It’s that time of year again—to many, summer is a staple of long beach days and some BBQ fun. But around the U.S., music junkies turn up their noses to pool parties and lush vacations and dedicate their summer freedom to spanning the States in search of the music festival they’d been tracking for months: Warped Tour. Bands ranging from Warped pros to newbies are packing up their instruments, settling in on their respective vans and busses, and heading out across America to share large doses of music, merch, and mayhem.
So, to those of you who are seasoned Warped Tour warriors, it’s no surprise that the members of We The Kings are back in the lineup. While they’ve been working on some new tunes and releasing yet another record, they’ve also been fooling around with some newer ideas. Anyone listen to their recent cover of one of the songs from the Broadway hit, “Hamilton”? While the musical is nabbing theater-goers’ attentions, We The Kings have, too, grabbed some of the spotlight after the release of their beautiful rendition of “Story Of Tonight.” And with Warped Tour quickly approaching the Tri-State Area, I was lucky to talk to lead singer, Travis Clark, and chat about the band’s growing success, their game plan for summer tours, and what fans can expect from them in the next year.
How do you prepare for tour?
I’m one of the few that waits ‘til the very last minute as far as packing and things like that. But luckily this isn’t our first year doing Warped Tour, so I’m no amateur or beginner to what to pack as far as that, but on the music side of things, I stayed up all night working on our setlist. And as most of our fans know, we have five albums out and our brand new album comes out on June 17. It’s an exciting time, but with Warped Tour, you only get 35 minutes to play, so there’s absolutely no way possible that we can play every single song off of every single record, so we have to pick and choose the fans’ favorite from each album and that way, we can really have a kind of a “greatest hits” type set.
So we’ll play some that everybody knows and then throw in some newer ones to keep everybody on the edge of their seats. A couple nights ago, I stayed up all night writing out the setlist, but I think we’re gonna have multiple setlists. It’s the most time-consuming part of touring because you really wanna put on a great show. There’s 60 to 70 bands that play Warped Tour so it does take a lot to stand out and put on a really great show. That has a lot to do with how excited the fans are and how we wanna replicate their energy with our set and music.
You put so much work into the setlists—do you put that much into rehearsing for Warped Tour?
We do! It’s weird. We always ask our friends like, “Hey! Gonna get in some practice for Warped Tour?” And you’d be surprised that a majority of the artists don’t practice. To each their own, but we always like to rehearse and get everything ready, plan out everything that we’re gonna do so that we’re not going in blind. We could theoretically go into a brand new tour without practicing because we do so many shows when we’re off. I mean, we’ll do college shows and festivals and things like that when we’re not touring. So, we’re not new to playing our set—especially when there’s new songs involved. But for Warped Tour, I think it’s really important for us to get together—I think more so because we have the five albums out and then the new one that that we’ll be releasing and we really want to get together to figure out how to make this awesome 30 minute set where we play everybody’s favorite songs and keep it exciting. We wanna play the old songs that got us started, play the new songs that people are really excited about and it helps to get everybody together at rehearsal so we’re all on the same page.
That makes complete sense. You want to get as many of the kinks out of the show as you can.
Exactly! But even with that being said, there will be kinks. There will be technical difficulties. That’s inevitable when you go on Warped Tour. Not a single band goes through Warped Tour without on technical difficulty. You can limit those by rehearsing and seeing how everything works. But even with your entire set planned out, your crew working just impeccable standards, you could have a little 6 inch cable that doesn’t work and then the guitar rig doesn’t work. It’s things that are sometimes out of your hands, or especially when we use wireless so we can run around the stage like lunatics… At anytime you’re dealing with wireless, you’re dealing with frequencies. And then you have to stay away from each city’s police frequencies because you’re not allowed to use them and then the other bands that use wireless sometimes cut in. It’s really funny because occasionally, through our amp head and the guitar cabinets that are wireless, you’ll hear the Disney Channel. So we’ll be playing our song and then all of the sudden you’ll hear (sings), “Let it go, let it go!”
You could always work that into your setlist, I guess.
(Laughs) Yeah! Like, “Oh yeah, I was totally playing that.”
And that’s what you have to endure when playing live.
Yeah. There’s a human element that I think our fans really appreciate because it’s not a copy and paste version of our set every single day. Every show is something special and intimate and fit for every city that we’re in. And we’ve always prided ourselves with trying to put together really great live shows that are better than our albums because otherwise, you can just sit at home and listen to that. But playing it live and it’s loud, and people are jumping and dancing, it’s a surreal, larger-than-life feeling that you can’t really find anywhere else. And with this level of touring where there’s 15,000 fans coming every day, at recent Warped Tours, we’ve drawn about 5,000 people to our stage every day, so there’s a great responsibility for us to put of a great live show and do something different from just listening to our album or on iTunes.
You mentioned that you guys are releasing a new album—but I heard it’s kind of like a “greatest hits” sort of thing.
It is. We kind of wanted to steer away from the term “greatest hits” because I feel like the title implies that the band is over and that it’s like our life’s greatest works throughout our career. And I always say this, but I feel like it’s true. We’ve put out five albums so far, so that’s one album every other year: 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and last year was 2015, so it’s really nice to kind of continue that momentum and keep on putting out new music. We’ve gotten into this routine that’s almost like a ritual where we’re touring for about a year and a half and then we take six months off to write and record a new album and then tour again for another year and a half… It’s one of things that we’ve gotten really good at as of the past four or five years and it’s something that we really wanna stick with because we love both. We love touring and we also really love being in the studio. So, sharing and having the opportunity to do both and having a fan base that will stick by and support us through it all is something really special that we never want to take for granted. We really just wanna continue doing it.
Oh? So does that mean that fans can expect some new material from you guys in 2017?
Yeah! Well, actually, the new album that we’re putting out is called So Far. It has the single, “Story Of Tonight,” and so this album will be the first one that it’ll be on. It’s been just a single, but it’ll be on this album. And then we have three or four other tracks that people have never heard before of demos and remixes and things like that. And even for us to listen to them, they’re really cool. So other than that, it’s a collaboration of all of our best songs. But as far as another album of just brand new songs, we’re hoping to put it out in the April or May area of 2017.
Awesome! And You mentioned the single “Story Of Tonight.” That’s from the Broadway show “Hamilton,” right?
Yeah. We went and we saw it on Broadway and apart from it just being the most unique and positive Broadway experiences, I was able to hear a song that really kind of spoke volumes to me as a person and I thought it would have been great for our fans, too. So I just did this silly, little demo, and it turned out that the label loved it. They heard it and they were like, “We should do this as a We The King’s song!” And I was like, “Okay. I was just doing it for fun, but I’d love it if we could get permission.” Then Lin-Manuel Miranda heard the song and really loved it and gave us his blessing to do it, so it was really awesome—to be able to do something really different than most artists in our genre had done. I don’t know any other artists in our world who had taken a Broadway song and tailored it to their genre, or their style. So it was an experiment and I think it turned out to be a really great thing for the band because it gave us a rebirth of a lot of fans who are not only fans of our band, but fans of Broadway. I think everybody appreciated us going out on a limb and trying something new.
How did you transform the hip-hip Broadway song into something a little closer to a We The Kings sound?
I think I wanna say that it wasn’t that difficult to do, but the only reason that it was so easy was that I wasn’t doing it for an album or a record or a single. I didn’t really think that it would be going to the radio. I was just doing it for fun. When you’re doing something for fun, you don’t think about the pressures and the critics and judgment that goes into putting something out. So I just kinda threw it together the way I would write a song. It is very different from the Broadway version—aside from the lyrics and the melodies. But when you’re doing it without the fear of “What will people think” and you’re just doing it for yourself for the fun, it makes it so much easier. I was doing it because I thought it was gonna be a fun thing to do and interesting to hear and it turned into everything that it was (laughs).
So will that be on your setlist for Warped Tour?
We’re doing something really exciting because it’s something that we’ve never done. We’re making multiple setlists, so like I said before, we have many albums and it would be impossible to play them all, and fans go to different dates. Like in the North East, there’s only about a two hour drive between dates, so fans go to both because it’s possibly because they didn’t get to see an artist they wanted to see—whatever the reason. There’ll be some who come to see We The Kings multiple times over the summer, so we thought it’d be cool to offer each city something special and something different that what any other city has gotten. That idea kinda snowballed into the idea that, “Hey, we can make four or five completely different sets.” Obviously, songs like “Check Yes Juliet” and the songs that we fortunately have been able to sell millions and millions of copies will be the common denominator between the sets and songs like “Story Of Tonight” will be on a couple of them, but other songs that are newer will trade between each Warped Tour date. It’s exciting. Each date fans come, they’ll get new experiences in a different way.
Sometimes it can feel like we’re on autopilot, but the reason we do what we do is the fans that come out and just jump around and go crazy and sing—that never gets old. That’s always new. It’s brand new faces, brand new volumes of people singing songs. Maybe one song did really well in one market and another did well in another market, it’s just interesting to watch the crowd and I think the feeling is mutual because they get excited watching us and then we get excited watching them. It’s cyclical. And because of that, we could play the same song and the same set in every city and it wouldn’t feel like full automatic mode. But the crowd is always fresh and it always keeps us entertained and excited throughout the entire summer.
Don’t miss We The Kings as they pull into the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, NJ on July 8, Nikon At Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY on July 9, and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on July 17. For more on these rockers, check them out at wethekingsmusic.com.