BY LEE ANN JAENICKE
It’s been almost two years since State Champs visited the city of San Francisco. They broke the dry spell on Monday, November 2, when they played the Regency Ballroom with You Blew It, Motion City Soundtrack and The Wonder Years. We had a chance to talk to Tyler Szalkowski and Evan Ambrosio about the beginnings of State Champs, their interesting tour year and the new record Around The World And Back.
Tyler: We formed the band in 2010. Derek and me are the only two original members. We went through a couple of member changes. All of us used to play in different bands but the Albany music scene is pretty tight, so we played shows together. Fast forward a couple of years after we knew each other we thought, “Let’s start a band together.” So we did. We played some shows, people came and people left, but we wanted a more serious line-up to start touring. That’s when we found Evan, right after Overslept came out. He played every single tour with us except for one. He’s been there forever. He’s basically OG as far as actual touring goes. And then the other guys Tony and Ryan followed soon after that.
The last time you were in the Bay Area you performed in San Jose. You have quite an impressive following over here and your fans sing along to all the songs. Do you remember the first time you noticed that the audience was singing along or singing the lyrics back at you?
Tyler: I do. It was back in 2010. We just dropped our EP that was literally called The 2010 EP and we opened a show back in our hometown in Albany, New York, for Teenage Bottle Rocket. There were maybe 10 people, but they were going crazy for the songs. Climbing on top off each other and singing along. We have a lot of support back home. People from the Northeast in general.
Evan: Before I joined the band, when I would play shows with State Champs outside of it, you could tell there was something special. People were always going crazy and that was even in Western New York, where I saw them specifically. It goes from there all the way to Boston. All the shows, even before I was in the band. It was very cool.
Do you think that came because you already were in bands before and people knew you? Or were the people at the East Coast simple more open for this kind of music?
State Champs: I think the reason why it started in our hometown the way it did when we first came out was the scene there is primary metal and hardcore, mostly hardcore. Equal Vision Records is from where we are from. There was a huge part of hardcore and pop punk in the 90s to early 2000.
The scene’s always been there although it was kinda still for a while. Pop punk used to be huge in Albany in the early 2000. There were a bunch of really great bands over there. It died down a little and I think us and a couple of other bands maybe brought it back to Albany. So I think it was two things. It was a breath of fresh air in a stale scene and people over there like to go crazy and totally lose it. I’m not talking about fangirls (I don’t mean to be disrespectful). I’m talking hardcore kids at pop punk concerts. It was probably a combination out of those two things. People were excited for something new. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I would say we have a lot of friends in Albany. And it was mostly our friends supporting us. On top of that our songs are very energetic. Kids would say “Hey, listen to this band or that song.” It was easily accessible. We were different which made us fun to listen to.
On most of the tours this year, you were the openers. Soon you’ll be co-headlining with Neck Deep in Australia. When can we expect the next State Champs headlining tour?
State Champs: The last full US headlining tour was the “Pure Noise Tour” in the fall of 2014, after we finished off the Vans Warped Tour. Another State Champs co-headline tour is coming in spring and we’ll probably gonna have a full headlining tour not long after that.
Supporting is fun, we really enjoy it. Sometimes you get to play for 10,000 people but they aren’t your fans or you can play for 102 that are. It’s a noticeable difference. Playing to your own crowd is very rewarding and really fun. The shows are outta control and you get to play longer sets too. When you’re supporting you only get 25 to 30 minutes, while you can play as long as you want as the headliner — more songs and new stuff.
We dropped our record two weeks ago, so we are looking forward to playing new stuff. We’re very much looking forward to headline more and more frequently.
The new album title Around The World And Back is a pretty inviting tour name. For the next headline tour would you name it after the album or do you have something other in mind?
State Champs: We would definitely love the idea of the “Around The World Tour And Back,” playing off the record title. But who knows. We like really funny things too. All the silly names. The name doesn’t really matter though. No one’s gonna go because of the name. But we will probably call it something wacky.
Doing the interview in the early afternoon and in the tour bus gives me a nice little peek behind the scenes. What does a day on tour with State Champs look like?
State Champs: We are responsible but we also party. We are productive partiers. We go hard all night but we will wake up at 10am because there is work to do. We don’t let our work get affected. It always depends on the tour though, and where we are. Today we are in San Francisco for example. Our label and our booking agent are from here. We will be hanging out with them and get in some kinda trouble for sure. But we are also doing LA tomorrow. That means more friends and more industry. Gotta snap out of it. Can’t sleep in till 5pm. Gotta get your butt up and get ready for the day.
Before you go on stage, do you have any rituals?
State Champs: Basically just trying not to fall asleep. Talking about getting up early — we are tired. For real though we just stretch out and warm up. Nothing crazy like group chants. We are decently normal as far as that goes. We all do our own warm ups. Get together shortly before. We are all pretty confident about our ability to step out and do the damn thing.
You’ve had quite an impressive year of touring. All Time Low’s Future Hearts Tour, 5 Seconds Of Summer in Australia. Now The Wonder Years and soon Neck Deep. What was the most interesting tour so far?
State Champs: The most interesting one has to be the 5 Seconds one. Keyword being interesting. The All Time Low Tour was incredible. Everything we did this year (has been incredible) so far! This has been the coolest year we’ve ever had as a band. Shout out to all the bands that have taken us out and anyone that came to the shows and welcomed us to their lives now.
But the most insane stuff happened on the 5 Seconds tour. We were far from home and played the biggest venues we’ve ever played. As an example: We went out to get lunch one day and kids ran after us. It’s not really about us. It’s more the fact that we are friends with 5 Seconds Of Summer. It was truly interesting. That day there was a line outside, but we thought “no one really cares. They’ll not even ganna know who we are” and literally the second we stepped out 50 or 60 kids came running at us. All we heard was this pounding of feet on the floor. And we thought “What was going on?” It was like a movie. It was insane.
Where we’re from, we can walk out the front door. State Champs walk out the front door everywhere and we go to Australia with 5 Seconds and it was crazy. We got off airplanes and there were people waiting. WTF! Even the production of the show was completely amazing, a whole new experience for us. We consider ourselves an underground band, because we are not mainstream. We are not on the radio like 5 Seconds is. It was great to step into that realm and see how that feels like. They have a desk filled with TV monitors. Even watching their show was fun because they have cool lights and they’re just amazing musicians.
The most fun tour was the Future Hearts tour. Especially for me (Tyler) since I’m a huge All Time Low fan. When we got the offer I was just freaking geeking out. I was super stoked to be on that tour and hang out with those guys. I mean once you’re in the scene you’ll hear a lot about them. People say All Time Low is the most fun band. It’s cool to tour with them. And when we got it, we just thought “YES!” It was awesome. The shows were huge and fun. It was like a giant family. Not that other tours weren’t, but that one specifically. They definitely care about overall community on tour. They’ll host after parties and make sure you’re there and taken care off. Not like “meet us at this bar and pay a million dollars for a drink”. They really look after the band they take on tour. Same with The Wonder Years too. I wanna shout them out too. They also really take care of the bands that they have supporting them. There are a bunch of bands that don’t care and it’s obvious.
But All Time Low and The Wonder Years do and it’s cool to see bands at that level functioning like that. They’re good role models. It’s just impressive because they’re huge. It’s a good example on how a tour should be if bands take care of each other. I mean they’re selling out anywhere between 3,000 to 6,000 rooms they can easily not give a damn about us. But they do and that’s cool. That made the Future Hearts Tour the coolest one.
Let’s not get too much into the special relationship between Tyler and Jack Barakat. Moving on to the new record Around The World And Back. What’s your personal favorite song?
Evan: I really like “All or Nothing” and “Shape Up.” But it switches for me a lot. But “Perfect Score” was one of my favorites from the start and it’s still up there. It’s so hard to pick a favorite though.
Tyler: There is a difference between songs that we like to play and the ones we like to listen too. But “All or Nothing” is my jam right now. I also really like the song “Breaking Ground” because it’s different. It has more of an alternative spin. I don’t know if it’s nerdy but I literally sit at home playing along to our songs. And playing “Breaking Ground” is just a lot of fun because it’s actually challenging. Not that we write songs that are not challenging, but there are songs I can play in my sleep. But this whole record is challenging to play and especially to perform. Because if a song is hard to play sitting down at your computer, it’s super hard to play in front of others.
But you just can’t compete with how hard the “All or Nothing” chorus hits. It slams. It absolutely destroys. All songs have some special values we like. Which kinda goes hand in hand with why we wrote the songs that way. All songs have their own little Easter eggs and cool things about them to keep them fun for us and cool for the listener.
Talking about performing, which do you like to perform most?
State Champs: Off the new album, we only played the singles we released so far which are “Secrets”, “Losing Myself” and “All You Are Is History.” The most fun we would all agree is “Secrets” because it’s so high energy. The music parts are challenging but not so challenging as where you can still go crazy on stage. So you can have fun without worrying about playing it. It’s the highlight of the set for me (Evan). It’s fun to watch people go crazy for something that just came out a few weeks ago. And it always surprises me how well people know that song specifically. We are excited to experience the rest of the songs and maybe get a new favorite that way.
What are your plans for the future? Any specific achievements like playing a certain city or venue? Collaborating with a specific artist?
State Champs: We’d like to collaborate with a lot of people. They just gotta ask. There are definitely places we’d like to go. It’s all international stuff. We’ve almost been everywhere in the States. Hawaii and Alaska would be nice. Also would be cool and challenging to do a show in every state in America. We are not to far from it. We hit 42 or more already.
But we want to hit Australia and Hawaii real bad. We hadn’t been to Italy and Spain yet. Brazil and South America would be awesome too. Southeast Asia like Manila would be fun. Basically “Around The World And Back”. We just want to keep it going. We started the band to play shows and have fun. It’s easy to lose that sense of youth but we want to remember why we started and why you’re here in the first place.
We just take a step back, take a deep breath and realize we have fun playing shows because music is sick. You go out on stage and you’re like “This is the only thing that matters”.
Have you reached a moment yet where we look back and realize, “Look what we accomplished in such a small time frame”?
Tyler: We don’t really have to look back. We think that when it’s happening. Like OMG we are playing this show or we are going to this country. I think what also sets us apart from other bands is we are really involved in our band. A lot of bands let the managers take the reins. But we like to interact with our fans and online. If you are more involved you can experience the growth a lot more while it’s happening in front of your eyes because you actually see it. As dumb as it sounds, you see your Twitter grow. When I started the band I had 50 followers.
Evan: And we don’t have to look far back. We haven’t really been touring internationally all that long. It all kinda happened so quickly. But it’s cool to look back and say we’ve done this much. And it definitely helps to know we have gotten this far. I didn’t know that this was even possible, so we are going to shoot for it. It’s crazy that it has just been a few years. But we’ll never take anything for granted.