We the Kings’ Travis Clark talks “SIX,” a new album inspired by fans, fatherhood and family tragedy

We the Kings new album, "SIX," is on sale July 6, 2018.
We the Kings new album, "SIX," is on sale July 6, 2018. We the Kings

We the Kings is a pop-punk band with roots in Bradenton.

The band's newest album, simply called "SIX," debuts on Friday.

The title refers to more than a number in the band's discography.

It's a tribute to a group of people that We the Kings considers to be their sixth band member: the fans.

Fans were also instrumental in getting the album made. We the Kings raised money for the recording and production of "SIX" through online crowdfunding website PledgeMusic.

As thanks for contributing, fans were promised an unusual reward. Their faces are all on the album cover in a photo mosaic of the word six.

Travis Clark is the lead vocalist and songwriter for We the Kings.

Clark spoke with the Bradenton Herald about the inspiration behind the new album, the final year of Vans Warped Tour, life on the road and his songwriting process.

Here are some of the highlights.

How's the tour going so far?

We're in Salt Lake City, Utah, right now. Today was show number eight. We have another 39 to go. So for all intents and purposes we're at the beginning.

This is the last Warped Tour, so it's been bittersweet to see this period coming to an end. This was the reason that a lot of us got into bands. We went to the Warped Tour in St. Pete, saw some of our favorite bands and fell in love with the whole thing. To be on the Warped Tour as one of the headlining bands playing the main stage after so many years of going to this thing — it feels like it's come totally full circle. For whatever reason it's a little more special than other shows and tours we've done. It's been really, really awesome. So many shows have been sold out. We're playing like 20,000 to 28,000 capacity areas. It's crazy to think that so many people are coming out. But when we look out into the crowd every time that we get on stage, we believe it. It's just a sea of people, you almost can't see faces anymore.

Warped Tour is a pretty unique concert experience.

I think that's always what's been the appeal to people. You don't have to like just one style of music to come to the festival. You can hear a hardcore band that goes into a jazz or hip-hop band. You can watch a band like We the Kings, a rock band that has alternative-pop influences, you can hear punk rock. It's literally everybody. I think we kind of live in an ADD generation. The sense of being oversaturated almost doesn't exist anymore because we're able to take in all this content at the same time.

It's funny, it's different than a one- or two-day festival. We have some amazing camaraderie with some of the other bands that are on tour. I go onstage with Simple Plan and sing with them, I go on stage with 3OH!3 and sing with them. If you were doing a festival you probably wouldn't be able to meet and collaborate with other bands the way we can on Warped Tour. It ends up being really fun for the fans.

Do you think that the interaction with other bands has influenced you musically?

Yeah, I think so. When I'm writing a record or sitting in the studio, I'll think about how things will go over live. What will we do at this part? Would I ask the crowd to move around and jump? Or would this be a clapping part? Or is this where I bring out one of the singers from one of the other bands? It definitely goes into the sculpting of a song. I think what We the Kings has always tried to do is be a really great live band — better than our records are able to portray. When you start thinking about how a song will go over live, you are able to really sculpt a song that is going to go over well when you perform it in front of the fans.

It's nice that you try to keep the fans and the live performance in mind.

Yeah, and everybody's different. I don't think there's any right or wrong way to write a song. As long as you're writing it because it means something to you. But on a tour like this, you can tell by watching. There are 60 to 70 bands on this festival tour. There are bands that stick out and those that don't. So for this specific tour it really is great when you can be a band that really connects with the crowd.

So that kind of leads us into the concept of the new album, right?

Yes it does. So we decided to call the record "SIX." It's actually got a couple meanings. The first is that it's our sixth album. People could think, "Oh, they were just lazy, they didn’t want to name the album so they just picked the number of the release." But it's also significant because we have five members of We the Kings, and we have always felt like our fans are our sixth member. Not even our silent sixth member. They are loud, and they are crazy, and they are everything that we've ever dreamed of and more. The album is based on that. On top of all of that, we did a crowdfunding campaign where we asked our fan base to support the new album and help us make it. In exchange, one of the perks was that you could get your picture on the front cover of our album. It's a giant montage that makes up the letters s-i-x for six. It's every single picture of every fan that contributed to the album. When you look up close you can see it.

Did you have a vision for the songs on the album? What's your songwriting process like at this point?

This one feels like it was done a little differently over a longer period of time. This is the first record as We the Kings where we didn't go to outside producers or writers. We wanted to do everything completely ourselves. We've always had full control over our records in the past, but there's always been someone that was helping me produce. Or we were doing co-writes, or we were having somebody come in and sing on the albums. I think on this record we just really wanted to focus on who we are as people and what we want to represent. It comes down to our family, our friends and our fans.

The album was actually easy for us to write. It did take us longer because of how much we were touring off of our fourth and fifth record. It came together relatively quick. I think it was because we weren't second guessing ourselves. I would write these lyrics and I wouldn't read them over and critique them. I wanted my first instinct to be what was presented on the record. There are a lot of songs on the album that, because of that, were written in 15 minutes or 20 minutes or an hour. We definitely can't say that about every song. I think the connectivity between the music and the fans is going to be really prominent when people listen to it. I think you can feel the realness, the sense of genuine lyric and genuine sound.

Was there a learning curve in doing your own production?

Absolutely. There is always a learning curve. There is always something to take away from every album process. I produced everything on this album from my home. My wife gave me a room in our house to build a studio, and I built this small studio that does the job. It was really cool learning how much work goes into it from that perspective. I would have to write three of four novels of the stuff that I learned making this album. But I think from the songwriting side, something that I learned is that when you're real with your fans, when you're honest with your lyrics, when you write things because they are compelling and because they move you, they will always connect with fans. I think every song on this album does that.

Do you look forward to getting feedback from fans on new material?

You know, it's scary if I'm being completely honest. It's scary for us to put out new music sometimes. It's scary for us to play songs live that haven't ever been played before. We're going from playing songs that have charted on radio and sold millions of copies, and then in between those songs we're playing a brand new song that nobody knows yet. A lot of times the fans are just trying to learn the song, they're trying to figure it out. What that can look like is that they're just standing there not enjoying the song. But that's not really true. The truth is that they're really just taking it all in trying to figure out what they're listening to. It can be discouraging as a band because you're up on stage feeding off the crowd's energy. You're playing all these songs that go over really well, and then you play a brand new song that the fans don't really know how to act on.

Especially if it's a little different than your previous sound.

Exactly. With that being said, it's exciting, and it's also terrifying. We want everybody to love our music. We want to be a band that people come see multiple times. So, there's a lot of responsibility in making sure that we are holding ourselves accountable for putting out great music and songs that really connect.

Is there a specific song on this album that you're really excited about releasing to the world?

Well, I don't necessarily have a favorite song because they are so tough to pick between. It's almost like having babies. These are our 11 kids being born on July 6 and you have to pick which one is your favorite. But a song that means the absolute world to me is the ending track. It's a song called "What I Wouldn't Give." I wrote the song two days after my mother-in-law passed away, which was a couple months ago. I wasn't ever planning on releasing the song. I had just written it because she used to love listening to me play piano. She was our No. 1 fan. She was one of the most beautiful people I have ever had the honor of knowing. We were all crushed as a family.

My family, my wife's family, we were all hurting. A couple days later I just sat down at the piano and started playing and writing these words. It almost felt like I was writing something for her to hear. I felt like she was there with me and kind of watching over. The song came together within 13 or 14 minutes. I decided that I really wanted to show it to my father-in-law. He asked if I would play it at the celebration of life that we had for her. I ended up playing the song and the whole family was like, that was beautiful, where can I hear this, where can I get this. I told them this isn't a song that I'm releasing, it's just a song that I wrote for Mamma Bear. That's what we call her. And they were like, that's nonsense, you've got to put this out for people to hear, she would be so proud.

It's a really tough song for me to listen to because of the reason I wrote it. But it is inspiring, and I do feel like when I hear it that I can really sense that she's there. She passed from cancer, and I know a lot of people in this world, if not everyone, have somebody they know that has passed or is going through it, is supporting or surviving or fighting. We chose to have it last on the record because it is a ballad. We really wanted people to leave the record feeling moved and inspired. It is one of the most important songs I have written in my life.

Hopefully it will connect to people who have gone through similar things. Music is an amazing outlet to have when something like that happens. So, you're touring now. What's it like to come back to Florida after being gone for so long?

You have to kind of reacclimate to life as you knew it before tour. You live on a tour bus, you go from city to city. You go to sleep in one city and wake up in another. It's kind of disorienting to be on tour, but at the same time it's great. I love that I can actually call this my job. After coming back from being on the road and showering on a tour bus, you feel like you have more space for sure when you get back to your house. When I go back home, I go into dad mode. My wife and my two daughters are there. I actually hate that fact about touring, being away from them. If there's any positive to it, it does make it all the more special when I do get home. I can't wait to spend every waking second with my family. You learn to appreciate the time more than most. It does take a couple days for me to reacclimate to home living. But once I do, it's really amazing and we have a great time. On a side note, I feel like that's what's inspired me to keep going and continue writing music. Just to be able to be with my family and see how happy we all make each other.

Are your kids old enough to understand what you do?

So, I have a 9-month-old and a 2-and-a-half-year-old. And the 2-and-a-half-year-old just learned to say, "Daddy don't go," right before this tour. It crushed me. It was honestly one of the hardest things I've ever had to hear. She's amazing. When I FaceTime my wife, my daughter and I will talk. She's so well-versed. The thing's she's able to put together are so impressive to me. I think she does know, though. She'll ask me where I am, and I'll tell her I'm in this city, and she will say, "Are you singing?" So she knows what I do for a job and she's been to a bunch of shows over the past two-and-a-half years. So I think she gets what we do, and I feel like she can understand that I'm sad when I'm gone. She says that she misses me and things like that. I think that she can understand what's happening but that I'm doing it for the right reasons. Maybe that's wishful thinking.

FaceTime is nice. That makes a big difference.

It is. It definitely helps. I am able to see them every day. It's not necessarily how I would like and prefer. But at the same time I'll take what I can get.

Is the hometown show still on for this year?

Yes, of course. This will be our 11th annual, it's crazy. It's funny cause we don't really count any other shows that we do, we don't count the amount of tours we do or anything. But every time we do a hometown show, it's always the first annual, the second annual, the third annual. Now that it's at the 11th annual, we're starting to feel the effects of like, oh wow, 11 years, that's a long time. We've been a band for a really long time. But we continue doing those shows because they're so much fun to put together. They're so much fun to be at with all of our family and friends from Bradenton. And people from other places come in and hang out and see how amazing Bradenton is as a people and as a place — and to see who Bradenton has made us. I always say this, and I truly believe that Bradenton has really made us who we are as people. When we do these hometown shows it really reflects that.

When you did the first one did you know it was going to be an annual thing?

Well, before we got started touring, we played shows in Bradenton all the time. It was mainly because we were touring so much that we wanted to set a specific time over the holidays that we could come home and play together in the Bradenton area. I think it was meant to be a multiple year thing. We knew that, if we were still successful as a band, we would be touring a lot. We wanted to have at least one show a year where we could come home and have this free show as a way to say thank you to all of our family and friends and fans for supporting us for so long.

Do you have any big musical influences right now?

It's funny that you ask that, because while we were doing the new record, I was purposefully not listening to anything. I don't ever want to be subconsciously impacted by anyone else. This is actually the time that I'm out here on tour with some of our good friends that have put out new music and new records. So I'm kind of playing catch-up right now to listening to all my friend’s bands. So I'm sure I will be inspired by that.