Warped Tour as we know it may be officially over, but Simple Plan, State Champs and We The Kings are making sure the spirit of the famed festival lives on, as the three pop-punk bands have joined forces for a tour, which kicked off in Richmond, Va. on Tuesday (Oct. 29).
To commemorate their joint venture, which will hit 20 cities across the United States through Nov. 24, the groups teamed up on a song that celebrates the passion of their genre’s community. Titled “Where I Belong,” the three-minute track is everything that modern pop-punk fans could want, thanks to roaring electric guitars, a high-energy chorus and three of the genre’s most beloved acts.
Ahead of the bands’ tour launch, Billboard talked with the three frontmen — Simple Plan’s Pierre Bouvier, State Champs’ Derek DiScanio and We The Kings’ Travis Clark — in an entertaining roundtable chat about their studio collaboration, joint tour and what pop-punk means in today’s musical landscape.
All three of your bands were part of the final cross-country Warped Tour in the summer of 2018. Is that when this tour idea sparked?
Pierre Bouvier: Yeah, that’s when we all got to know each other. Warped Tour has a lot of downtime, and people get to hang out and have some beers. We were trying to get different singers to come and sing the last chorus of “I’m Just a Kid.” Two of those guys were Derek and Travis. Actually, I think of all the bands that came and sang with us, Travis was the one that did it the most, he was always up for it.
Travis Clark: I felt like I was the house guy. If somebody else didn’t show up, I was already there watching the set anyway.
Bouvier: So that was the icebreaker of getting to know everyone. We had some flip cup matches over the course of the summer — Derek loves to spearhead and be the ringleader of that stuff.
Derek DiScanio: You guys had a few good wine-and-cheese parties.
Bouvier: Yes! We did. We all got a lot closer over the course of the summer of 2018. The tour kind of came to shape this past summer of 2019, and the idea for [the song] came from there.
Clark: I can definitely speak for We The Kings fans, I can only assume for Simple Plan’s and State Champs’ [fans] that this song is going to be very important because kids want to see that all their favorite bands actually love doing music together and collaborating.
Bouvier: There was an era in the ‘80s and ‘90s where there was a lot more mystery between bands. There wasn’t social media, people were obscure rock stars and there were a lot of egos that came with it. I don’t know that many of those bands broke that wall and did things together, I think that was more rare. It’s so cool that we can now openly be our own cheerleaders.
How did “Where I Belong” actually come together?
Bouvier: At first it was more like State Champs and us — we had the idea that we’d do a song that we’d write and record together.
DiScanio: Before we did Warped Tour together, there was a little bit of internet flirting between [us and Simple Plan], and we finally had the chance to meet on Warped Tour. Fast forward to the idea of doing a song together — I flew out to California to meet with up Pierre and Chuck and a few of our friends, Andrew Goldstein and Zakk Cervini.
Bouvier: Travis wasn’t there for the songwriting, but Travis has done a lot of writing with me and Simple Plan. We thought, “They’re on the tour as well, wouldn’t it be fucking epic if we just get all three bands involved?”
Clark: I probably deep down would’ve been really bummed if [Simple Plan and State Champs] did a song together and I didn’t get on it. I would’ve been watching it from the side of the stage with my knife in my hand getting ready to kill everybody.
DiScanio: You probably would’ve jumped up there anyway. [All laugh]
Clark: I also want to preface that it’s going to be dangerous — us We The Kings boys really like our whiskey, so because we’re supporting the tour we play earlier. By the time Simple Plan gets up there to play —
Bouvier: You guys will be wasted.
Clark: I think We The Kings will be in rare form.
DiScanio: We don’t have as much time, but we like our Whiteclaw just as much. So we’ll be ready.
Bouvier: I’m actually a little bit worried — it’s going to be a challenge, because all three of us lead singers are very social, and we like to party and drink, and be the last one out of the party.
DiScanio: You told me you don’t drink when you headline!
Bouvier: I know! But that’s what’s going to be hard to control on tour with you guys.
Clark: Good luck!
How did the “Where I Belong” concept come about?
Bouvier: The weeks leading up to the session, I was thinking, “This is a song that’s gonna be three bands going on tour together, it only makes sense that it should be about music and what it means to people.” People that listen to pop-punk, it really is a huge part of who they are, and it seems to resonate on a deeper level than just enjoying the music. So I wanted to illustrate that — the show and the music being a safe place for people to hang and people to be and to find themselves. When I landed on, [sings] “This is where I belong,” I felt like it really sounded like what the song should represent and what a show means to all these fans — even what it means to us.
DiScanio: Warped Tour brought me back to thinking about that — it’s a total escape, and finding a place where you really do belong and where you can connect with something.
Clark: We all go to shows to escape a bit. Once you have that moment of ecstasy, you’re like, “Shit, I wish this feeling could last forever.” That’s kind of what I took from “Where I Belong,” and that’s why it’s so incredibly valuable to every kid who’s going to listen to this.
Bouvier: We were like, “We need to make a song that’s fucking huge pop-punk — 2002, 2004, 2005 era, just make a modern version of that. I think we nailed it. And I have to say, the response to this song has been, in my career, one of the most across-the-board positive.
How do you make 2000s pop-punk sound modern?
Bouvier: That’s pretty much what I try to do every time I write a song. I try to bring that emotion of early 2000s —
DiScanio: Pierre, you have permanent nostalgic vibes when you write a song — but in a current way.
Bouvier: If you listen to No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls, our first record, I don’t think that and “Where I Belong” sound very alike. I know that there’s some similarities, but to me, this is a whole new world while being influenced by that era. I think it’s really funny when fans are like, “This sounds like your old stuff!” I’m like, “I don’t think it does!” I think it sounds like a modern version, with the same energy. That’s the key, to have those uplifting melodies, very heavy guitar riffs and intros. How to make them modern is just by writing once a day, because it’ll just kind of happen naturally.
Great story, actually, [from] when we were putting the song together. You always try to spice up the second verse, and one way we made [“Where I Belong”] a little more current is Derek — who’s the younger pop-punk guy that grew up in the era — had this idea of using [imitates heavy amps] and I was like, “Whoa, what the fuck is that?” It’s so rad!
DiScanio: We had to bring some aggression to the second verse! That would be a thing that Champs would do in this modern pop-punk era, so I threw it at him. I think it stuck pretty well, it’s still in there.
Clark: I heard somebody say the other day, “Guitars are coming back to the radio.” So really, it’s not as much chasing the nostalgia as it is being a band long enough to see it come back around to when it was those bands that were selling out arenas — it wasn’t pop stars or boy bands. I think the world has heard enough of dance and electronic music — there’s going to be a tipping point when people will be like, “You know what? I miss an electric guitar that’s turned up as loud as it can possibly go.”
You guys nailed it timing-wise — not only with the tour, but a song like this is exactly what people have been needing, whether they know it or not.
Bouvier: I’ve actually seen that a lot in the comments, people saying, “This is exactly what I needed.” The reason why we’ve been around a while — Derek and Travis, I can say that they’re both incredible songwriters, and at the end of the day, if you have good songs, that’s what makes you last longer.
The bands that have the songs connect — that you can just play on the piano, on an acoustic guitar, around a campfire — and people will remember and recognize it, those are the ones that stick around. Both State Champs and We The Kings have those types of songs, those melodies, those words that people connect to on a level that lasts decades.
DiScanio: That got me pumped, you saying that.
Clark: Well said, well said.
What songs of each other’s are you excited to hear?
Bouvier: I love “Check Yes Juliet,” it’s a classic. “Secrets” from State Champs. The classics, they’re just great songs, and the crowd goes wild.
DiScanio: I’m kind of bummed that I won’t be able to get up on stage and do “I’m Just a Kid” with you guys, since we’re going to get up and do “Where I Belong” now. So I’ll just be able to be side stage and rock out to “I’m Just a Kid” instead.
Bouvier: We can still do that!
DiScanio: My favorite We The Kings song is “Skyway Avenue.” Please put that on the set list, Travis.
Clark: Of course it is!
DiScanio: Okay, good.
Clark: When I’m watching other bands, I sit there and I stare at the crowd. Derek, Pierre and myself, we all have different styles as frontmen of our bands, and it’s cool to see what each person does to get the crowd to lose their minds. Kind of like Pierre was saying, we all build off each other, and one person’s success is the bridge to your own. I’m most excited to see what new song from a newer record that each band plays that gets the crowd going nuts.
Speaking of that — does this tour mean new music is coming from everyone?
Bouvier: We’re in the middle of our new record. We’ve been wanting to put this thing out for a while, but we want to make it right. It’s going to come out early next year, hopefully. Travis wrote a few songs with us on this record, and it’s by far, in my opinion, our best piece of work we’ve ever done.
DiScanio: Champs have been in the studio, too. It’s definitely time for a new chapter — it’s been a year and a half since our last album came out. One thing that fans have been preaching at us is that it’s been five years since we did our last acoustic album, so we’ve been in the studio, vibing on some acoustic jams, and we’re talking about doing another acoustic record next year. Then shortly after will be time for our fourth LP, which seems crazy, but we’re jumping to that as soon as we can, too.
Clark: We have a new single called “Turn It Up” to support the tour. It’s kind of along the lines of what our fans have always been asking for. It’s weird, people want “Check Yes Juliet 2.0” and then they also don’t want it. They want something that makes them feel that way, but they don’t want you to touch the nostalgia value of it. So we tried to write this song in a way that has this youthful spirit, and I think we did a really good job at capturing [that]. And the new record comes out in March of 2020.
Going back to what Pierre mentioned earlier, do you guys think pop-punk is what people need right now?
Bouvier: For me, pop-punk is really just great melodies, with words you connect with that are very emotional — not to say “emo,” but kind of what I feel. That, accompanied with really high-energy and loud, bashing drums and guitars. A lot of the stuff that’s out now feels more like background music. I like a song that if you put it in the background, you will be drawn to it. That’s what pop-punk is to me, that’s what I try to write, it’s what I want to create and want to feel.
Clark: I agree. I don’t think people need a certain genre. Obviously all three of our bands would love it if people just all-out needed pop-punk music, but I don’t think that’s what people are striving for. I think people want real music. The three of [our bands] are the type to write lyrics that are going to hit somebody and make them feel something. We’ve all had songs that have inspired somebody to come up to each one of us and say, “Your band and your music saved my life.” Once you hear that comment, there’s no going back. Now we all feel like we have this responsibility to put out real music we’re not faking. Regardless of what genre that is, I think that’s what people need right now.