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The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell: “I Helped Push Trash Boat Write The Best Record They Could Write”

Janneke Stam
Janneke Stam 27 May 2016 at 18.00

We talk to Dan about his production debut.

Trash Boat
announced their debut album 'Nothing I Write You Can Change What You've Been Through' last month. Their first full-length was produced by The Wonder Years' frontman Dan Campbell, and we talked to aDan about his first job as a producer, his feature on single 'Strangers' and more.

This is the first time you’ve produced an album. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Dan: "No, I never thought that I would do it. I never really had any plans to do it at all."

So how did you end up getting involved?
"Eric [Tobin] of Hopeless [Records] talked to me about it for a while and told me that he thought it would be a good idea, so I said I would give it a try.

"Eric kind of masterminded the whole thing. I think he knew – just from knowing me for so many years – what my work ethic is, and that if he convinced me to do it, I would go all the way with it. I don’t have a history of half-assing anything, and so I think he knew that if I got onboard, that I would do the best job that I could."

Did it turn out to be easier or harder than you expected?
"The guys made it easier on me, because they can all really play. Sometimes in the digital era of making music, you can get away with not being a particularly great musician and still make a good record, because there are so many aides on your side. If I came in as a totally inexperienced producer and the guys couldn’t really play their instruments well, it would’ve been a challenge.

"But all those guys can play, Tobi can really sing, they were focussed and wanted to make a great record. Having them be the first band I’ve worked with has made it immensely easier. Especially Oakley [Moffatt, Trash Boat drummer], who is a bit of an engineer himself and plays every instrument. He was really flexible, adaptable and helpful."

Where and how did the album get recorded?
"I flew over [to the UK] in January to do it and we worked on it in St Albans. We had a room in a venue that was also a skate park, which they rehearse in sometimes. For the past few months they had been demoing and sending me songs, and I had been making notes and sending things back to them, just saying, ‘Hey, I think this chorus would work better like this’, and I’d record a voice note of me singing the chorus a slightly different way. Just little adjustments like that, restructuring songs and making them the best they could be."

You said you helped the band re-arrange songs, is that how your feature on ‘Strangers’ came about?
"I think they knew they wanted me to sing on the record somewhere from the beginning. It just happened to be that we tried a few different bridges for that song and I suggested it first. I was like, ‘Hey, you know what? This piece right here doesn’t have any lyrics and I was thinking we should cut it, but what if we kept it and I sang over it?’. They all laughed and said, ‘We were hoping you would say that, we put that part in hoping you would want to sing over it!’ So it was a little bit of all of us on the same page."

Are you proud of the final album?
"I really am. I have the tendency to get obsessive about things, so as I was working on it at home in November, I would freak out if a demo wasn’t perfect. The guys from Hopeless Records would say, ‘I actually can’t believe you’re putting this much time into it. I thought you would just stamp your name on the back and help them with a few lyrics.’ But I really wanted to make sure I was involved in things and I helped push the band write the best record they could write.

"I think for a lot of young bands without someone really driving them, it can be easy to be complacent and to just be, ‘Well, we wrote a good EP, so we’ll write a good record.’ And it’s great if they have that kind of confidence, but the Trash Boat guys really wanted to push to make a better full-length. They wanted to make something more interesting and dynamic, and we really pushed all the boundaries in every direction."

What was it like to be on the other side of the desk?
"I actually had to stop and laugh a few times because I would say, ‘Okay, that was good, but I want you to try it...‘ and then I started laughing, because I realised I sounded just like Steve Evetts, who produced all The Wonder Years’ stuff, and Ace Enders, who produced all the Aaron West stuff. I could hear their words coming out of my mouth, and I was like, ‘Shit.' It’s like having a kid and then sounding just like your father."

You’ve tried your hand at booking, actually being in a band and production now – does this mean you’re going to be doing a lot of different stuff in the future?
"I just like learning new things. I’ve never been interested in being satisfied with what I can do, I always want to learn how to do another thing. I do two projects, The Wonder Years and Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, and that’s pretty much just because I wanted to learn how to play other instruments. And now I’ve produced this record."

Would you ever consider producing a The Wonder Years album?
"No. After you wrote for six months, you’ve slaved over these songs and worked really hard to make them, you can get too close to it. You really need someone who hasn’t been listening to them every minute of every day for six months to say, ‘Yo, this part sucks.’ You really need someone totally apart from it to tell you something straight, like I have done with Trash Boat."

'Nothing I Write You Can Change What You've Been Through' is due out on June 17 via Hopeless Records.

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