In The Studio: The Wonder Years

January 26 2011, 8:00 AM EST By Annie Zaleski


EXPECT IT: June via Hopeless

“We’re incredibly anxious people, and because of it we’re just so meticulous,” says Wonder Years vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell, calling from Seal Beach, California, where they’re recording with producer Steve Evetts. Need proof? As the group were writing their third album in their hometown of Philadelphia—a 13-song collection with chronological lyrics detailing the period from November 2009 to November 2010—they kept a whiteboard crammed with detailed progress reports about the recording.

“It was split into 13 squares for 13 tracks,” Campbell says. “And each square had the key, the tempo, the feel, some notes on it, and had a number out of 10 that we considered the completion rating for that song. Each day we would update the completions of each song—and then take the numbers, add them up, multiply it by 100 and then divide by 130 to get the completion percentage for the day. So every day we were doing the record, we knew exactly how many percentage points we had increased.”

Musically, Campbell says that the Wonder Years didn’t want to stray too far from the sound of their 2010 breakthrough, The Upsides. (“I don’t want to make a jazz-folk record,” he quips. “We’re a pop-punk band.”) Still, they wanted to branch out creatively on the album (which does have a title, although Campbell hesitates to reveal it just yet). The solution? The band found creative ways to assimilate their influences

“There’s influence on this record anywhere from the Hope Conspiracy and Envy to American Football and the Anniversary and the Get Up Kids,” he says. “We found elements of those bands that we can fuse into pop-punk. So there’s no song on the record that’s going to sound like a Hope Conspiracy song, and there’s no song that’s going to sound like an American Football song. But there are points on the record where I have this feeling that’s like, ‘If American Football wrote a pop-punk part, this would be the part.’”

The chronological nature of the album’s lyrics made it easier for the band to construct the album’s music. Unsurprisingly, Campbell also had a very detailed, specific vision for the lyrics—and wrote them in a very organized way. He kept a piece of cardboard in his bedroom, on which he would tape in-progress scribblings. “I had a bunch of different-colored pens and I would add lyrics in different colors for different themes, so I could see the themes going though the record,” he says. “There are, lyrically, five different things that I’ll talk about that are recurring. And so I can actually visually see where the themes are throughout the record, and see how they lay across it.”

Part of Campbell’s challenge was writing lyrics that were as honest—and relatable—as those found on The Upsides, with the caveat that he knew he couldn’t duplicate that album’s sentiments. “Now that I’m not living that life anymore, if I wanted to write the same record, it wouldn’t be honest anymore,” he says. So he focused on the concept of “deciding where home is,” an idea somewhat inspired by the poem “America” by beat-poet Allen Ginsberg.

“[The album’s lyrics are] borne out of that same concept [of the poem], of this relationship you have with the place that you came from,” Campbell says, “where it’s always got a place in your heart as home, but you see the flaws in it now as you grow older. The record works going through all of the events that would lead me to believe whether or not this is a home for me.”

The vocalist says he explored many ideas while wrestling with this concept, including thoughts on religion, the mentality of those living in small-towns, and concerns about drug addiction and alcoholism. While he stresses that the album does still have some personal songs, it’s not going to be as inward-focused as Upsides.

“Lyrically, I think at first people will be a little confused, because it’s not as overwhelmingly positive,” Campbell says. “Upsides was a record dealing with depression and social anxiety and seasonal affective disorder, and so it was kind of a record about beating that sadness. Whereas this is a record where all of the parts that seem negative, I think, are outside of me. I’m talking about negative things, but it’s not in my own head anymore—it’s problems I’m seeing with the world.

“It’s not so much a ‘Raise your fists in the air, everything’s going to be okay’ record, it was more of a, ‘I feel better now about myself—but instead of just being complacent in that, it’s now time to turn my attention to other things that I see problems in,’” he adds. “Now that I’ve beaten my own depression, maybe I can start looking at the world and start making changes—or at least tackling things that I think are wrong.” alt