Dan “Soupy” Campbell never planned to release the acoustic songs he was writing in his free time. The Wonder Years frontman was merely looking for a way to improve his guitar playing and broaden his songwriting scope. However, when the Early November’s Ace Enders heard the songs Campbell was working on, he encouraged him to release them. On July 8, everyone else will get to hear the songs when his new solo project, Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, releases We Don’t Have Each Other. We spoke with Campbell about his inspiration behind the record, learning to play guitar and why so many fake names are terrible.
By: Brittany Moseley
How did you come up with the idea for Aaron West?
The project came together in a couple different layers. First it was as simple as I wanted to be a better guitar player, so I’m going to try to write some songs—a little folksy, kind of alt-country, Americana-esque songs in the vein of a couple of bands I really liked that I couldn’t do with the Wonder Years. I’m just gonna try to write those songs. No one’s ever gonna hear them, but I’m gonna do it.
Then I pushed a little further in the sense that I wanted to write—I wanted to push myself as a lyricist and not just as a guitar player. I thought the way to do that would be to start writing character sketches for the songs, so they wouldn’t be about me; they’d be about a bunch of characters I’d created. I had one that was going to be about an indie pro-wrestler. One of them was going to be about a guy who was from Brooklyn going through a divorce. Then as I started working on it, I realized just that one song wasn’t enough to explore this character the way I wanted to. I thought if I wrote all the songs about one person, then it would be a full-album character piece. But still, I didn’t expect to ever let anyone hear it.
Then on Warped Tour , I showed a couple of the little pieces of songs I was working on to Ace Enders, and Ace got really excited about it and said, “I think that this could be a really great record. If you do consider doing it, I want to produce it.” It gave me a little bit of confidence. I kind of moved on along from there.
Where did the name Aaron West come from? Is it based on a real person?
We used to make up fake names all the time for things, specifically for guestlist spots. We’d make up fake names and whole characters behind them, but they were always kind of ridiculous sounding. At one point, my tour manager John and I were like, “We’re gonna write an EP, and it’s gonna be all ukulele and saxophone. What do we call it?” I really liked the name the Roaring Twenties, but the problem with that is there are probably 150 bands called the Roaring Twenties; it just seemed like such an obvious band name. Dan Campbell And The Roaring Twenties didn’t seem effective, and so we were like, “We should make up a fake name for a fake person that’s not actually in the band. It will be very confusing and very funny for us.” So we started spitting out our standard fake names, but none sounded real enough. After workshopping it for half an hour, we landed on Aaron West., and that sounded like a real name. So when I went to do this project and realized I was going to need a name for this person, the only real name I’d ever thought of was Aaron West. Other than that they were all like Guster Jankam and Tonto Littlefoot. Most of them had a “Mc” in them, like Stoplight McGasoline.
Did you approach the songs differently because you were writing from a fictional perspective and not your own life experiences?
It had to be approached differently, because usually the writing is influenced by living. I had a story that I wanted to follow, and I had to sketch that out and do a bunch of prewrites, try to get in the character. I would do these fake journal entries and just see what I could pull from that to start. For the Wonder Years, I always wanted to drop themes in throughout the record, but you couldn’t clump them together; they had to be spread across the record and they had to evolve in certain ways. And the same thing had to happen with this. I had to have a list of the songs, what plot points I wanted to hit and how I wanted the character to evolve through the songs. So I had to refocus energy through that.
What were some of those themes you wanted to address on the record?
I guess the bottom line is the idea of loss and how we cope with that. To get more in detail I feel would be a disservice to the listeners to a certain degree.. Where I really find a lot of joy in concept records is I’m learning about the character the more listens I get. I really get excited when I’m hearing a record for the 20th time and I go, “Oh wait, shit! This is here.” So I thought I’d leave that option open to people.
Do you have any anxieties about playing shows by yourself?
I want to put on a performance that I feel is worthy of the project. As someone who performs consistently and also as someone who used to stand in front of a room and teach classes, being in front of people and being by myself doesn’t bother me at all. But I’m outside of my comfort zone, in the sense that I’ll be playing guitar while I’m doing that, which is a new task for me. I’ve been rehearsing really hard, and I record rehearsal every day, then every night I watch it and critique it. Then I come back and do it the next day and try to do it better. It’s a little frustrating because I’m not fucking up the same things every day. One day I’ll mess something up, and the next day I’ll come back in and say, “I’m gonna get that right today,” and I do, but then I fuck up a thing that I didn’t fuck up before. It’s been a little frustrating the past couple of days because I’m like, “Can’t I just get the whole thing right?” But I’m starting to narrow down what I get wrong, and I’m starting to get to the point where it becomes a little more second nature.
When I’m playing a show with the Wonder Years, I can be thinking about any number of things while I’m singing and I won’t miss a beat. I remember one time in Colorado, I kneeled down at the front of the stage using my left hand to break up a fight that was happening in front of me and still singing every line correctly. alt