INTERVIEW: Tyler Szalkowski (State Champs) Breaks Down Touring With Fall Out Boy, Life On The Road, Chance Of “Living Proof” Acoustics And More
At this point, the band State Champs is like a well working machine. Their latest album "Living Proof", which dropped this past summer, marks their most successful and diverse record so far, and beyond that? Well, let's just say they have been quite busy. Between our last interview back in spring and our recent catching up with them lie the album release, multiple tours including one supporting Fall Out Boy, a lot of work and some amazing memories.
We sat down with guitarist Tyler Szalkowski to find out just how they have been pulling all this off and what's on their mind looking back on "Living Proof" and the hell of a year it's been for State Champs.
What makes "Living Proof" the most outstanding State Champs release? What was up with that Neck Deep surprise appearance? What's it like touring with Fall Out Boy? Go ahead and find out the answers to these questions among lots of others below!
First of all, how's the tour been going so far?
It's been good. We just finished the UK leg, and now we're on to the mainland. This is our first show of the tour in Germany, and we are very excited to be here. This is one of my favourite countries to come to. Germany is awesome, I also like Belgium and the Netherlands! And Spain too, but I think I like Germany the most so far.
We've last spoken to you guys in May, but even since then you have been up to so much. For example, you guys have just played a few shows supporting Fall Out Boy! How crazy was that?
It was nuts! We're obviously not used to that kind of thing at all. It was strange, but I think we really rose to the occasion, you know. There's nothing we like more than a challenge. When you play a show of your own and people are there to see you, like, we have fun and we love doing it, but you know what to expect. You don't know what to expect when you walk into a 15k arena in some place in the States we haven't played yet. So here we were, rising to this occasion in front of all new faces, and it was crazy! They had this really long catwalk and we got to use that and go out there during the last song. It was really cool to experience and is something we would love to do again sometime. We are really grateful for it.
Were there people coming to the shows knowing you guys and singing along to some songs as well?
There was probably like, let's say 10-20 people of our fans out of the thousands. You would see them, because we would start the set and our fans would stand up. Everyone else would just be sitting there. By the end of the set, we got people involved though. We're an energetic bunch and Derek is really good at being a frontman. He got people out of their seats and having fun. That's how we based it, we were like "We know you're going to start sitting down and looking at your phone and not giving a fuck. But if we can get you standing or at least paying attention by the end of it, we feel like we did our job."
So, comparing those huge crowds and big production to these small sweaty club shows, which one would you say you prefer?
It's so hard, you know, because it's like with food: You probably like these kinds of different types of food. But I would never be like "what food would you eat every day for the rest of your life?". It's a perfect balance of both, we get to do big things and small things, and they're both just really special. Like, being able to play tonight, in Hamburg, to our fans, like 3500 miles from home? That's really special, really cool and really awesome. But getting to play in New Orleans and have my mom see me play an arena? That's also really, really special. So it's really hard to pick one. I think if I had to pick, I would pick headlining our own shows, and like, smaller clubs, just because it's yours, it's special. It's YOUR interaction with YOUR fans. They care about you and they want to give you all of their energy while you give it back.
At one of your UK shows last month, you brought out Neck Deep for a small surprise performance. How did that happen? (Is that something you'd consider doing again?)
So we were on the tour with Fall Out Boy, and they were on their own tour in the States, and we were both in De Moines, Iowa. I didn't know until the night before, because Micky (bassist from Stand Atlantic) was like "Hey, we're all in Iowa tomorrow, do you guys want to hang out?" so we got some of them into the show. We were just in the green room and they were like "What if for our encore you guys came out and played 'Secrets' instead of us coming back out and playing our songs". We were like "Yeah, let's make it happen".
We got off stage at like 7:30pm because we opened the show, and Neck Deep played until like 10pm, so we had all the time in the world to set it up and figure it out. We just went for it. Afterwards they were like "Well, we'll all be coming to the Manchester show and play a song if you'll have us" and we were like "Absolutely, that'd be so sick!" because we actually played that Manchester venue with Neck Deep on our world tour together in 2016. So we thought it would be really special and really awesome.
I've talked about this a couple times with fans, because they keep asking about it. It's a pretty cool thing. I just always say they're just friends of ours, man. We've all been bands since like what, 2010, 2012, whatever, but we've been working our asses off, whether it's together or apart from each other. We're all working towards the same thing, so we like to have our fun too. That was fun for us and it reminded me why I do this: just having fun with your friends, doing crazy shit. Not everything has to be so serious and by the books. So that's definitely something we'd like to do again.
â€‹I want to tour with them again, man. We've been hanging out with them a little more again recently, with the shows crossing and what not, we just miss them, you know. It'd be sweet to be able to tour together again. What would actually be awesome is if we had a tour planned together and this was like viral marketing, but it's not. (Laughs.) But I wish it was because that would be so cool! So yeah, you heard it here first: We want to, both bands want to, but we have to make it happen somehow.
So, what's it like on tour with State Champs? Who of you...
...eats the healthiest?
I don't know actually. I mean typically, I try to eat healthy, but when I'm over here it's harder, because there's things I want to indulge in. Like, I just had a currywurst across the street at that market thing. But yeah, maybe me or Ryan, because Ryan is a vegetarian, so he tends to get some nicer vegetarian meals. But then again, there's been a lot of late night Domino's on this tour, too. (Laughs.) This is a pretty hard question, but I would say either me or Ryan. Or maybe Evan. Not Derek though, and not Tony.
...gets up first every day?
Evan. He's always awake. (Laughs.) We used to have this joke, when we used to tour in a van and had to get up to take showers in the hotel and get ready to leave for the day, he was always like "I'm getting up at 8:30". That was like his thing, we always used to call him 8:30. Everyone was like "I'm getting up at 10 bro, why are you getting up an hour and a half before?" He was like "I'm getting up at 8:30" and we were just like "whatever". But yeah, Evan for sure. The latest sleeper is Derek. He'll sleep all day if you let him. I think he got up at like 3 o'clock today.
...explores the most on tour?
Ryan and Evan for sure. Ryan more so than Evan. I think he's always been interested in traveling and stuff, but now that he's documenting all of it, that kind of ramped up the speed for him to want to go and see more. He just told us he walked like 40 minutes towards a canal area somewhere here in Hamburg. Meanwhile I was... eating.
...is most likely to be late for soundcheck, VIP, interviews etc.?
Derek. (Laughs.) He used to be worse though. He's getting better. I don't want to paint this negative picture of him, but he's been late to a couple of things. (Laughs.)
Did he ever get in trouble for it?
Not really. We'll just be kind of sassy about it and be like "hey, stop being late, it's rude". We have a crew working all day every day to make sure soundcheck starts on time, so if you roll in 30 minutes late, it's just rude. But he is getting better. Me and Evan are very punctual people, we fucking hate being late.
...is the most organised?
Me or Evan. Mostly Evan. Evan's backpack is pristine man, you open that thing up and you can find whatever you need. He's always got fresh clothes on, always got a cup of coffee before anybody else... I don't know how he does it. He's a couple years older than me, so maybe by the time I'm 29, I'll be like him...
You guys have released a new album earlier this year, "Living Proof". The cover artwork is quite an interesting one. Who came up with that one and what was the initial idea behind it?
We have a band group chat with our manager, so we were talking. Getting the album done really isn't the hardest part. Getting the art and aesthetic built around it is way fucking harder. Like, we can make songs, but for some reason art is just so hard for five people to agree upon and all that. So Derek was on Instagram and he found this collage artist. We thought he was awesome and hit that guy up, and he just sent what he thought. There was only a few modifications from where we started to where we ended. We also tried to add in little Easter eggs, so there is a crystal ball, and a lightning bolt, and all this shit. But there's also stuff that doesn't match the song titles at all, just cool stuff.
And then we were like "okay we need to put our name on it, where do we put our name?" I remember Derek was just messing around with the name placement. We thought the big one looked really cool, a little bit like Urban Outfitters. As we get older, we kind of want our brand to develop to be a little older as well. So we thought this matches the maturity level of the album and also opens itself to a lot of branding and stuff like that, with all the little symbols and everything.
So last time we spoke to you guys was shortly before "Living Proof" came out, but now that it did: What was the overall response to the record? Was it like you expected?
Yeah, it was exactly what I expected. I think mostly people really liked it. We know that it's the best stuff we've ever put out. And it's okay for people to like our previous records more, but you can't argue with me that "The Finer Things" is better than this record, because it's just not. Songwriting quality and production quality is better, everything from top to bottom is better. But yeah, the reaction is really positive, everyone is really stoked, and these shows are.....living proof of that. (Good one.)
I mean there's a few people who were like "oh, they sold out", but that's just because people tend to get lost in nostalgia. Like, they found your first record and fell in love with you then, and they love that shit. They love "The Finer Things", and they love "Around The World And Back". They're so stuck in that era that they don't even want to see us grow, they just want to see us keep doing that, because that's what they love. You have to learn to appreciate growth and change, if you really want to stick with a band. But it's not something we lose sleep over, if you choose not to like our band, that's fine. We know we're not, like, the most popular band in the world.
Are there any more new tracks you're playing live now that you were really looking forward to?
Yeah, we just started playing "Our Time To Go" live on the Fall Out Boy tour, and that was really cool. And now on this tour, we added "Safe Haven" and "Something About You". We've also been playing "Criminal" finally, that's been really fun. It's just nice for us to play something different. I love what I do, but I've probably played "Elevated" almost a thousand times. And like, I'd never ask you to do anything a thousand times. (Laughs.) It's not even that it gets boring, but it just becomes second nature, and sometimes you want a challenge. Some of these new songs are actually harder for me to play live and that's fun for me.
For each album so far, you did some acoustic versions of songs. Is that something you could imagine doing for "Living Proof" as well?
Maybe. Every acoustic thing we've ever done has kind of just been like "Should we do this? Okay". Not a lot of thought really goes into it. Also we started writing a lot of our songs on acoustic, so it's easier to just scale them back, because they already existed in that fashion. We just kind of dressed them up for the record, and then it's easy to strip them back down for us typically, so we probably will. We don't have plans to, but we probably will.
For each era so far, you've come up with some pretty cool merch as well. Who usually designs your shirts? Is that the work of one person or something you all do?
It's a collaborative effort, whether it's us reaching out again to people we find online or artists we know about or friends, or we just saw something cool at the mall and then go "Yo, we could kind of do that for State Champs". Everyone is doing that. I also think a lot of our more streetwear-y 90's inspired stuff, like a lot of the pop up merch as well, was from Ryan's brain, which is really cool. He's got some interesting taste. But yeah, it's mostly a collaborative effort between us and our manager. We just try to pay attention to what's happening, I don't want to say in fashion, but like look at what our demographic is wearing. We don't want to be the band that has bad merch. I'm not going to name them, but everyone knows the band that has bad merch. That won't be us.
Over the past few years, you guys have established quite the fan base. Are there any crazy or extraordinary encounters with fans you could think of?
Tyler: We have some very enthusiastic fans. Beth, have you seen anything crazy since you've been with us?
Beth [photographer]: A lot of tattoos.
Tyler: Yeah that stuff is always super special. I'm trying to think if anything wild happened...
Beth: I think just their overall excitement to meet you, because you're such normal guys.
Tyler: Yeah true, but nothing too hectic. We actually have some pretty respectable and pretty nice fans. We've gotten some really awesome gifts, like, some really thoughtful things. Last time we were in the States, a fan brought us a notebook with like a cute collection of stories, and how we've helped people, and photos of tattoos and stuff. And then we actually got a similar one here. We don't really have many crazy fans, mostly people who are just really appreciative and really kind.
Beth: I mean the people who follow the tour for like 12 shows are crazy.
Tyler: Yeah, there were just a couple of people who came to every UK show, and by the end of it, it's just like "hey, I've seen you every day for two weeks!" (Laughs.)
Lastly, what's next for State Champs?
I mean, this is our last real tour of the year. We've been ripping pretty much since the last time you saw us. We had a couple weeks home, and then we brought out "Living Proof", then we had Warped Tour, and then we had a month off. That was nice. We were supposed to tour with Blink-182, but they had to cancel. Then we toured with Fall Out Boy, and then we came here. Then we go home, we have two months off where we're doing some holiday shows. We're going to be celebrating five years of "The Finer Things" by playing it front to back. That should be fun.
And then there'll be our US "Living Proof" leg, which is going to be good! Definitely a bit of an interesting bill, some cool acts on there. We're trying to do different things, step outside of our comfort zone. We understand that the only way we can keep moving forward is just by trying different things and trying new things. So that's kind of what's next for us, just to continue exploring the realm of possibilities and keep touring and you know, play shows for all y'all. Probably make some new music in like a year, two years... all that good shit.
Interview by Theresa Theuerkauf
â€‹Did you enjoy this interview? We certainly hope you did! If so, you might be interested in our previous one from the past spring. Have a look HERE.
We have also reviewed one of State Champs' latest European shows HERE. And of course, you can stream their latest record "Living Proof" in full below!