The Wonder Years

author PP date 29/01/12

Five hours of driving later we were finally sitting at a smoky Hamburg bar called Knust, that doubles as a football pub in the afternoon and early evening, and a concert venue later in the evening, for an interview with The Wonder Years. Their bass player Josh Martin was made available for a lengthy interview. "Suburbia, I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing" was one of the defining records fo 2011, so many of the questions were purposefully chosen to dissect parts of the record for you readers, but we also go into detail about what the band thinks of their polar-opposite debut album today, about the whole realist pop punk movement as a whole, and of course on whether it's really always sunny in Philadelphia. Thanks for the interview. How's the tour going?
Josh: It's going really well, I think. It's our first real tour into mainland Europe. We've been to the UK a couple of times, but never really experienced mainland Europe and the different kind of cultures and language barriers, and all kinds of other challenges. But it's a lot of fun, and you get to see a lot of new things. How are the Yellowcard fans treating you guys?
Josh: I think it's been well. I think fans here in Europe have a tendency to be not as excitable, but more attentive. They pay more a little more attention, they care about opening bands a little more than sometimes they do in the states. So I think that the reception has been warm, I'm excited about the next time whenever it is to come back and try to see how we've built and how we've grown, and how people take to our music and our live show. It's a pretty diverse group of bands on this tour in general (ed: Yellowcard + Saves The Day), so how does the reaction differ between all the bands?
Josh: I don't know. We normally load out during Saves The Day, which bums me out because they're one of my favorite bands. But Saves The Day gets a great reaction, and Yellowcard, of course, gets a great reaction. Excitement builds through the night, and it's a lot of fun. I think that the package is really well put together. The bands are similar but they don't sound the same. It's the same kind of background, punk rock coming together and just three bands that work hard, and they're nice guys, it's really good...packaging. You guys have a new album out called "Suburbia, I've Given You All, And Now I'm Nothing". Can you elaborate on the title a little bit?
Josh: It's borrowed or inspired by the poem by Allen Ginsberg called"America", and the first line is "America, I've given you all and now I'm nothing". The poem and our record kind of have a common thread of looking at what your home is, and looking at where you came from, and the good and the bad and everything that kind of created you, and why you are the way you are. If we go back to the first album "Get Stoked On It!", I guess it could be described as one of the catalysts to this whole pop-hardcore movement that started around then. At least in my opinion, a lot of similar sounding bands spawned around the same time. Do you guys ever feel like you started a trend with that record?
Josh: Not really. I think that record was strange for us, because it was the first time we ever got to make a record. We signed a record contract, and someone gave us the opportunity to make a full length record, and we were really excited about it. I don't really know if we knew what we were doing at all at that point. But we were just excited to try to make a record, and that's what came out. But if someone has been inspired or pushed to create their own records because of any three of our full length records, then that's awesome. If you look back again at "Get Stoked On It!", that record was more about sort of fun, maybe even silly songs about ninjas and cereal mascots and stuff like that. And today you guys have progressed into this sort of 'realist pop punk', or whatever people are calling it on the internet. So what triggered the change between the tongue-in-cheek to this more serious...
Josh: When we wrote that first record and recorded it, we didn't really know what we were doing. We had never been on a proper, really long tour before. And as that record came out, we went on a five-week US tour. And to go out and play songs like it was fun, but the songs didn't mean a whole lot to us or anyone else. They were fun, and whatever. It was cool, but after a while of playing them, you wanted to play something that was more substantial and play something that had meaning. Because if you're not putting everything into your live show and into these songs that you record, it's a lie, and people don't have time for that. So we tried to take a step back and wrote songs with more substance and more emotion that meant something. And that's what triggered the change. In the song "Hoodie Weather", you actually write "growing up means watching my heroes turn human in front of me, the songs we wrote at 18 seem short sighted and naive". Is that a reference to your old material then?
Josh: A little bit. It's know, when you are eighteen you think you're indestructible, and you know everything already. 'Fuck school', and you can do whatever you want. And it's kind of true at eighteen, but as you get a little bit older, you learn a lot of things and realize a lot of things. And also the heroes line, being like...we've gotten the chance to tour with a lot of bands that we looked up to when we were younger. New Found Glory, Streetlight Manifesto, Saves The Day, and Yellowcard. There's just more and more that we keep meeting. It's a strange emotional realization when you're like "oh my god, I bought Through Being Cool when I was fifteen", and now you sit next to Chris Conley. Or you go eat dinner with Chad and Steve from New's a wild transition for someone who grew up being 12 and covering New Found Glory songs. It's a weird kind of thing to get used to, but it's part of what we go through, and that's kind of what comes out in our music. The recurring theme of the new album is the whole idea of the 'main street' and the suburbs that you write a lot about. Can you elaborate a bit on the choice of topics, and what does the overall theme mean to you?
Josh: It was just kind of a record about looking back at where you came from. We spent so much time out on tour, and you come back home, and a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things are the same. It's kind of examining how we grew up and how we became the people we are. And struggling with 'is this still where I call home', or 'where is home for us' because you spend eight or nine months away from this place, and come back. You've always lived here, but do you want to keep living here, is this the place for you? You know, parts of this city are fucked up, and it's gross, and you don't wanna be here, but part of it's just nostalgic. I remember when I did this here, I did this here, I went to high school here. You know, you love the town growing up, and you hated it, like every teenager does. It's kind of like taking the next step back and re-examining your feelings from eighteen and nineteen, now that we're twenty-four. Would you say then that the new album is a concept album in a way?
Josh: I guess you could call it a concept album. We don't really try to make concept albums, but the last two records, we've tried to make whole albums. That's the thing. We try to make it a cohesive and intelligent record. Not just twelve singles that are not connected. You try to connect the songs that have a message to base this record off of. In a sense you can call it a concept album, but you don't have to. I've noticed that both on this one and on "The Upsides", you guys have sort of been telling a story with references to Philadelphia, and maybe talking a little bit about the lower to middle class struggle in everyday life. What would you say is the overall message that you guys convey?
Josh: It's one of positivity but one of realism. Shit isn't always great, and if you think it is, you are lying to yourself. But we try to talk about a message of finding the brighter points. For example, it gets hard on tour. Right now I'm in somewhere, Germany, and it's Christmas time, and I wanna go home and see my Mom, my brother, and his kid. But you realize you're lucky enough to come out here and play your songs for people and see the countries. It's awesome but with every downside there's an upside. There really is. You just have to find the positivity and try not to let your normal shit beat you down, because it's not worth it. There's a lot of other cool things you can go out and do and experience. And that's kind of something we've talked a lot about on "The Upsides".

Then with "Suburbia...", it was more like, taking yourself and your surroundings, and try to improve the place that you came from and the place you want it to be. Like you mentioned, there are references to that Allen Ginsberg poem "America" on the record. In fact, there are a lot of references, and a heavy focus on it. How come you focus on just one poem, and that specific one, in that great length?
Josh: Dan, or 'Soupy', our singer, writes all the lyrics for the songs. I can speak kind of intelligently for this, but he might've been better at it. But he reads a lot, and he just connected with that poem, and he showed it to all of us. And we all kind of got it, and we felt like we're struggling with a similar concept, only just on a different scale. He's dealing with America as a whole, and we're just focusing on the suburbs in the city that we're from. I don't know, it just kind of spoke to us a little bit. And the songs just came and we're kind of paying homage to the poem by all of the references in there because it inspired us, and we're kind of tipping our hat to that for doing what it did for all of us. You guys have focused a lot on the whole Philadelphia environment. Do you see that in the future, you'll expand out of just your hometown to maybe talking about America as a whole, like the poem?
Josh: Possibly. I'm not sure where the next step is for us. We might all leave the city and the suburbs, or we might stay. It's hard to tell with how much touring we do. But I'm excited to see what Soupy comes up with as a concept that we can all work out together, and kind of flush out some cool ideas. I really have no idea. He said he has started working on lyrical snippets for the next record. I have yet to see or hear them, but I'm excited for whatever it is, and then we can all work together and try to create a cool new, I guess, concept for the next record. Speaking of lyrical snippets, one of the most memorable lines, or most quoted ones on the new record is, "it's not about forcing happiness, it's about not letting the sadness win". Can you go on in a bit more depth on what the meaning of the line is?
Josh: Yeah, it's're allowed to be upset. You're allowed to have emotion. You don't have to be super positive all the time, because it's fake, and you'll go crazy. But don't let the bad shit overtake you. You don't haven't feign happiness all the time, you don't have to be like "ohh everything's great, everything's great, everything's great", because it's not. We're real people, and nobody is super happy all the time. But just don't let it conquer you, don't let it defeat you. I would say that "Suburbia..." today is one of the key albums in the whole 'reactionary' / 'realist' pop punk movement in the states, and I guess also in Europe. So what do those terms mean to you personally?
Josh: It's kind of about... realist, it's kind of like the art movement, where it's real and it's tangible. And that's kind of where it came from, I guess, because we write about real, honest things. Real stories and real people, and real names. We try to write honestly about things that matter, instead of making shit up. There's no room for...I don't know. I just feel like people want more honest music nowadays, and there's not a whole lot of room for fairy tales and bullshit anymore. We're out here working hard, and we care about what we're writing and what's being made. It's us, it's the six of us through and through, so I guess that's why it would be realist. Would you guys say that you guys are in a way a response or a reaction to the really poppy and polished style of pop punk that was sort of dominant in the few years before?
Josh: I don't know if we'd be a reaction...well, I guess so. But it's not really about that. I think a lot of bands in our scene came up listening to these late 90s and early 2000s bands like Saves The Day and like The Get Up Kids, and Fairweather, and there's a million other ones. But it's the music we listened to when we grew up on, and it's what we're passionate about. And that is conveyed in our genre and in our scene. You hear a lot of different influences in all the bands, but I think as far as a reaction to the like more poppy or polished pop punk? We weren't focusing as much on them and saying "this is dumb, this isn't what it's about" as proving to ourselves and making something that we care about. I guess the popularity of this realist pop punk is snowballing at the moment. One of our readers wanted to know if you worry that the whole movement will lose its meaning as the popularity grows?
Josh: I don't think it'll lose the meaning unless the bands change what they are doing. We're not gonna write the same record over and over again for however many we get to make. But we're gonna continue to be honest, and passionate about the music we play, and that's not gonna change. And if people think that genre changes with popularity, then you're lying to yourself, and you're just blaming someone else for the fact that the band got popular and you can't see them at a basement anymore. So I don't know. I think we've progressed and changed and evolved in our records, but it's still us, and we're always going to create the record that's the picture of ourselves. So as we change as people, yes, our music's gonna change, but I feel like the 'realist' section of that won't falter. Another fan question: do you think that pop punk has a strong community spirit especially compared to other scenes?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I get this question a lot, actually. I feel like there's a strong sense of community in our scene, because we all respect each other's music, and we're all friendly and we care about one another's records. Because I think they are great. In some other scenes, it's kind of like "he said, she said, this band's bullshit bla bla bla, they're alright guys but their records suck". It's not like that in our scene. We're supportive and we're connected, and we're excited when we get to see each other. It's like you're cousins, basically, when you get to see these bands in different parts of the world, in different parts of the country. If one band does really well and goes to radio, and is wildly succesful. Then it's just good for everyone else. It's not a competition. Because if Four Year Strong gets massive, then that opens up a gap for other bands. Or if we do really well, that opens up the pipeline for more younger bands. It's just a community, and we're all excited to be working together towards something, towards meaningful music. We actually did an email interview with you guys three years ago. In that interview you guys stated that the band was more of a project that you juggled between college. I'm guessing that has changed since then?
Josh: Yeah, five of the six of us have gone to university and have completed our degree programmes. And we were in college, and we didn't really know what we were doing bandwise. And with the release of "The Upsides", we decided to take the chance and try to tour as much as we could, because it's what we care about, it's what we're excited about. We've been lucky so far to get to tour, and to get to make another record, and we're thrilled. We're as full-time as you can be. We've been on tour...we recorded an album in January, we're in the UK in February, did an East Coast run in March, did a full US in April, did Australia in May, Warped Tour all summer, the UK again in September, another full US in October-November, and now we're back here in Europe in November and December. We've been out all year. It's because we care, and we're passionate about the music that we get to make. We're happy that we get to go on tour, it's awesome. Not too many people get to have this, get to do this. Even though it's not all fucking hotel rooms and hookers and blow, you know what I mean? We slept shoulder to shoulder on the floor of some girl's apartment last night. But we got to sleep inside, and it was warm, and we got to play the show today, so that's all we care about. It's full-time, and we're in it for as long as we have the backing and the support who come to our shows and buy our records. Are you guys going to play any European festivals this summer?
Josh: Ask our agent, Sean. Because I would love to. I can't exactly call 1-800-GROEZROCK and tell somebody to put us on the show [Ed note: they have since been added to the festival]. But I would love to, I've heard great things about all the festivals, and I think it would be really fun, and it would be a good experience, so who knows? Here's a pretty silly fan question. One fan wants to know if it's really always sunny in Philadelphia?
Josh: It's...[laughs] no. The weather is quite dynamic there. The song title, and the show, yeah, you get it. No, I wish it was always sunny in Philadelphia. Then I wouldn't have to go on vacation in Southern California. Another one: are you guys badasses who idolize Chase Utley?
Josh: Chase Utley is phenomenal, and a couple of us are pretty big Phillies fans, and I'm excited for the Baseball season to start next year. One more: why do you love beards so much?

Josh: Because they are efficient. Because you don't have to shave and you don't have to wear a scarf! is there a difference in reaction to your music here in Europe compared to America, given that the whole thing about the 'main street' doesn't really exist in Europe in the same way as it does in the US?
Josh: I think maybe, but we just haven't been here enough. We haven't, I guess, exposed's a bad term but I'll use it anyway, we haven't been here enough, we haven't played enough shows here like we have in the States. And that's how you grow, and that's how you get a reaction, and that's how people connect with your music. So I don't know, this is our sixth show in Germany ever. You just have to keep coming back, and the people who care and support honest music will keep coming back, and I'm excited to see that change. That was the last question. Thank you for the interview. Do you have anything to add?

Josh: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. If we're on the summer Euro festivals, you'll know when we know.

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