If you'd told a younger Kelen Capener that he would one day be sharing the stage with New Found Glory and Less Than Jake, he'd have probably shrugged it off as hype. But Capener and his bandmates make up US pop-punk act The Story So Far - and together with Man Overboard and two of the greatest bands from the 90s punk revival, they're touring the UK on the Road To Warped Tour, ending with the full-blown show in London on November 10th. So much for hype.
Capener and I are sitting in the band's van, around the back of Glasgow's Barrowland, two hours before stage time. Four bunks dominate the bulk of the van, despite the band being a team of five - drummer Ryan Torf, guitarist William Levy, vocalist Parker Cannon and additional guitarist-slash-vocalist Kevin Geyer. I figured Capener didn't want to talk sleeping arrangements, and would rather talk being on tour with two of his favourite bands in the world.
As it turns out, he's quietly frank about the subject. "It's funny because the first record I ever bought was Less Than Jake's Losing Streak, so…[laughs]. It's kinda weird being on tour with bands like New Found Glory and Less Than Jake because those were the bands we listened to when we were kids, obviously never thinking we were going to be on tour with them!" he says, swinging a set of keys in his hand as he talks. "It's different now because I'm an adult. When I was a kid that was everything, those records were very impactful. I can still see them now the way I did, but when you grow up things lose their allure a bit. But this [touring] is still obviously a very monumental thing!
"I was sitting backstage watching New Found Glory and I think it did hit me for the first time. It reminded me of that kid…but obviously, we're not approaching it like kids anymore. It's our reality now and we're sharing the stage with them and we're sharing the music market with them. We take it seriously and we're very grateful that they would want to bring us out [on tour]. It's just very humbling but it's also like…I dunno! It's sort of hard to comprehend."
While you can't blame Capener for being modest, The Story So Far are hardly chickenfeed. Named after the song on New Found Glory's 2002 album Sticks and Stones - which makes this month's Warped Tour an especially prestigious honour - the California group have gone from strength to strength, releasing two EPs and a debut album, Under Soil and Dirt, last year. The album has, as of last month, finally hit the UK following success on the other side of the Atlantic.
Capener and co. play emotionally driven, raw-sounding pop punk, as they demonstrated admirably in a non-stop charge of an opening set inside the Barrowland itself. Cannon paced the stage in baggy shorts and baggier band tee, half-shouting to a crowd all too happy to shout back.
A solid 25-minute set covered the main bases of the new album, which largely deals with the struggles of teenage relationships - unsurprising, since most of the band are barely out of school (and Capener is only taking time off). Highlights of the set, and the album, included Mt. Diablo, which includes the delicate line "Do you look yourself straight in the eyes/ and think about who you let between your thighs?" and lead single Quicksand, which leads with rapid-fire drumming from Torf and subtly intricate guitar. It's a real punk song from a band living in the post-hardcore era epitomised by A Day To Remember and Set Your Goals - and as Capener notes, the definition of punk itself is becoming muddied.
"Punk isn't what it was, what it used to be or what it started out as. It's always evolving. Now you see bands delving into electronics and other things and punk's become a totally different animal in some cases. It's all just a matter of people's preferences, and I don't know if people like as raw and edgy a sound as they did in the 80s. I think they like a more refined, touched up sound and I think our music's still raw - but obviously the recording quality is a step up. I honestly don't think music will ever stay the same, it never has, so we'll see. There will always, at least in our lifetime, be people who love punk music but I don't know how it's going to sound in ten, twenty years from now."
That said, he's got a good idea of how the band will sound a year from now. An as-yet-untitled second album is underway - "we're pretty much most of the way through it" - with New Found Glory guitarist Steve Klein lending a hand with production. "He's really cute, says Capener, laughing. "He's pretty much helped us refine it [the album]. He'll have an ear for what it needs and we'll go write it and implement it, so he doesn't hurt the integrity of the process."
"I think this album works a lot more like clockwork in terms of the instrumentals and things, playing off each other and it's a little more…what should I say…coherent. Just the way all the parts play together. There are a lot of times that are uptempo; I think it's still got the punk vibe, I think it's still got the same sort of attitude but obviously it's going to be different because we can't write the same album twice."
That said, the original essences of punk are fading as the genre changes and evolves. The band do not discuss politics - "it's a game of opinions where everyone has their opinion and they're always butting heads…we don't really try to push any sorts of ideas on people" - and, when I asked him for thoughts on old-time punk bands like Rancid and GBH, he was remarkably frank again.
"There was a time and a place for them when they established themselves and with the the music market the way it is, I dunno how you necessarily reach out to that on a mainstream level." Ouch. But maybe it wouldn't be very punk of them to be bothered about the mainstream.
Despite punk moving on, its modern day form a very different beast from the disenfranchised yells of the Seventies, The Story So Far haven't quite made it to where they want to be yet. So says Capener: "Y'know, I thought we made it when…[laughs]…I dunno, when we started selling out shows in our hometown, it was like, 'man this is awesome!' I always saw the bands that would play shows at our hometown and they'd play a sold-out venue and I'd be like, 'that's the coolest thing ever'. And now, we can go across the entire country and to other countries…I dunno!
"There's degrees of making it I think, and as people who just love to play music, we've made it. But obviously…we can't stop here. We have to keep working if this is something we want to do with our lives and make a success out of. We've obviously been very successful and 'made it' in a sense but, y'know, we just gotta keep working and building up."
Under Dirt and Soil by The Story So Far is out now on Pure Noise Records.