There are quite a few bands right now that are making Pop Punk sound bigger and better. State Champs are one of those bands and with Around The World and Back – their second full-length – the guys are getting into a new level as a band, but always keeping things fun and natural. Tyler Szalkowski spent some time talking to us about the new album and the importance of touring for the band.
Let’s start by talking about the tour you did with 5 Seconds of Summer. I read that the invitation to join them started with a tweet. Can you tell us the whole story about it?
The story of us and 5 Seconds of Summer… They had originally started tweeting at us just like family stuff about being friends and liking our band and stuff like that. We were both in L.A. at the same time working on new records for ourselves, so we had the chance to hang out and meet up over there. We just hang out a couple of times and they asked us if we wanted to go to Australia with them. It was a very, like a low-key, easygoing situation. They’re just a bunch of homies just like our band and we like their band, and so obviously we were like “Yeah, sure! Let’s do it!”
What were the highlights of that tour?
We got to play a sold-out 20.000 capacity arena with them in Sydney and that’s probably like the biggest show we’ve ever played. We were just really stoked to play the same size show as them, it was really cool.
Some thought that doing that tour [with 5 Seconds of Summer] was going to change what you were as a band, but they were totally wrong because Around The World and Back is the natural next step for State Champs and your sound is even more assertive as ever. What did you think about those reactions?
We definitely understand why people felt that way… Obviously, 5 Seconds of Summer are a very polarizing band – either you love them or you hate them – and for those who hate them, they didn’t want to see us with a band that they don’t like, which whatever, that’s their opinion and they’re allowed to have it. We think 5 Seconds of Summer are an awesome band and we were like “We would love to tour with them” and so of course we did it. But we understand like why everyone thought we were going to change… To us, it’s kind of crazy because we’ve always just been about doing our own thing. I think that the punkiest you can be is doing what you want to do… Punk is not about wearing leather jacket or having a mohawk, it’s about doing what you want to do, you know what I mean? We’ve always just done the stuff we wanted to do. It kind of sucks that the fans felt that way about it… They felt they were going to lose their favorite band, so it’s probably like a territorial thing and it’s not really like they weren’t mad with us for taking the tour, it just seemed that everyone was a little territorial and just a little nervous if there was going to be a bunch of new fans in the fandom and stuff like that. It’s something understandable that people were concerned that we were going to change, but it’s still us.
Before you went to that tour you had already the second album written and recorded. Was it stressful and challenging to write The Finer Things’ follow-up due to the high expectations?
It wasn’t really challenging… They say anything you do once, you can do again. We definitely wrote The Finer Things so that we could definitely write something as good as that – if not better – so I think we definitely followed it up very strongly. The record actually went up streaming yesterday and it seems like the fans’ response is very happy and everyone seems very excited about the record. I think there was definitely some pressure to follow-up The Finer Things and to do well, but we all kind of work well under pressure and so we all kind of like having that pressure, because it kind of set a bar that we knew we had to clear, you know?
How did the writing process for this album differ from the first?
We approached the new album a little differently. With The Finer Things, we had no idea what we were doing. It was our first studio record and we were just like “Alright, I guess we’re just making a record.” For Around The World and Back we had all the experiences of writing and recording The Finer Things, so we had a different perspective of how to make records. I don’t think it changed much. I think we still would’ve written Around The World and Back… It’s hard to explain, but we just felt a little more experienced, a little more comfortable to try different things and experiment with certain song directions and other things.
As the title of the album suggests, Around The World and Back is an album influenced by the last years of heavy touring you had. How much has touring shaped you, both as musicians and individuals?
Touring has really shaped us as musicians because we just got a lot better. I mean, if you really think about it like you say you go to the gym everyday for two years and then you’ll be a lot more physically fit… We played our instruments almost everyday for two years, so we all definitely improved and got a lot better at playing and stuff like that. But just being out there and experience the world is very influential, it definitely influenced a lot of the songs. We wrote a lot of the songs abroad when we were in Europe, Australia, etc. It’s everyday inspiring go out and see the world.
“Most of the record deals with a lot of homesickness and missing people, relationships and friendships falling apart, and stuff like that, which all come hand in hand with the amount of tour we do.”
Besides the physical exhaustion that touring life leads, there’s also the emotional distress and this album is pretty much emotionally-driven and a self-reflection of the experiences while on tour and the ongoing learning process that being in a band is. What did you take from those experiences as inspiration for writing this new album?
Most of the record deals with a lot of homesickness and missing people, relationships and friendships falling apart, and stuff like that, which all come hand in hand with the amount of tour we do. It’s like we sacrifice a lot of stuff at home to be out there doing what we do and I think that was a lot of the influence for Derek who writes all the lyrics. That was his way of dealing with everything that was going on.
The title-track “Around The World and Back” has the acoustic approach of your awesome EP Acoustic Things, and Ansley Newman of Jule Vera sings on it. What can you tell me about that track?
The song “Around The World and Back” is an acoustic duet with Ansley Newman. That song was written by Derek. I don’t really know much about the story behind it, but it’s definitely a love song and it has a lot to do with confronting commitment issues and things of that nature. As far as Ansley singing on the track, we’ve just been fans of Jule Vera for a while, we’re on the same record label and so we just asked her if she wanted to sing on a song.
What’s your favorite song off of the new record?
My favorite song off of the record is “Shape Up” because the general theme of the song is about taking care of yourself and making sure you have your own back, which I think it’s an important lesson in today’s world. “Shape Up” is definitely my favorite.
Around the World and Back was produced by Derek [Discanio, vocalist] and Kyle Black [Paramore, New Found Glory, Strung Out]. How did that go?
It was awesome. Kyle is a really good producer as so it’s Derek. Both him and Derek are really good. Kyle is just like a little weird. There were times we thought he hated our songs and we were like “Does this guy even like our band?” [laughs] but I think it was like a tough love thing to get us to do better and be more creative. Definitely it was a really good experience to work with Kyle, he’s a genius.
After all the great success and constantly growing fan base, you show that you’re still very faithful to yourselves and to the same reasons that led you to start this band. Looking at all of that, what are the things that you think will never change in the core of the band?
Honestly, we got into this to have fun and to play shows. We never took ourselves too seriously. We just like to have fun, so I think the one thing that will never change about us is that we’ll never do this for the wrong reasons. We’re not in it to make a million dollars. If I wanted to make a million dollars, I would go work on Wall Street. [laughs] We’ve always just been into it to have fun and help other people to have fun out on shows and stuff like that. I think we’ll always keep that youthful spirit alive, it’s that what I think it will never change.
Pop Punk is at its finest times in years with such great new and old bands like Knuckle Puck, New Found Glory, All Time Low, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk and so on. How does it feel to be one of the bands to push forward this genre into new grounds and listeners?
Well, it’s definitely very bizarre. [laughs] We’ve never really thought that we would be a part of this movement to bring pop punk back to mainstream or whatever, but it’s really fun. It’s cool to be looked at in that regard, I guess. Honestly, I think we’re really lucky.
By the way, you covered the song “Stay The Night” for Punk Goes Pop Vol. 6! Why did you pick that one to cover?
We picked “Stay The Night” because we’re huge Paramore fans, so with Hayley singing over that song, we just thought it would be very cool to take something that Hayley sing on and have Derek singing it in his own way. We’re really huge Paramore fans and so that was the closest we could get to do something like that. We were given a list of options and that’s obviously a really good song. It was one of the best options in the list.
I thought you guys would do a cover of Taylor Swift, because last time I spoke with Derek he told me he was a huge fan of hers. It would be fun to listen to you guys playing one of her songs.
We really wanted to do Taylor Swift first, but someone else got to do it. I don’t know who, but it was a bummer. Maybe next time. [laughs]