Albany, N.Y.’s State Champs are perhaps one of the best and brightest up-and-comers from the latest generation of suburban kids churning out punk inspired pop music. But their sound is bigger and more refined than your average mall punks, because they’re “killing it” every second they’re in the studio or on stage. At least that’s what State Champs’ guitarist Tyler Szalkowski told Ghettoblaster between mentions of their Pure Noise Records debut EP, Overslept, and his opinions on cover songs and complaints about not receiving pictures of fans in their skivvies. Here’s what else he had to say …
How did the music scene in Albany shape who you are as a musician?
When I was 14, the scene was dominated by metal and hardcore. I actually started out playing bass in a metalcore band. But that scene always had strong hardcore and punk ethics too. The scene nowadays is moving in a more pop punk direction. Whenever we play a local headliner at home it seems like we’re meeting more and more kids that we’ve never met before that just found out about us. It is cool that it is growing in that kids from neighboring towns will come out and tell us, “Hey I just found out about you guys.” It seems like the kids are having fun again and that’s cool.
I noticed that when I attended Warped Tour this year that the new and up-and-coming bands, including those you’ve been touring with, are really reinvigorating that pop punk sound.
Oh yeah, Man Overboard, Transit, Hostage Calm, all those bands that are absolutely killing it right now are doing so much for that scene and genre. A lot of people consider the early 2000s, when pop punk was huge on the coattails of Blink-182 and New Found Glory who were on TRL and MTV regularly, the glory days. But I definitely believe that everything is cyclical and that pop punk is becoming really cool again.
I definitely see that. You can see that on the covers of newsstand music magazines for sure.
Pop punk has always been my true love. I remember downloading New Found Glory’s “My Friends Over You” on Napster. And I definitely have a collection of weird old mix CDs that I made that are a mixture of Slipknot, and MudVayne, and stuff like Good Charlotte and New Found Glory. But when I got into the scene pop punk was losing steam and metalcore bands like As I Lay Dying were growing in popularity. So I was looking up to bands like that. It is cool to finally be able to do what I always wanted to do, and hopefully have kids like it.
Is this your full-time job now?
Well, we all dropped out of school to do this, but we work full-time while we’re at home. I work the front desk at a hotel and Derek designs merch for a merchandising company. But this is pretty much our business. We like to consider ourselves entrepreneurs, and as such we’ve started are own thing and are just trying to kill it.
Was the Overslept EP you did with Jay Maas (of Defeater) the first time you’d seen the inside of a proper studio?
We did some demo CDs when we first started playing in 2010. We went to our friend in Massachusetts who was working out of his basement. He had a live room, and a vocal booth, which was awesome.
Jay Maas has a similar set up. He’s built a studio in the home he shares with his wife. There’s still a live room, but it is furnished, it is set up for professional acoustics, and it is all very sonically planned out. It is a really studio, but it is in his basement.
He was definitely the first person we’d ever worked with who told us, “That’s not good enough. Redo that snare roll. You can hit that better, nail that harder.” Stuff like that. He was more than an engineer. He’s not going to lie to you, because his name is going to be on this thing too. He was really honest, and focused on bringing out the best in us.
Did you meet him while playing shows with Defeater, or had you heard stuff that he’d done and pursue him?
We never played with Defeater before, but we’d definitely heard things that he’d done before. When his name was brought up, I immediately knew that he’d done a lot of records that I liked and said, “We should go there.” He has a really great sound. We were definitely all down.
It is interesting to hear a band doing dueling vocal work, but doing it really well. Did you spend a lot of time on that in the studio?
Thank you. We spent about a day on vocals. We were only in the studio for four days. The first was drums, the second was guitars and bass, the third was vocals, and the fourth was spent mixing. But all of day three we spent doing vocals. Derek is a master of melodies and harmonies. He spent 8 to 10 hours singing and killed it every time. He sings with such emotion and just packs a punch. There’s definitely no bullshit going on in the vocal booth. He just makes it his. But all of us treat our music that way. We’re here to kill it, and if you aren’t then you are doing everyone a huge injustice.
At what point did Pure Noise get involved?
Jake (Round) from Pure Noise is one of the best dudes I’ve ever met. We self-released an EP in January of 2011, and after that he began approaching us, asking us what we had coming up. So when we recorded our demo for “Critical” we sent it to him, and that’s when negotiations really began. He said, “We’d love to put out this EP.” And the rest is history.
I can hear some similarities to Fall Out Boy and Through Being Cool-era Saves the Day in the EP. Are those legitimate influences for you?
Absolutely. Fall Out Boy are one of my top five favorite bands. I wouldn’t put says the day in the top five, but they’re really fucking good. I love pop rock and pop punk. We all love Saves The Day, The Get Up Kids, all of that earlier 90s and 2000s stuff. The Goo Goo Dolls are really my favorite band. I’m definitely a ‘90s alt-kid. I like all that stuff like Third Eye Blind and shit. But Derek likes Top 40 and electronic music so we’re all over the place as far as influences go.
You guys recently toured with Citizen, who are known for their cover songs. Do you guys do any covers in the live set?
We’ve covered some songs. We did a cover of “Shoulder To The Wheel” by Saves The Day online at one point. Whenever we hang out we do joke covers and stuff like that. Live we’ve covered “Baby Blue” by Early November before they got back together. We’ve definitely covered some songs. It isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it can definitely be cool to pay homage to all the bands who got me into this shit.
But covering songs can be detrimental too. Every tour we do there is always a band who covers “Sugar We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy and there is always a Brand New cover. At least five or six shows of every tour we do. You can hear those songs from miles away, and you’re like, “Oh no. This is happening again.” (laughter) I love those songs, and I love those bands, but I feel like up and coming bands should play their own music. Get kids sold on you, not how well you can play someone else’s song.
Covers are sweet if you are off tour and you’re at home and bored and want to post something on Tumblr, but I feel like bands should play their own music.
Speaking of Tumblr, I noticed that you guys have posted some band-inspired fan art up there. Has anyone written any sexy State Champs fan fiction?
There hasn’t been any fan fiction, but we’ve gotten a few pictures of girls wearing State Champs shirts in their underwear. It is always posted with #derek, not #statechamps.
Well shit, I guess not. (laughter) I definitely love anything anyone posts on Tumblr about us. Our fans are awesome, even if it is underwear shirt pics.
Have you ever seen that “Fail” picture on the internet with the girl who is taking a bathroom picture of herself in her underwear, but there is clearly a turd in the toilet behind her?
God no, but I hope we get one of those soon! I’ll re-post the shit out of that.