BY FRANCES CRUZ
Heading into the new year, Virginia based pop punk band, Underdog Champs, has plenty to be excited about. Since the group’s inception in 2014, they’ve continually defined some of the finer points of pop punk - refreshing, catchy sing-alongs. Comprised of Mark Bradley (vocals), Nick Jones (guitar/vocals), Justin Mason (bass) and Josh Bailey (drums), the band has embarked on a journey to the world of music, releasing an EP called ‘Picked Last’ and a new single ‘Hear Me Out’ along the way. On top of that, their second EP titled, ‘Skeletons in Daylight’ will be released on February 24. We caught up with the group to chat about their musical influences, their new EP and more!
How did you start off as a band? How were you formed?
UC: Mark initially just wanted to record some song ideas he had, enlisted Nick, who enlisted Josh and Justin, and we went from there. We were not originally going to play a ton of shows, but after our first show in January 2015 we were so happy with how things were going that we decided to take things more seriously.
How did you come up with the name ‘Underdog Champs’?
UC: We went through some pretty bad names until settling on our current name. We were about to play the first show under the name “Rebuilt”, then “Rebuilt Hearts”, then decided that was terrible. Hours before the show Mark sent about 10 or so names that he had been thinking of and we chose the least terrible!
Who are your musical influences?
UC: We each pull from a bunch of different artists, but collectively we draw from bands like Taking Back Sunday, Underoath, Blink, Armor For Sleep, and Pierce the Veil. Recently we’ve all been going in pretty different directions; Nick likes a lot of heavier stuff like Every Time I Die; Justin with pop/punk like All Time Low and also Idiot Pilot; Josh has been jamming Oceana and Snarky Puppy; Mark is listening to the new I See Stars and Copeland.
How was it like to play shows on the east coast?
UC: We love our hometown scene and have been fortunate enough to grow up in Northern VA which is awesome. Mark went to school in Harrisonburg VA which became a second home to us - we played our first show there. Now most of us live in Richmond VA and call that awesome music scene home. There are so many awesome bands on the East Coast, and a lot of bands look out for each other - going to shows, letting each other crash at their houses, feeding each other, etc. It’s been awesome!
Out of everything we do as a band, playing shows is definitely the most fun. We look forward to venturing out like the pioneers slowly but surely towards the West, spreading our music as we go!
How are your feelings different as you approach the release of Skeletons in Daylight than they were before you released Picked Last?
UC: Picked last was our first release as a band; we just put out the best three songs we had at the time, even though they were very different from each other, and hoped for the best. We were nervous about showing people what this band would sound like, even though the name Underdog Champs gives a little bit of a hint to our sound. We were excited to put the songs out and hear what people thought!
This EP has been a long time in the making, so I think the feeling this time is more relief that we are FINALLY releasing more music. We have similar emotions as before - apprehensive, excited, proud - but people know what to expect from us now. There is less stress over being accepted and more excitement about breaking people's’ preconceptions.
How are the two EP's different?
UC: We took a few different songwriting approaches to Skeletons than we did on Picked Last. We sent songs back and forth over email, writing a few songs entirely that way before getting into a room to practice them. That was a big change. The genres we pull from vary more within each song. Picked Last had 3 very different songs, but each one was in a specific vein. On Skeletons, the songs themselves contain a lot of different influences within themselves.
We recorded Picked Last in 3 or so days, all together. Skeletons we took more time, recorded when we could, and were really able to hear the ideas come together as we recorded. This let us change the songs as we worked on them, which was great and tedious at the same time.
Do you find it hard to be a successful pop-punk band in today’s generation where punk music is not as appreciated/popular by many as it was back then?
UC: It seems like pop punk is coming back around, but in different niches. Some bands go the route of getting heavier in their sound, some have been going the slower sad-boy route, and some venture into a more radio-friendly sound. We may not be played on the radio ever, but there is a bright future ahead for pop punk bands who are willing to go outside of the box of what has been done before!
What about your music, do you think, separates you from other bands with sounds/style similar to yours?
UC: The thing that we think separates us - and we talk about this a lot - is that we don’t care about expectations or being pop punk. We all are our worst critics and just want to put out music that we’d want to listen to. We by no means want to put out a super aggressive record or a country record, but at the same time we all draw from so many influences and are always trying to practice and improve as musicians that it is hard to stick to one genre. If one of us has an idea that lends itself to a riffy, proggy song then we’ll roll with it and figure out later if it fits on the EP. If we have a killer acoustic song or ballad, we will work on it until it’s great and decide later if we should release it.
What has been the most memorable part of your career thus far?
UC: One of the most memorable moments we have had so far was getting to play Conditions’ 5-year anniversary show for their album Fluorescent Youth, which was and still is a huge influence on us as people, songwriters, musicians. The show was packed and the reception was amazing. People still come up to us around Richmond and tell us about that show!
If you could tour with any band, broken up or still together/dead or alive, who would you pick and why?
UC: I think we would be stoked to open the Pop Disaster Tour from 2004 - Blink, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World… It’s hard to get better than that!