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Three years since State Champs shook the scene up with their crash-hot second album, Around The World And Back, the little pop-punk powerhouse is back and bigger than ever.
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Living Proof isn’t just the new album from State Champs, it’s a complete overhaul of the punk-jump inciting pizzacore (that’s pop-punk for the uninitiated) mania that threw them into the public eye to begin with. Dousing their usual high school groove in some glorious pop energy and unfaultable production, it’s an ambitious set of jams from the New York exports. Before the record hits shelves this Friday, we gave frontman Derek DiScanio a little call to vibe on its battle-scarred backstory, the insanely huge (and insanely good) collaborations on it, and why fans can rest easy knowing State Champs will never let them down.
I know it can be a bit like choosing a favourite child, but how do you think this record stacks up against the rest of your discography?
Oh, man! I say this not to be cheesy and not because it’s what I’m supposed to say, but I really do think it’s our best album yet. There was a little bit of pressure with Around The World And Back, y’know, having to beat the first album, but I really think we did that. And then I guess it’s, like, double the pressure in our eyes, trying to beat both of those albums now. But we took our time with it, and that was a big part of this. We took about two years to write this and we tried to make it as stress-free and organic as possible. We wanted to go back to the way we started this whole band, which was just five dudes having fun and making music—except this time, there was more time and more money in the budget, and we had our friends and peers to help us along the way. I really think we’ve got something special here, I can’t wait for everybody to hear it!
After the last album did so well, I was a little surprised you guys didn’t jump straight into LP3 to keep that spotlight blaring. What made you want to step back and take some more time with this one?
We wrote Around The World And Back about being on the road—the dos and don’ts and ups and downs of that—but after that record came out and we saw the perception people had of it, with all the love we were getting, we just wanted to hit the road again and tour non-stop. We really went for it and did all we could with the touring cycle, seeing as many new places and taking as many new opportunities as we could, whether it was support tours, headlining tours, Warped Tours, other festivals … We did it all in two, two and a half years, and we really, really exhausted ourselves. I guess the segue into why we wanted to call this new record Living Proof is that, after that whole crazy touring cycle and how it took such a toll on us, we would joke around by saying, “We made it out alive, thank God!”
I don’t want to blow smoke, but I think the end result here is an album that just sounds so much bigger and more ambitious than your last two records—which is a big claim given how massive those albums already were. Was there a conscious effort to go especially grandiose or ambitious with this album?
I mean, not really. We just try to write the kind of songs that we would listen to, man. We’re not going to write anything that we would want to play over and over again—like, this album is still in my car! I still listen to it whenever I drive somewhere, which really says something to me, y’know? But I guess because we had so much time to make this album, we tried a lot of new things. We were so used to only writing the bare minimum we needed for an album—if that! We’d have maybe seven or eight songs when we went into the studio, and we’d have to rush every day and write more songs, and we’d always be stressed about it right up until the end of our studio time, when we would finally have enough songs. But this time, we took so much time and took as many swings as we could. We tried a lot of new things, and we didn’t get scared to experiment at all. So this time we ended up with, like, 20 songs, and we were all really excited about them. It was really tough to narrow it down to the 13 that ended up on the album—we’d always be arguing about it, like I’d go, “No, I like this one, it’s gotta stay on the album!” And Tyler would be like, “No, I like this one!” That was the only stressful part of the process, but honestly, it’s not a bad problem to have in my eyes.
Do you think there’s a chance we might hear some of the songs that didn’t make the cut in the near future as well?
I was just thinking about that, I was like, “Shit, he’s gonna ask that now” [laughs]. But yeah, I think you will. We have plans to maybe keep a couple and do some bonus tracks at some point. Or who knows, maybe they’ll just pop up out of nowhere in the future. But there’s definitely some stuff we kept in our back pockets.
Everybody will experience some tough times in life, but it’s up to you to surround yourself with the right people and the right environments, find the light, overcome your adversities and find your independence.
And what about yourself personally, how did you want this album to push you out of your comfort zone as a songwriter?
Within the two years that we spent making this, there was a little whirlwind of personal things going on with me, whether it was relationships, family stuff or being on the road, which I think are all things that our fanbase can relate to in a lot of different ways. This album talks about everything, whether it’s makeups, breakups, flings, heartbreak—even heartwarming things! There’s a little bit of something for everybody there; it kind of tells a story and it’s very cohesive in my eyes, but the idea with Living Proof is just that, like, everybody goes through those rough patches. Everybody will experience some tough times in life, but it’s up to you to surround yourself with the right people and the right environments, find the light, overcome your adversities and find your independence.
Around The World And Back really sort of launched you guys into the mainstream, and you did a fucking boatload of international touring off the back of it. Did that success play into the way you approached this new album at all?
Yeah, a little bit. I think we were definitely on a bit of an adrenaline rush after that whole cycle, but we were also just really burnt out from it, like I said before. So we didn’t know what we wanted to do. I guess we took a little bit of time to ourselves to just kind of value our time away from each other and take care of our personal lives, but it never takes long for us to get a little bored of that and get excited about getting back in the studio together. Especially since we had more time with this one, more money and bigger plans; we got to work with some cool people this time as well, being producers and songwriters that really helped us think outside of the box for this recording process. That was another new thing that we were excited about as well.
Speaking of all that international success, surely you knew this question was coming as well – when are we going to see State Champs back on Australian shores?
I can’t wait to get back to Australia! It’s been way too long since we’ve been there, honestly. I think the earliest we can make it back is very early in 2019—don’t quote me on that (too late buddy), but that’s when I want to get back there!
So back on topic, we learned a little while ago that for the recording process of this album, the sessions were split between one with John Feldmann, and one with Mike Green and Kyle Black. Where did the idea to do that come from?
Y’know, it was kind of a risky move on our part, which we noticed and learned a little bit more from as we were going. It made things a little more difficult when it came to making a cohesive album, but like I said, we really wanted to take as many swings as we could, work with new people, think outside of the box and not be afraid to push ourselves. And we figured that putting ourselves in a room with those three people would definitely give us the right amount of swings we needed to take. We loved working with people like Mike Green and Kyle Black, who we both worked with on our last album. Kyle mixed, produced and co-wrote some of the stuff on Around The World And Back, and we love the way that he works. He can make anything sound massive, so we knew we wanted him to mix it. And getting in the room with Mike Green as well—he’s such a low-key, but very talented and smart guy, and we love working with him as well.
But then I guess breaking it up and doing half of it with John Feldmann—he’s another guy that we hadn’t spent too much time with, but he’s just so talented as well. It was a little bit different of a process with him; it was a little more glorified because he has this massive studio in the heart of Calabasas, California, so you feel like you’re a bit of a celebrity when you’re hanging out with him. But it was really cool, man! We got a lot of really good stuff out with him. And that’s when Mark Hoppus came into the play, too, which was another kind of nerve-wracking thing. But that was really cool, and it’s something that we’ll always be able to brag about [laughs].
It was just this godlike voice talking to you, telling you how to breathe and to open up your heart and let all the dark shit out of you.
Yeah, what was it like working with Mark!? Because that is definitely not some small-name collaborator right there.
I know! We had never even met him before; we didn’t even know he was going to be around at the studio. John was just like, “Do you guys care if Mark comes around? He’s supposed to drop off a guitar, maybe he’ll hang around for a little bit…” We weren’t even planning on writing anything with him, but then he showed up and just started hanging out and kicking it, and within fifteen minutes of meeting him, he wanted to go on a hike and start writing lyrics with me. I was kind of shitting myself, like, “Oh shit, this is happening!?” But it was cool. It didn’t take too long for me to learn how to just kind of open up and not be afraid to dig a little deeper and talk about life, because he was amazing to work with. He didn’t make it too weird or anything like that. And then we got some good stuff out of it! We ended up with that first single, Dead And Gone, and then another kind of flipped-script song that’s darker and slower, called Time Machine.
Could you see yourselves writing and recording like this more in the future, or are you keen to keep diving into new and more experimental processes?
Nah, I don’t think we’re afraid to try things with other people—we know who we work well with, so I’m sure we’ll always go back to that sort of thing. We’d love to work with John and Mark again. There’s a cool feeling that comes with trying to push yourself and work with new people, but if anything gets too weird and doesn’t feel like State Champs, then we’re not going to do it. There were some of those songs out of the 20 we had that, after listening to them, we were like, “Yeah, I can see why this probably shouldn’t be on the album. It doesn’t really feel like us. It doesn’t feel like State Champs is telling this story, so let’s just scrap it.” But at least we tried, y’know? At least we put ourselves in the position to see if something like that would work or not. We’re never going to do anything that doesn’t feel like it’s us—we’d never let that get over our heads.
Just before I let you head off, what’s one interesting or funny story, fun fact or piece of trivia you can tell us about the making of Living Proof?
The first day we walked into John’s studio, he asked us if we wanted to meditate with him. None of us had ever meditated before. He was like, “This will get you so ready for the day!” And we took it as such a joke! We had no idea what we were doing—it was, like, breathing exercises, and we were all sitting on beanbag chairs or lying down on the floor in his mansion. It was just this godlike voice talking to you, telling you how to breathe and to open up your heart and let all the dark shit out of you. 30 minutes went by and we just sunk into it. It was almost like we were being brainwashed, dude. We all got up afterwards and we were seriously crying our eyes out, it was crazy. But then afterwards, we were like, “Holy shit, I feel so good! I’m ready to attack this album and write songs all day!” And then we did it every day when we were in the studio with him, we all meditated, and now we’re like… Kind of about it. We’ve got some zen vibes going, man.
State Champs will release Living Proof this Friday, June 15th via Pure Noise Records.