State Champs: “We’ve Still Got So Much More To Learn”

Source: Matt Higgs

It’s heartwarming watching Derek DiScanio and Tyler Szalkowski bounce around the press area of Slam Dunk Midlands; the vocalist and lead guitarist respectively are two vital components in the make-up of State Champs – you’ve probably heard of them. The two New Yorkers are fully relaxed yet totally cognisant of the fact that they’re one of the bigger bands on show today, and that’s hardly surprising, it’s been quite a half decade for the band whose stock has risen at a blistering pace both in the States, and the UK.

As with most bands the beginnings were humble for State Champs, they scratched and clawed their way to a record deal after a hectic touring schedule supporting two EP’s and a demo for ‘Critical’ – a song from the bands debut record The Finer Things seemed to fall into the right hands. You’ll remember the album for its fresh dose of energy centric pop punk which crash-landed into the scene at the perfect time; Good Charlotte, Blink 182, Sum 41, and New Found Glory amongst other namesakes in the genre had either disbanded or remained worryingly still over recent years, The Finer Things showed that there was certainly hope for the genre yet.

Fast forward to the present day and pop punk has gone from a genre that left you wondering where the next breakout stars were going to come from, to one that has a skyscraper stacked with young bands all fighting for their leap into stardom. WSTR, Knuckle Puck, The Story So Far, Neck Deep, Seaway – the list is almost endless of new outfits in the pop punk ranks.

On the front-line of the assault though are State Champs, their impending new record Living Proof lifts the energy soaked tones of The Finer Things and places them into the walls of a record with higher production value and of course: hooks you’ll be sinking your teeth into for years to come. But vocalist Derek claims this wasn’t necessarily the plan going into recording: “No it wasn’t the plan, I think it ended up that way because we took a lot of different approaches with writing, and we also just went back to our roots and write with the five of us in a room, and I think that’s how we bought The Finer Things element back into this process for Living Proof”.

Tyler adds: “I think that with our second record [Around The World And Back] there was this heavy pressure, and this time around there wasn’t that feeling to ‘MAKE A FUCKING RECORD!!’ and finish it in a short space of time. With Living Proof we got two years to create freely and that helped too because The Finer Things was very much a free spirited album, we were 20 years old we had no idea what we were doing – and I think we’ve definitely got back to that creative freedom vibe”

Two albums in, and with a lynch mob-esque fan fair desperate to hear their next full offering, State Champs are fully aware that at this point, anything other than releasing the best record they’ve ever made may well result in failure. It hasn’t held the band back or crushed them though, if anything – it’s pushed them to be the best band they can be: [Derek] “Obviously every record you make, you want it to be better than the last, this time out it’s like, well now we’ve gotta outdo TWO albums, but that’s gotta fuel ourselves and our adrenaline to get in there and really smash it to the point where we’re not stressed about it”.

While the glitz and glamour of being in a popular band that people world over want to watch play music sounds startling from the outside looking in, it’s tour life that has provided the New Yorkers with their biggest challenge as a band so far, and despite the band being fully aware it’s the end product from the studio they’ll be judged on – managing the highs and lows is the flame that keeps this bonfire lit.

[Tyler] “For me learning how to exist and be comfortable in this alternative lifestyle [is the biggest challenge] and how to transition back into normal life, because we’re in a bubble out here and it’s not like normal life”.

[Derek] “And doing all this touring but then taking time off and we’re trying to figure out who we really are aside from being in a touring band, how to live your life at home, what we want to do, and who we want to be outside of this scene as well. So balancing this is hard but we’re learning more and more every day and it’s shaping us into better people I think”.

From teenagers with stars in their eyes to mid twenties juggernauts, the growth period within State Champs is evident, they’re not the kids that are dreaming of one day playing with their favourite bands anymore – they have become the band that people want to play with, and this growth process has helped the band tenfold.

[Derek] “We learn more about ourselves, how we work, and what we want to do every time we’re in the studio – and it still is a growth process, we have so much more to learn”.

[Tyler] “Being a closed book isn’t conducive for any kind of success, you’ve got to realise that you don’t know everything. There’s always something you can learn, there’s always a new perspective you can see, and there’s always room to grow and improve – nobody’s perfect”.

For any band though there does have to be that question of what they’re hoping follows next, any band that you remember being on the cusp of stardom and then quickly falling by the way-side will most likely have been down to a stagnant mindset, and in a genre as over-populated as pop punk – State Champs refuse to be a band that rest on their laurels.

[Tyler] “I think you need to reset your goals, I was in a period where we had done all the shit that I wanted to do and I was just confused as to what comes next, but you’ve gotta set new accolades and challenge yourself to keep growing. Satisfaction is the death of desire, because you’re just sitting there like ‘well I’m happy’ when really you’re not.

Looking at the genre as a whole – pop punk is in a state of flux right now, with an over-saturated pool of bands all fighting for the same spots, and no more Warped Tour after this summer, you couldn’t be blamed for wondering where pop punk goes from here. The end of Warped Tour could be the catalyst for the bands never quite good enough to cut it with the big boys to fall into obscurity giving more room for the outfits ready to take the scene forward to spread their wings. It could also have the adverse effect – and not even State Champs know exactly what lies ahead.

[Derek] “We’ve been talking about this and it’s like what is the future? What can carry this scene forward? It’s gonna take something new and refreshing that makes people want to come out to see. Is it gonna be another cross country tour or do we just devise a plan with all our friends and just do it all ourselves?”

[Tyler] “I’m definitely excited for the idea that summer touring could be something other than Warped Tour though because if you were on a summer tour that wasn’t Warped Tour that’s not gonna work because it’s like direct competition. It does kinda free up the market when you look at it from that perspective”.

Image Source: Mike Wilson Photography

There’s nothing to suggest that pop punk is set to nose dive off its cliff any time soon, but the idea of bands such as Like Pacific and Trash Boat trying to add depth to their stock without a Warped Tour does sound like an extra challenge. Remember when all everyone could talk about from Warped Tour 2015 was Neck Deep? The festival had the power to turn bands into major players and without it pop punk faces a hurdle to overcome.

You’d have to imagine that the tides will continue to rise for State Champs though, two stellar albums in and tours with the likes of All Time Low, A Day To Remember and soon Fall Out Boy is as much proof as you need that the Albany crew are on their way to superstar status. With Living Proof done, dusted and just days from coming out you’d expect a hint of nervousness from the band, but there’s not even an ounce of it in the air.

[Derek] “I’m just excited, it was a waiting game for the past like 6 months because we recorded from October and I finished my vocals in December so it’s been an incredibly long time. Obviously I’ve only been able to show the record to family and close friends so now I’m just really excited for the fans to hear the whole entire piece”.

While the future of pop punk doesn’t seem set in stone, what awaits State Champs appears to be nothing but pure gold. Five years of jumping on every tour that will have them and dropping choruses that highlight your summer has come to fruition and resulted in a band that seemed ready made for success to begin with, but are about to truly follow through on their dreams. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to predict that the future awaiting the quintet is one of headliner status, but the truth is – they’re already there.