Pop punk is well and truly back in fashion, with a brand-new face and a fresh perspective on the legacy of the generations that came before it. While it may not look or sound like the same scene that regenerated a decade ago and mysteriously lost favor in recent years, there is one simple message for the bands from the genre’s past iterations: adapt or perish.
State Champs took that ultimatum personally. Now, armed with the upbeat optimism of their aptly named fourth full-length, Kings Of The New Age, the New York outfit are riding the crest of pop punk’s new wave.
Taking a step back from their trademark teeth-gritting lyricism in exchange for vibrant singalongs, the 2022 version of State Champs are stamping their seal of approval on the direction in which their beloved genre is shifting. Producing huge new tracks with the potential to become setlist staples such as “Everybody But You” and “Outta My Head,” their pandemic writing sessions have conjured up some of the quartet’s catchiest work.
While stormy weather looms over vocalist Derek DiScanio’s hometown of New York, the State Champs mastermind gives Alternative Press the lowdown on pop punk’s ventures into the mainstream, his hopes for the band’s next chapter and the revitalized group spirit that brought them closer than ever before…
Four years is your longest gap between albums. When did you start working on Kings Of The New Age?
DEREK DISCANIO: We actually started working on it before the pandemic. We’ve always done little writing trips here and there. We even started demoing stuff on the road before the pandemic on headline tours, but we took a trip during the pandemic out to Indiana with our friend Seth Henderson just to have all four of us in a room and skeleton ideas for new songs. We were just making instrumental demo.
That turned into multiple writing trips out to LA to decide who was going to record the album and who would be our main producer and songwriting collaborator; that’s when we found Drew Fulk [Wage War, Motionless In White, Ice Nine Kills], who ended up being the main producer and engineer on the album. He was a great new addition to our family. We’d never met him or worked with him before, but once we got in the room in his little punk house studio in LA, it was awesome.
Time was a big thing. There were no deadlines because touring wasn’t really in sight, and we didn’t want to put this album out until we knew we could go back on tour. Drew was very stress-free and creative; we must’ve written 30-something songs in the beginning, and it was really fun to work with Drew to reshape them, combine some of the ideas and start fresh one day if we didn’t like any of them. Drew’s a hard-rock producer, mainly. He’s done a lot of metal stuff, so I think this is his first real pop-punk album. But he’s got a lot of pop sense and goes to Nashville with country writers, so he has a great songwriting mind. I think he was excited to take on a pop-punk band like us, and it shows.
That explains why you have that unexpected feature from country singer Mitchell Tenpenny on the record!
I’ve been a fan of his for so long; I’ve always loved his music. I came to find out Drew was a good friend of his, and we also have other mutual friends in the industry as well. He got connected in a group chat with me, I sent him a song and an idea of what his part could be and he was like, “Dude, I dig this!” The next day, it was done. It was sick, so I hope people care about this!
This album features the most guest spots you’ve ever had. Was there a reason you changed your approach this time?
We’ve been wanting to do more features for a long time. This album has a sense of tough ego to it, almost like a hip-hop album. In the past, we’ve only really done one feature, so it was cool to step outside the box and bring friends in to collaborate. There are no rules here; we’re breaking down boundaries, and there’s no such thing as genre anymore, so you can bring in whoever you want. That’s the fun part.
What do you feel has changed musically and lyrically since your last album, Living Proof, in 2018?
Since there’s a lot of different lyrical content on this album, there was a less stressful approach to it. Everybody thinks your next album after the one before is gonna be more mature, but this one isn’t. It sonically sounds like the best album we’ve ever made, but it’s not mature — it goes back to our roots, and it’s got a sense of youth to it. It’s us trying to make a statement, but also not trying to take ourselves too seriously. We’ve been doing this for so long, and we used to be the humble, cute new band who had to pay all this respect; now we’re the legacy band. We have to cement ourselves into the scene now, and that’s what we’re doing with this album.
Lyrically, I think it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got a lot of angst about getting out of toxicity in a relationship. Some of it is about the last crazy two years of weirdness we’ve had, but also appreciating and glorifying normality and wanting to do normal things again. There are some love songs, too — it’s been such a long writing process that there’s been a roller coaster of stuff that’s happened with all of us.
We made it through a pandemic when we had to learn how to write songs over Zoom because we all live in different states now; Ryan [Scott Graham, bass] is in LA, I’m in New York, Evan [Ambrosio, drums] is in Connecticut and Tyler [Szalkowski, guitar] is in Ohio, so it became very cyber for us. When we got to LA in person to record, we were like, “Damn, I miss you guys.” I don’t think we’ve ever said that to each other because we spent so much time together — we finally started missing each other!
Which lyric from the new album means the most to you?
The first song is called “Here To Stay,” and the first lyric of the album is, “The kings of the new age.” We didn’t even pick the album title until we were sitting down listening to the album for the first time, and listening to that, we knew that had to be the album title. “Here To Stay” talks about our first time touring and realizing that this is what we wanted to do. It talks about our first time showing up to the U.K. and about us being at the forefront, having all the bright lights and just ultimately realizing down the road that this is our legacy and our future to make. We’re not going anywhere, we’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s time to listen up and plant ourselves and carry the torch in this scene.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves over the past two albums. After the first album [2013’s The Finer Things], we had to beat that, and then we did [with 2015’s Around The World And Back]. Then we thought, “How do we beat the second one?” There’s less pressure now. People are gonna listen to this, so let’s make sure we like it because if we don’t, we’d be doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s important for us to stay true to who we are and make a statement that makes us feel good about what we’re doing. Ultimately, what we’re showing the world and sharing with everyone needs to mean more to us than it ever did before, nowadays especially.
There’s a pop-punk resurgence going on right now, and a new generation of bands are taking the scene for their own. Does that excite you as part of this next wave, or do you feel like the old guard protecting the genre’s legacy?
I’m not one to consider myself pigeonholed in a certain area of pop punk, but I’m also not about the gatekeeping aspect of it, either. I know there’s a revival, but it’s just a different time. Culture is changing, and TikTok is the biggest way to promote your band now — who’d have fucking thought? It’s wild, but I think it’s great. People can dog on it all they want, but ultimately, it’s bringing that style to the forefront of pop culture again. It’s making kids want to pick up a guitar and start a band, and I think that’s really important and special for our genre now. I love turning on the radio these days and hearing guitars and drums. If that turns people onto the internet, to YouTube’s suggested artists, and then you end up on a band like State Champs, fuck yeah.
Why would I be mad at the MGKs, the jxdns and the LILHUDDYs of the world? We can all co-exist together and motivate each other, but if anything, there should be a little friendly competition in it all. Who’s gonna carry the torch, and who’s gonna be here two or five years down the road? I guess we’ll see. That plays into what Kings Of The New Age is: It’s almost a little jab. What we’re really saying is, “There’s a new age, but we’ll show you how to do this shit.”
Do you agree with the spirit in which they’re bringing it back, with a less serious tone and a slightly more individual focus on personalities rather than moral messages?
If anybody wants to put a spin on something that’s already been what it was, that’s fine by me. If you wanna glamorize pop punk, go for it. It’s got the word “punk” in it; that means it can be rebellious, it can be sexy, dirty, scummy… There are no rules or room for anyone to start arguing what it means. It shouldn’t have rules. It shouldn’t have barriers or ceilings. Do what you want, and if people like it, cool. If you like doing it and other people don’t, fuck them. That’s how it should be!
Your clothing brand Steez is doing some great things. What have you got lined up for the summer?
I was just designing some really cool stuff that I wanna put out for the summer! We’re doing two big summer drops, and we’re gonna start doing a lot of vending this year for festivals. I’m designing a tent for our pop-up shop, so if you’re attending all the big pop-punk-ish festivals around the U.S., keep an eye out for a Steez Brand tent. Stop by and say hello — me and my friends will be there chilling and slinging gear!
What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment with State Champs so far?
I think the fact that it’s been 10 years as a band and we haven’t killed each other yet! We’ve had ups and downs, member changes and crew replacements, bus accidents and all this stuff that could totally squash the adrenaline and chemistry in a camp like ours. We still definitely fight like brothers, but we can also hash things out like brothers, and we can hang like brothers. We’ve only grown closer over this, especially over the last two years creating Kings Of The New Age.
At one point, we almost exhausted ourselves with all the processes of touring and being in the studio. We got to the point where we thought, “Do we even like this anymore? I don’t know if we really care.” We owe it to ourselves to see everything through after how much we’ve built with us and our fanbase, so when Kings Of The New Age started coming together, we started looking at each other like, “Yeah, we love this shit. We need to do this and not stop until we’ve reached every goal on our bucket list.” We keep adding to that constantly, so I don’t think we’ll ever say we’ve made everything happen.
This feature appeared in issue 405, available here.
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