An interview with pop-punk powerhouse State Champs

State Champs - State Champs
State Champs/Courtesy

Having just released its sophomore album Around the World and Back, New York pop-punk band State Champs is bracing itself for another whirlwind nationwide tour in support of pop-punk veterans the Wonder Years. The Daily Californian had the chance to catch up with State Champs’ lead guitarist Tyler Szalkowski and drummer Evan Ambrosio, to chat about their controversial Halloween costumes, being signed to Berkeley-based label Pure Noise Records and the importance of the Internet in the new age of pop-punk.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Cal: How was your Halloween?

Tyler Szalkowski: We were Minions. It was fucked, because we were fucking Minions, and it was stupid, but it was funny stupid.

Evan Ambrosio: And people think that we like Minions —

Szalkowski: I very ironically support Minions. They’re so fucking funny to me.

DC: I actually asked in the “Defend Pop Punk” Facebook group what they wanted to know from you guys, and the only actual question I got was, “Why the fuck were they Minions?”

Ambrosio: I actually love going in the Defend Pop Punk Group.

Szalkowski: The reason why we did it is because we knew it would make people mad. It’s literally like, we got everyone to talk about us on Halloween by being fucking Minions.

Ambrosio: So tell them it worked! (laughs) But it was definitely a shit costume.

Szalkowski: (My costume is) in my bunk, I can put it on if you want. You can put those little brackets like, “Tyler changes into Minion costume.”

DC: What’s it like having your home base out in Berkeley with Pure Noise Records, despite being from New York yourselves?

Szalkowski: It’s especially cool because when we’re out here, we’re treated like family. It’s like having a second home. And down in LA, our manager’s from there, so it’s like having a third home. It’s nice to have rocks all over the country, people to fall back on. We spent all morning in Berkeley. We were there last night, actually. We walked around, Berkeley’s awesome. … The thing about Pure Noise that we do like is that it’s very family based. Like I said, you’re treated like family, and you’re always just a phone call or a text away.

DC: In this music scene, it seems that bands either give their all and engage the crowd during the live show, or just play the set straight through without caring too much about interacting with the audience. Your band’s stage presence is so welcoming and happy — how do you maintain that?

Szalkowski: We just like to have fun. I’ve been going to shows for over 10 years, and I’m a firm believer that you get out what you put in. If you either try to go crazy on stage, or if you try to be funny — you don’t even have to succeed — just be interactive and people will respond. … (Lead singer Derek diScanio) isn’t here but I’ll give him some credit: He’s really great at interacting with crowds. I don’t know where he possesses this ability to command crowds, but he’s really good at it! Because off-stage, he’s honestly pretty soft-spoken. Onstage, he’s very in his element. But we always try to put in effort because we know people pay attention to that. If you don’t care, people know you don’t care. And if you don’t give a fuck, why should they give a fuck?

DC: A lot of people would associate your band with this new wave of pop punk, and something that’s unique to this era of pop punk is the importance of Internet interaction.

Szalkowski: If you really think about the early 2000s and pop punk and the amount of shit that was said back then that wouldn’t fly now, it’s wild.

Ambrosio: They just had to deal with TV, MTV, TRL… (laughs)

Szalkowski: They just had to deal with what they said on Steven’s Untitled Rock Show on Fuse, and we have to worry about every single word in a tweet, but we’re expected to tweet multiple times a day.

Ambrosio: You really have to watch what you say.

DC: And this has become more of a concern recently, right?

Szalkowski: It really boils down to who you are as a person. If you’re saying problematic shit, it’s because you’re problematic. … It’s just crazy because I live in the Internet world with everyone and I like to think I’m socially conscious, so it’s crazy (to me) that people aren’t.

Ambrosio: And I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I agree that you shouldn’t say certain things because it really does affect people and it’s not right. Just don’t be an asshole! Be a good person.

Szalkowski: And be open-minded and progressive, and be willing to admit if you’re wrong and shit. People have to worry about the Internet, yeah, but at the same time the Internet is like your best freaking friend. Without the Internet, what the fuck would’ve happened to our band? Our band got its start online — every band gets its start online nowadays.

Ambrosio: The music industry has definitely changed where you have to get your career going on the Internet.

Szalkowski: You definitely have to have a social presence or no one will give a shit.

DC: Social media can also be powerful for giving both positive and negative feedback. Did you guys find that to be the case, especially on your recent tour with 5 Seconds of Summer?

Szalkowski: We would spend some of our time before we played or after we played searching our indirects (on Twitter), which we don’t normally do, because that shit is corny as fuck. … But we were just reading them and there was people saying shit like, “The singer of State Champs looks like my friend’s dad, he’s 50,” or, “Who’s this State Champs band? They all look old as hell.” Our median age is like 24-25!

Ambrosio: But (the 5SOS shows) were definitely interesting. The fanbase, for me at least, seemed very accepting. Overall, they gave us the time of day, which was cool.

Szalkowski: I feel like just because people aren’t going crazy doesn’t mean they’re not watching. That’s something we really had to get over, supporting as much as we have. They could be in the lobby buying merch, buying freaking nachos because they were in a goddamn stadium, they could go do anything besides watch your goddamn band — but they’re watching your band. It’s a seated venue, so they’re not going to be freaking moshing, but as long as someone’s watching, you have to take that as a positive thing. Bands that we tour with, they’ll get off stage and be like, “Dude, it was a really mild crowd, it felt really weird.” But it’s like, yeah, but they could’ve went to the bar.

Rosemarie Alejandrino is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].