Tyker Szalkowski of State Champs (USA) talks new album and life on the road

American pop punk band State Champs have come a long way since they first formed in 2010. Three EPs, an acoustic EP, a full length album and several international tours later, the five piece are about to drop their second album Around The World And Back. Fresh off their tour of Europe, lead guitarist and backing vocalist Tyler Szalkowski shares details about their new album and life on the road.

You guys have your second album Around The World And Back coming out this Friday, how did the record come about?

Well, we really wanted to do a record for a while now. We know its been two years since [our first album] The Finer Things. We finally have a break from touring and obviously we like making records, its what we do. We wrote a lot of the songs while we were traveling. We did a lot of heavy touring for the two years after The Finer Things came out. I guess it just came about that way you know? Like I had a million freaking voice memos on my phone, its just like riffs and melodies and guitar parts and all that stuff and we all really wanted to put together a record. So I guess everyone just had the itch to.

You mentioned you guys have been touring a lot and you recorded the album while you were on the road, where did the inspiration for the songs come from?

I mean I don’t write any of the lyrics but I definitely understand that you can create a certain emotion with the guitar part which is what I do. But from what I gathered, the lyrics are just about normal life stuff. Like its always interesting because people think we have different problems to them, and we kind of do cause we tour a lot, but mostly its no different to them going away to university for like four months; you get homesick and stuff like that. There’s some general themes of missing loved ones, homesickness, tour depression but there’s also uplifting positive vibes and there’s a couple songs that are really like, I’m not sure if they’re inspiring, but they’re definitely not depressing.

Yeah definitely. Some people forget that you guys are normal people too, feeling the same things we feel.

Yeah, yeah. Its just really interesting; I feel like people expect us to have some sort of answer to what these songs are about. And we all hate concept records, like we’re not going to write about something thats not real. We make music cause its a way for us to release emotion in a healthy, positive way. We write about normal shit that happens to normal people.

Of course. You guys have also released some tracks from the record like Secrets and Losing Myself, do these songs give fans a feel of what to expect from the new album?

Yeah, we decided we wanted the single to show a little bit of depth but we didn’t want to give away too much from the record. We definitely thought it would be smart to release the singles that would show you what to expect. We released Secrets first, we thought it was easily the closest to The Finer Things. Its kind of to let people know ‘hey its still us, don’t worry about it’. Like everyone was like ‘oh man, 5 Seconds of Summer tour, you’re totally going to change’. Like shut up, no we’re not. Its insane [laughs]. So, we dropped Secrets and we’re like ‘hey we’re still us, relax okay?’ We think it’s a bit more chill, like a little less pop punk and more like rock maybe? I don’t know how to describe it, its just like a different vibe.

I feel like everyone releases singles now and its all like the same two freaking tracks on the record. Like we get it, you’re a pop punk band obviously, but what else do you have to offer? So I feel like when we’re releasing our singles, its like ‘hear this now’ , ‘check out this’, then ‘we’re gonna bring it back with this’.

When you were writing Secrets, did you know it would become a single and that you would release it first?

When we were writing it, we were like ‘yo, this song is freaking cool’. Then we heard Derek’s vocals over it and we were like ‘this is the one, its definitely a single’. Its just a great song.

How does Around The World And Back compare to your first album The Finer Things?

I think the album is decently similar. Its not too much of a departure from The Finer Things. Its definitely a little bit different though. I think the vibe [of The Finer Things] is a lot younger, a lot more youthful. Its like sugar rush you know? But with Around The World And Back its a little different; a little slower. Well, I guess not slower, but its definitely a stronger record. The songs are more well constructed; its like a more improved version of The Finer Things.

Do you have a personal favourite on the record?

My personal favourite is the song Shape Up. It was almost a single but we held it back. I’m really excited for everyone to hear it because it’s just one of my favourites. It’s just this really upbeat song; when we have a concert it’ll be great.

How would you describe the record in three words?

I would have to say it is..hmm three words…I’m trying to think of words that would make sense. umm…cohesive is one word I’m looking for, melodic and overall pretty fun I think.

Sweet! I’m looking forward to hearing it. Earlier, you mentioned you’ve been touring a lot. You weren’t kidding! Last year you toured in support of The Finer Things. Earlier this year, you opened for All Time Low and 5 Seconds of Summer. You’ve just finished a European tour and about to kick off an American one. When you first started the band, did you ever think this [non-stop touring] would happen just a few years down the track?

Not at all. We didn’t think any of this would happen. We started the band as a bunch of dudes who wanted to play shows in our hometown. We obviously wanted to get serious and knew we were heading in a certain direction but we never thought we would cross any seas. I never thought I’d be doing any Australian phone interviews! We obviously dreamed about it; it was the dream but we thought it’d be an unattainable goal.

Yeah definitely, I find that happens a lot with artists cause its hard to make it into the music industry.

Yeah, it’s not easy to be like ‘I know how I’m going to make myself a successive tutoring musician’. Its just like wow, we’re really lucky to be able to do that.

What have you learnt from being on tour since you’ve first started?

Performance wise, I’ve learnt about live sound. Off-stage, I feel like I learnt a lot. I’m not that patient of an individual, I think I’m just really impatient. But I’ve learnt to have patience; to keep a level head when things don’t go your way. A lot of touring is basically just shit going wrong and you trying to fix it. So I’ve definitely learnt how to adapt. Even the live thing, you’re just playing and you break a string or something will break.

So life on the road has its ups and downs doesn’t it? You mentioned earlier about tour depression.

I mean, yeah, there’s definitely tour depression. Its a really interesting thing. You’re with your friends for like five hours of the night, at the show with hundreds of fans in the room and you perform. I think its just a life of highs and lows. You’ll step out on stage and you’ll play a show to however many people thats there, from like five hundred to like freaking five thousand. Its really fun, like a super high adrenaline rush and then you’re offstage and you’re kind of just all alone.

Its weird isn’t it? Just going from extreme highs to lows.

Yeah, its a really weird dynamic.

What is it like touring with other bands? Earlier this year, you supported All Time Low. What was that like?

Touring with All Time Low was sick. We never really got to meet them before the tour. I think I met a couple of them once or twice just like around. We grew up loving that band. I mean, I for one, use to love that band. I went to some of their shows. One time I had to lie to my parents to go to one of their out of town shows. It was really funny. I was either fourteen or fifteen. That band has always put out consistent and great stuff. They’re honestly an inspiration really. They’re still on top of the game and its been almost ten years. The tour was cool cause we got to actually know them and hang out with them.

How insane is it to go on tour with a band you loved growing up?

Its kind of nerve-racking really. Luckily, All Time Low are a really cool band of guys. They’re awesome. They’re definitely the type of band we look up to. Its funny because you kind of hold people up on a pedestal, and you’re just like ‘oh you’re this famous musician guy’ and then you meet them. Its nerve-racking because sometimes they watch you play and you’re just like ‘I hope they think i’m good’.

Also, you were in Australia earlier this year touring with 5 Seconds of Summer. How did that happen?

We just got to know them. We were both doing records in LA at the same time. They’ve done some internet flirting with us like posting our lyrics and tweeting at us and stuff like that. It was cool; like we all like that band. Everyone always think that we don’t like 5SOS, but we love 5SOS – they have some seriously catchy tunes. We also love pop music as a whole, so like 5SOS is like pop music with guitars – which is freaking sick. We just kind of hung out like three or four times and then one night Michael [of 5SOS] had texted Derek to come over cause they were having a get together. And we were hanging out for like four/five hours and I remember at some point one of them [5SOS] was like ‘we asked our booking agent if you guys could come on tour with us in Australia’. And we were like ‘yes, we’ll do it right now, let’s go!’. We were just hanging out and it was a really natural thing.

Yeah, just casually getting asked to tour with one of the world’s biggest bands. No big deal.

[laughs] It was awesome.

While down under, you guys also did your own headlining tour. Do you find that playing to your own crowd is different to playing 5SOS’ crowd?

Yeah, I mean they’re obviously different you know. Playing to a crowd of your own, you have three or four hundred kids, compared to the fifteen to twenty thousand that was at 5SOS‘ shows. I don’t even know what fraction that is but its very very large. So playing those small headlining shows that were sold out was really cool. We saw ourselves opening the door for some of the younger 5 Seconds of Summer fans because they were here at the one show and then found out we were playing a show the next night and they would come. I remember Ryan was talking to someone who was like ‘I never would have come to a show here cause we’re so use to big arena shows and all these bigger bands. Its just so cool; a cool environment’. So we saw ourselves opening doors for kids to find out about more underground music and stuff like that. That was really cool. Playing to your own crowd is freaking awesome man. All the 5SOS fans were very receptive, they were really cool cause we were nervous. Its like ‘hey, go play a show in front of 15 thousand people who don’t know who you are’. We would step out, I think we opened with our song Remedy on that tour, and Remedy was like the jump song that gets everyone moving and mostly every night people were out of their seats and people were interactive and singing back to us and stuff like that – clapping, jumping, moving, whatever.  What was interesting was that they were still watching us because they didn’t have to watch, they could’ve gone to the freaking concession stand and buy some nachos during the set. As long as someone is watching, you’re putting on a performance that they care enough to actually watch; they could’ve done anything else for that forty minutes you’re playing.

That must’ve been cool. What was it like to be on stage and have fans sing lyrics back to you?

From a performance perspective, its really comforting cause even though someone’s watching you, if they’re interacting with you, its a lot better for us. Having them sing back is like a weird fuel that makes us go crazier. Its really hard to describe. Its just really flattering, its insane. One of my buddies asked me earlier today actually about how I feel about State Champs tattoos and I was saying that I don’t not like them, its just funny because I think their tattoos are awesome, maybe like that kind of ones I would get. Its funny because I hold other bands stuff in my life – like this record saved my life or this record helped me or whatever. I have my records like that. Its just so hard for me to believe that we made a record that did that for people. Its just really cool to have people singing lyrics back.

You guys are returning to Australia at the beginning of next year as part of your co-headlining world tour with Neck Deep. How did that come about?

Us and Neck Deep have been friends for like two years and we were just like ‘yo, we both have records out, we should just do a bunch of fun shows all across the world together’.

Just teaming up to take over the world.

[laughs] Yeah, we were ‘yo, lets take over the world. why not?’.

What can we expect from the tour?

A really fun, energetic show. And a lot of sweat.

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Around The World And Back is out October 16th.

2016 Australian Tour Dates

Wed Jan 6th YMCA HQ, Perth (matinee; all ages)
Wed Jan 6th Rosemount Hotel, Perth (evening, 18+)
Thu Jan 7th The Triffid, Brisbane (all ages)
Fri Jan 8th The Triffid, Brisbane (18+)
Sat Jan 9th The Metro, Sydney (all ages)
Sun Jan 10th Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (18+)
Tue Jan 12th The Basement, Canberra (18+)
Wed Jan 13th Fowlers Live, Adelaide (all ages)
Thu Jan 14th Arrow on Swanston, Melbourne (all ages)Fri Jan 15th Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)