Picking something apart and making sure it still feels passionate

Tyler from the Albany Pop-Punk quintet State Champs talks travelling, European crowds, their latest album and shares important advice for young artists.

On a nice afternoon with the occasional rain cloud, the 11th of June 2019 to be exact, State Champs played their second ever show in Austria, but this time it didn’t take place in Vienna which left people surprised yet happy and grateful. Before their live debut in the beautiful city of Graz, we had the pleasure to sit down with their lead guitarist Tyler Szalkowski for a little interview.

FM5: You were [in Graz] two years ago, so it’s been quite a while.
Tyler: Yeah we were here in the city specifically on a day off. We never actually played here.

Yeah, you played in Vienna the day before and then had the day off here!
How far is Vienna from here?

It’s about two hours or something, depending on the traffic.
I thought it’d be further; Austria is like kind of big right?

It’s actually tiny.
Tiny? I saw it on a map yesterday and I thought it looked kind of big. Not like BIG like Germany’s big, but I was like damn it’s like bigger than the state of New Jersey! You need like six hours to drive across [Austria].

Yeah like six to eight hours. Did you like the city when you visited it two years ago?
Yeah, we liked it so much we took a couple of promo photos in it with our photographer. It’s very pretty, very calm - people seem to be really nice. So that was awesome! I went out to grab breakfast earlier and the person was very nice and patient with me speaking English, so I appreciate that.

Yeah we generally love talking in English!
Yeah! She spoke English really well, I was like “oh wow this is awesome” – she was killing it!

Speaking of seeing different cities, what’s the first thing you absolutely have to do when you visit a new city/country?

Got to try a cup of coffee! If I wake up in a new city, I got to seek out some good coffee!
And if the coffee sucks, the city is bad... ;)
I mean… yeah if you don’t have any options for me, I’m not going to dig it, it’s not hard to find good coffee around Europe!

How do US crowds differ from the European crowd?

I think it’s an interesting duality for us, because we are much larger in the United States and we’re much larger in the United Kingdom, but in Mainland we’re probably like half the size, so it almost feels like a little more fun for us, because we get to kind of get back to our roots and play those sweaty more intimate shows like the show you’ll see tonight. It’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot more going, a lot more rowdy …
I feel the European fans are a lot more passionate, they seem a lot more appreciative, they understand that we travelled all the way from the USA – that’s not to say that our US aren’t appreciative, but there seems to be a bigger appreciation for us coming to places like here in Austria or when we play Prague or stuff like that, cause a lot of bands don’t go there, so when we go there, they get excited and they show you they’re excited!
People expect us to play New York and people expect us to play Boston and when we don’t they’re like “whoa you kidding us?”

Yeah... where’s *insert city here*? Why won’t you play my city?
Yeah (mocking) Why aren’t you playing in my bedroom? Come to my house!!!

I was actually quite surprised when I saw that you were playing Graz, because this isn’t a city like Vienna where international bands like yours often play. It’s mostly the bigger bands like 30 seconds to mars and they’re huge.

Yeah, and they’re massive on a worldwide scale so it doesn’t matter where they play people will come! I think we were itching to play a show here and the stars finally aligned, because we’re out to play Milan tomorrow, so we have our ways to go and it was a great halfway point between Ravensburg and Italy, so we were like let’s stop in Graz and give it a shot!

This week you’re celebrating the 1 year anniversary of Living Proof!
Yeah it’s on the 15th! I’m excited!

I’m still not over the fact you collaborated with Mark Hoppus (blink-182) on it. How did that happen, was it because John Feldman produced on it?

Yeah it was actually. It was very out of nowhere, he told us “one of my friends is going to come in here tomorrow” and we were like cool and we showed up and it was Mark Hoppus, we were all pretty fucking nervous!

But it’s an amazing song.
Yeah, he also helped us write "Dead and Gone" which is really cool!

What did you take away from working with the producers on your latest album, what did you learn?

I think we learned that every single aspect matters, it’s not like it didn’t before, but I think we never really picked something apart like we did with this record and we really combed through it.
Working with those people had us kind of like on high. We were super critical of everything and I think that’s really the difference maker for us – realising that there’s a balance between picking something apart and making sure it still feels passionate.
If you start to criticise something too much it will start to feel disingenuous and bad. We learned the balance, is what I’m trying to say – like identity, making sure it’s still us, but making sure, we’re still moving the needle and still kind of try new things or advancing our sound without going too far and scare people or without going too little and bore people.
We really learned how to hone in that middle point, where it’s not too little and not too much, just the perfect amount to set us up for our next record, so that everyone will be excited, like “What are they going to do next? On the last record they did this and before that they did this – so what’s next!?”

Small changes in every record...
Yeah! Tiny little changes. We learned the importance of development, really, developing as an artist.

The comfort zone is really hard to leave sometimes, personally as a photographer I know I’d love to stay in my little comfort zone, but since there’s the need to advance, it’s a must to break out of it.
Yeah, it’s really hard.

Do you need an outside push?

Sometimes… I think if someone gives you a spark of an idea and you build on it together, that’s really cool and the great thing about working with producers and songwriters is that you don’t make the same thing that you already made, because there’s a new cook in the kitchen.

There’s someone adding in spice, variety and different ideas and you’re like “oh yeah, that’s actually a really good idea. I would have never tried that, if you weren’t in here with me”. I think that does help with progression. I also think that as we grow older, we’ve been expanding our musical tastes, whether it’s into Indie-Rock and Country music.

I think with doing that you see how a band like Tame Impala makes music and you’re like, “oh shit! We would never make a song like that, but we could borrow elements from that”, things like that. I definitely think that it’s really important to step out of your comfort zone and work with people that challenge you and doing your own research as well.

And I think that works with writer’s block as well.
Oh absolutely.

It’s easier to have someone pitch in new ideas, so you can work with those. Do you ever hit a wall in terms of writer’s block and how do you deal with it?

All the time! Just keep hitting your head against the wall until you break through. (laughs)
You just got to keep rocking!

In retrospect, is there anything you would change about your last album?

I don’t really like to live with regret. So I don’t think that there’s much I would change. I do think that there are a couple things here and there that I would like to change, but nothing that would change the outcome of anything or really affect anything like a more interesting guitar part or something, but truthfully nothing that anyone’s super listening to!

Do you have any advice for any artists out there who are still young?

Yeah, I’d like to remind people that it’s not a race. The band Fun. won their first Grammy when they were 32 years old, that’s still five years on 27 and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It’s not a race, go slow and focus, hone in your craft and make sure that what you’re doing is good. Don’t just put things out because you think that you want the attention right now.

Be smart about what you do – be calculate about what you do, don’t just do things because you feel like it. If you have a song you really like, maybe you should try to put it out the right way and not just upload it to soundcloud and tweet it out, just be smart!

The last bit of advice I will leave the readers with is make sure you’re everywhere – every streaming platform, every single social media platform. Whatever it is, no matter how stupid it feels, if you don’t use Facebook it doesn’t fucking matter, because most people use it. I hate Facebook, but we have one, because people use it. It’s not about you at that point; it’s about delivering your media to people where they feel comfortable.

So, that’s a pretty important piece of advice – make sure you’re everywhere and make sure it’s good, because people only give you one chance. They’re like “oh yeah. I heard of State Champs and then they’re going to click on your top play – ours is "Secrets" and if they think that song sucks, they’re probably not going to listen past that. Make sure it’s good enough to keep listening to song two, three and four, you know?!

Lastly, is there anything you want to tell our readers?

I would like to tell your readers – thanks for reading this! Hopefully we will see some of these readers at the show and have some fun!

Julia Wagner