The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell Wrests Control of the Noise

The Wonder Years frontman on new fatherhood, postpartum depression and the catharsis of shared anxieties
Photo courtesy of the Wonder Years

The Wonder Years’ lead singer Dan Campbell’s relationship to the noise of the world as it exists around him is different than others. From the range hood of a stove to the bustle of a busy street, the vocalist struggles to deal with noise — except when that noise is due to him.

“I’m affected by loud sounds that I’m not in control of,” the Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell explains. “It just starts to overwhelm me and my anxiety starts spiking, but if I stand onstage with a microphone in front of 10,000 people, I will be in command.”

With the Wonder Years preparing to release The Hum Goes On Forever later this month, Campbell’s noise control needs to be at an all-time high. The title of their new album itself is a reference to a poem written in the liner notes of their previous record (2018’s Sister Cities) and a subtle nod to the relentless nature of the decibels we can never fully turn off. The Wonder Years has long been a band that sings to the need for control, to keep ahead of the specter of the ever-present anxieties that haunt us. This record presents brand new challenges to Campbell as a songwriter, it’s the first Wonder Years record written since he became a father.

“I was spiraling and really freaking out,” Campbell says of fatherhood anxieties. “Some of it was things you go to therapy to work through, like not yet audited childhood trauma.”

 

 

Those long forgotten memories of Campbell’s relationship with his own parents revealed themselves again in the light of his own child, recycling traumas from past lives into the present. His child’s crying became an auditory trigger for Campbell’s postpartum depression. In seeking answers from his therapist, the songwriter received practical advice that ended up solving the problem in the simplest of ways.

“‘Buy some noise canceling headphones and put a podcast on,’” Campbell says his therapist told him. “Right away, I could rock the baby for as long as he needed. The crying just immediately stopped bothering me because I couldn’t hear it. Then it was like ‘Oh yeah, you need to be rocked for the next two hours. I don’t need to do shit. I’m going to put on this podcast about basketball, and let’s do it.’”

But the sound of his firstborn crying wasn’t the sole source of anxiety in Campbell’s purview. He soon felt the commonly held fear amongst new parents in a world that seems to turn towards new darkness each day.

“We’re actively watching the Earth fail us, because we failed the Earth,” he says. “We’re actively watching the slow descent towards fascism, actively watching mass shootings happen on a weekly basis and actively living through a global plague — all of this shared trauma and starting to think ‘Oh my god, I brought you into this world, now how can I protect you from it?’”

That fear and anxiety weighed against the pure joy of seeing his son smile and hearing him laugh despite the state of the world outside. For Campbell, both the horrors of the world at large and the joy of new fatherhood impact his everyday thinking. Or as he quotes Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It didn’t help that his existing depression intensified due to the weight of parental responsibility newly placed on his shoulders.

“You start to spiral into these depressive periods, and when I didn’t have any kids, it was like ‘OK, I’m in this depressive period so I will spend all day in bed,’” Campbell says. “But that ceases to be an option when somebody needs you.”

 

 

Seeing as some would argue that parenthood is a full-time job, Campbell’s schedule for his other job had to shift to make time to spend with his child.

“For the first 9-10 months of his life, I only toured sporadically for a week or 10 days,” Campbell says. “I flew home four times in that two-week span and basically every off day. I would get off the stage, immediately go to an airport, catch a nighttime flight home, be there around midnight, spend the next day — the off day — home and then get on a 5:00 a.m. flight to whatever the next city was. You don’t really sleep with a newborn anyway.”

Campbell’s relationship to newfound fatherhood, his anxieties, fears and joys found in the multitudes of this new stage of his life are all over The Hum Goes On Forever. Songs like “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name)” directly address his son and the love, awe and adoration he feels for him. “Your name, your name, your name is the only one I like” Campbell sings to him in the chorus, full of the weight of the love permeating every inch of the record.

Campbell describes himself as a people pleaser prone to the desire to help others in whatever capacity they need. Whether that’s a neighbor in need or a family member in crisis, his natural instinct is to put himself wherever he’s needed. But when the question of how people pleasers care for themselves comes up, Campbell finds that songwriting provides apt opportunity.

“The thing that I like the most about songwriting is that we are taking things that are painful and refashioning them into things that are useful,” he says. “It’s useful on multiple levels. Useful for us because it literally gives us a job, but what’s even more amazing is that it’s useful for other people who get to say ‘I feel seen because I’m listening to this song, and this person feels the same way that I do.’ There’s a commiseration in that.

“The fact that I could take this private pain and — by fashioning it into a song and making it public — it can go from being something painful for me to something healing for someone else is the coolest thing about it,” Campbell adds. “Then we get to meet up in a venue somewhere and scream it back at each other, and everyone gets to feel a little better.”

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