The Wonder Years And The Early November Men Debut Friday Night Lights-Themed Side-Project
If you love something, they say you should let it go. Or if you’re Dan Campbell and Ace Enders – from The Wonder Years and The Early November respectively – you could become even more obsessed. Which is exactly what the pair did. They’ve both previously worked and played together – most notably, Ace produced Soupy’s Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties solo album – and are such big fans of Friday Night Lights, the American TV series about a high school (American) football team in Texas, that they decided to start a new project all about it.
Clear Eyes Fanzine – its name is taken from the motivational rallying cry said by Coach Eric Taylor and chanted by the team before every game – is a part-band, part-fanzine hybrid that celebrates the show and Soupy and Ace’s love for it. Season 1, Episodes 1-6 is the first installment, a six-track EP that features three songs by Dan and three by Ace that are about or inspired by the series and its characters and storylines. While the songs will be downloadable and streamable, for the really obsessed there will also be a physical copy of the zine with photos and lyrics and discussions about the songs that can be ordered with either a sweatshirt or a T-shirt.
All of that will be available to pre-order tomorrow, but you can listen to two of the songs – Soupy’s Coming Up For Air and Ace’s Good Get Coach – right here, right now. Both are great, so huddle down, get in position and – even if you know nothing about American football or the TV show – prepare to be moved in ways you never thought possible. All together now, ‘Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!’
First things first: why did you decide to write songs about Friday Night Lights?
Soupy: Well, the book is my favourite book ever. But when Ace and I made the first Aaron West record, we really bonded over our love for the TV show. And I think a lot of musicians love that show, weirdly. That’s just a thing that I’ve found when I’m on tour. I have a Matt Saracen jersey that I wear sometimes and it always gets attention. And Ace and I have been talking about doing this for years. How long have we been discussing this idea?
Ace: I mean, I guess it has to have been since we did that first record. It’s got such a cult following - there’s something about emo and football that gets us fired up, I think.
Soupy: Yeah, we made that record in 2014, so it’s been a few years now that we’ve been discussing doing this. It’s just been hard to find a way to fit it in. Originally, we wanted to do it with a couple other songwriters and have some other people involved, but it’s hard enough to get two people to put aside the other work that they’re actively doing with the bands that they’re in and write a couple of songs, so we decided for this one to call it the two of us and put it out and see if we can expand it later.
Was it difficult getting into the heads of these characters and writing songs from their point of view? How worried were you about presenting a true to life – or true to TV series – vision of them?
Soupy: In regards to how concerned we were – or I was, at least – with finding a true interpretation of the characters, that’s what I like about it being a “musical fanzine”: we have the freedom to explore it in any sort of way. So two of the songs are trying to get into the head of a character and explore a piece of the narrative that I felt was under-explored on the show, but then Coming Up For Air is pure fan fiction. I took a character who is only in the show for about two minutes in the entirety of the series and is only credited as Burly Guy and just tried to give him a backstory and some complexity. So as far as being worried about getting the characters right, I think the fact it’s a fanzine makes it possible that we don’t have to worry about that so much. We can just try to explore it on our own terms.
Ace: I think, for me, it was just fun to get into it. Because there are so many characters in the show and it’s such a complex thing – there are so many storylines happening at the same time. In one of the songs, The Fields, I tried to get in the head of one characters who’s this underdog villain-esque person in the beginning but you see this person grasping for hope, and I think it was just cool to go in and tell that story in a different way. That stuff is fun for me, to view things from different angles. There’s a lot of different ways you can look at each of the characters and each story, and so I think getting into the headspace was the most fun part for me. I really enjoyed that. I tried to be more accurate – I went along with what they were feeling at the moment, and it wasn’t too hard because I feel like I relate to all of the Friday Night Lights characters. I’ve seen all five seasons several times, so I feel like it’s part of me at this point.
Soupy: I think you touched upon something there. The characters are not monochromatic or monolithic in their personalities. Every character is explored in all these different facets of their personality and you start to see how they were acting this way in this episode but as you learn their backstory it turns out they were acting that way because of this trauma that occurred to them or this anxiety that they have. It allows for everyone to be a three-dimensional human and not a two-dimensional caricature, and I think that’s one of the things that makes the show so wonderful.
Coming Up For Air
Going off track a little bit, how true to the book – to the real life story – is the series?
Soupy: So, the book is a true account of a Philadelphia sports writer who moved to West Texas, Odessa, to experience a season at Permian High School there, and it’s a journalistic account about that. Then the movie is a semi-hyperbolised account of the book, like the Hollywood version of the book, and then the TV show is like a fictionalised version of the movie. So it takes some of the tenets and themes of the movie, but the characters are not the same characters and the town is not the same town. But the idea is the same – let’s explore the complexities of something that’s supposed to be simple. It’s Texas high school football, but it’s so much more than that and the show is entirely its own thing with its own story arc, but it shares that core.
When did you write these songs? You did you do so completely separately?
Ace: Yeah. I think I started mapping out the music a month or so ago, but I did the bulk of the writing two weeks ago.
Soupy: I’ve been doing it a little longer. I kept talking to people about how badly I wanted to do it, so they were all like, ‘So why aren’t you doing it?’ And it was hard to get it started, but then I thought if I just wrote a song and sent it to everybody, then they’d know it was real and then we should get started on the project. So I wrote QB 1 in May and June, and I wrote Coming Up For Air in July and I wrote On Tim Riggins… in October, and I tracked them all in a hotel room in Iowa on a day off on the last Wonder Years with Nick from The Wonder Years, who produced it for me.
Given that you wrote entirely separately, were you surprised at how cohesive the two sets of songs sound together?
Soupy: I was definitely pleasantly surprised by it. But the thing is that Ace is such an unbelievably talented songwriter – I know that from doing all the Aaron West stuff with him – so I knew he was going to bring something amazing.
Ace: You’re making my heart sing right now!
Soupy: It’s kind of uncanny. He just sees it on a different level than I think a lot of other people see it.
Ace: I feel the same way. It’s a true pleasure. Everything came up awesome and I couldn’t be happier with it. When you told me you did your songs I was like, ‘I better do my songs!’ For a long time, I wasn’t actually sure if it was going to be a real thing or not and it was very cool to see it become a reality.
How removed from your regular projects did this feel? Was it more challenging?
Ace: I think it was easier if anything, because you have no boundaries. You could say things ape talk in ways that you normally can’t and express the emotion or whatever you’re trying to convey in a completely free way. And for me, it makes it way easier because there are no rules and you can just truly be artistic and creative with it. I really enjoyed it. It was just fun.
Soupy: Ace, I think the phrase for what you’re describing is the weight of expectation. I didn’t have the weight of expectation on me for this. No-one is saying it doesn’t sound like the last one or isn’t as good. There’s nothing to compare it to – we were just free to do it. The hardest part for me was just getting started. This was the first time I’d decided to write a song about fictional source material that already existed. With The Wonder Years stuff I’m writing about my life and with Aaron West I’m writing the fiction that becomes the source material for the songs. But this was taking someone else’s source and exploring it in a different way and it was just a matter of figuring out how do that – and once it started it just poured out.
Good Get Coach
It’s interesting that you talk about it being fun and free, because both songs are emotionally heavy. They don’t sound fun. They’re very heavy-hearted.
Soupy: I guess you’re right. But that’s the kind of show it is, too. It’s an emotionally heavy show, which is what I think draws people to it. When you say, ‘Here’s a show about football’ I think people think it’s going to be this light-hearted, triumphant TV show. But it’s a show that deals with emotional depth in conjunction with that and I think it takes a more realistic look at it. I think Ace, you hit it on Good Get Coach, where you’re talking about being the new starting quarterback in the football team, but you’re really thinking about whether or not your grandmother’s going to take her medicine because you’re in charge of her because your father is in Iraq. And there’s so much on Matt Saracen in that episode. So obviously we had to deal with the weight of the source material, but it’s fun to write songs when you don’t have a constriction around you – or at least when the constriction is self-imposed.
So each of these songs actually correlates to a specific episode of the series?
Soupy: Yeah, though for me it’s more of a microcosm. So On Tim Riggins [As He Prepares For His Sophomore Year] I imagine as being all the things that led up to the first episode and the first couple of minutes where you’re getting introduced to the character. And Coming Up For Air, like I said, deals with a character that only exists in episode three for about two minutes. I think Ace probably did a better job of sticking to the episodes than I did.
Ace: I had episode maps and dialogue written out. I was getting into all the characters’ heads of every episode and I stuck to the episodes very hard.
Soupy: And in the zine that’s going to come with the physical version, Ace and I are going to talk about how each song lyrically came to be and what we were exploring, and it’s coupled with when I was in Austin, Texas, which is where they shot a lot of the show, I actually went to a bunch of locations and took photos and those will be in the zine as well.
Ace: It’s very cool. Talking about it makes me even more excited that it’s a thing.
Soupy: Because we talked about it for so long. It’s a total labour of love.
If this EP covers just the first six episodes, does that mean there are plans for other parts of this project to be released in the future? There are five seasons in total, so that’s a hell of a lot more episodes to write about.
Soupy: We wanted to leave the door open to it for sure. It’s been hard to see how it’s going to be received – like in the Triple Venn Diagram of Ace Enders, Dan Campbell and Friday Night Lights the TV show, how many people actually fit in the middle? Or do you only have to fit into one third of it to want to hear this? So we’re excited to see what happens when it comes out.
Season 1, Episodes 1-6 by Clear Hearts Fanzine will be available to stream, download and pre-order tomorrow. Keep an eye on the pair’s individual and band social media accounts to find out where and how to pre-order.