Alive and Kicking: The Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour and Why New Found Glory Refuse to Let This Genre Sink
Story by Thomas Nassiff
Photos by Samantha Gomez
Pop-punk isn’t dead, but boy, is it tired.
At least it is right now, as a couple of representatives from three of the bands on the Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour walk across Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Fla., toward the warm, inviting hue of a Denny’s.
As the crowd heads in and the hostess fixes a table for a dozen, a bunch of usual tour shenanigans are taking place. Dan Campbell, vocalist for Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years, digs into his pockets for 50 cents to play a crane game. Brad Wiseman, guitarist for Walnut Creek, Calif., natives This Time Next Year, aligns himself on the machine’s left side to give Campbell some extra depth perception as he aims for a Halloween-themed penguin.
“A couple of the guys on tour are really good at these crane games,” Campbell said later on. “They win them every time they play. I just want to feel like I’m a part of something.”
Pete Dowdalls and Justin Collier, vocalist for This Time Next Year and guitarist for New Jersey’s Man Overboard, respectively, are wandering around, unable to find a restroom. A waitress points them in the right direction and gives them an odd glance as they walk by. Only Wonder Years bassist Josh Martin keeps an eye on the hostess, looking anxious to sit down and dig into some food. It’s like a sweatier, beardier, more heavily tattooed version of the Brady Bunch waiting to be seated on the one night a week they get to go out for dinner.
“The four support bands have all been on tour with each other a bunch of times,” Martin says. “I’m stoked to have kind of this family out on the tour.”
The Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour may very well be the most hyped tour package of the year. Set Your Goals, The Wonder Years, Man Overboard and This Time Next Year – four pop-punk bands generating an enormous amount of buzz – all opening for New Found Glory, the by-default godfathers of the genre. Today, an off-night date in Jacksonville provided a rare opportunity for the support bands to play a more intimate show. They played to just over 300 sweaty, stage-diving young people at a venue called The Pit – an enormous contrast to the 2,000 that packed the Orlando House of Blues to its brim just three days earlier.
With all five of the bands supporting recently released full-length records, the excitement of each show has been on a level that some have never experienced.
“If you have a tour where you have four or five relevant bands like this, kids are bound to like a majority of the bands,” Dowdalls says. At the Orlando show, Dowdalls revealed to the crowd that it was the largest This Time Next Year had ever played to.
“We get stoked on it,” he continued. “I’ve never seen kids react to us this way in such a loud, crowded environment before.”
While each of the groups have varied amounts of experience playing to bigger audiences, they all have a common mindset – to work hard, stick together and support each other. It’s that DIY, take-nothing-for-granted attitude that this portion of the pop-punk scene has become known for.
An innate willingness to get the job done and a desire for collective success has taken a group of individual bands and turned them into a community of teammates.
“It’s not really something that can be defined as a musical genre so much,” Campbell says about the sense of community on the tour. “It’s more like a group of people with the right idea and I think everyone on this tour has the right idea. I think that’s the most important thing to have in common.”
While the spotlight is being shed on the Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour at the moment – for good reason – the entire group is quick to recognize its equally hard working peers in the scene.
Running simultaneous to their tour is the Alternative Press Fall Tour, featuring Four Year Strong, Title Fight, Sharks and The Swellers. Campbell recalls his friends in Polar Bear Club, Fireworks, Balance & Composure and Make Do and Mend recently wrapping up another stacked tour.
“On any tour when you have friends in a positive environment, and the bands playing are all positive, then it becomes a positive environment for the people who come to the show,” Martin says. “And each night it’s like that – the sum is really greater than all of its parts.”
Martin and Campbell reminisce about the summer they spent weaving throughout the country on the Vans Warped Tour, and how bands in other genres were much less willing to help their peers succeed. They talk about bands playing metalcore or other styles of music popular on the tour, referring to some of those camps as “shit-talk city.”
“Some people on the other side of the fence, genre-wise, are real competitive where we are, as a genre, really supportive and we promote one another and want to see each other do well,” Martin says.
“We’re just at an advantage in general,” Collier adds. “We come from punk scenes that are really supportive, whether it be punk or pop-punk or hardcore.”
Wiseman jumps on Collier’s hardcore reference, saying he feels comfortable and at ease on tour knowing he’s driving cross-country with people who will have his back no matter what. He tells the group about This Time Next Year’s first tour ever, where they played to only a couple dozen kids each night. He says some bands in other genres might not be okay with only playing to a handful of kids, but groups in this scene will still get excited about it.
“We played a warehouse in Colorado Springs [on that first tour], and there were like, maybe 30 kids there and 10 of them were going off,” he says. “And we were like, ‘Holy shit, we’re in Colorado playing a show to 30 kids and 10 of them are freaking out.’ Two of them knew the words to every single song. Not everyone, I feel, can have that appreciation. The difference with us is that I think we can all accept that that is awesome.”
While some of the contingencies at the table don’t draw the parallel to hardcore music quite as much as Collier and Wiseman do, they can all recognize the comparisons.
Campbell says that while The Wonder Years’ music isn’t similar to hardcore at all (“We’re not a hardcore band, we just aren’t.”), he can see the similarities between the ideals of the genres.
“There are metalcore bands that have ‘core’ in the name,” Campbell says, “[and] they have a lot more to do with hardcore I guess, to an extent. But those bands in that scene have never played a show not on a stage. They’ve never played on a floor, they’ve never played a VFW.
“If we all come up together, we can all keep playing together. There are bands that we enjoy being around, there are bands that we enjoy playing with, and we will keep doing these kinds of tours. I would much rather it be this way.”
As plates of fried food begin making their way to the table, the group agrees on another significant common ground – the importance of New Found Glory to not only their own music, but the genre in general. As stories are swapped about listening to New Found Glorys’ self-titled record at ripe, young ages, it becomes clear that without the Coral Springs, Fla., natives, these bands might not exist at all.
Dowdalls, for example, says, “[New Found Glory] and Saves the Day are the only two reasons why I wanted to be in a pop-punk band.” It’s an ultimatum like this that crystallizes New Found Glory’s immense weight on a genre they very much helped build.
“Influentially, when you think about the top three pop-punk bands of all time…it’s Blink-182, New Found Glory and Green Day,” Martin says as the rest of the table murmurs in agreement. “At least in my brain, they’re on that level eternally.”
Some of the bands have been more influenced by New Found Glory than others. Guitarist Chad Gilbert produced This Time Next Year’s most recent full-length, Drop Out Of Life. At the same time, guitarist and songwriter Steve Klein was in the studio producing Man Overboard’s self-titled full-length. Now, as they’re all touring the country together, the younger bands are beginning to see the full brunt of New Found Glory’s role as leaders in the genre.
“[New Found Glory] would talk to us about how they handled their career,” Campbell says, speaking of The Wonder Years’ several dates with New Found Glory in 2010. “They gave us a lot of sound advice that we used over the course of that year.”
“They’re like the older brothers to all of us, but they definitely don’t need to be,” Wiseman adds.
Collier talks at length about Klein’s straight-up attitude in the studio, trying to give Man Overboard advice not only on what direction to go with their music, but career moves they could take and certain things they should avoid.
“They’re in a position where they can help if they want to, and if they don’t, they can just not give a shit and they’re still New Found Glory,” Collier says. “But they do, [they] genuinely care.”
Collier adds that with Klein on the same tour now, he’s helping execute the record he just helped create. It’s a different gear of producing, on many levels.
“It was awesome being in the studio with Man Overboard,” Klein says via a phone interview. The self-titled album was Klein’s first foray into the industry as a producer. “In a way, I feel like a proud father.”
While Klein continues extensively about his time in the studio with Man Overboard, he says New Found Glory believes in keeping the genre going via live performances as well. They take bands on tour, he says, who they feel portray the right ideals.
“We tour with bands that have the same mentality as us,” Klein says. “There’s no bullshit. A band who plays their music, they don’t do makeup before their set, they don’t give a shit what they look like, there’s no light show. They just play and how much they’re into their music and the crowd is what makes them stand out. To me, that’s the best part about punk rock, about pop-punk, and the live performances are what we feel makes the genre go.”
If the first few weeks of the Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour are any accurate representation, all signs point to Klein’s statements being correct. As far as giving advice to the younger bands on the tour, he says it’s all been a part of the community since it began.
“When we started out, Less Than Jake, Blink-182 and Green Day and bands like that took us on tour and they all helped us out. We’re just trying to pass it down,” he says. “I feel with us, we’ve gone through all the crap you could go through as far as managers, labels, press people, whatever. We talk to the younger bands and try to give them advice on what is a good or bad way to go about things.”
Campbell and the rest of the group at the Denny’s table, which has seen its food become scarfed into oblivion, keep coming back to New Found Glory’s history of helping younger bands every few minutes. Wiseman recalls talking to a member of The Starting Line, who told him how Chad Gilbert helped push his band on Drive-Thru Records over a decade ago. The Starting Line caught a huge break when New Found Glory took them out on tour; a similar result isn’t out of the question for This Time Next Year.
He references another story Gilbert told them about Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever. “He’s always had people’s backs,” Wiseman says about Gilbert. “You don’t find that in a normal, everyday scenario.”
Martin refers to the band as “mentors,” saying that even almost a decade after influencing new bands with their music, New Found Glory has taken it to the next level by helping those bands keep the genre above water.
Pop-punk, for all intents and purposes, is a genre that New Found Glory helped propagate to a great amount. Having been around for over a decade now, the group has outlasted many of its peers who became notable around the same time in the early 2000s. While New Found Glory’s peers might have broken up (and, more recently, reunited), the band has turned its sights on seeing the scene thrive, even as they continue to release their own new music. Radiosurgery, the band’s seventh studio LP, dropped in October.
“New Found Glory is definitely interested in the preservation of the genre,” Campbell sums up.
“A lot of kids nowadays … are like, 'Wow, it’s pop-punk resurgence,'" Klein says. “But for us, pop-punk never went anywhere. There have always been good pop-punk bands in our minds.”
As the Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour continues to weave its way through major markets, it will eventually reach its last stop and end its six-week, cross-country run. But after the #PPNDTour Twitter hashtags are long gone, after the Tumblr posts detailing excitement for an upcoming show are shunned to archived status, and after the glowing show reviews from music critics are forgotten, these bands will just pick up their instruments, pack them in a trailer and do it all over again.
While the tour and the genre have an immense light shined on them at the moment, the fact of the matter is that these bands have a certain DNA embedded in them; that DNA tells them to keep fighting, supporting their friends and helping build a community that existed before them and will exist long after them. It’s a day-to-day grind – and while there is plenty of attention being paid to these bands today, if there’s ever a day when no one cares, they’ll probably still do their own thing.
As James Carroll sings on Make Do and Mend’s “Oak Square,” from their most recent full-length, End Measured Mile: “There’s something to be said for a firm lack of common sense, because God knows getting in the van isn’t paying rent.” Fans of the genre will have to hope that Make Do and Mend, The Wonder Years, This Time Next Year, Man Overboard, Fireworks, The Story So Far and so many more of their peers continue on in their path of “a firm lack of common sense.”
That’s the only way the pop-punk scene will stay alive; it’s the only way for the current crop of young bands to evolve, one day stepping up to the plate and offering their own advice to newcomers.
The one thing that is an agreed-upon conclusion as the group exits Denny’s is that the fight is a collective one. What’s good for one is good for all. The barriers that one band breaks, says Martin, can open up doors for others.
Campbell, just hours after belting out 14 songs to 300 kids who knew every word like the lyrics were engrained in their throats, rubs his eyes and takes a sip of Diet Coke.
“We came up playing basements together,” he says.
“And if we have to, we’ll go down playing basements together.”
Finally, I am caught off guard. Most of the records I have praised this year were anticipated releases. Although some albums (The Wonder Years, The Horrible Crowes, Transit, etc) were much better than I could have predicted, and while there have been disappointments (Set Your Goals, The Swellers, The Wombats, whatever), I have yet to be completely off-guard by a release this year. A Loss for Words' No Sanctuary, their first album for Rise/Velocity Records, did just that, though.
No Sanctuary is unexpectedly diverse - not a quality I was looking for from the band that released the mediocre The Kids Can't Lose. Matty Arsenault's vocals are still some of the best in the genre, as we got a good glimpse of on their Motown Covers record. On one extreme, the album has some very poppy pop-punk; some of the songs could possibly fall into a pop-rock category. On the other hand, the title track is very punk-driven and has the heaviest parts the band has ever written, featuring screams from guitarists Nevada Smith and Marc Dangora. Arsenault's vocals blend pretty well amid the heavier parts, and it's interesting to see how a track like that feels as natural the straightforward pop-rocker "Raining Excuses."
AL4W also flash the ability to slow things down without getting generic or bland - we see this partially on "Pirouette," which is probably Arsenault's best performance on the record, and much more so on "Jetsetter." The main reason - and I keep coming back to this, for good reason - that the slow songs work is the vocals. A Loss for Words' versatility comes almost fully from Arsenault; he hits some ridiculous notes on this record and proves that he can match the powerful guitar tones without overtaking them. The musicianship here - really, the guitars - are also a highlight. Opener "Honeymoon Eyes" sort of shows that from the start, and I hope they don't release that song before the album's October 18 release date.
Everyone has already heard "The Hammers Fall," of course - and that song is a rare instance of a first track giving a pretty good insight into what the album sounds like.
It might not land among the best albums of 2011 for me, but AL4W has blown me away after a few days of listening to No Sanctuary. Among Rise Records' so-called "WTF Signings," each of the bands that we have heard new music from - Man Overboard, Transit, and now A Loss for Words - have all shown firstly that the decisions were good ones by Rise, and that signing to the label had absolutely no negative affects on their respective outputs. Now maybe we can stop hearing about that over and over again every time one of these groups has some news going on - Rise is proving itself to be a powerhouse among the punk and pop-punk scenes. This label has a lot of resources - they have the ability to put out a lot of new releases and to give each of them the push they deserve. It's tough to imagine Man Overboard and AL4W not blowing up with the help of the Rise name. Transit, meanwhile, is well on its way to becoming a much-adored AP.net favorite, and their longevity might outlast many of their peers.