Big ques­tions of love and life in­formed THE WON­DER YEARS’ sixth al­bum, SIS­TER CITIES. And in the process of mak­ing it, the Philadel­phia crew steered their ship to shore…


If you’ve been pay­ing at­ten­tion to The Won­der Years’ web­site of late, you’ll have no­ticed a dark grey sweat­shirt for sale, with a mys­te­ri­ous set of co-or­di­nates em­bla­zoned on the front – 33°27’14.0”S and 70°41’27.1”W. Whack those co­or­di­nates into Google Street View and you’ll be taken you to Avenida Padre Al­berto Hur­tado in San­ti­ago, Chile, a bustling city road named after a Je­suit priest and so­cial worker, who was canon­ised in 2005 by Pope Bene­dict XVI some 53 years after his death.

It’s an un­re­mark­able road. There, you’ll find a bus sta­tion, street ven­dors and stray dogs. It was here that the band found them­selves kick­ing their heels after a show was can­celled while they made their way around South Amer­ica in the sum­mer of 2016.

“We felt use­less and place­less un­til some fans reached out and said they wanted us to play a show,” ex­plains singer Dan ‘Soupy’ Camp­bell on the phone from his home in Philadel­phia. “They said, ‘We’ve got you. We’ve got a re­hearsal space with a stage and a PA, we’ll give you food and we’ll have a good time.’ They came with pick-up trucks and we played to about 100 peo­ple. There were a lot of dogs in the city cen­tre and it got me think­ing about how we were in a coun­try with no par­tic­u­lar rea­son for be­ing there, and how im­me­di­ately wel­comed we felt when those kids helped us out and put us up for the night. We had a lot of fun.”

That up­swing in events is im­mor­talised in the ti­tle-track of the band’s forth­com­ing re­lease, Sis­ter Cities, its name in­spired by

the small mon­u­ments that sur­round the busy bus stands and strays which pop­u­late the area, all ded­i­cated to the Chilean city’s in­ter­na­tional links. For Dan, the sim­ple pil­lars took on a greater sig­nif­i­cance while the band toured in sup­port of their fifth al­bum No Closer To Heaven.

That al­bum proved chal­leng­ing to the front­man, as he found him­self mired down with a case of the dreaded writer’s block. He vowed that the next al­bum would present no such prob­lems and set him­self the task of keep­ing a tour jour­nal while the band trav­elled across the U.S., Europe, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and ev­ery­where be­tween; he kept de­tailed notes of the places they vis­ited while their tour man­ager would doc­u­ment every­thing in pho­to­graphs.

“I never want to feel that de­void of in­spi­ra­tion again so I pre-emp­tively mit­i­gated it,” says Dan. “If I face a prob­lem, my so­lu­tion is al­ways to work harder, be more pre­pared and be more or­gan­ised. When it came time to write a record, I’d have this col­lec­tion of pho­tos and jour­nals to look through and re­flect on how I was feel­ing; what felt im­por­tant and to have a record of that. When it came time to write the lyrics, I had al­ready de­cided what the record was go­ing to be about. I had lines writ­ten down. There was no writer’s block. I was so ready to write it.”

As a re­sult, Sis­ter Cities is fizzing with sto­ries and ideas, all drawn from a pile of note­books burst­ing with the thoughts and mus­ings of a man liv­ing from a suit­case as his band hauled them­selves and their equip­ment across five con­ti­nents. As the pres­i­den­tial race reached its stom­ach-churn­ing con­clu­sion in the midst of their two-year tour cy­cle, it’s no ac­ci­dent that the ex­plo­ration of “how hu­man­ity tow­ers above all else” pro­vides the back­bone to their bold­est al­bum yet. While Trump fa­nat­ics felt em­bold­ened by their new leader’s out­ra­geous and of­ten racist out­bursts, Dan fo­cused on the kind­ness of strangers.

“The things you do im­pact peo­ple and the things peo­ple do im­pact you,” he says. “It’s im­por­tant to reach to­wards kind­ness.”

The vo­cal­ist ex­pe­ri­enced this first-hand after the pass­ing of his grand­fa­ther while the band were in Ja­pan and he was un­able to re­turn home in time for the fu­neral ser­vice.

“I went to a shrine and as I was light­ing a can­dle, weep­ing, an older man mo­tioned me over and showed me how to pull on this piece of fab­ric that rang a bell,” he says of the cir­cum­stances which in­spired the song’s open­ing track, Rain­ing In Ky­oto. “He had no idea for what pur­pose I was at the shrine but he saw some­one who needed com­fort and at­tended to that. We’re in dif­fer­ent coun­tries a lot of the time and com­mu­ni­cate with­out know­ing the same lan­guage, but this was a mo­ment where I was par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble and made a con­nec­tion.”

Sis­ter Cities is the sound of a band who treat the idea of stag­na­tion like the ground is made of lava. It’s so brave and am­bi­tious that some­one should re­ally delete the phrase pop-punk from their Wikipedia en­try. It is, by and large, a big rock record with even big­ger cho­ruses. Re­tread­ing old ter­rain was sim­ply not an op­tion when they en­tered the stu­dio with producer Joe Chic­carelli (Manch­ester Orches­tra, The Shins) at Hol­ly­wood’s Sun­set Sound last Au­gust.

“It was a con­scious thing,” says Dan. “We never want to stag­nate. It’s im­por­tant for artists to grow. We don’t like it when a band re­leases the ex­act same record three times in a row. I heard that record, I want some­thing else. At a cer­tain point, you have to start say­ing that, ‘If that band isn’t giv­ing it to me, then I’ll find an­other artist I love that is.’ It’s im­por­tant to al­ways be push­ing back.”

You can hear it in the songs. And after writ­ing and re­leas­ing al­bums for over a decade, why would The Won­der Years want to re­trace their own steps? Their lives are very dif­fer­ent to the times spent sleep­ing on peo­ple’s floors; Dan mar­ried his long-term girl­friend in late 2016, the prepa­ra­tions for which are chron­i­cled in Flow­ers Where Your Face Should Be, one of the “purest love songs we’ve ever writ­ten” he notes – while guitarist Matt Brasch is pre­par­ing for his own wed­ding, which will take place later this year. Sim­ply put, the band have grown up.

“I think ev­ery­one’s ma­tured a great deal, but in the sense any­one would over a decade,” he says. “We have mort­gages and fam­i­lies and pay our taxes on time. We’re re­spon­si­ble, thought­ful adults. We can spend time with our wives and our fam­i­lies, but it’s bet­ter for our bod­ies that we don’t de­stroy them play­ing 200 shows a year. They’ve found a host of things to keep them busy in the mean­time. None of us are very se­den­tary; we like to do things.”

In­deed, it seems that the band have a col­lec­tive fear of sit­ting still. Dan has his solo side project Aaron West And The Roar­ing Twen­ties. Matt oc­cu­pies his time off with his side project Cold Climb It, car­pen­try and stu­dio work. Fel­low six-stringer Casey Cava­liere as­sists on pho­to­shoots and works in record­ing stu­dios. Keys man/ guitarist Nick Stein­born has his Why Bother? project, plus mixes bands (“If you send him some­thing you’ve done, he’ll make it sound phe­nom­e­nal,” says Dan). Bass player Josh Martin coowns a record shop, while drummer Mike Kennedy moved back to Philadel­phia from Seattle, re­leased his own EP and paints.

So what’s the glue that keeps the band to­gether, fo­cused and mov­ing for­ward with the same en­thu­si­asm?

“They’re my best friends,” the vo­cal­ist says. “There isn’t a day when I don’t talk to those guys. It’s ba­si­cally two groups of three peo­ple in two neigh­bour­ing high schools – Casey and Josh were friends since first grade. Matt, Nick and I have known each other since we were 12, 13. Those groups col­lided when we were 17 and we’ve been best friends since. Casey lives 200 yards from me. Josh is a fiveminute walk away. All of our girl­friends and wives are best friends.”

Dan says this friend­ship greases the wheels when it comes to writ­ing mu­sic; there’s no benev­o­lent dic­ta­tor call­ing the shots.

“It pos­i­tively im­pacts the demo­cratic process – ev­ery­one’s voice has value,” he ex­plains. “That’s how we get the songs that we get. It’s the six of us coming to­gether that makes it The Won­der Years.”

Their bond ex­tends far be­yond the cre­ative process, too, as the rigours of a decade of tour­ing has re­warded the band with the abil­ity to prob­lem solve and adapt to any sit­u­a­tion.

“That’s a huge part of adult­hood; your abil­ity to adapt, not panic and move through ef­fec­tively,” rea­sons Dan. “We know what it feels like to have your van break down in the mid­dle of the desert in Texas and not have any­one to help you. You have to fig­ure it out. When some­thing goes wrong, we have a wealth of life ex­pe­ri­ence from hav­ing to prob­lem solve when we were des­ti­tute. Tri­als and tribu­la­tions have taught us to be bet­ter, more ef­fec­tive adults, and peo­ple in gen­eral.”

Which all brings us back to Sis­ter Cities. There’s no great drama be­hind the scenes, or bit­ter bust-ups fuelling the nitty-gritty of the record. It’s sim­ply the re­sult of a group of friends see­ing the world, writ­ing mu­sic and tak­ing cre­ative risks with their artistry.

The suc­cess of last al­bum No Closer To Heaven – which peaked at Num­ber 12 in the U.S. Bill­board 200 chart – didn’t un­earth any fevered egos lurk­ing in the back­ground. It was busi­ness as usual for a band he’s pre­vi­ously de­scribed as “per­pet­ual un­der­dogs”.

“It felt re­ally vin­di­cat­ing as we worked so hard, but noth­ing re­ally changed at all,” he says. “I don’t think that feel­ing will ever change. I think it’s just in my per­son­al­ity to feel that way. We al­ways want to take a step for­ward and for No Closer To Heaven, if I’m look­ing back crit­i­cally – which is im­por­tant – I don’t feel like we took one step. It felt like we took three quar­ters of a step. So this time it was im­por­tant for us to take a full step and give you that quar­ter we owed you from last time. I never thought that we were ca­pa­ble of writ­ing songs I love this much.” K! SIS­TER CITIES WILL BE RE­LEASED ON APRIL 6 THROUGH HOPE­LESS RECORDS. THE WON­DER YEARS TOUR THE UK FROM APRIL 11 – SEE THE GIG GUIDE FOR info


Dan on­stage with The Won­der Years in Fe­bru­ary 2016

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