The Wonder Years: the cult Pennsylvania band on growing up on pop punk

From the early days of being a band, The Wonder Years have stuck to a few golden rules: They want to create music that matters. They want to better what’s come before.

The first three records they did “of any value” (their words) ‘The Upsides’ (2010), ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing’ (2011) and ‘The Greatest Generation’ (2013) saw the band perfectly embody the spirit of Pop-Punk, all hometown frustration, vicious self-loathing and wide-eyed bids for escape.

Fifth album ‘No Closer To Heaven’ (2015) found itself part of something bigger as The Wonder Years struggled to find a home within it, asking questions of life, death and the universe at large. If you’ve been following their journey, of course, 2018’s ‘Sister Cities’ was the next step. Championing empathy and understanding across a divided globe, it saw the band spread their musical wings even further as they journaled a tour around the world.

“We wanted it to feel global,” starts vocalist Dan Campbell. “We wanted it to feel like you’re ping-ponging between all of these different places.” ‘Pyramids Of Salt’ sees “everyone commiserates with that idea of feeling helpless when someone needs help.” ‘When The Blue Finally Came’, details both a desire to embrace life following the death of Dan’s grandfather via jumping off a cliff into the ocean near Sydney and the understanding that joy can be returned to dark places, which came about after the band visited Aokigahara forest in Japan. Elsewhere, the final, epic burst and decay of ‘The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me’ roars with the understanding “that you can be there for someone else and that it’s ok to have someone be there for you. If you feel beat up, it’s ok to feel beat up and it’s ok to fall into the arms of people who care about you.” Front to back, ‘Sister Cities’ is about the similarities we all share.

 

In the months since its release, the need for that message has sadly become more relevant. “I would like to believe we’re moving towards a less divisive world but it just feels more and more divisive. I feel like I need to keep telling people, just because you’ve never been somewhere and never met someone, it doesn’t mean that they’re your enemy or inherently bad. Most people are just trying to get by, and trying to live their life. We’ve been trying to get it across that people are cool. You need to try and put yourself in their position a little more and stop being so caustic.”

Their past two records have swirled with a political edge, blending the very personal with what’s going on globally. “At this place in our career, I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of our fans that we are proponents of empathy,” smiles Dan. “We write songs that are deeply personal that are tinged in politics, because politics is society. It’s impossible to avoid ‘ ‘Sister Cities’ “ends up political because of the time we’re in. It seems fucked up that it’s somehow partisan politics to say ‘humans are good’. ‘People should live’ I don’t understand why that is political but it is.”

And while it seems like The Wonder Years are becoming more outspoken, more sure of their voice, it’s not because they’re becoming more confident in their views on the world. “Everyone’s belief should be ever evolving and progressing,” promises Dan. “I never feel comfortable in my views because I never feel complacent in them because I always feel like I could be learning a way to do something better. A better way to empathise, a better way to be an ally, we want to be the most supportive that we can. It’s an ever-evolving thing. The more I listen, the more I will evolve.”

 

The Wonder Years have never feared change. Their beliefs have evolved, buffeted and polished by years on the road, and so has their music. Once just a pop-punk band, The Wonder Years have been pulling away from those restrictions with every album, but ‘Sister Cities’ cut the cord. “I don’t care what you call it. It just doesn’t matter to me. We’re going to do whatever we want, no matter what anyone calls it. We never wanted to play scared. We always wanted to create the thing that felt the most important and valuable to us.” And right now, that’s family.

This year, The Wonder Years are going to tour less because Dan just became a dad. “It’s crazy. I’m so excited. I spent the entire pregnancy working insanely hard preparing a bunch of things, so that when the baby is born, I can take a little bit of a backseat and be home.” The band have been on the road constantly since the early days, only taking a break to create albums, but they’re not disappearing completely. Their summer is the usual blitz of festivals as they “try to take our best and biggest shots. We want to play for as many people as we can. We would like to keep reaching a broader audience. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing but instead of two full US tours and two trips to England a year, we’ll probably cut it down to one. Both for the sake of our family but also because it’s harder on us than it used to be, emotionally and physically. I’m sore. I’m fucked up,” he smiles backstage at London’s The Troxy. “I don’t see us going anywhere though.” 

 

Next year, The Wonder Years’ second album ‘The Upsides’ turns ten and they’ll celebrate it somehow. Yes, Dan looks back on some of those lyrics and cringes but “the record was important to a lot of people and it was hugely important for me. It helped me exercise a lot of things mentally, it launched a whole career for us and people love the songs. I like playing songs people like. I like giving you what you want from us. It’ll be fun to celebrate that moment in time but we won’t go, ‘that tour was fun, what if we wrote ‘The Upsides Part 2’. There’s also the tenth anniversary for ‘Suburbia…’ in 2021 to be thinking about and “at some point, we’ll make another record, I’m sure.”

“We said it since the beginning, we’ll make music as long as we enjoy it, and we’re making something that’s valuable. If we feel like we’re making something that’s expendable or has no value, we wouldn’t do it,” starts Dan. “We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to make music for people that has been useful to them. That’s the most ideal thing it can be. All we’re able to do is fashion a tool. If you find that tool to be useful in your life, if it helps you get over something that’s been difficult, if it helps you seek help or if it helps you offer help to someone else, if it does a good thing for you, then I feel like we did our job. We’re going keep doing the thing we’ve been doing and we’re going to keep adding one every record. You should follow that to where it goes.”

The Wonder Years will play the inaugural nationwide Sad Summer Festival this summer.