into pretty much everything – from The Sex Pistols and The Ramones to The Replacements to Beck. Beck’s ‘Odelay’ was a huge record for him and for me by extension. Then ‘The Blue Album’ by Weezer, and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ were big. Personally, the first thing I found that was mine was R&B stuff. My first favourite band that I really truly loved was Boyz II Men. So a blending of all that I guess.

Those turning points can be really interesting.

Well, the turning point was probably Blink-182, but that’s probably the turning point for everybody.

The trailer for the album seemed really impactful when it came out. And one of the main things to draw from it was that you guys felt it was the best thing The Wonder Years have ever done.

Oh yeah, totally. ‘The Greatest Generation’ was top of the line for us. It doesn’t get any better.

Alongside that, your band has never really ebbed, and you’ve only gotten better and better.

It flows baby, it flows.

Not many bands can boast that.

It’s hard work, that’s all that it is. I sometimes wonder if football had an impact on that because you know it’s hard work. You don’t get anything if you don’t put anything in.

>With all that in mind, where the hell do you go from here? Does that affect your mindset or are you just cool about that?

I don’t worry about it right now. We’ll write another record. Every time you go in there’s always this little bit of you that’s like “Can we write another good record?” and then you realise, “Why the fuck not? We did a couple times already. What’s stopping us? It’s not like I forgot how to use the English language. I’ll write lyrics that I think are up to the standard or above”. There are so many of us checking and balancing the songs – we’ve got six guys in the band – that no-one is going to let a shitty product get out. We’ll just keep making records that we’re proud of and unless everyone stops listening to the kind of music we play entirely then people are still going to like it I hope.

You played Groezrock at the start of this tour. Take a look at this video that we filmed of your set?

I was wondering who the fuck had that GoPro behind Kennedy! Very cool.

What do you think of watching things back like this?

Sometimes I’m like, “Man that looks stupid! Why did I do that?” That’s more or less all of it. It’s like, “That thing I just did is dumb looking”. I should try to not look so pigeon toed on stage or I should stand up straighter. All the shit your mum would probably tell you. “Stop cursing so much!”

You’re playing Reading Festival this year too. First time?

It is. I have no idea what to expect. I always thought we were kind of a Slam Dunk band as far as festivals go. Hit The Deck was dope but it didn’t seem so much where our niche was. Reading’s a lot bigger festival. We were maybe big fish in a small pond in a certain sense. This would be big fish in a BIG fucking pond. We look like nothing compared to some of these bands so I hope some people bother to come see us.

At the same time, you definitely deserve it.

Thank you.

There are plenty of bands that don’t work as hard you guys and don’t make music as good as you guys, and they get to play it so it should be good for you on the Lock Up stage.

It should be cool. I hope it goes well.

Cheers Soupy. Thanks for your time

Check out ‘St. Joe Keeps Us Safe’, one of the latest tracks released from Soupy’s new solo project Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties using the player below:


Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]