The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell: “I wanted these songs to exist, so I made them. You should make art that you f*cking love”

As The Wonder Years officially announce their highly-anticipated seventh album The Hum Goes On Forever, we talk nerdy songwriting, fatherhood, and being the very best with frontman Dan Campbell.

The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell: “I wanted these songs to exist, so I made them. You should make art that you f*cking love”

Sometimes, you just need to pick up the phone and call a pop-punk legend to give you a push in the right direction.

That’s the exact spot Dan Campbell found himself in when trying to put together The Wonder Years’ breathtakingly brilliant new single Wyatt’s Song (Your Name). He had most of it down… but he reckoned that a certain blink-182 bassist could most certainly give it that final cherry on top.

“Mark Hoppus helped me write the hook,” the singer tells Kerrang! today of the just-released track. “I had the chorus, but there was something about it that wasn’t quite clicking. Mark was kind enough to hop on FaceTime with me, and I played him the song and he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a great song, what do you need?’ And when I said about the chorus, he was like, ‘Well, it’s because you’re going A-B-A-B; you need to go A-A-B-A.’ And I was like, ‘Fuck!’ I just had to rearrange the lines, and once I heard it I was like, ‘God dammit, it was so obvious the whole time…’”

Taken from the Philly heroes’ long-awaited seventh album The Hum Goes On Forever, Wyatt’s Song is not only one of Dan’s favourites on the record, it’s one of his favourite Wonder Years songs, full-stop. And that’s a running theme throughout the entire LP, with the vocalist absolutely determined to out-do the band’s already incredible back-catalogue.

A bit of extra time afforded that opportunity too, of course. The pandemic and vinyl delays haven’t helped the process, but nevertheless this has been the longest gap between Wonder Years records (their last, Sister Cities, came out in 2018).

“Between 2010 and 2015 we put out four records, plus a series of B-sides and all sorts,” Dan reasons. “We were constantly releasing music, and constantly touring, and it left no time to, like, be human! And so post-[2015 album] No Closer To Heaven we were like, ‘Let’s try and be more like human beings, and give some attention to people that we love, and try to exist!’ There was a little bit of a sense of being in a spot where we can put out music when we want to.

“But, by the time Wyatt’s Song is released, it’ll have been a year since we finished some of these songs. And by the time the record comes out, it’ll be a year since we completed the whole thing. So it’s a really long time to wait and just sit on it, but vinyl takes a long time right now and we want to make sure that we have it!”

We’ll level with you, readers: we’ve heard it already, and The Hum Goes On Forever is 100 per cent worth the wait. Before you get to hear it finally on September 23, though, here Dan takes us inside one of the best albums of 2022…

You’ve already said that The Hum Goes On Forever is your favourite Wonder Years album. When you were creating it, what were some of the elements or ways you were working that produced that as the end result?
“So as far as it being the best… man. We are a band that exists in tangible reality, right?! We’re not a good ‘internet band’ – we’re not good at social media, we’re not good at streaming stuff, we don’t do TikToks. We play live and put on great live shows – it’s what we do, and it’s the thing that we and our fans care about. And so with the global pandemic stopping that, you start to almost lose the thread of why you do it and who you are. And I’m sure that every band felt that to a degree, but a lot of bands were like, ‘It’s okay, we’ll keep hanging out on Twitch’ or something, but that just isn’t me. So it kind of got me in this spot where I was like, ‘What is The Wonder Years now?! What do we do? What do we sound like? What’s the point of all of this if we can’t play shows?’ And I was talking to someone at our record label and was like, ‘I don’t know… do we even make a record? And what would it sound like?’ And he said, ‘You should just make a Wonder Years record.’ And that sounds so obvious and simple, but there is something novel about it to me – about the idea of making a record that is you. So I started thinking about: ‘Okay, well what is a Wonder Years record? What makes it what it is?’ I was ruminating on the things that we think we do better than anyone else, the shit that we’re the best at. And it was a case of: figure it out, and then go do it. And that’s what we did!”

So if there hadn’t been a pandemic and life had carried on as normal, you could have potentially made a completely different album?
“I have no idea! The one thing is that I’m really focussed on being self-critical, and when we put out a record I give it some time to exist, and then I listen back, like, a year later and go, ‘What do I wish I had done differently?’ And every time there is a long-ass list! But the biggest thing that struck me about Sister Cities was that I didn’t put enough thought into how it would translate live. I think I was so lost in the songs and trying to build this tapestry of connectivity, and this sense of being everywhere at once, that I had stopped thinking about what it would be like when we performed those songs in front of people. And so I know I was already thinking about that when we started thinking about writing another record – I was like, ‘I want it to work live; I want it to be a thing where the crowd are empowered and energised to be a part of the show.’ And if I’m being self-critical, I think I had neglected that a little bit with Sister Cities.”

What about where you were at with lyrics?
“Lyrically it’s a record about parenthood, I think, but maybe more broadly, a question that I’ve consistently asked myself – and I’ll say it a million times on this album cycle – is, ‘How do you care for people that need you when you don’t feel capable of caring for yourself?’ Because I was a new parent, but I was also deeply, deeply depressed. It’s weird to parent in a world that feels like it’s actively ending, and it’s weird to parent in a country where there’s mass shootings every day; where there’s forced birth but no healthcare; where droughts and wildfires and floods and hurricanes and tornadoes are happening. It’s weird and it’s dispiriting, and it’s a difficult question – and it’s the one that I continuously posed myself.”

When you first got yourself into that songwriting headspace, were you expecting fatherhood to have such an impact on you on an artistic level?
“Yeah, I think that I probably did expect that – how could it not?! I think the thing for me – and this is like the unfair thing – is that I always wanted to have kids; I always pictured myself with kids, and I used to teach pretty young kids, and so I always just thought I would be really good at it, and it would come super naturally. That’s just an assumption that I made. The unfair part is that I kind of also thought that it would be like an answer to me; like, this whole lifetime of constant subtext of longing that has existed in me would be answered with a kid, and it would be like, ‘Once I have my son, all questions will be answered and I know who I am, and everything feels good.’ And that’s not a reasonable expectation! And maybe I set myself up for failure (laughs), because what actually happened was that I had this kid and was like, ‘Oh my god, this is very hard, and I’m feeling very anxious all the time, and super depressed all the time.’ And not because I don’t want to be a parent – that part is joyful. But it’s the fear of failing them – the fear of failing people that need you – that is so pervasive and ever-present. And trying to figure out how to deal with that permeates through the entire record.”

Listening to the whole thing, it feels like a genuinely cohesive sonic journey. Did you all spend a lot of time agonising over the order of the tracklist?
“Oh yeah, I’m a psychopath (laughs). I’m such a fucking nerd, and I feel like when I tell you this people could be like, ‘Well, that’s not art; art is about spirit,’ or something. But I think that there can be pieces of art that can be analytical and thoughtful, and part of what I wanted to do was make a record that was a record. Right now, there’s a push on singles and you’ve got to appease the streaming gods, and make sacrifices to the algorithm! And sure, whatever, but I still want to make a record that sounds like a record. And so… this is embarrassing (laughs), but I ranked every song in terms of energy and brightness, and then I plotted them on an XY graph to make sure that there was an even distribution of everything that makes us us, and to make sure that the listening experience would be balanced and enjoyable, and that there would be all these different moments that you could remember and then come back to, and get lost in. And then I used that information, along with narrative, structure and pace, to inform how the tracklist would play…”

Is there any one track on the album that makes you particularly emotional or proud? The final song, You’re The Reason I Don’t Want The World To End, is just unbelievable…
“I don’t want this to be too much of a trope, because every record we put out I’m like, ‘Damn, a couple of these songs are the best Wonder Years songs ever,’ but I really feel that strongly again. I thought it was going to be really hard to top The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me [the closing song on Sister Cities] – I thought that was the best song the band had ever written. But You’re The Reason… is now the best song the band has ever written (laughs). I also think Doors I Painted Shut is one of the songs I’m proudest to have written, and Wyatt’s Song is another that I’m really proud of – but they’re all in different kind of categories. As far as emotional resonance and narrative storytelling, I think that Doors I Painted Shut opening the record, and You’re The Reason… closing the record, is the best I’ve ever done. I know that fans really revere I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral [the closing song on 2013’s The Greatest Generation], and I love that song and I’m really proud to have done that, but I think that this might be a better open and close than that album – and that’s a really difficult thing to do.”

If you were worried about trying to outdo your previous work, you must be feeling pretty confident in yourself now, then?!
“I’m intensely proud of the record. I kind of believe that you should think your band is good (laughs). You want to be humble, right, but equally you get to make that art, so you should make art that you fucking love! So if I get to make art, I should make the thing that I want to exist. I wanted these songs to exist, and so I made them. I’ve seen this energy with our friends in State Champs recently – several different times in different interviews, I’ve seen Derek [DisCanio, State Champs vocalist] say, ‘We are the best pop-punk band.’ And I fucking love that energy, because that is the way you should feel about your band! You should think that you’re good at it, and every record you should say, ‘We’re gonna make a better record than the last one we made.’ I get really competitive with myself, and every time I sit down to do something, I want to be better at it than the last time – that’s what I want to do. I love that State Champs say that they’re the best at this – but I also think that’s not true, because I’m the fucking best at this, Derek (laughs). Call him and tell him I said that! No, that’s a CM Punk and John Cena thing, and there’s this promo where CM Punk sits at the top of the ramp and says, ‘I don’t hate you, John; I actually like you a lot better than all those guys in the back. I hate this idea that you’re the best, because you’re not the best – I’m the best!’ (Laughs) I think that’s how everyone should feel about their songs, and I think you should go and make songs that you believe are the best songs. I believe that these are the best Wonder Years songs.”

The Hum Goes On Forever is due out on September 23 via Hopeless Records

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