Travis Clark, lead singer of excitable pop punksters We The Kings, has a cold. He’s blaming it on Scotland the night before - I’m not medically trained, but I point out that since his hometown is in Florida, the temperature drop might be a little shock to the system. “It’s not going to affect tonight though; I’ll still be at 110%”, Travis explains, although he’s worried how it will turn out. (He needn’t be – the show later that night is so energetic that nobody could guess the illness that lies beneath the surface.)
This is We The King’s second tour in the UK, coinciding with the release of their debut self-titled album earlier this month. It was a rainy Leeds afternoon when Travis invited Pennyblackmusic into his tour bus, but that did nothing to dampen his spirit, the sheer joy of being able to talk about his band and his life manifesting itself in an interview that if I typed up word for word, would be the length of most university dissertations. I caught up with him a few hours before the gig.
PB : How’s the tour been going so far ?
TC : It’s been really fun. Last night was incredible; anytime we go to Glasgow it’s very cool. It’s kind of different from the first time we came over, because people were still finding out about us. Now people know who we are, they treat us like we’re famous. They’ll walk past me and say, “Hey, do I know you??” and then they’ll freak out and go, “Wait! You’re the guy from We The Kings!”
PB : How do the UK audiences compare to the US ones ?
TC : I think that they’re more excited that you’re here, because in the States we tour so much, and here we can only come over financially once or twice a year, so any time a band comes over I think as many people as can possibly fit in the venue come out, which is very cool. And they’re all really excited to be there, just like the band are, ‘cause we’re thousands of miles away from where we call home so it’s cool to see people are still into the music here.
PB : Do you still get excited, or nervous before a show ?
TC : They [points upstairs to other band members Hunter Thomsen, Drew Thomsen and Danny Duncan] get excited, but I get very nervous. I don’t know how each crowd’s going to react, or if I’m going to black out or trip on stage or something… It usually only lasts the first five seconds of the first song, and then after that… I’m in the groove.
PB : Do you feel really comfortable on stage ?
TC : I’m at my most comfortable on stage, I think. I need the first five seconds so I can think “depending on how this show starts, it could be really good, or it could be really bad…”
PB : How’s the album been received so far, here and back at home ?
TC : In the States I think we’ve sold 135,000 copies so far, which is way more than we ever expected to at this point in time. It’s just been released here, and it’s cool because last time everyone was kind of singing one or two songs, and now everyone knows all our songs, so I’m assuming everyone has our record!
PB : How did you guys get together ?
TC : We all met in what we call middle school, where you’re ages 10-14. That’s where we all became friends. In the States it’s really rare – usually you get kids from different schools, different cities, who play together and form bands; for us, we just wanted to be really average musicians who all grew up together. We started playing at our high school to try and get girls because we were all dorky little kids, and then people actually started to like the music.
PB : Where did your name come from ?
TC : It came from our school. We actually went to King Middle School, and we wanted a name that showed a little of our personality, where we’re from, how long we’ve been friends and stuff. At first people thought it was a cocky thing, like “We The Kings. WE The Kings!” but I really think we’re the least cocky people ever. We have no idea what’s going on most of the time! We couldn’t be cocky if we wanted to.
PB : Is your home, your background, important to you ?
TC : Yeah, absolutely. The entire record is about our friends and our family, our hometown, and experiences we’ve gone through. Even when we started writing, we wanted to stay away from the obvious bad stuff that’s happening everywhere, and there’s so much good stuff to write about. Meeting new people, that’s fun, instead of talking about the war, or the next president – that stuff’s important, but it’s so nerve wracking and we just wanted our music to be happy and uplifting.
PB : You’re supporting the Academy Is on this tour, and your upcoming tour in the States is with them as well. Are you good friends ?
TC : Yeah, we met because our management and their management share an office in New York City, and we were fans of theirs so when we saw them we were like, “oh my gosh, it’s William from the Academy Is!” We ended up talking to them, and told them we were doing Warped tour with them that summer and hung out with them there, and now we’re like best friends.
PB : Isn’t it weird hanging out with someone you’ve admired from before things took off for you ?
TC : Yeah, I remember when William [Beckett, The Academy Is] was playing me some of their new songs and I just had to say to him “I was a really big fan of yours and I can’t believe you want my opinion on your new record.” It’s wild how things change, you know? I hope one day we’ll be able to sit with a band we’re taking on tour and have them say the same thing to us, for it to come completely full circle.
PB : I read on Wikipedia that you were apparently known as the funniest guys in music, and you’re renowned for your practical jokes..
TC : Really ?! (laughs) That’s AWESOME!
PB : Did you know about this. Is it true ?
TC : I don’t know about being the funniest guys in music, but we have done some pretty bad practical jokes on our friends’ bands, if we’re touring… Like there’s this band Mayday Parade, who are also from Florida, and Hunter, our guitarist, bashed out the window of their van so they’d have to drive in the cold all night … They’re really nice guys though. They were just like “that’s a terrible joke, you just bashed out our window!” and we were like “I know, it’s hilarious!”. But eventually we bought him a new window.
PB : Are you still quite involved with your MySpace and things like that ? Do you run them yourselves ?
TC : Yeah actually, I was just on it a second ago. We’re running a contest right now for people to put our single up on their page and we pick winners to invite to meet and greets and stuff. I think it’s really important to keep in touch with your fans and show them that you care, because there’s a lot of bands who just let the label do it, and it’s a nice thing when people know you’re a genuine band and that you appreciate your success.
PB : Is it the same with YouTube as well ?
TC : Yeah, we have a series called ‘The King’s Carriage’, which is just us keeping people updated with what we’re doing. If we’re bored, we’ll just decide to film a ridiculous video and see how people take it. We’ll be cracking up ourselves while we’re editing it, but once it’s out there we get to see if we’re actually funny or not.
PB : What sort of music are you into yourself ? What’s the last thing you downloaded ?
TC : I got Lil’ Wayne when that came out, because it sold about a million copies and I wanted to see what that was all about. And there’s a band called Young Love that I’m really into, and Bedouin Soundclash. We also met a couple of bands who are over here ; You Me At Six and Kids In Glass Houses, who told us they really liked us and asked us to tour with them in the UK, but we were like “dude, you guys are really good, we’ve been listening to YOU all week!” because our merch guy is from Manchester and he made us listen to them.
PB : Who are your biggest influences ?
TC : Definitely Jimmy Eat World is someone we hold close in terms of music and lyrics. I think on stage, and how we come across would be a Blink 182 type band, just having fun, and doing what we want to do. We’re all very influenced by the Beatles, Third Eye Blind; the most intelligent music out there. It’s fun hearing what’s coming out now, We’re kind of influenced by our friends’ bands. I think we have the utmost respect for any band who’s producing music. It’s a cool thing.
PB : What are the best and worst things about being on tour ?
TC : I’d say the best is that you get to hang out with your friends, like on the Warped tour, it was like a band summer camp. Every night there was a barbeque, or a hang out or something. You could hang out with anybody you wanted. The camaraderie you get between bands, as well as meeting new people in every city is a very cool thing. Plus, especially here, going around and hearing the accents is really cool to us. Everywhere we go, people sound sexier than we do. Probably the worst is having to leave friends behind, although we try and get around it by employing them to come with us. Like saying “be my guitar tech” or “bring us water” and paying them a ridiculous amount of money so they can come along. And when you do go home, it’s for a really short time and you haven’t seen everyone in so long… We haven’t been home for the past nine months, but whenever we get even a few days off we’ll always head for Florida.
PB : So what is next for We The Kings ?
TC : We want to start talking about doing a new record, for next year. We have so much material right now, I want to be one of those bands who puts out a lot of records, so that there’s always new music to listen to, whether the kids continue to like it or not, which shows our perception of the world and our perception of music. We’re touring the States in the fall, but hopefully we’ll be back here January/February time. I think January is going to be our international month, where we’re going to play Japan, South East Asia, Australia, Mexico, so it’s going to be amazing to see different areas of the world then. We feel really lucky to be doing it.
PB : Do you feel like you’re making the most of it now, while you can ?
TC : Yeah, absolutely. We really want to do benefit concerts and stuff like that. There are kids in Africa and I think it’d be very cool for us to go over and if it helped at all, to play a show and raise money. At some point in time, it’s not about the money; we have money to get by, and to get to the next venue, but after that I think it’s more important to do something more with your life, and to feel like you’re accomplishing something, and to feel like you’re bettering other people’s lives too.
After that rather sobering sign off, Travis redeemed his teen idol credentials by inviting me to party on “this very cool bus” after the show, but I think it was too late. I’d already seen through it. He’s not cool, just a really, really nice guy, who can’t quite believe his luck at getting paid to do the thing he loves most. Travis is probably in my top ten people I’ve ever met. And I’ve met Wolf from Gladiators, so it’s pretty obvious just how great he is.