Graduate redefines “Simple Existence”

Jenny Caulfield

1B8A2801Photo By: Jenn Curtis| The Hudsonian

Dropping out of his four-year university to pursue his dreams, Tyler Szalkowski created what has now become one of the most popular pop-punk bands in the country.

State Champs, the Albany based pop-punk band created by Szalkowski, has grown in rapid popularity since the release of their first full-length album, “The Finer Things.”

“My dream was to be able to see the world while playing music, [and] I think it’s safe to say that the dream has been obtained,” said Szalkowski.

The album landed State Champs a number two spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, and included State Champs’ breakthrough single that put them on the map, “Elevated.”

The 25-year-old has been playing guitar for nearly half of his life. At the age of 12 Szalkowski picked up a guitar and found his passion for music.

In March of 2010, Szalkowski and some friends went on to create one of the most successful bands to come out of the Albany area. While still a student at Hudson Valley, Szalkowski had high hopes for his future with State Champs.

Szalkowski graduated in 2011 from Hudson Valley with an individual studies degree. He transferred on to UAlbany, intending to achieve a degree in American history. At the time, Szalkowski felt both degrees would benefit his future, but changed his mind after reaching UAlbany.

“I did drop out of my transfer school with only 26 credits to go,” said Szalkowski. Between semesters at UAlbany and debating on attending graduate school, State Champs landed their first record deal, manager and booking agent.

“We had gone on a tour that summer and we all fell in love,” said Szalkowski. “That small taste of the dream made us want to push it as far as it could go, and experience as much of that feeling as we could.”

Szalkowski and some of his other band mates had to decide whether they’d continue their education or pursue their dreams with State Champs.

“We had our manager and label asking us if dropping out was something we’d consider, and of course it was,” said Szalkowski.

Szalkowski went to see his advisor at UAlbany for guidance on his future, with dropping out in mind.

“[The advisor] supported the idea, and reminded me that school would always be here for me to come back to,” said Szalkowski. “He told me that he [would] rather see me succeed in one field, be it school or work, than half-ass both and get poor grades,” he said.

After clearing the decision with his parents, Szalkowski dropped out of UAlbany fully committing to State Champs.
“It was a heavy decision, but not something I regret in the slightest,” said Szalkowski.

Following his dropout, State Champs signed with record label Pure Noise Records. They’ve released two full-length albums and have been on tour regularly since the release of their second full-length album, “Around the World and Back.”

The acclaimed album won State Champs Best Breakthrough Band at the 2016 Alternative Press Awards, and was number eight on Rock Sound’s top 50 albums of 2015. Last summer, State Champs were one of the main stage bands for the largest traveling music festival in the country, The Vans Warped Tour.

In February of last year, State Champs went on a headlining 2016 World Tour with pop-punk band Neck Deep.

Szalkowski considers this to be his favorite tour, and a large part of their success.

“I’m not sure when people’s perception of us changed, but for us, a lot of it goes back to that World Tour,” said Szalkowski.

Szalkowski started touring in 2012, spending four years supporting other artists.

“When we got to enter that role of a headlining band with our own sold out shows, full production and [a] full touring crew all over the world, we started to feel more legitimate,” he said.

Every show in the U.S. of the World Tour sold out, and State Champs felt their popularity grow exponentially.

“It was a really proud moment for us as a band to be able to pull that off,” said Szalkowski.

Growing up attending shows at Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, N.Y., Szalkowski’s favorite performance was his hometown stop at the Clifton Park venue during their World Tour.

“We sold out Upstate Concert Hall, formerly Northern Lights for any of you OG’s, back in March of 2016,” said Szalkowski. “That was a huge moment for us, as we all grew up going to shows there,” he said.

In comparison to other tours in and outside of the country, Szalkowski feels incredible pride when playing shows back home.

“The people in the room at hometown shows are some of the same people that helped or watched us grow into who we are now,” said Szalkowski. “It’s very humbling and grounding. It’s a nice reminder of why we’re proud of where we came from.”

State Champs are currently on their 2017 European Tour which includes sold-out dates in Madrid, Spain and Vienna, Austria. The tour included State Champs’ second stop in Amsterdam, and first time in Milan.

“Most of the shows have been awesome but the shows in Amsterdam and Milan were amazing,” said Szalkowski. “The city of Milan is beautiful [and] I’ve always wanted to travel to Italy, so I’m still riding that high from my first time there,” he said.

Szalkowski’s favorite part about being in State Champs is making a living through his music.

“It’s very rare that you get to make a living at what we do,” said Szalkowski. “The failure rate is really high. The best part is that we get to do it,” he said.

Following their success, Szalkowski moved to Los Angeles, C.A., although he misses his friends and family.

“I also miss how simple and easy life is in the Capital Region,” said Szalkowski. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving Los Angeles, but I’d be lying if I said I liked spending a couple hours of my day in traffic.”

Szalkowski hopes that musicians in the capital region that look up to State Champs do not stop pursuing their own music goals.

”Stay humble, make good songs, and if it’s meant to be it’ll all fall into place,” said Szalkowski.

Szalkowski didn’t believe State Champs would become as successful as they are today, and doesn’t want students to give up their dream of becoming a successful musician.

“Thanks to anyone who read this, supports local music and art, all of our fans that help us live this dream, and Hudson Valley for being a great school,” said Szalkowski.

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