Every year, thousands of ambitious young musicians pack up their gear, say goodbye to their friends and leave the little towns in which they grew up, headed either for major American cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, or hip music-scene meccas like Austin, Nashville and Portland, Ore.
They know their chances of being plucked from obscurity and boosted to stardom are far greater in these places; despite the unifying global-village aesthetic of the Internet and music fans' healthy appetites for discovering their own favorite obscure acts, the vast majority of new voices heard via mainstream media caught their crucial breaks in the towns with the famous names.
It's still possible, however, for an unknown band to gain the industry's notice from the comfort of their tucked-away hometown. It takes a lot of commitment, hard work and networking savvy — not to mention more than a little luck, and the aforementioned right-place-right-time opportunity — but it can be done.
"We noticed that, growing up, you started hearing kids say they couldn't wait to get out of their hometown," says Travis Clark, frontman for Bradenton emo-pop outfit We The Kings. "For us, we kind of felt the same way for a little bit, until Hunter (Thomsen, guitarist) and I moved to Orlando to go to college. We realized how much we missed Bradenton, how much it affected our lives. We just wanted to go back to the place we called home for so long."
The hooky, energetic modern rock of We The Kings' eponymous debut CD is saturated with references to the place in which the band and its music were formed. The group's very name is a reference to King Middle School, and song titles like "Skyway Avenue" and "This Is Our Town" leave no doubt about the band's allegiance to the area. It's a time-honored rock ’n’ roll tradition to pay tribute to one's hometown, a reverence shared by acts as disparate as Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. As mainstream pop music has become more and more homogenized in an effort to appeal to the largest possible number of consumers, such particulars have been bred out of the style to some extent, but We The Kings are more interested in showing the love than sales projections. And in any case, Clark is confident that the themes of love, loss and friendship that permeate the songs on “We The Kings” are universally resonant; growing up is growing up, no matter where you do it.
"Essentially, there are Bradentons all over the place," he says. "It's the same story of kids in a smaller city. And you can even apply it to kids in a bigger city, maybe they just want to get out of there and go someplace quiet. The grass is always greener. It's definitely relevant no matter where you live."
S-Curve Records — the recently rejuvenated New York City label, founded by industry veteran Steve Greenberg and home to Fountains of Wayne, Joss Stone, Tom Jones and others — apparently agrees with the Kings' philosophy. After a combination of savvy songwriting, Web networking and independent touring saw the unsigned group's tunes rise to the top of the rankings at noted streaming-music Web site Purevolume.com, the imprint inked We The Kings to a deal and sent them into the studio. The resulting album should please anybody who enjoys the more pop-grounded end of the Warped Tour-style punk/pop/emo spectrum, wherever they call home.
"We kind of wanted to give an original point of view to the kind of music that we do, and use Bradenton as a model for what we want to say, how much it means for us to be from here" says Clark. "Being on the road, waking up in a new city every morning, we realize we couldn't find a better place to call home. That's really what we're singing about."
IF YOU GO
What: We The Kings opening for Boys Like Girls, All Time Low, The Audition
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg
Information: (727) 896-1244 or www.jannuslanding concerts.com