Q&A w/ The Wonder Years on their new acoustic EP (song ft. Shortly out now)
The Wonder Years recently announced a 2020 tour where they’ll be playing one acoustic set and one electric set each night, and they’ll have a second installment of their Burst & Decay acoustic EP series out before then too. Burst & Decay, Volume II was produced and engineered by Early November frontman Ace Enders, and it comes out February 14 via Hopeless Records with acoustic re-works of seven songs from all over TWY’s career, dating back to their 2010 album The Upsides and including material up through last year’s Sister Cities.
“On the first Burst & Decay EP, we went in with a rough idea of re-envisioning a few old songs and walked out of the studio in love with the process. We were able to breathe new life into songs that had become neglected over the years and give new dimensions to ones that we’d played endlessly,” singer Dan Campbell says. “This time, we went in knowing exactly what we wanted to do––build new versions of old songs that subvert expectations but remain familiar. We stretched our limits, we got to work with the insanely talented Little Kruta String Quartet, we had a legitimately good time in the studio and we made something we’re very excited to share with you.”
The first song released is a new version of “We Look Like Lightning” from Sister Cities, and this one features gorgeous string arrangements and a great guest vocal turn from Alex Maniak of Shortly. You can listen to that song below and pre-order the EP here.
As mentioned, the tour is with Free Throw, Spanish Love Songs, and Pool Kids, and Head Count (“a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy”) will be on site at most dates to accommodate voter registration signups. It hits NYC’s Webster Hall on 2/22, NJ’s Asbury Lanes on 3/19, CT’s Toad’s Place on 3/20, and more. All dates are listed below.
We also caught up with Dan Campbell to ask him a few questions about the new EP and upcoming tour, and to do a track-by-track rundown of each song chosen for the EP. Read on for that conversation…
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BV: As you’re doing a second Burst & Decay EP and tour, I assume it’s safe to say the first one went well. What about the first EP/tour impacted you the most personally, and/or inspired you to do this project a second time?
Dan Campbell: I think it’s just because we unexpectedly fell in love with the process of it. When we went to make the first one, it was, at least in part, because people were asking for new music from us and we didn’t have it ready yet. We knew we were still about a year out from releasing Sister Cities and that we had to do something so we thought about an acoustic EP but as soon as we started digging we realized how many possibilities it opened up. It was really freeing because our fanbase already liked these songs so even if we did a version that they fucking hated, it just meant they’d stick to the original. So, if we wanted to make one lounge-y and throw in some jazz chords, we could. If we wanted to make an alt-country version of a song that was originally much more Weezer than western, we could.
The tour around it was really special too because we did it in smaller rooms than we’d played in years and really worked to make the shows feel super intimate. It felt like a whole new side of the band and opened up a lot of new places to go.
The first Burst & Decay tour saw TWY touring with an expanded lineup that included a string section. Is that the plan for this upcoming tour too? What, if anything, will be different about this one?
We only were able to have the string section at the NYC date of the tour. The quartet that we play with (Little Kruta) are intensely talented and in very high demand so we can’t bring them on the road but what is cool and different about this tour is that we’re actually doing two sets a night. We’re going to do the Burst & Decay style set, then reset the stage and come back out and do a loud, classic TWY set.
On a similar note, what did you learn from doing the first EP that informed the process of making this second one? What was similar and/or different about this one for you?
I think it let us understand the goals of making something like this more. We didn’t want to just play the songs on different guitars and call it new; we really wanted to work to reinvent them. We wanted to find interesting ways to subvert expectation and keep you on your toes a little while still remaining pretty true to the original version which is a fine line to walk but a fun one.
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Okay, so to get into a track-by-track breakdown of the EP: first up is “Washington Square Park.” Unlike the first installment, this time you reach all the way back to The Upsides for this song, and as TWY were such a different band back then, this one feels like the most drastic reinvention. What drew you back to this song, what does it mean to you now, and what was the process of reworking it like?
I think in part, we came back to this one because that record is about to turn 10. We were making this new version of it almost exactly ten years after making the original and that was fun. And you’re right, it is a drastic change which was the goal. We used sonic artifacts that happened when plugging in a guitar to do scratch tracks and turned it into the pulse that’s under the whole song which, admittedly, was because of some Death Cab influence. We tried to nod to the history of the song a little bit too by including some things that have evolved to become part of the song over the past ten years because of how we’ve done it live. It’s hard not to talk about without giving it all away but its probably my favorite one of the 7.
“We Look Like Lightning” – this is the one you’re releasing today as the first single, and it has guest vocals from Alex Maniak of Shortly. What can you tell us about this one, and about working with Alex?
I know I’ve already said it but the goal with the whole EP is to subvert expectations and find ways to turn the original version on it’s head. This song, as it appears on Sister Cities, is probably the most “digital” song we’ve ever done with the electronic drums, synths, keyboards, etc. So, we did it as naturally as we could. Acoustic guitars, acoustic piano, a string quartet. That led to the question of what to do with the bridge where I’m screaming on the original version and we thought, if we’re flipping everything else, let’s flip this too–instead of screaming, let’s have Alex do it. She has such a perfect voice for the moment and we love Shortly so much so we were glad to make it happen.
“I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave” – this is the sole inclusion from ‘No Closer to Heaven.’
This was one of the harder ones to sort out but really came together around Josh’s idea to have the bass drive the song. He and Michael really snap into a groove that carries this song in a totally different way than the original. We also brought in Joe Junod here to play some trumpet and decided to let the lyrics at the end have space to breathe for the first time.
“Passing Through A Screen Door” – this one’s a pretty significant rework too, and if I might add, I think this is my favorite on the EP. One particular question I have about this one: it’s such a personal song, and presumably so tied to a specific moment in your life (you mention being 26 in the lyrics, etc). As you’re now approaching 34, how does this one resonate with you now?
It’s definitely an interesting song to play at age 33 with an 8-month-old baby sitting next to my while I type this but I love that I have it as a diary of that time and place and I love the way the song has impacted people. The version on this is really similar to the version we did on the first Burst & Decay tour. That EP was only 7 songs so we obviously had to prepare other songs in our catalog for the shows. When we got to NYC to do the final show with Little Kruta, we were blown away by their string arrangement and the way that it elevated the song. I think that may have been when we decided to do a second EP because we knew we needed a studio version of this one.
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“It Must Get Lonely” – this is the second one from Sister Cities. Like “We Look Like Lightning,” this slower song seems like really lends itself to an acoustic version. Were the ‘Sister Cities’ songs a little more natural to work with than some of the faster, older songs?
Actually the opposite. This one may have been the hardest to do because the original relies heavily on rising and falling dynamics but without the ability to get super loud, we had to take a different approach to the song altogether which is how end up with this kind of slow burn version where we’re trying to just build it more as each part of the song enters.
“Cul-de-sac” – another from The Greatest Generation, and another very powerful one. Tell us about reworking this one.
I don’t have a great answer for you here. I can tell you that we originally wanted to do more of a campfire, singalong version of the song but that it wasn’t totally working. We did a little Halloween-themed tour that ended on a Sunday, we drove home Monday, my baby was teething and kept my wife and I up most of that night and the next morning we were in the studio. We started reworking this one with Ace and I straight-up passed out on the floor. When I woke up, it sounded like this which is much cooler than the way it sounded when I fell asleep, so overall it feels like a win for me.
Lastly, “Hoodie Weather.” Another older one, and unlike the others, piano seems to be the core instrument here (lovely string arrangements too). How did this one come about?
The goal for this one was to turn it into a piano ballad. We always felt like it was a mismatched song. The energy never carried quite the way we wanted to and never fit the lyrics the way we hoped. People tell us all the time that they love the song and want us to play it but when we do, no one’s really sure what to do with it because the tempo and energy feel antithetical to what the song means to people. So, the idea was to try to create a version that resonated more with the song emotionally and again, Little Kruta really put that over the top.
One last question: you’ve now reworked older Wonder Years songs for two EPs, think you’d ever do one of these with new, original material?
We considered writing a new song for this one but literally just ran out of time to do it so I think it’s definitely a possibility in the future.
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Burst & Decay, Volume II Tracklist
1. Washington Square Park
2. We Look Like Lightning
3. I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave
4. Passing Through A Screen Door
5. It Must Get Lonely
7. Hoodie Weather
The Wonder Years / Free Throw / Spanish Love Songs / Pool Kids — 2020 Tour Dates
Feb 20 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair
Feb 21 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair
Feb 22 – New York, NY @ Webster Theater
Feb 23 – Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head
Feb 25 – Orlando, FL @ House Of Blues
Feb 26 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
Feb 27 – Nashville, TN @ Cowan
Feb 29 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
Mar 1 – Dallas, TX @ Canton
Mar 3 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
Mar 4 – San Diego, CA @ Observatory North Park
Mar 5 – Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse
Mar 6 – Las Vegas, NV @ Fremont Country Club*
Mar 7 – Los Angeles, CA @ Regent Theater
Mar 8 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
Mar 10 – Salt Lake, UT @ The Depot
Mar 11 – Denver, CO @ Summit
Mar 13 – St. Louis, MO @ Ready Room
Mar 14 – Detroit, MI @ The Majestic
Mar 15 – Chicago, IL @ Concord
Mar 16 – Cleveland, OH House Of Blues
Mar 18 – Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom
Mar 19 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
Mar 20 – New Haven, CT @ Toads Place
Mar 21 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Filmore
* No Pool Kids