“With a battle cry of “I’m not sad anymore” on their new album, The Upsides, Philadelphia-based pop-punk quintet THE WONDER YEARS are pushing positivity. But in a world with a “FML” mentality, where does a band derive the inspiration to rally for happy? Vocalist DAN “SOUPY” CAMPBELL reveals to writer LUCY ALBERS that a solid diet of Top 40 radio isn’t so bad for you-and a lot healthier than dwelling on the downside.
What are your earliest memories of music?
It has to be “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” [by Tom Petty], which, at the time, was my favorite song. I was maybe, like, 4 when I heard it and I loved it. I would sing it all the time in front of my grandparents. I probably heard it in my mom’s car when we were driving around and listening to whatever was on the radio. I was really young and I had no idea what it was about. I remember watching the video and in the video, there’s a woman and I thought that it was about her. But once I got older I realized it was about not smoking weed anymore–which is ironic because I’m straight-edge.
Did your parents have a lot of influence on what you listened to?
Both of my parents did. My mom was really into Top 40 radio. My dad always had really eclectic tastes, so whenever I was with him, we’d be listening to the Sex Pistols or De La Soul or the Black Crowes or Hank Williams. I always had a particular fondness for music, more than just listening to whatever was on. My parents had me when they were really young, so a lot of their siblings were still in high school and so I remember watching MTV with my aunt.
If you made a mixtape of music you listened to when you were younger, who would be on it?
Actually, Boyz II Men have been one of my favorite groups for years and years and years. I actually got to play a show with them once, which was one of the highlights of my life. Then also probably some TLC because I loved “Waterfalls.” I guess that was elementary stuff. Then in, like, seventh grade, I started getting into Blink-182 and MxPx–oh, and the Notorious B.I.G. I guess it was that period when you kind of want to fit in with everyone, so you listen to what’s cool. What was cool was stuff like Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, but at the same time it was, like, Blink.
What was the first album you bought with your own money?
It was a Boyz II Men album. I grew up in a small suburb about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia called Lansdale. There’s not a lot of cool stuff around, but there was this one shop that sold, like, skateboarding stuff and it was also a record store. My dad was there getting a new snowboard setup and I found their record and was really excited and bought it. It was used and didn’t even have the top of the case; it was just the back of the jewel case and the CD.
How did you usually discover music?
I think a lot of it was through my dad and listening to what he was listening to and just riding around in the car with him. He would always go into a record store or something and buy, like, 10 CDs at once. In eighth grade, I went to my first local show, and from there, it just became a series of going to shows. I would show up to these shows having no clue who the bands were, just hoping I liked them. [I learned about new music] just from being at shows and looking for tapes of bands and stuff that looked cool and buying it and taking it home and hoping that I liked it. Right when the first MP3 players came out, they probably held, like, 10 songs and cost like $100. My friend had one and he’d load up 10 new songs and show me. That’s how I found out about, like, New Found Glory and the Get Up Kids and Saves The Day. He was always finding stuff on like Napster and everything, which was just hitting at that point.
What was the local scene was like when you were younger?
It’s weird because my little suburb had built a really good scene and a lot of times, bands would skip over Philadelphia and play there. They weren’t, like, huge bands, but like 25 Ta Life came once. I really didn’t have to venture too far out of my town because there were so many good shows coming directly to me that I really liked. The first local show I went to was Inkling and All Else Failed–two of the bigger Philly bands.
Is there one local band that influenced you the most?
Inkling. Definitely. At that first show I went to, I remember watching them play a chaotic part of their song, and everyone just went nuts. Then it all just breaks and they start singing and everyone just kind of stopped what they were doing and sang along. I remember it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Also, even though Kenny [Vasoli] is only like a year-and-a-half older than me, the Starting Line blew up when he was so young. But I love and love and love the Starting Line. I had a friend who played bass, and in 10th or 11th grade I wanted to start a band and decided I was going to sing. So I’d ride my bike to his house everyday for practice, and on the way, I’d listen to [Vasoli] and try to repeat how he was singing. That’s how I developed as a singer–not that I have any talent vocally, but if I do, it would be from that. [Laughs.]
What do you listen to now?
I listen to, like, Motion City Soundtrack and the Hold Steady. We’ve kind of come full-circle [in the band]–we listen to almost nothing but Top 40 radio in the van. I’m really into Kanye West and everything he does. I don’t care how pretentious he is, I think he’s awesome. We also listen to that Drake song, “Forever,” and “BedRock” by Young Money. That Ke$ha song ["Tik Tok”] is also catchy as shit. It sends the worst message in the world, but that chorus gets stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it.
What is it about Top 40 that you like so much?
A friend of mine said it best: “Why would I want to listen to a dude talk about how much he hates himself?” I want to listen to a guy who thinks he’s the coolest guy in the fucking world and he’s listing the reasons why. That’s going to put me in a great mood. I have nothing against [d[darker]usic. I still love it, but when that’s all you listen to, it kind of starts to get to you a little bit.
The Wonder Years wouldn’t exist without:
Blink-182: “I would probably never have wanted to be in a band if it wasn’t for Blink.”
Inkling: “The singer is now the keyboardist in the Starting Line. He ended up joining after Based On A True Story came out. The drummer of Inkling is in Person L. I like Inkling because it was the first band that showed me that there was something between writing songs in my bedroom and playing music in a band. There were more steps than I thought.”
The Get Up Kids: “I don’t think I listen to any band more than I listen to them. They really influence my songwriting, too. Every time I hear a Get Up Kids song, I think ‘Oh, that’s really creative’ or, ‘That’s really cool that they did that.’ I think they’re both very underrated and overrated. They’re underrated because they never really got the shock that a lot of the other bands like them got, like Jimmy Eat World. You know, I shouldn’t have said they’re overrated, because they’re not overrated at all. I just see too many tattoos with robots on them–that’s all I’m saying.” alt“