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We the Kings turn pain into hit song

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We The Kings is (left to right) Hunter Thomsen (guitar), Coley O'Toole (auxiliary/background vocals), Travis Clark (guitar/vocals), Danny Duncan (drums) and Charles Trippy (bass). The band resides in Bradenton. COURTESY PHOTO

Before Bradenton native Travis Clark became a rock star playing packed venues on both side of the Atlantic with 200,000-plus people awaiting his every Tweet, he got picked on for something as silly as his hair color. But the singer, guitarist and chief songwriter for the platinum-selling band We the Kings has never sounded bitter during the many times I’ve interviewed him since his group started its climb to national acclaim in 2007.

Clark has never, to the best of my knowledge, said a bad word about what might have happened while he attended King Middle – hence the name of his band – or Manatee High School. In fact, one of the Clark's most beloved songs, “This is Our Town,” the closing track on We the Kings' self-titled debut album that also includes the breakthrough smash “Check Yes Juliet,” is a loving homage to Bradenton.

But while writing We the Kings’ latest single, Clark, who recently turned 28 years old, explored the darker side of growing up in The Friendly City. The result is the band’s self-released hit, “Just Keep Breathing,” a song that finds the singer recalling nights when he was “too sad to sleep” before reminding his many listeners, which range from tweens to twentysomethings, that they’re not alone.

“It’s a song I’ve been waiting to write for a long time,” Clark said when he called last week from a tour stop in Des Moines. “Growing up as a redhead it was hard to fit in, kids were mean and bullied me during a good part of my childhood.

“This was a song I’ve been holding in for a long time, a song capturing how I felt, that feeling I had and what I had to do to get through it all. It has helped a lot of our fans. I’ve already heard amazing compliments, people saying how things are so much better now because they realize they’re not the only one going through something like this.”

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Travis Clark's Twitter profile picture. Follow him at @travisrclark

Clark said the song, priced by the band at a mere 69 cents, sold an impressive 100,000 copies in the first four days alone and has since nearly doubled that total. “I’m really proud of how it performed,” he continued. “I’m proud I shared that type of song lyrically with my fans; it’s really important to me that the song did well.”

In addition to displaying Clark’s maturation as a lyricist, “Just Keep Breathing” is a departure sonically. We the Kings have become famous for creating lean, catchy pop-punk bursts but the band’s latest song is more richly textured with moody atmospherics driving home the deeper message of perseverance.

“We continue to try and grow with our band,” Clark said. “We could release ‘Check Yes Juliet’ over and over but it would lose the feeling. We try to change with every record. ‘Just Keep Breathing’ is influenced more by U2 and Coldplay.”

We the Kings will perform “Just Keep Breathing” Saturday during the inaugural Rockin' the Midway at the Funshine Music Festival featuring 30 acts spread across six stages at Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Clark and his band mates – Hunter Thomsen (guitar, backing vocals), Charles Trippy (bass), Danny Duncan (drums), Coley O'Toole –(keyboard, rhythm guitar) – also plans to debut “Find You There” during their performance scheduled for 8:05-9:20 p.m. at Expo Hall.

"Find You There," like "Just Keep Breathing," finds Clark taking the painful and personal and making it uplifting and universal. "Find You There" comes out Friday via iTunes for 69 cents. The songwriter said it will be important to debut his latest work live in front of a crowd that includes family, friends and the band’s most diehard fans.

“I wrote the song about love relationships,” Clark explained. “I try them and some work out better but all end up going sour eventually. But the song is my way of saying if I’m a great guy, I will find the person who is right for me when the time is right. The song could be about relationships or academics anything that reminds people that life changes for the better.”

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Travis Clark/COURTESY PHOTO

In addition to performing at the first Funshine Music Festival, Clark plans to experience some of the rides, maybe even the RC-48, the largest portable steel roller coaster in North America, according to the show’s Live Nation promoter.

“I’m not a huge fan of roller-coasters but the other guys in the band will probably make me try it,” Clark said with a laugh. “It’s probably best if I do it before we perform.”

Even though Clark spends a lot of time in Los Angeles recording new music and touring the globe, he still owns a home in West Bradenton near the same one where he was raised and within close proximity to his band mates. Clark spends as much time there as possible “lounging on (his) deck or by the pool” and visiting his favorite spots in Manatee and Sarasota.

He mentioned St. Armands Circle as a favorite daytime destination and then hitting the Daiquiri Deck at night for an “alcoholic slushy.” “It’s perfect for the kid in you that wants a slushy and the adult who wants alcohol,” Clark said with a laugh. “It’s where you become a real adult by taking a slushy and dumping alcohol in it.”

Closer to home, Clark enjoys relaxing on Anna Maria Island and grabbing a bite to eat at Duffy’s Tavern in Holmes Beach. “They have the best burger in the whole world,” Clark said. “I eat burgers everywhere and it’s still the best burger in the whole world, it really is.”

“It just tastes like home,” he added.

ROCKIN' THE MIDWAY AT THE FUNSHINE MUSIC FESTIVAL 4 p.m.-midnight May 3; 11 a.m.-midnight May 4; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. May 5. Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301, Tampa. Tickets are $25 a day; for children 6-11, it's $15 and, kids 5 and under get in free. Tickets are available at floridastatefair.com, funshinefestival.com, livenation.com, Ticketmaster outlets or (800) 745-3000.
Last modified: May 9, 2013
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