TRAVIS CLARK likes to say he was a sandwich artist before he was a musical artist.
The We The Kings frontman was working in a Subway in his hometown of Bradenton, Florida when fortune called. Even after a showcase trip to New York City, where he performed for eight record labels, he came back to Bradenton, and to the sandwich shop.
Within a week, all eight labels offered the band, then known as DeSoto, contracts. Clark and his bandmates took the one they liked best, quit their day jobs (the other three guys were similarly employed, at Domino’s Pizza) and haven’t looked back since.
We The Kings (“Check Yes Juliet,” “We’ll Be a Dream,” “Say You Like Me”) is an agreeable power-pop rock ‘n’ roll band, very much in the spirit of the guys’ heroes, Blink 182. It’s fast, fun and very melody-driven. This summer, they’ll be on the Vans Warped Tour for the sixth time.
The band plays Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Fine Arts Auditorium Thursday, April 3. Next comes a European tour.
Here’s the deal: Clark and his best buddy, lead guitarist Hunter Thomsen, hatched quite the zany scheme while they were kids attending Martha B. King Middle School.
Clark’s mom drove him the 45 minutes to Tampa, so he could see Blink 182, Green Day and Jimmy Eat World in concert.
“I got back from that show and called Hunter at 1 a.m.,” Clark remembers, “and his mother picked up the house line. We didn’t have cell phones. I used to always call their house full of crazy ideas.
“She says ‘What do you want, Travis?’ I was like ‘I’ve figured out our life’s plan.’ She goes ‘Oh God, I can’t wait to hear this,’ and she gives the phone to Hunter.”
Thomsen sleepily came to the phone, and Clark—a notorious motormouth—immediately launched into his spiel.
“I was like ‘Dude, tomorrow we’re starting a band. Do you still have that old guitar in your room?’ He said yeah, and I was just like ‘Dude, we can get girlfriends if we do this.’”
Slacking skateboard kids, of course, find that sort of thing irresistible. The next day, the band was assembled in the Thomsen family garage. Hunter’s little brother Drew was assigned bass guitar, with buddy Danny Duncan on drums.
Clark had been playing piano since his little kid days, and had started on guitar when he was 11.
That first night, he remembers, they would bash out their favorite Blink 182 songs, using chords printed off the Internet. “And after that first band practice, we kind of forgot about the whole girlfriends thing. We were just like ‘This is awesome! We get to play music and say we’re in a band? Let’s just do this. Who cares where it goes?’ And I think that mentality is really what helped us out down the road.”
DeSoto (named for the Spanish explorer who first landed on Florida’s west coast), the band took gigs wherever they could, mostly in community centers, churches and friends’ garages (“we were too young to get into bars,” Clark says).
With money saved from his Subway job, Clark signed DeSoto up to the website purevolume.com, where for $350 you could not only get your music heard, but get it featured on the home page.
Soon they were the No. 1 unsigned band on the site.
This caught the attention of a producer at New York’s Crush Management, home to Fall Out Boy, Train, Panic at the Disco and other heroes of the Bradenton boys, who invited Clark up for that label showcase. S-Curve Records released We The Kings in 2007.
They’d signed as DeSoto, but were threatened with a lawsuit by another band with that (copyrighted) name. “We The Kings” is, simply, a nod to the Bradenton middle school where they all met.
Images from small-town Florida life appear frequently in Clark’s songs; “Anna Maria” references a beach near Bradenton, and “Skyway Avenue” is (loosely) about a famous bridge across Tampa Bay (perhaps you’ve read something about it ....). The band called its third album Sunshine State of Mind.
Someway Somehow was released in February, on the Ozone Entertainment label. It was an iTunes exclusive, and subsequently entered the Billboard Top 200 at No. 44.
Still, you can take the boy out of Florida, but you’ll never take Florida out of the boy. “We were just a bunch of kids that felt like we wanted more,” Clark reflects. “And we did get out, and luckily we made something of ourselves, but it’s not always as easy as deciding ‘Do I stay or do I leave?’ The stars have to align for it to happen.”
The current lineup includes Clark, Thomsen, Duncan, bassist Charles Trippy and keyboard player Coley O’Toole.
And yes, they eventually got girlfriends.
This week and beyond
•Shinedown guitarist Zach Myers is midway through an acoustic tour (!) with Ingram Hill singer Justin Moore, and they’re bringing this one-off show to Rachael’s 1190 this Saturday, April 5. The evening’s music begins at 10 p.m.; tickets are $20 in advance, at the restaurant, and will be $25 at the door.
•The Savannah band Lyn Avenue celebrates the release of its first CD April 5 at Dub’s Pub. The Rosies and Reckless Mercy will also perform.
•Pop-tronica maestro Chester Endersby Gwazda appears in a haze Sunday, April 7 at Graveface Records & Curiosities, with Savannah’s Sunglow. Starts at 7, free, yada yada yada.
•And the Savannah Stopover keeps rolling along in spirit. Upcoming shows just announced include J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers (April 10 for ThincSavannah’s “Year of the Local” event); and the incredible Mutual Benefit, May 10 at Ampersand (which you may fondly remember as the Sparetime). Previously announced Stopover Lite shows include, of course, Horse Feathers April 11 at Ampersand (with mumbledust supporting), the ultra-cool Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires May 7 at the Jinx, and Blitzen Trapper May 12, also at the Jinx.
• Man or Astro-man? has an April 25 date at the Wormhole. If you thought Peelander-Z was weird ...