Upstate New York band State Champs is on the road again as part of the Pure Noise Records 2021 Tour, bringing fans a dose of hope and positivity during these difficult times. The quartet is diving headfirst, once again, into the world of punk-pop, a genre that has changed dramatically since the band’s arrival over a decade ago.
State Champs — consisting of lead singer Derek DiScanio, guitarist Tyler Szalkowski, bassist Ryan Scott Graham, and drummer Evan Ambrosio — has been part of the punk-pop scene since 2010.
Ahead of the tour’s stop in Fort Lauderdale at Revolution Live on Saturday, September 25, State Champs’ Tyler Szalkowski shared with New Times how he’s been feeling since the long pause of shows in the last year.
“I can say for a fact that it feels amazing to be back on stage,” Szalkowski says. “We’re being as cautious as we can be. You can just expect a freaking awesome time where you’ll probably forget that the world is kind of in disarray. You can expect a bit of escapism in the form of a concert.”
State Champs’ recent singles “Outta My Head” and “Just Sound” tap into the quartet’s punk-pop roots ahead of the band’s upcoming fourth album. This is intentional.
“This is our fourth [album]. We were like, ‘We gotta try something different,'” Szalkowski explains. “We started working with this producer. He’s like, ‘You’re a pop-punk band. You have fast, energetic songs. We need to find that energy that you had on that first record and just do it as adults in a way better way.'”
What once would have been referred to as “sad-boy music,” Szalkowski feels pop-punk now has become a source of light for fans of the genre.
“I honestly think a lot of this, like Gen Z, TikTok, has become so explorative,” he says. “It kind of forced everybody to stop taking [themselves] so seriously. Now [pop-punk] is fun, bright, and colorful the way it was back in the early 2000s. I don’t know why bands just started doing all this serious stuff. Like there’s no time to be serious right now. Leave that for TV and all the political theater we experience every day. Let’s have fun.”
Pop-punk’s rising popularity is reflected on the charts, with acts like Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly incorporating the sound into their music. Szalkowski feels their work serves as inspiration for State Champs to experiment with its music.
“I find a lot of people in our scene are being really dismissive of new-wave artists,” he says. “And while it doesn’t look like what you think it should, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to know about it. There are so many new pop-punk artists. I don’t like all of them, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad.”
Overall, Szalkowski sees pop-punk’s resurgence as a good thing. These days, pop music is mainly composed through software. Pop-punk’s guitar-driven sound means instrumentation is essential.
“About six years ago, you wouldn’t even hear a freaking guitar on the radio, “Szalkowski says. “I remember DJ Khaled put out [“Wild Thoughts”] with a Santana sample in it, and the riff sounds freaking horrible. But I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a guitar. He used a guitar.’ I just think it can’t be understated how important it is to get guitar-centered music and essentially rock music back into people’s ears, back into the mainstream.”
Still, even with the new acts vying for the pop-punk crown, State Champs isn’t holding back from leaving its mark in the genre.
“I do believe that comparison is the thief of joy. I really do think a healthy level keeps you sharp,” Szalkowski says. “If you aren’t always looking, then you will potentially fall off. You need to stay competitive by being aware of what’s happening around you. While it is hard to stay relevant, you just gotta be a good person, not belittle people doing something bigger or better than you.”
During the pandemic, State Champs pushed itself outside of its comfort zone. Not being able to rely on live performances, the band found new ways to engage with fans, such as hosting pop-up shops and livestreams.
“You just gotta keep doing new stuff, cool stuff,” Szalkowski adds. “Our goal is really just to keep the pace. We don’t wanna slow down. We don’t want to feel like we’re moving backward.”
State Champs. With Four Year Strong, Real Friends, Just Friends, and Bearings. 6 p.m. Saturday, September 25, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave, Fort Lauderdale; 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Tickets cost $25 via ticketmaster.com.