Grab your boombox, Derek Discanio tells Jessica Bridgeman how New York pop punkers State Champs are breaking radio-ready ground with their second album.
“I want to start over, where do we begin,” sings Derek Discanio on ‘Breaking Ground’, the penultimate track of State Champs’ second record, ‘Around The World and Back’. While the 22-year-old frontman may well be contemplating within the context of relationships, it’s a question that the New York quintet also faced when writing the follow up to their 2013 debut, ‘The Finer Things’.
“It got a little bit stressful for us when it came to the very early stages of us writing songs,” Derek explains from the comfort of his mum’s home in the Big Apple. “How are we going to reintroduce ourselves, do we even want to reintroduce ourselves?” he muses, “Are we going to carry on our original sound, or how are we going to mix this up a bit?”
It’s a lot to think about. For fans looking in though, State Champs’ approach to the three-chord formula – inspired by the MySpace era of pop punk and emo – has been flawless from the outset. But for the band looking out, it’s a comfort zone that they’re far from content with.
“On the first album, we knew that we were considered a pop punk band and we knew that we had to cater to that scene,” Derek admits, noting the natural appeal of the ‘Warped Tour crowd’. “I feel like we hit the nail on the head with the first album but your second album is one where a lot of pressure could be brought on easily. People want to hear how you’re going to follow that up.”
With their first record charting at Number Two on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, it was subsequent tours with genre giants like New Found Glory, The Wonder Years, Motion City Soundtrack and All Time Low that gave them the confidence to step outside the pop punk boundaries this time around. Where did they stride? To a sound that centres itself on more glossy, pop-rock qualities, via a recording studio in Los Angeles.
Derek – a self-confessed sound engineer nerd – focuses a lot of his excitement on the production side of their second full-length. With an early influence from 2000s pop punk, he exposes the band’s intention to take that all too familiar mould and “make it sound huge and bring this new sense of production, and experiment with that.” “We definitely stayed State Champs in that it is a pop punk record,” he snaps back at himself. “But it’ll have a lot of tricks and surprises.”
So while the singer deals with the fluttering of new-album-nerves he describes after seeing responses to singles ‘Secrets’ and ‘Losing Myself’ online, he admits there’s a much grander plan in mind. “There was once a time where you could turn on your pop radio station and you’d hear Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Yellowcard,” he reminisces. “All these bands were killing it in the main radio rock scene right up until 2006/7.
“That is the main goal for us as a band; if we can get back to a time when bands like that could be the celebrities, and could be on the radio, be all over the TV and be huge stars.”
“Not that we’re in this for fame,” he clarifies, sensing the hesitation in our response. After all, it isn’t often you hear the punk kids talk about being the ‘celebrities’, but there’s plenty of plausibility in his reasoning, “We want to see this whole genre come back to life where it once was.”
“I think it could happen, and I think it’s only coming closer to something like that with all these awesome bands putting out awesome music in the pop punk scene.”
For a man that still cites The Starting Line as his biggest lyrical influence, this particular journey of musical maturity could stand to tear the singer in different directions. For now at least, it’s the buzz he gets from blending new-world production techniques with old school sensibilities that is sailing State Champs into their second album cycle.
That ship docked in the UK this September, with the US mob bringing Illinois’ Knuckle Puck and hometown newbies, Roam, out with them on their first ever headline tour on these shores. “Do I think I’m at a level where I’m someone who can be looked up to in a scene like this?” Derek asks himself, with a subtle pause of breath. “No, not really.”
Debating the prospect of being an influence to the support bands in question, he adds, “I’m still pretty young and I’m still learning as much as any other young band is. “I think it’s awesome for us when we do support bigger bands, I certainly look up to those guys and I definitely do learn a lot, and I can only hope to be at a point where I can be looked up to as well and do a bit of the torch passing.” Looking ahead more to the upcoming UK run, he offers, “It’s about good vibes, hanging out and making friends while travelling.”
So with a few weeks to gather his thoughts and spend time with his mum and girlfriend back home, Derek tells how the band have adjusted to touring since the explosion of ‘The Finer Things’. “It’s always going to be a challenge,” he says softly. “It’s never going to be ideal unless you absolutely love it and can make it ideal. I think a lot of us have found that way to process our lifestyle and maintain all friendships and relationships outside of it, even if they are long-distance.”
“We’ve been at this for about three years now with heavy touring,” he clarifies, “I think at this point we have the hang of it but it’s always going to have its up and downs.”
Like many young bands on the edge of their most successful record then, Derek says the five-some would be itching to be back on the road if left to their own devices for any longer than one month: “We’d start to get really bored and want to get back out there anyway. We like what we do so it’s usually just a bittersweet feeling when we’re home.”
With that, we recount the early days of State Champs; life before the headline tours, the support slots with 5 Seconds of Summer and the daunting prospect of writing their second album. “All of a sudden we’ve toured four or five different continents, we’ve seen all these different countries and massively toured the US… a lot has happened since then. “It’s cool to see a lot of progress happening, even still; now that we’re still on that first album cycle, we thought people would’ve been way bored of it by now.”
“We’re just so ready to get another album under our belts and have even more music to play.”
Taken from the November issue of Upset. State Champs’ new album ‘Around The World And Back’ is out now.