Better known as frontman of The Wonder Years, for the past year or so, Dan 'Soupy' Campbell has slowly been crafting a solo album. Wanting a challenge, Campbell created the persona of Aaron West. Carefully he began piecing together a story that would eventually become the album We Don't Have Each Other.
We Don't Have Each Other is markedly different from the pop-punk people have come to expect from Campbell. Although known for his emotive song writing, We Don't Have Each Other pushes Campbell's lyrics in a different direction. If you're expecting The Wonder Years it's best to go elsewhere.
So what kind of beast is Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties? Well, the record is a concept album telling a year in the life of a lonely figure. Pretty dark listening, it explores themes of alienation, self-loathing and despair. Yet, despite the heavy subject material, the album's sonic scope is anything but miserable.
Produced by Ace Enders of The Early November, We Don't Have Each Other is eclectic in its musical palette. Energetic and fervent, the album pulls from many musical traditions. It incorporates elements of folk music, acoustic guitars, pedal-steel guitars and the twang of a banjo can be heard throughout the record. However, perhaps the most surprising musical addition is the use of a horn section, helping to create a completely different tone from anything Campbell has done before.
The buzz around We Don't Have Each Other has been palpable. It comes as no surprise that when this side project was announced, excitable mutterings were widespread. The Wonder Years command an incredibly dedicated fan base, one that is ready to rally around anything Dan does. So while the record is a story rather than autobiographical (though Campbell does draw from some real-life facts), it still retains the emotional kick that first drew fans to The Wonder Years and is likely to have a lot of cross appeal.
Creating a concept album of course presents its own challenges. Is the album relatable? Can a listener connect with it? Is the story fully realised or just a patch work of half thought out ideas? When concept albums are badly conceived most fail this litmus test, yet We Don't Have Each Other is an engrossing and engaging record. You feel for Aaron and you get caught up in his world. We Don't Have Each Other pushed Campbell to new places and this experimentation should be rewarded with a listenership that stretches far beyond the pop-punk scene.
We Don't Have Each Other is released on the 7th of July. I chatted to Dan about the album via email which you can read below:
1.We Don't Have Each Other is the first record you've made as Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties. What prompted you to write this record?
I really started writing it for me. For one, I wanted to become a better guitar player. When I finished college, my dad bought me a really beautiful guitar as a gift and with most of my time occupied singing in The Wonder Years, I never really got any good at playing it. Secondary to that, I felt like I had only really explored writing songs from my perspective. A lot of my favorite song writers did a lot of character study in their song and so I really wanted to push my normal lyrical boundaries in that way.
2.The album is a concept album; as the record hasn't been released yet, can you explain a little bit about the character's journey and story?
I don't want to give away too much because, for me, a lot of the enjoyment I get from listening to a concept album is from peeling back the layers to the story myself. I'll just leave it at saying that it's about a man named Aaron who has been having a terrible year.
3.How did you go about researching and creating this story and character?
I think to create any character you need to base certain aspects in things you know and so I took pieces of my life and of my friends lives and started there. I knew generally where I wanted the story to go but the real key is in the details and so I took a lot of time to craft that aspect of it. I think things like the sports teams we support and the things that hang on our walls can tell a good deal about our character and so I wanted to use background pieces like that to build a more fully realized person and world.
4.Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties seems like an expression of a different side of you both lyrically and musically. Were there any records that really pushed you into exploring these different ideas?
I think the records that really pushed me towards the style of this release were All Hail West Texas by The Mountain Goats, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning by Bright Eyes, That Much Further West by Lucero, really any Weakerthans album, etc.
5. The album features a horn section amongst other folk instruments. It gives the album a different texture from what you do with The Wonder Years. How did you go about arranging these songs? As a process of exploration did it allow you to go to places you wouldn't necessarily with The Wonder Years?
Ace Enders was a huge help with a lot of that. I knew what instruments I wanted on each song to tonally make the record sound the way I envisioned it but Ace really came through in helping to orchestrate those parts. We had a few horn players come in, Mike Kelly, John Ryan and Dave Heck who really delivered as well. I do think that the instrumentation helps set the project apart from The Wonder Years.
6.The album was produced by Ace Enders of The Early November. This in itself is a pretty big deal, how did you guys come together to work on this project and what was the recording process like?
I had been, as I said, just writing the songs for myself. On Warped Tour last year I had a few I was working on and asked if Ace would take a listen and lend me some tips. When he heard the songs he let me know he thought there was something special here and that if I did a record, he'd like to produce.
7.Do you hope to be able to do a full tour US/European tour or will this have to take a backseat to The Wonder Years schedule?
It certainly takes a backseat to The Wonder Years' schedule but I would love to get a chance to play the songs live as much as possible.
Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties - You Ain't No Saint
Dan will be playing his first UK show as Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties on the 23rd of August at The Fighting Cocks, Kingston. For more information and tickets head to Banquet Records.
For more information: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties