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In the eight months since releasing Sister Cities—the sixth album from Pennsylvanian pop-punk-come-post-hardcore heroes The Wonder Years—frontman Dan Campbell has seldom found himself in a state of rest.
Between the non-stop international touring, preparation for his first child, and work on a second album for his low-fi indie-rock side-project (Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties), Campbell has kept himself remarkably busy. Such hasn’t left a dent on The Wonder Years’ incredible work ethic, however, and later this week, Campbell and co. will make their long-awaited return Down Under for the first ever Good Things festival…
Do you know much about the lineup and who you’re keen to suss out?
To be honest with you… No [laughs]. There’s been so much kind of going on in my life. My wife and I are having a baby, so that’s kind of taken over everything for me. I haven’t even looked at the flights or the lineup or anything—I’m just ready to go!
YOU’RE HAVING A BABY! Dude, that is so fucking wild! Congratulations!
Thank you! I’m super excited. It definitely all-consuming, so that’s what I’ve been focussing all of my energy on. I’ve also been working really hard on a new Aaron West record, and on getting a lot of this cool Wonder Years stuff going, so there’s just a million things going on right now. I know that The Offspring are playing [at Good Things] and that Tonight Alive are on there, but that’s kind of the end of my knowledge.
Are you much of a punter at heart when you guys play festivals? Like, do you go off and watch all the other bands, or do you prefer to just chill out backstage and relax a bit in your downtime?
I used to really like going and watching all the bands, but then I found it to be a little bit of a distraction to some of them, depending on how big the stage is. Because if they’re on a smaller stage and I’m standing at the front-of-house, somebody comes up to me and wants a picture, and then all of a sudden ten people want a picture. I’m always happy to take them, but then I’m drawing attention away from the artist onstage and I start to feel guilty. So depending on their monitor setup, I’ll usually try to sneak up and watch them from the side of the stage.
You just need a good disguise. Sunglasses and hoodie, all the time.
Yeah, that’s not the worst idea! I hadn’t really thought about that. I didn’t think I was a big ‘disguise guy’, but maybe!
I think it’s just so fast-paced throughout that it’s almost like there’s no proper way to react to it, aside from just, like, standing there and screaming.
We’re coming up on eight months since Sister Cities hit shelves. How does it feel now that audiences have had a good while to really settle in with the album?
It’s been really, really good. Y’know, it’s hard to anticipate what the reaction to the songs will be when you first play them live, and it’s been even harder with this record because we did some things dynamically and structurally that warrant a different reaction than other songs. A lot of these songs don’t have that big singalong spot where the music drops out and the crowd yells along. But a song like Raining In Kyoto—which, according to our streaming analytics and everything, is a pretty popular song for us—people get really excited and will want us to play it.
But I think it’s just so fast-paced throughout that it’s almost like there’s no proper way to react to it, aside from just, like, standing there and screaming. So we’ve been seeing a lot of reactions that are different from anything we’ve ever gotten—that’s been really exciting and interesting for us. The first couple of times we played Pyramids Of Salt and Sister Cities, we got such an immense reaction—I was over the moon about it. And we just did Riot Fest where we played Flowers Where Your Face Should Be for one of the first times, in front of 15,000 people at sunset with their cellphone lights all up, and it was just the most breathtaking view. I’m never going to forget that moment.
When you’re creating a setlist, how do you find the right dynamic between those big singalong moments from the earlier records and those more intimate, cerebral moments from Sister Cities?
I think we’re still learning, y’know? I was so excited about our setlist for the spring tour that we did, and don’t get me wrong, it went really well, but I had tried really hard to make it so that it was all of the songs I thought fit the best with the Sister Cities songs, and not necessarily all of the songs that people actually wanted to hear. So for example, a song like Coffee Eyes—that’s not necessarily the song that people are dying to hear from Suburbia, but I was like, “Oh, well it fits best with the Sister Cities stuff! It’s a little darker, so it’ll blend into the setlist better.”
I think what I’ve learned is that it’s cool if we have one or two songs like that, but when we’re looking at all the older songs, maybe we should just find the songs that people are exited about, and kind of blend in and out of them. So that’s what we tried for this Riot Fest run, because my thought was, “How do you play a song from The Upsides right against a song from Sister Cities and have it still feel cohesive?” And we kind of learned how to do that a little more on this last tour. We played a couple of Upsides songs, but we strung them in and out so that there’s some space between them and there’s this kind of gradient between the different styles, so that it never feels jarring, but nothing gets left out of the set either.
I love the idea of doing any album show, because it’s fun to serve the album in the way that it was originally intended.
So would you consider doing a show where it’s just Sister Cities in full, or do you like this idea of stretching it out and being a little more dynamic with the different material?
I mean, I love the idea of doing any album show, because it’s fun to serve the album in the way that it was originally intended. But there’s merits to both options, right? I like playing a mix of songs because it sort of ebbs and flows and spans the whole catalogue, and everybody has a chance to get what they want from the set.
We want to make sure that everyone’s leaving the show feeling really good about the time they had there. You paid your hard-earned money to watch us perform music, so we want to make sure that we’ve put on a hell of a show and that you really enjoyed it. Some of that has gotta be playing the new stuff, because it’s like, “Okay, here are the songs that you haven’t heard yet, that you’re excited about, that you haven’t gotten a chance to see live.” But some of it’s gotta be playing the old stuff as well—playing the standby cuts and all the songs that people from the older days cut their teeth on. So y’know, we do a little bit of everything.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned that you wanted to keep journalling and reap some new inspiration from the places you visit on the Sister Cities cycle. Have you kept yourself to that?
I have not [laughs]. It’s been too busy! Even on that last tour, I was getting into the process of writing another Aaron West record, so that took up a lot of the time that I would have been using to journal.
The Wonder Years are touring Australia this week with Boston Manor. Catch them at the following dates:
Thursday December 6th – Stay Gold, Melbourne VIC
Friday December 7th – Good Things Festival, Melbourne VIC
Saturday December 8th – Good Things Festival, Sydney NSW
Sunday December 9th – Good Things Festival, Brisbane QLD
Monday December 10th – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW
Tickets are on sale now via thewonderyearsband.com