Interview: The Swellers x The Wonder Years

With the Vans Warped Tour now in it’s 19th year, we’ve assembled a few unique features that open up the general community to artists considered influential and must-sees on this summer’s trek. Coming from Flint, Michigan and Philadelphia respectively, THE SWELLERS’ Jon Diener and THE WONDER YEARS’ Dan “Soupy” Campbell have transferred everyday experiences to records, trudging through publicity campaigns and endless tours to ultimately connect with audiences. We linked the drummer and vocalist to put the spotlight on the Warped Tour scene as a whole, opening up about the accessibility of music and how the punk/hardcore genre is associated with judgement.

If you’re headed to Warped Tour this summer, make sure to catch The Swellers on this year’s Ernie Ball Stage and The Wonder Years on the Kia Forte Stage. You can find artist/lineup info and a list of dates at the tour’s website.

What’s the biggest thing you took away from your first favourite record? Does it translate now?

SOUPY: From a songwriting perspective, the ebb and flow of a record is what I took away from The Get Up Kids’ Something To Write Home About. That record flows really nicely, the fast songs are where they need to be, the slow songs are where they need to be. As a songwriter listening to other records and taking inspiration, that’s the most important thing I learned from that record.

JON: I’m actually going to reference The Get Up Kids too. They were the first not-big band I ever saw, in ’99 or 2000. I just remember seeing a bunch of normal dudes walk on stage. This was right after the Red Letter Day EP, or it could have been right when Something To Write Home… came out, but that was the first band who presented emotion in a non-manufactured way that just made you think “Holy shit, I know what these dudes are saying.”

SOUPY: It wasn’t over-dramatized.

JON: Right, it was relatable. The crazy part is that even now, I relate to the lyrics – some of them way more than I used to. Also, I know this is a go-to record for a lot of people, but Pinkerton by Weezer is another record that just took a step forward and said, “I’m going to talk about crazy personal stuff, and I’m not even going to use metaphors. I’m just going to go for it.” It’s just a super sad, strange record, but again, the ebb and flow of that record is awesome because there’s some songs that are upbeat and positive, yet they’re singing about really crazy stuff.

SOUPY: Every time you really listen to “Across the Sea” you just feel like you got kicked in the stomach.

JON: They talk about such crazy concepts. One song is about how he wishes he could be with a fan who wrote him a letter, but he doesn’t even know what she’s like and he can’t tell anyone that, so he writes a song about it. That shit’s just crazy to me.

SOUPY: Projecting onto this person all the attributes you want to have in someone so you can attach yourself to something because nobody gets you… that shit’s fucked up.

JON: But so good!

Because music is so easily accessible, do you think it’s something kids take for granted now, when compared to the way things were when you were a kid?

SOUPY: I don’t want to go too far into the “back in my day” kind of shit — but totally. Music is such an easy thing to come by now. When I wanted to find a new band, I would go to a show and there would be albums I’d look through or I’d have to go to a record store. But there wasn’t a one in my town, so I’d have to wait until the summer when we’d go on vacation to a beach town. I’d go to that store and tell them I liked emo, and they’d hand me Bright Eyes.

I was talking to a buddy about this recently, about how we used to share records. Music wasn’t cheap, and it was never free, so you and your friends would just chip $7 and then share a record. We would find bands in the “Thank You” sections of other bands’ records and we’d go find out who they were. We’d buy CDs with no knowledge of what the band sounded like. We would know we liked other bands on their label, or that they were friends with other bands we liked, and we’d decide to take the risk and spend the only money we had on this one CD. I think back to it, and when I was in high school I probably only listened to ten bands, maybe 15, because that was all I could afford to buy. Now these kids will have a list of 120 different “favourite bands”.

JON: I just had a conversation about this the other day. My cousin actually got us into punk, and he gave us some random CDs he had in his house. He told us, “I used to go to the record store and go to the punk section and buy what looked most punk, sometimes I’d go to other sections and see an album cover I thought was cool and I’d buy that too.” The pro is, you’re taking a gamble and you could find some new favourite band that no one else knows, and they’d be your special band because you discovered them on your own. The con could be that you just bought a record that sucks, and you can’t return it, so you have to sell it back for barely any money.

I used to get the Punk-o-Rama CDs. Music is so readily available now with things like Spotify but, personally, I use Spotify and I think it’s great! Am I making money from it? Probably none at all, but at the same time music isn’t decreasing in popularity, it’s just decreasing in album sales. More people are hearing about this stuff and more people are expanding their interests. Bands from Run For Cover Records and No Sleep Records have the potential to be mainstream now, because people can just type something and they show up. Whereas, back in the day, you’d never get the chance to find out about those bands.

SOUPY: What’s great now is that everyone has a shot. I don’t think we would have been successful in 2004 because we wouldn’t have been able to sign to Drive Thru or Vagrant and that would have been the end of it. That was the beginning, middle and end for the type of music we wanted to play.

Maybe it’s a good thing it doesn’t happen anymore or maybe it’s a bad thing, because I remember getting Letting Off The Happiness by Bright Eyes, I played it and thought, “Oh my god, I just wasted $15, this is so fucking bad” but then I realized I spent $15 and I should really try to like it. So I invested myself in the record and after a couple more spins I started liking the odd song, then I started loving a few songs and soon enough I loved the whole record. Now Bright Eyes is one of my favourite bands of all time. I think that now there’s a difference because people can spin the track once on YouTube, decide they don’t like it, and then that’s the end of it forever.

JON: The age of the “grower” is kind of deceased.

SOUPY: It’s stressful for us as bands because we really have to make sure the first song we’re going to release off a record is going to be loved, or that’s it. There’s one chance – three minutes to make them like it. Even if they already like your band, you have three minutes to convince them that they still like your band, because they’re super ready to stop liking it because there are a million other bands they can like instead. That’s not true of everyone, and I shouldn’t make blanket statements about fan bases, but it’s a general trend.
Do you think that it’s fair to say people are aware of more bands and genres than ever before, however their depth of knowledge in those bands is more limited?

SOUPY: That can definitely be true for a lot of people. I have a friend named Nick Wakim, who plays in Stay Ahead Of The Weather and Castevet, who we actually call Doc Wok, because he’s actually a doctor. He’s an incredibly intelligent man. He can tell you everything you need to know about every obscure band from every obscure genre and every obscure subset in the world. Some people have that kind of base knowledge. Evan Weiss from Into It, Over It can do the same thing. His list of favourite bands is so incredibly extensive and he’s really invested in all of them. I personally can’t invest in that many bands. When I love a record I spend months with it, and that’s what it takes for me to be into something to that degree. I know the names of a lot of bands, but I couldn’t tell you what they sound like. We met Sleeping With Sirens at Soundwave, and they said they were going to do an acoustic tour, and I said, “You guys can play acoustic? I thought you were a metal band.” Things can get confusing.

JON: A lot of people can dabble a little bit into a lot. In the same way that there are some musicians who can play almost every instrument – maybe they’re not that great at every instrument, but they can play it. I’d rather just focus on drums and I guess some people are the same way with music preference. Some people just know so much they will start telling you how they preferred the demo to the 7″ and I’m thinking “What the hell are you talking about?”

Some people just know so many things and, as Soupy said earlier, I was the dude who listened to ten records in high school because I really loved them, and I gave them the full amount of time. When something clicked with me, I kept it – I embraced the shit out of it. More recently, bands like Nada Surf, they have six albums and I will listen to them on every drive, or Limbeck’s Hi, Everything’s Great. I personally think there are way too many bands, like overpopulated deer in the forest. But it’s one of those things, because it’s like, “Good for you guys, you’re doing what you want to do, you’re doing what I did.” Clothing lines used to be the big thing, and now it’s being in a band. It’s good for everybody, but it’s one of those things where people shouldn’t feel obligated to like everything

SOUPY: It’s about personal preference. Some people can really only invest in a certain amount of bands, and some people can invest in a ton. As long as you’re getting the same amount of enjoyment about it, that’s awesome.

JON: I just don’t want anybody to be happy

SOUPY: My goal is for everyone to be unhappy (laughs).

Does music become any less meaningful now that the way it is consumed has changed?

SOUPY: You have more options to find what you really love.

JON: It’s more accessible; the opposite of how it used to be. You’re able to choose and research as opposed to being limited to liking X amount of things. People can develop pretty intense opinions of music, and if they utilize it correctly they can find their favourite albums, whether it’s on Spotify or whether it’s a vinyl, it’s the same thing.
What is the one thing about making music that you believe will always remain the same, regardless of how music is packaged, sold or consumed?

SOUPY: It’s always going to be a risk. Your parents are always going to say “Maybe you should go to college.” The format we receive it in will change, the instruments will change, the topics people are writing about will always change. I think music will always be based in those real emotions we were talking about earlier. Human emotion is not going to shift to such a degree that we’ve invented new emotions for people to write about. I think people are just going to find different means to write about those emotions.

JON: A big thing too, regardless of lyrics, is that the way music affects people will never change. There’s an actual science to it; which notes make you feel good and which make you feel melancholy. There’s uplifting, depressing, but whether or not it’s one guy tapping a note on a keyboard or a whole orchestra, there will always be that connection with someone. Even the band Wolf Eyes – they’re a complete noise band, but they have a fan base. That connection with people will always be there, regardless of the medium.

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