For someone like myself who has been listening to The Wonder Years since my introspective and angst-ridden high school days, one of the most defining qualities of their work is the fact that this Philadelphia-based group continues to raise the bar musically and personally with every single new full-length. I’ll never forget the overwhelming feeling of excitement I experienced when I first listened to “Cardinals,” the band’s debut single for their fifth studio album, No Closer To Heaven. After being immediately taken aback by the emotional intensity this song conveyed, I was simply convinced that No Closer To Heaven was going to be a huge release from the get-go.
With each new transitional phase of my life, there’s nothing more surreal than being able to connect with a group like The Wonder Years after all of this time, and they still never cease to amaze me. They are truly a group of sincere and talented musicians who will never let you down.
Right after the release of No Closer To Heaven, I had the opportunity to talk with Wonder Years frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell about hitting the Billboard charts within in its first week, the band’s natural maturity that influenced their writing and recording process, as well as their upcoming fall tour with Motion City Soundtrack, You Blew It! and State Champs.
So I’ve just read that No Closer To Heaven debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200, and No. 9 on the Billboard Top Album charts. What was your immediate reaction when you first saw these numbers?
I mean, obviously it’s something that we really worked hard for. What’s funny is that I was kind of not awake yet when I saw them. Like, they got leaked so early in the morning, and I kind of rolled over and looked at my phone. I was half-conscious and I was like, “Am I awake or not? Like, is this a dream? Did I dream that we charted in the Top 10? We had the ninth highest record in the country, or is this real?” So, not only was it surreal in the sense that, “That’s not a thing that we’d ever imagine, happen,” it was surreal in the sense that I wasn’t actually awake enough to comprehend that big of news, so that was cool.
And then the competitive side of me went, “Well, 75 more records and we could have beaten Scarface for No. 8,” and I got mad at myself for thinking that (laughs).
Was landing very high on the Billboard charts something that you thought would have never been attainable for The Wonder Years before this release?
Well, we’ve been steadily building towards it. The thing with our band is we’ve never really had a “big moment,” you know? There’s never been a defining thing where “this song came out and hit the radio, and we went [from] nobody to something.” It was like—our record The Upsides, which came out five years ago now, just barely hit the Top 200, and we were at No. 186. And we worked really, really hard to get to that point. Bands like ours didn’t really hit the Billboard charts back then, so it was crazy to get to that.
Then, we put out Suburbia with Hopeless, and it had been another year or two—and that ended up all the way in the 60s… or maybe it was in the 40s, I don’t remember, honestly; I have the copy of Billboard buried in my closet. You know, then we put out The Greatest Generation in 2013, and that made it up all the way to No. 20.
The goal was 20 or higher—we’re not looking to go backwards. Everything that we want to do is going to be another step forward. And so we went from No. 20 to No. 9, and that was really exciting.
It’s pretty surreal to think about how much time has changed since The Upsides came out, and that there are a lot of bands that you’re friends with who are now starting to rank very high on the Billboard charts as well.
Yeah, there is a space for it now, and there didn’t used to be. You know, with a bunch of the bands that we came up with, we kind of had to help build that space for them to exist. Obviously, it used to be there because New Found Glory, Yellowcard and all of those bands have gold records and platinum records, so there used to be a place for this. For a couple of years, it kind of went away a little bit, and I think all of those bands that you are talking about now, that have kind of helped re-shaped that space for this to exist.
What was the writing and record process like for this record? Considering the two-year timeframe from the release of The Greatest Generation to up until you started working on No Closer To Heaven, how has the band changed personally and musically?
I don’t think it points out to one quantifiable thing. What ends up happening is that we’re two years older. You know, we’ve had two more years of life to draw from, and two years more of musical influences to draw from. We’ve written more songs, and we have more songwriting skill to draw from. So it’s really just about maturing as people, and I think that every artist is going to mature as a person because that’s just what happens—it’s just your life. As long as you allow your music to reflect your life, then the music should mature as well.
So, that’s what kind of happened for us. We’re just writing the record that we think we would write at this age. You know, we’re 28-29 years old, and these are the songs that come out.
When I first listened to “Cardinals” and “Cigarettes & Saints,” there was no question that these singles conveyed a powerful emotional tone that I was completely blown away by from the very beginning. If you had to choose between any songs on No Closer To Heaven, were there any tracks in particular that were too personal for you to write, or hit too close to home in any single way?
Yeah, I ended up changing a lyric in “Cigarettes & Saints” because it was going to be too hard to sing, but outside of that, not particularly. Some of these songs… well, the “events” in the songs happened years ago, and we weren’t prepared to sing about them. So now being able to put them on the record, obviously, we feel pretty comfortable with the subject matter and we are as comfortable as we can be with uncomfortable subjects.
I can imagine that’s how any person would feel as things change over time.
Yeah, absolutely. Again, it just comes back to the honesty in the music. They’re just songs about us, they’re songs about our lives and are written by us for the sole purpose of expression.
In the middle of October, you’re going to be on the road alongside Motion City Soundtrack, State Champs and You Blew It! What are you looking forward to the most this tour?
For this one, we’re looking forward about playing the new ones. You know, we kind of had them all caged-up and all to ourselves for a long time. We were playing “Cardinals” a lot this summer [at the Vans Warped Tour], but I’d really like to get into a full set, in a club setting where we’re not rushed on, or off a stage, or the people running around to see other bands—it’s just us, our fans and our new songs, and to just kind of have that experience. That’s my favorite part about touring on a new record, it will be the first time, and playing these songs live to a club show audience.
How did you guys go about putting this tour together? What does it feel to headline after Motion City Soundtrack?
Well, Motion City tried reaching out to us, and we’ve been trying to tour with them for a couple of years now—probably dating to 2012, or within their recent and current years, we almost pulled off touring with that band. But it finally worked out when I was hanging out with them at the Commit This To Memory tour in Philly. I was talking to those guys and we were like, “Man, I wish we could make a tour happen. Why can’t we?” So we did. The Philly, Jersey and New York shows we’re going to be playing last, and they’re going to be playing last in their hometown, so they’ll be closing the night in Minneapolis, and it’s going to be cool.
I mean, really for us at the beginning, middle and end of the day, the most exciting part is that we get to watch Motion City Soundtrack play every night, and it’s just an undeniably cool thing. Just imagine if every day before you went to work, you go to watch your favorite band play. It’s just the coolest thing.
State Champs, they are the one of the biggest bands coming out of this community right now, and we’re incredibly excited to have them on the first tour on the new record. We met those guys when we toured in England with them, and they’re the kind of people that were just… within 30 seconds of knowing them, they’re just ready to hang out. We were throwing the football around when they pulled up the first day in England, and their drummer walked up and I was like, “Yo, go long!” And he just did, and I just threw the ball and that was that (laughs).
I think we met the You Blew It! guys on the same tour too in the Netherlands, and those guys are great too. They write great songs, and we’re excited to listen to those every night as well.
Fantastic! Sounds like you’re going to have a great time on the road this fall. Now that the record is out, what’s the rest of the year looking like for The Wonder Years after this tour ends?
That’s it for us, man. We’re going to finish up the tour, and at that point, it will be December, then we’ll just enjoy the holidays with our friends and family.
The Wonder Years embark on a full U.S. headlining tour this month alongside Motion City Soundtrack, State Champs and You Blew It! They will be playing at Webster Hall in Manhattan on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18, the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on Nov. 25, and at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Nov. 27. The Wonder Years’ fifth studio album, No Closer To Heaven, is available now on Hopeless Records. For more information, go to thewonderyearsband.com.