STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
The Wonder Years will be celebrating 10 years as a band with three shows at Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Feb. 6, 7 and 8. Each night will feature the band playing one of their albums in its entirety — the first night they’ll play “The Upsides” (Hopeless Records, 2010) the second night they’ll play “Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing” (Hopeless Records, 2011) and the third night they’ll play “The Greatest Generation” (Hopeless Records, 2013). In addition, each night they’ll do a set of old songs and rarities.
But if you don’t have tickets, you’re out of luck. All three shows are completely sold out, and they sold out in record time.
“All three shows sold out within 10 minutes,” said Dan Campbell in a phone interview from Old City, Philadelphia, where he recently moved. “There was a three-day pass that was only available to the first 300 people and (it) was gone in 15 seconds. My jaw was on the floor.”
It has been a great ride for a band whose members — Campbell (vocals), Matt Brasch (guitar), Casey Cavaliere (guitar), Nick Steinborn (keyboards, guitar), Josh Martin (bass) and Mike Kennedy (drums) — initially never took themselves too seriously and considered this a side project. Band members are North Penn and Wissahickon alumni.
“We started the band without the intention of it being our primary focus,” said Campbell. “We were in ‘serious’ bands and we were going to college, so we were going to do this because it was fun and not think much of it. But it gained momentum.
“So all throughout college we would put out small releases — EPs, 7-inch (records) and splits [recordings with other artists], and go on tour in between semesters.”
It was challenging to keep it going while they were attending different schools.
“It was incredibly annoying,” Campbell laughs. “We would just schedule our classes so we were finished early on Fridays and started late on Mondays so we were able to be on tour. Half the weekends every semester we would be on tour.”
Campbell adds: “We wanted to graduate — we all wanted to get undergrad degrees — and we wanted to be in a band, so we did both.”
Because the band was doing well, they decided to record an album and tour after they all graduated.
“We wrote the record and we toured for 6 months … and before (the record) had even come out, when the first couple of singles were online, we started getting calls from labels and agents and managers. And we assembled our team that we still have today.”
But don’t think it was an easy ride or that it was luck.
“We know that we’re in the minority. I don’t want to call it luck because it’s not luck so much. We worked as hard as we possibly could all the time.”
In the five years since the band got signed they’ve been on tour about 200 dates a year and this is now their full-time job.
As for their music, Campbell described The Wonder Years as an emo-punk band.
“It’s kind of what we’ve always been. It’s guitar-driven. It’s loud but it’s not screamy. It’s pop-centric in the sense that it functions around melodies. So it’s rock ‘n roll in that sense. It’s a little bit faster sometimes, and it’s a little more pop-centric than some of the modern rock radio stuff.”
Campbell explained how the band’s music has evolved.
“When we started the band it was literally a joke. The songs were about astronauts and ninjas. It was just for fun. We didn’t think anybody was going to hear it. So obviously the lyrical content has changed. The tonality of the music has shifted as well. I think it’s gotten in some ways more complex; there (are) more intricacies to it. But in some ways we’ve stripped it down, too. We stopped over-thinking a lot of things.”
Campbell, the band’s lyricist, added: “We write the music as collaboratively as we possibly can. We need all six of us there. Our drummer recently moved to Seattle so we write in sessions when he flies home. We all get in the room and someone will say ‘I have this idea’ — a verse or a chorus or a riff. And then, everyone will start adding pieces to it and eventually we’ll have a song.”
The band plans to begin recording their next album in March, with a release tentatively slated for December.
For those of you who want to see The Wonder Years and don’t have tickets for their upcoming shows at Union Transfer, your next opportunity to see them will be on the Vans Warped Tour, which will be at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J. on July 10.
“This will be our third time doing the whole tour,” said Campbell, who described the experience as “the hardest tour in the world to do. It’s an exhausting experience. It’s very hot. You’re out in the sun all day. There aren’t a whole lot of days off. There are a lot of very long drives. But it’s also the most rewarding tour you can do.”
It’s that work ethic that makes this band the success that they are.
For last-minute news on The Wonder Years, check the band’s Facebook page.