It was with 2011’s Apparently, I’m Nothing that State Champs first kicked in the doors of the pop-punk scene. Straight out of the gate, the band exhumed an ability to fit sad into their songs without sacrificing any fun. This band got us, and we wouldn’t be letting them go.
Now, the band has set free their latest record, Living Proof. To hold both releases up to one another, you’ll see an ocean of growth in between. Not only can State Champs fit sad into their songs without sacrificing any fun, now they seem to have the plight of the mid-20s on lock. Living Proof is part album, part ‘How To’ guide. It’s not preachy and it’s by no means gospel…But goddamn is it comforting.
Ahead of the release, we caught up with guitarist Tyler Szalkowski.
When we caught Tyler, the band were in the midst of a week-long run of acoustic shows supporting the new album. Tyler shed some light on how the album was translating into a live setting, then how it was translating into an acoustic one. “Learning a new record is always challenging.” Tyler admits.
“We just did a show in the U.K., we did an in-store” he continues. “We were so nervous…We were going to play Dead and Gone acoustic for the first time ever. We made this little rendition in the back lounge, like, 2 hours before. We were thinking ‘Fuck, I hope everyone doesn’t hate it.’ Luckily, our fans sang louder than the guitars were so it didn’t matter if we fucked it up or not. If that’s any indication of how the rest of this is all going to go, then I feel just fine about it.
Experiencing their very own Beatles moment is sure to be a career highlight for the band but it was certainly a hard-fought highlight to achieve. It’s been all quiet on the State Champs front for some years now. Tyler explains that during the gap between Around The World And Back and Living Proof, the members experienced a whole lotta growing up. “We hadn’t released a record, properly, since 2015. This is a whole new era; it feels like a reinvention.” Tyler explains.
“We’ve been through so much shit over the past few years, that we’re different people now,” Tyler says. “We’ve grown and learnt and fucked up, fixed things, fallen in and out of love, everything that happens throughout the course of your mid-20s… We’re in all these different spots from where we were ages ago. We’ve never been more motivated; not just to release a good record, but to bring these songs into a live setting, doing better shows, better ideas; stepping everything up.
“For the first time, we feel the weight lifted. We can be ourselves; even if that’s wearing clothes other than band t-shirts…We feel free in a way, where we can be ourselves and let it fucking rip.”
This new-found sense of purpose resulted in many bold moves from the band as they pieced together Living Proof, perhaps most notably their decision to share production duties of the album between pop-punk powerhouse John Feldmann, which resulted in the chance collaboration with the iconic Mark Hoppus and their previous partners in crime, Mike Green and Kyle Black. Inviting so many chefs into the kitchen can often crush a creative project (read as Solo: A Star Wars Movie).
State Champs were aware of the risks involved but moved ahead on the idea. “We were nervous, but we had faith it would add depth,” Tyler explains. He adds, “Originally we thought this might be fucked…”
“We were prepared for it to be completely fucked. Mark Hoppus was amazing. It felt like it was meant to be, we were very happy that he wanted to help us. He was great to work with. Putting it between Feldmann, Kyle and Mike, we felt it was important we did some of the album with someone who knows everything us about it. Kyle did our last record. That did really well for us – it’s our highest selling record so far. We didn’t want to sell out those principles. We wanted some genuine, real, Champ shit going on.”
You could be forgiven for assuming some sort of horrible, life-altering events happened within the band to invoke this inspiration to enter uncharted waters. And in many ways, it did, that event being surviving their mid-20s, a challenge not for the faint of heart. Speaking of this catalyst, Tyler says “A lot of it comes from getting older.”
“When you’re younger you want to impress people. You want to fit a mould because you think that will bring you to where you want to be. Maybe sometimes you get to where you want to be and you’re like ‘Well, shit, this isn’t exactly what I thought; where did I go wrong?’ Now that we’re older, we have a better idea of how the world works. We tried to prove ourselves for so long, I feel we’ve proved ourselves now.”
Nor did the band plan the album around their new life perspectives. Instead, many of these “getting older” thoughts and feelings didn’t rear their heads until the writing process began for Living Proof, with the band effectively evolving their mentality in real time.
“As we did shit, people would make comments about it online,” Tyler explains, “When they’d see that you’re working with a particular person. Most people would be stoked, some people would be like ‘Fucking sell-outs’. At a certain point, you have to stop letting those comments dictate how you feel. We just decided we don’t give a fuck, and we’re going to do what we want to do and we hope you like it…
…Because we do.”
Living Proof is out now.