We The Kings are going from strength to strength, following the release of their third studio album ‘Sunshine State of Mind’ in 2011 and the ’Party, Fun, Love & Radio’ late last year, they recently made their return to the UK, before heading to Europe and then continuing to work on their fourth album.
We caught up with lead singer and guitarist Travis Clark before their London show, to talk about his piano teacher refusing to teach him, the music industry and what would happen if his laptop were stolen.
Already Heard: Here in the UK in the last 12 months we have seen record labels close and our last high street music specialist retailer threatened with closure. You are only a little bit younger than me I believe and in our lifetimes alone, the music industry has seen significant changes in its makeup and approach to marketing, selling music and what makes money. What do you think are the main positive and negative features of the music industry today?
Travis: I think this next decade that we’re living in, is going to be one of the biggest changes; it’s going to be the most talked about thing for a very long time. On how the music industry was able to stay alive and stay afloat, with downloading of music and the internet; about how easily accessible it is to get music that you used to have to pay for. You used to have to buy the CD, tape or vinyl y’know, back in the days so, I think the pros and cons that are in it are that obviously as a band, you are able to spread your music to people outside of where you’re physically at at the moment. So right now I could pick up my phone and post a song and somebody in Japan could hear it within five minutes and that is incredible.
So you build this fan base, this army of fans all around the world that you have to eventually tour to go and see; the problem is there are thousands and thousands of bands doing it, so competition is hard. So for a band like We The Kings per se to get it to the next level, like where I see a band like Coldplay or The Killers, huge bands; how do I get We The Kings to that point, especially when more and more labels and distributors are closing down and becoming less relevant For us it has always been just like, it’s easier when you don’t worry about that stuff, when you just do what you are good at, play music, enjoy life, meet the fans, show your appreciation and then go to the next show. So that is kinda like what we’ve always done, is we’ve never been stressed out about it.
For the younger bands that are out there it’s tough, it’s really tough for them to…bands are making records out of their own pocket so, it is tough for labels because they can’t throw a million dollars into an artist anymore, because it is going to be impossible to get it back and so they won’t do that, they’ll just put money into bands that have already made it, to try to get them to the next level. And then for younger bands, they are able to do the songs themselves, but then getting them to the next level of people, which the labels are particularly helpful for, they can’t do it, because they already have the record. It’s a vicious circle, but I think this time of music that we are living in is going to be talked about for a very long time of how we got out of it. And I don’t know the answer to the music industry.
I would just say that there are the fans that will always buy music for the rest of their lives but the more and more that people are born into this world of music where, the common person doesn’t go out and buy the record, they download it, okay, eventually it is going to be that the common person doesn’t even download it for money they go and find it for free and get it that way, which is the end of sales for music, but the reason we are talking right now is because we flew to London and now we’re playing a show , THIS you cannot download for free, like you can look at it on YouTube, but it’s just not the same as listening to a CD. If people wanted to listen to a CD, they would stay at home, put headphones on and listen to it, but we’re here and we’re able to perform a show and you’re able to feel the energy, to see the sweat, to hear the flaws and everything and that is one reason a rock show is so great to go to. So this will always be music’s outlet, music’s escape, y’know.
So as long as we continue to write good songs and to stay relevant in the eyes of our fans, as long as we stay an inspiration, then I don’t think that we’ll ever have a problem with wherever the music industry decides to drop.
AH: You are obviously inspirational for some up and coming musicians, who dream of reaching the success that you have had. How did you initially learn music?
Travis: I started playing piano when I was four years old. We had this old rusty piano at my parent’s house. I would um…I guess from what I remember I just…I remember hearing songs and I would try to play them y’know on the piano.
My parents said that they would pick me up from school and they would take me home and I would run straight to the piano and I would try to play the song that I had just heard on the radio, or whatever we were listening to and so they were like, when I turned five for my birthday, they gave me piano lessons and then I took piano for seven years of my life.
My piano instructor ended up refusing to teach me because I was taking songs by Mozart and Beethoven and Bach and all these notorious composers and pianists and I would go into the recitals that I would train for and I would change up the songs and make them my own y’know. It would be the song, but it would be in the way that I wanted to do it and so he had to sit down and have conversation with mum. Mum thought I was in trouble, but he was like “no these are signs of a songwriter and what I fear is that I am going to teach him too much, to where he’s not going to be able to think outside the box, he’s going to be so formatted into a robot that he’s not going to be able to create music. He’s doing so good at it so far and that at the age of 12, so just let him go.” So he refused to teach my anymore and that’s when I picked up the guitar.
My mum was kind of a singer songwriter, nothing too big or anything, but she loved it, that was something that she really enjoyed doing, so I started learning guitar to keep playing music and to write music and I really wanted to get a girlfriend, so I started the band, ‘cos I thought that was the best way to get a girlfriend.
I thought band members were so cool and I called my best friends after; I think I saw Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World and Green Day and I called my best mate after that show and I was like “dude I know how we can get girlfriends, we’ve got to start a band, this is our way,” so we started We the Kings right then.
Through a website actually, we kinda come from the internet world, but through a website our manager found us. We were the number one unsigned band on that particular website and he was like “y’all got a shot” and sent us and email and was like “do you guys wanna play a showcase for labels?” And so he flew us to New York and I played acoustic for eight different record labels. Two weeks later we had eight different record label offers wanting to sign We The Kings and we chose what we felt was best and it was a really good decision y’know, even looking with hindsight now and here we are five years later.
AH: If you could have a jam session with any artist or band dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Travis: It would be 100% The Beatles. The Beatles are the reason that my mum started music, she taught me music. She taught me every single Beatles song that she knew, when I wanted to learn how to play guitar.
They were so ahead of their time, it was incredible how and why they wrote music. The stuff they wrote about was unique and powerful and it changed to world, they really did. They are a band that can say they changed the world with their music. It’s timeless, that music will be popular forever.
They’re the biggest inspiration and they have so many stories, I mean they put out so many songs that every song has a different story and on some recordings you can hear them just hanging out in the background, smoking, or just talking and that’s just…it’s so real, it makes it feel like it really happened and that it wasn’t just some super group that was put together by a huge label, it was just four incredibly talented human beings that had no idea what they were doing, they just did it and it was awesome. So I think to jam with them would be so revealing, maybe not to jam with them but to be a fly on the wall, that would be awesome.
AH: If you could pick any three musical artists/bands/groups of any level to go on tour with who would you choose and why?
Travis: My super tour? I would want it to be Food Fighters…
AH: Good choice
Travis:…I would want it to be….is this dead or alive?
AH: It can be yes.
Travis: I’ll do alive, because I’ve already done my dead band, we’ve done dead. My live roster would be Foo Fighters, it would be The Strokes and my third band would be, well I have to do Coldplay ‘cos I just want to sit and watch those guys rock their socks off. We would definitely headline of course.
AH: Well yeah it is your tour so you can do what you like!
Travis: Everyone would leave before we play!
AH: Are there any songs in your catalogue that you don’t ever see yourselves playing live again?
Travis: Yeah there are a lot of songs actually. I mean it is unfortunate to say that but the more and more that we put out records, the less…the more time that we are allotted to play live, but even in like an hour and a half we can only play like 14 or 15 songs.That’s five songs from the three records that we have put out that people want to hear. So there’s…each record has 10 or 12 songs, so there’s roughly 11 songs on every record, so there’s six songs from every record that we’re not playing, but we’re still playing a really long set. We’re almost dead at the end of the thing, but once we put out our forth record y’know it’s gonna be like four songs from every record and that is 16 songs so it is tough. There are some songs that they have to be just like, this is a really good record song, but I don’t know if it will translate live to the fans. We play the songs for the fans and if we don’t play what they want to hear then what are we doing?
What bands have been doing lately is doing a tour for their record, like their very first record, where they play every single song from the record and that’s the time and place to play songs that maybe you’ve never played before, or only played a handful of times. That’d be something to look forward to but 2007 was our first record so we still have some…a good five years!
AH: You have travelled around the world a fair bit now. Are there any words you have heard that that have stuck in band and crew lingo, be they daft words you have invented or, foreign words that got confused via the language barrier that you have just picked up?
Travis: We all just live the dream as our kind of motto of the band. We are so grateful and appreciative of what we have, but I think we have adapted a lot of different words from other cultures and other languages that we use like “legal” which in Portuguese means “cool” and so sometimes we will randomly be like “legal” to anyone else that isn’t bilingual.
And then we have a chant before we go on stage which is like a mix between ‘Cool Runnings’ the Jamaican bob sleigh film and ‘Anchor Man’ and a couple of other different movies and that is weird, people look at us and are like “what are you doing?” and we are not allowed to ever say it outside of the chant so it makes it special. Other than that we try to adapt to different things to make it our own.
AH: There is a significant element of fun to many of your videos do you as a band come up with the ideas?
Travis: We do, even with like the little web videos that we do, everything is sparked from an idea that we’ve had and it makes it fun that way, it makes you feel like a part of the thing and not just like a puppet.
With a lot of the videos we’ve done, we’ll think of an idea and then we’ll have a director or producer come in and say oh, “that’ll be really cool if you also do this” and then we bounce ideas off of people who have done this stuff before, so that we know what we are doing and that is nice as well. It’s nice to get feedback from other people who’ve done hundreds of videos in their career.
As far as coming up with the idea, like, I’m the one who wrote the song, I know the lyrics, I know what the song is about more than anybody else, so it would make sense that I put my two cents in.
AH: What is the one thing you do not go on tour without and what is the one thing you wish you could bring?
Travis: The one thing I wish I could bring with me is my dog Elvis; he would be awesome and just hang out with me the whole time. I even have little headphones for him that I brought so he can listen to the show.
The one thing I can’t live without, I bring my computer, it sounds so like an automatic answer to say, but I write everything on my computer, so it’s always with me. If it were to be stolen, there would be countless songs that would be lost or released illegally that aren’t ready to be released, but my computer means a lot to me and not in the technology way, but in the material that is on there.
AH: You do meet and greets at your shows. What is the most bizarre thing that has ever happened or that you have been given at a meet and greet?
Travis: The most bizarre thing that we have ever had to sign was a silicon implant of a girl’s breast. She was getting ready to have a breast implant, fake boobs, and wanted us to sign the implant before they went into her and we were all like, this has got to be unsanitary, there is no way this is really gonna happen, but we didn’t even like question it twice, we just signed it and the whole time we were so blown away that we didn’t know if it would really happen or not, because it sounds so weird. That’s the hands down, most bizarre.
AH: What question have you never been asked that you wish a journalist would ask and what would your answer be?
Travis: I think the easiest questions are always the best. Like if someone were to just say why, like why do you do this. We always get questions of like, how are the songs written, or where is your favourite place to go, or who do you want to collaborate with, or when was the best moment, but not too many people if ever have asked why, why do you do this as a band and why is it important to you or something like that.
That’s simple, these are just, this is my family, they’ve been with me and trusted everything I’ve done for an incredible amount of time, almost too long and even trhough some of my mistakes and most of my good moments, they’ve stuck by my side and backed me up full force and that’s an incredible thing to say. And the fans who listen to our music…from being a band in a garage, never expecting to make it this far it’s absolutely unreal that we actually made it, that I’m actually sitting here in London. Every day we wake up and I’ll kinda go through the day and then I’ll be like, oh my god, I would be, I forgot that I’m doing this. The answer to the why is simple, but it is so in depth because there is so much that you want to say. That would be the question.
‘Party, Fun, Love & Radio’ EP by We The Kings is available now on S-Cruve.
Words and Photos by Heather Fitsell (February Photography).