Three years ago, Tyler Szalkowski found himself having to decide whether to stay in college or put schooling on hold to work full time with his band, State Champs.
The guitarist found an unusual supporter for that latter option.
“I was talking to my adviser,” Szalkowski recalled in an early February phone interview. “My adviser has roots in like D.C. punk, like Fugazi and stuff like that, and I was like super shocked to find that out. I was like, ‘Really? You grew up in D.C. in like the punk scene?’ He’s like ‘Yeah, you wouldn’t believe it, right?’ So he was kind of sympathetic toward what I was doing. He was like, ‘Listen man, you’ve got one chance. I don’t want to see you lose this chance.’ So my adviser actually advised me to drop out of college.”
By the time Szalkowski and singer Derek DiScanio quit college to focus on State Champs, there were signs that doing the band might be more than a pipe dream.
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Formed in Albany, N.Y., in 2010, the group had released a pair of EPs and started to get on tours even before it landed a deal with the indie label Pure Noise in April 2012. With a full-length debut, “The Finer Things,” on track for a fall 2013 release, it was clear the State Champs would have bigger and better opportunities soon and there wouldn’t be time for college.
By that time, the State Champs had already made some key moves, bringing on drummer Evan Ambrosio and rhythm guitarist Tony “Rival” Diaz to replace departing members. Original bassist William Goodermote stuck around until 2013, after which Ryan Scott Graham took over.
Things were starting to happen for the State Champs. “The Finer Things,” arrived to good reviews and debuted at No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s Heatseekers chart. A tour opening for Motion City Soundtrack and Bayside got the band off to a good start on what would be a lengthy touring cycle.
After tours with the In Crowd and the Wonder Years, the State Champs landed a slot on the 2014 Warped tour, gaining notice as a band to watch on that outing. Then 2015 brought a U.S. tour with All Time Low and a summer tour of Australia opening arena shows for 5 Seconds of Summer, major tours that Szalkowski said forced the band to sharpen its live shows.
The group also felt ready to raise its game in the studio for its recently released second album, “Around the World and Back.”
But things didn’t get off to the best of starts with producer Kyle Black (known for his work with Paramore and New Found Glory). Szalkowski said that only partly finished songs – with a chorus and perhaps one verse – made it hard for Black to picture the kind of album the State Champs wanted to make.
It was with apprehension that DiScanio told the label that the band wasn’t “feeling this” with Black, Szalkowski said.
“We were all really nervous because, like, we had just gotten to L.A. and we thought we had all of these great songs and we come to find out that maybe they’re not so great, maybe they are. … So Derek was like, ‘We need to either find a new producer or I need to be the co-producer.’ Derek saw the vision in the songs. He saw where we wanted to go, and I think we just needed to show Kyle that. Once Kyle saw what we wanted to do, he started to understand more.”
DiScanio and Black co-produced, and things fell into place.
Throughout the album’s 11 songs, the band strikes a balance between energy and melody, generating the hard-hitting punch of punk bands such as Bad Religion, while rafting nicely developed vocal melodies and guitar riffs that are catchy without being too sugar-sweet.
Szalkowski sees growth in the music on “Around the World and Back.”
“I think we learned a lot about (song) structure in making the first record and even more so making this one,” he said.
When: 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22
Where: Ace of Spades, 1417 R St., Sacramento