Dan Campbell is a busy dude.
His main squeeze, suburban Philly-based pop punk band The Wonder Years, released No Closer To Heaven
in September. The album debuted at no. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 9 on the Top Albums charts.
Since then, he’s rehearsed and toured with TWY, wrote and recorded new stuff for Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, his character-based folk side project. Campbell is on tour now with Aaron West leading up to a stop in the 412 at Four Chord Music Festival this Sunday at XTAZA Nightclub in the Strip District.
Dan talked to us after a sound check this week about his new project, Four Chord, wrestling and turning 30 (he’s also getting married next year).
How has this tour been going, playing with a full band?
The Wonders Years at Four Chord Music Festival in 2014
We were sold out last night [Dec. 9]. We’re already sold out tomorrow [Dec. 11]. We’re already sold out on Saturday. Tonight, it’s looking like it might walk up to sell out. Feeling really good about it. Obviously the rooms are very full. We had a really good time playing. It’s a new thing for me, still, to play guitar and sing. I am getting there [laughs].
What sort of fans are you getting? Kids that listened to The Wonder Years? Kids that didn’t? What’s the demographic like?
We’re definitely getting both of those. I think my original expectation of it was that it would just be Wonder Years fans and that’s not true. A lot of people coming to the shows that don’t listen to The Wonder Years that just happen to like this, which is cool. I think we’re seeing a slightly older demographic. Wonder Years do primarily 18 to 24. I would say this is like 22 to 30-ish is mostly what we’re doing.
When you’re writing material, how do you distinguish between bands? When you write something, do you think ‘this is a Wonder Years thing’ or ‘this is an Aaron West thing?’ Do you get in a different mindset to do either one?
Yeah, well definitely. Especially because when we write Wonder Years stuff [it’s like] ‘okay this is the period in which we’re writing songs.’ During that period, all I work on is Wonder Years stuff, because we write together as a band and I can’t write things, ya know, whenever I want. I jot down notes from time to time and that’s where the lines can get a little hazier, is like where I have a lyric that could work for either of them conceivably. But usually because Aaron West is a character piece, there are lyrics that are specifically for that to further the story line.
So I just finished recording some new stuff and all the lyrics that are in that were meant for that because it has to progress the story and fit into that narrative. Its different than writing for Wonder Years story. But also like I said musically Wonder Years are period of writing where we say ‘okay we have these three blocks or these three weeks blocked out. Kennedy’s flying in. We’re gonna write.’ And then I can focus on that. Once that Wonder Years record is out, I’m just kind of sitting at a guitar and noodling around and writing some Aaron West stuff.
You’re playing Four Chord on Sunday. How did you feel about the fest last year when you headlined it and what are you expecting this year?
I’m excited to see the reaction. We’ve done a few festival dates as Aaron West. We did Snowed In with Aaron West. It’s always gone over really well. We haven’t had a bad Aaron West show yet, which is lucky I guess, so we’re looking forward to it. It’ll be our first time playing Pittsburgh and the lineup is stacked. We’re on the main stage, which is cool. We’re excited to be up there. Yea, obviously it’s a little easier.
Headlining is kind of…I listened to this Chris Jericho spoken word, actually went to it, live in Australia. That’s a weird story. People always call headlining is the loneliest set, when you’re wrestling, because when you get backstage, everyone’s already gone. And that’s kinda true too when you’re playing. People who play earlier in the day have to trickle out and leave. You know, at the end of the day. So it’s really just us left here, where as we’re gonna play at 5 and be done by 5:30 and go watch bands for the rest of the day which should be fun.
I’m glad you brought up Chris Jericho because I wanted to ask you about wrestling. In the WWE, it’s a weird time. There’s a lot of guys injured, a lot of NXT guys coming up. What do you think about the state of it right now?
I didn’t get to watch the last few weeks because I’ve been on tour and in the studio and then back on tour. But I catch clips. I’ve read League Of Nations is a thing now. It’s weird. It just doesn’t feel… Without Colby there, since he tore his ACL. I’m sorry, without [Seth] Rollins since he tore his ACL, it feels like it doesn’t have a top guy. [John] Cena’s not there. [Brock] Lesnar’s not there. [Roman] Reigns isn’t that guy, yet. Sheamus sure as shit isn’t. [Bray] Wyatt’s not. It’s like who is it?
I was looking at the NXT crop and was hearing everyone say ‘these are just indie darlings. They’ll never play on the big stage. None of these guys will ever be the man.’ Right when NXT was really popping off. Right around when [Kevin] Owens was about to debut in NXT and Generico was at the top of the game and everything. I looked at that crop of people and said ‘who could be Stone Cold Steve Austin?’ And it was so obvious to me that it was Kevin Owens. Kevin Owens is this generation’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. He’s got it in the ring. He’s got it on the mic. He’s got the everyman look. If you made him the anti-hero, going up against The Authority, I think you’d get an Austin style run out of him. To me, he’s the guy. Especially now with Cesaro on the shelf too. Because I always thought that Cesaro, with the right manager, could be a Rock. And that’s a shame because they gave him [Paul] Heyman for a second and pulled back really quick
…What’s fucked up is that they got him [Cesaro] such a great face pop, after [Wrestle] Mania after he won the battle royale. He three Big Show out. He was clearly a super cheered baby face and that was about to continue and then the next night it’s like ‘oh now he’s a heel.’ And then a month later, they drop that and it’s like ‘well, now he’s back to fucking nothing.’
It feels like [the WWE] shoot themselves in the foot. [Zack] Ryder was so hot a couple years ago and they just used him as a Cena prop. And then The Shield was super hot and then they broke them up. It felt like they had Daniel Bryan a couple times and tried to pump the brakes on. If you went with [Dean] Ambrose, you could’ve had him as a top guy already. If feels like they’re just ignoring the crowd response. When Owens came in, who comes in and beats Cena night one? And yea you gave him the Intercontinental Championship and that’s awesome, but the guy came in and beat Cena night one, shouldn’t he be contending for the World title? Nobody beats Cena.
Who would you have win the Royal Rumble and what match do you most want to see at WrestleMania?
It depends. If Rollns can rehab his knee in time for Mania… Well I would have had it happen at Survivor Series. I would’ve had Reigns turn heel, join The Authority, screw over Ambrose, take the title and then I would’ve had Ambrose win the [Royal] Rumble and set up Reigns-Ambrose for the Mania main event. But then at the February pay per view, I would’ve brought Rollins back and say ‘Reigns took my spot’ and I would’ve had a Shield triple threat.
Final thing: your birthday is coming up in January and you’re going to be 30. Thirty is one of those big birthdays. What’s changed, what’s been the same since Suburbia happened or Greatest Generation? What have you learned through being in The Wonder Years for 10 years?
I think just staying on our grind. Never get lazy. Never get complacent and keep trying to outwork everybody. That’s really the only way to success, in my opinion, you just gotta outwork everybody else. So that’s always sort of been our goal. At a certain point, you start to feel comfortable and think ‘okay we have a fan base and things are going well. We can kind of coast for a little bit.’ We don’t like to coast. When we write a new record we want to challenge ourselves, we want to challenge the genre.
From October 13th through the end of November, we have Wonder Years rehearsals, writing, The Wonder Years tour.
We finished the tour on a Friday. I got home at about 3 a.m. At 10 a.m. Saturday morning, I was in the studio working on new Aaron West stuff. That went through to the following Friday and then that Saturday I had wedding planning stuff because I’m getting married next year. And then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday were Aaron West rehearsals and then Wednesday, yesterday [Dec. 9], we started the Aaron West tour, which goes until Sunday and then as soon as I’m done with that, I’m going home but I’m producing a record for another act on Hopeless [Records] so I need to be immediately working on that and getting ready for that, which starts in January.
That’s just an example, like no down time. Every day is another day to look at what you can do to better yourself and better your position in the world. We’re out here trying to do that every day. Wake up work hard.