Interview: State Champs’ Ryan Scott Graham on New LP, ‘Kings of the New Age’

State Champs released the optimistic and confidently titled album, Kings of the New Age, on May 13 on Pure Noise Records and head out on the road. Pop punk has seen a cosmic shift in the past year, and the band spent their pandemic downtime working on songs that they’re ready to share. Bassist Ryan Scott Graham has a calm and collected attitude toward the music they make. He’s self-assured and not overstated—the album title says a lot. They know they’re good. They’ve proven it, and they’re excited to keep proving it—they’re working-class pop punk. 

“It feels like all of a sudden a wind blew in, and it’s just like, ‘Oh, pop punk is cool again,’” Graham laughs. “Here are all these new artists, and they’re doing pop punk kind of in a different way. There’s more, I don’t know what it is, like, swag to it. There’s new celebrity and a little bit more ego behind it. There’s a renaissance happening in alternative music in general.  

For the last however many years, it hasn’t really been cool to be into pop punk. We were just doing what we know and what we love like personally. Our fan base is totally organic, built from the ground up from grinding and playing shows and playing small clubs. We are the point of playing midsize clubs, festivals and whatnot, but for so long, it was just us scratching and clawing to try to get somewhere.” 

Pressing play on “Here to Stay” hits like the first listen to the All American Rejects hit “Swing, Swing.” The legacy of Kings of the New Age is yet to be written, but the foundation is promising.  

Graham breaks down what State Champs have made, “I think as our record production budgets go up, sonically, we want everything to sound better and our records sound more polished. It was obviously a strange time writing a record because it started before the pandemic. We started demoing and then we got into real writing mode in the midst of the pandemic. For us, it was pretty interesting being off the road for that long, as it was for a lot of bands, but we were a band that was really grinding and really on the road a lot.  

“It was nice to sit back and take time to write this record, really think about, be intentional with the songs that we wanted to make and what we wanted to say. I think my role in this record was really pushing Derek to write more thoughtful lyrics. I’ve kind of always been someone who is invested in the music, the musicality of, making songs and making the record. Especially with State Champs, when I joined the band in 2014, I really wasn’t sure how much I was able to insert myself into the songwriting process. When you come in, you feel like a newbie and you feel like, ‘I don’t wanna step on anyone’s toes,’ but over the years I’ve really stepped up in the songwriting department.”  

He explains his growth with State Champs, “I really love to write a guitar part, and I love to write lyrics and melodies. I think Derek and I worked closely on the lyrics and the melodies on this record. I think he was able to, for the first time, actually be very vulnerable with some of these lyrics. It’s a hard thing to put yourself out there. I’ve always been someone that has been drawn to those kinds of lyrics. That’s the music that I love. I think that’s probably the number one aspect of it.”  

Graham, coming from the rhythm section, when he and singer Derek Discanio meet in the full mix on Kings of the New Age, it’s like dunking chocolate into a jar of peanut butter and one ups a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All the nerves a good pop punk song should hit like biting into a peanut butter cup—instant satisfaction in the ears and the head. 

“When I told that to Derek, he was just like, ‘That’s so funny. Because, like, I know there are people like that, but I’m not one of those people. I’m someone who’s really focused on the melody and the hook and, you know, it could say nothing, as long as it’s like a great song and it means something to me.’ Those worlds can coexist those worlds where you have an amazing melody and you have a massive hook. That can exist with great lyrics. I think my biggest contribution to this record, just trying to shape the lyrics and the concepts to mean something.” 

Kings of the New Age has a perfect recipe for pop punk. All the Michelin stars for sound! If peanut butter cups are best, this record is better. State Champs take their big live vibes with them when they record. 

“We’ve always sounded like a big live band, and it’s always been very energetic. We feed off the crowd’s energy. They’re going crazy. We’re going crazy. It was really a matter of trying to capture that big stadium sound, but still have that raw like pop punk energy come through.” 

All analogies aside, State Champs deserves a 1st place trophy for Kings of the New Age. They aren’t just participating in pop punk after all their years, they are helping blow it up. 

“I definitely think the wall of sound is a thing that everybody kind of comes to expect, especially when you come to a rock show. We’ve always been a band that’s focused on, ‘We’re a good live band.’ We need to make sure we sound good. Obviously we play with tracks, too. We’ve got some rhythm section; we’ve got some keys on tracks; we’ve got some percussions. I think all of that just adds to the entertainment value of being at show. We’re not too cool to do something like that. We’re there to entertain, we’re there to be your source of that joy for the night. So why not sound as incredible as you can? We’ve tapped into that early on. With these songs, we did a lot of not just guitar, drum and bass, we did a lot of percussion, we did a lot of strings, we did a lot of keys on this record. We put it on the tracks and it just sounds huge live; If you’ve got someone who could mix you as a live band.” 

With Tyler Szalkowski hitting the guitar chords they’re moving their sound from the stage to the tracks. Graham shines light on pulling the record together in the studio.  

“We went in with Drew Fulk, and we said, ‘Hey, Drew, we want these songs to sound huge, but how can we capture the energy of our live show?’ And I don’t know really what it was that he did. I think he just understood that there needed to be, like, a little bit more emotion in the songs. And so we spent a lot of extra time just kind of searching for that feeling either in a tone or a vocal take. And really that was kind of the deciding factor, just like, he understood that there was already emotion in these songs, especially live, but maybe that emotion wasn’t being captured on our records. I think that we found the best mixture of those two with this record specifically.” 

All the bits and pieces assembled, chocolate added to peanut butter, if analogy is the jam, State Champs is coming with their strongest effort yet. 

“I think State Champs, we’re a pretty accessible band, we always have been; we came from nothing. We came from doing the small clubs, the DIY. We would meet people at the merch table every single night. We’d stay after an hour or two meeting people and taking pictures. We’ve always been a band that’s for the people because we are music fans ourselves and know how much it means to be able to have that access to your favorite bands. We’ve always been super active on Twitter and super active on the internet with the people who support us and encourage us. I think that’s a really special part about our band, we actually care.” 

Graham is looking forward to the album release. 

 “I’m excited for like what we’ve got coming out.” He concludes, “I think we just made the best record that we’ve ever made. I’m really excited at the prospect of like way more people hearing it because of what’s happening in this new scene.” 

Watch the video “Eventually” here:

For more from State Champs, find them on Facebook, Instagram, and their official website.

Photo courtesy of Alex McDonell

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