The Lawrence Arms
Formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1999, The Lawrence Arms have remained unchanged since day one. Sure, the band’s brand of anthemic punk has evolved over their nearly two decades together, but at the core of it all, they’re still just three guys who like to play music together. In honor of the band’s 19 years in the game, on March 30, Fat Wreck Chords will release We Are The Champions Of The World, a 29-song best-of album that chronicles the band’s steady evolution over the past two decades.
Culled from the band’s entire discography, which includes their releases on Asian Man Records, Epitaph Records, and FAT, We Are The Champions Of The World serves as both a retrospective and an introduction to the Chicago institution. The tracklist was handpicked by the band—bassist-vocalist Brendan Kelly, guitarist-vocalist Chris McCaughan, and drummer Neil Hennessy—in order to show how these three friends went from making gritty, lo-fi records to becoming some of the sharpest songwriters in all of punk.
Oh,and just so we’re totally clear here, it’s not a greatest hits album.
“I think you have to have hits to make a greatest hits,” says Kelly, “So we approached the song selection in an attempt to be indicative of our evolution, rather than focus on our ‘hits,’ of which, frankly, there are none.” Instead, We Are The Champions Of The World showcases every part of the band’s storied career, from their 1999 debut album A Guided Tour Of Chicago, all the way up to 2014’s Metropole. “In the end, I’m super grateful for the collective experience and history of being in this band with two guys I have known forever and love dearly and are my fam,” says McCaughan. “I guess that’s what this record kind of means and reaffirms for me.”
With liner notes written by both Kelly and McCaughan, the pair reflect on how each song came to be, sharing anecdotes about what inspired them to put pen to paper. But of course, they aren’t trying to tell you what the songs are actually about, because what’s the fun in that? “I don’t think that it’s cool to be prescriptive in song meanings because that leads to the erroneous conclusion that the song has one meaning: the songwriter’s intent,” says Kelly. “In truth, songs have no meaning until a listener connects with it and imbues it with what it means to them. I did offer a few of my interpretations of Chris’s songs, and vice versa, because even though I play and sing on his songs, I didn’t write em, so I’m interpreting them along with any other listener.”
McCaughan shares that perspective, noting that the band wanted to shed light on their creative process without ruining the mythology fans had built up. “I’ve never been able to really explain or pinpoint exactly what songs I’ve written are about anyway—so I guess that lowers the risk of potential disappointment for people who like our band reading the liner notes and being like ‘Damn, I used to love that song but it’s actually about Tide Pods or the Milwaukee Bucks,’” says McCaughan.
But the biggest perk for diehard fans of The Lawrence Arms will be the five previously unreleased songs included on We Are The Champions Of The World. Taken from recording sessions that spawned the band’s classic 2006 album Oh! Calcutta!, these five songs have been in the vault for over a decade. “They didn’t make the cut because they just didn’t fit in the structure of that album, which ended up being very focused and thematic,” says Kelly. Some of these songs never made it past the demo stage, but even so, they show how tightly focused the band was during this period, with even the scraps left behind sounding vital and potent. “I hadn’t heard these songs in over ten years,” says McCaughan. “I’d basically forgotten they existed at all, so listening back to a few of them was initially like stepping into some strange portal—then as soon as I heard them again my memory filled out.”
And for fans who have been aching to see the band play live again, We Are The Champions Of The World will see the band touring in support of the album throughout 2018. Not only will they be hitting parts of the United States they haven’t been to in years and they’ll even be heading back to Europe for some festival dates this summer. It’s been a while since The Lawrence Arms have hit the road, and We Are The Champions Of The World is the catalyst for the band to get back in the van and spread their unique brand of merriment. And maybe, if all goes well, a new Lawrence Arms record will follow. “I think I speak for all of us when I say it’s pretty astounding that people still care that we do this,” says Kelly. “And as long as that’s the case, we’ll keep making new music.”
But for now, We Are The Champions Of The World serves as a celebration for The Lawrence Arms, a band that’s never tried to fit in one specific box and, as a result, have succeeded on their own terms. “We just do our best to do us—be human, transparent, and not take ourselves too seriously,” says McCaughan. “At the core, this is what I love about our band.” That’s the reason why The Lawrence Arms are champions of the world, even if they’ve still yet to write an actual hit.