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.”
Transit - Listen and Forgive
Had to put this one first up. Considering the situation Transit is in, signing to Rise and getting ready to release their most anticipated record, they sure as hell did something right in the studio this time around. Keep This To Yourself was a good pop-punk record, but in the EPs and 7"s released after that, fans will notice a decided shift toward a more Midwestern 90s emo-ish sound. That transition came to fruition on the two-song Promise Nothing 7", a release that went completely against its name and gave us the promise of a great Transit full-length to come. Joe Boynton steps it up a great amount in the vocal department, and while the transition (lol?) of this band's sound is continuing, there is still enough upbeat, pop-punk-y tones here to satisfy old fans. It's amazing to watch a group like this mature before our very ears, and with Something Left Behind and Promise Nothing, we were granted the rare opportunity to watch a group's transformation between two full-lengths. I consider myself grateful for the chance to watch these guys grow up, to watch them make better music every year. Now I am grateful for Listen and Forgive - Transit's best record and a guaranteed top 10 release in 2011.
Those left with heavy hearts who try to save the world are only left to sink. You left me to sink.
New Found Glory - Radiosurgery
Okay, the first time I heard the record, I thought - this is NFG's worst output. I was disappointed. But after a few more listens, I got progressively more into Radiosurgery, and I realized I just had a problem with the first track. This is supremely surprising, as NFG has always been good about choosing a rad opener that sets the tone for their records. But the title track (which definitely should not have been the first song released) is a terrible way to open this album, in my opinion. Luckily enough, literally every other song is classic New Found Glory, with that sorta 90s-style pop-punk sound they were talking about. These guys managed to produce another gem of an album.
Jack's Mannequin - People and Things
I can't remember if I already did a first impression post about this. Either way, it'll be short. People and Things is a great mixture of Everything In Transit and The Glass Passenger - something that fans should have expected. We get quality lyricism, insanely catchy songs and a little more of the classic rock influences that McMahon doesn't always let out. I would actually like to see him do a sort of stripped-down, acoustic singer/songwriter record - get rid of the piano maybe, and see what he can do when he lets all the Petty and Dylan come out. Oh yeah, we were talking about this record. I can't think of a pop-rock record that I will rank higher in 2011...Dinner and A Suit has a good full-length, but this McMahon's voice is something I will never tire of.
All Get Out - The Season
I don't know if all that many people know about this band, but The Season is being released on Favorite Gentlemen Records (run by a certain Manchester Orchestra) so that got my attention right away. Not surprisingly, what The Season shows off is a sort of quirky indie-style, more poppy version of a band that kind of sound like Man Orch. Sound like a weird description? It is. I definitely need more time with the album, but hopefully that gets people a little excited to hear it.
Into It. Over It. - Proper
I love Evan Weiss. He and I have these silly Twitter exchanges every once in a while about burritos or some ridiculous hashtag he tweeted, and when I meet him later this month it will have been meeting that has been in the works a long time. I reviewed his IIOI/KOJI split, his Twelve Towns LP, the split with him and Such Gold that was part of the Twelve Towns project, and the Stay Ahead of the Weather EP. All positive reviews, but I like SAOTW better than Evan's solo stuff, and it's because that EP was all full-band songs. Evan is a great songwriter - I have said that MANY times - and his acoustic, stripped-down songs are fucking awesome. But Proper is a full-band record, complete with distorted guitars and pick slides and all that totally punk shit. Anyway, Proper was my favorite IIOI release before I even got to the end of it, just because I realized it was louder than his other recent outputs. This is a good thing. Hopefully he starts touring with a full band.
I have one other album that I'm not allowed to talk about yet. But uh...it's really good. That's all I can say.
Today I got my Four Year Strong - Rise or Die Trying 12" in the mail. It's the yellow/nuke color of the first press and there are only 100 that were made. This was the last vinyl to come in out of all the ones that I wanted to buy this summer, so with Set Your Goals' Mutiny! and New Found Glory's Sticks and Stones, I have three of my favorite pop punk records. And with The Wonder Years' The Upsides, I have what might be my four favorite pop punk albums ever, which I'm really excited about. So this episode of It's Mailtime is....the perfect storm, pop punk edition.