INTERVIEW: Danny Duncan (WE THE KINGS)
From best mates to band mates and pop rock sensations, US rockers We The Kings have certainly packed a hell of a lot into a decade since their self-titled debut album first unveiled in 2007. And while the infectiously bouncy Florida quintet have come a long way from working in pizza shops and listening to Jimmy Eat World as kids, success has never seemed to jade their drive and passion for writing tunes that capture the essence of youth and consuming love stories wrapped up in a nostalgic bow.
Chalking up five studio albums and features with the likes of Demi Lovato and frontman Travis Clark's own daughter, there's seemingly no stopping the We The Kings train as they sit poised to release their upcoming sixth studio album. But before the new stuff drops, the boys are headed out for a huge Aussie tour in February to celebrate the tenth anniversary of where it all began: that iconic debut that thrust We The Kings into worldwide notoriety. And just before they make the trek over here, dynamo drummer Danny Duncan took some time to chat growing up, nostalgia and the perils of air-drumming whilst operating a vehicle.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Danny! So awesome to be chatting to you today, I have to admit I'm a We The Kings fan from way back so I'll try to play it cool.
DANNY DUNCAN: (laughs) Oh, that's so sweet!
TIANA: Now it's only a few weeks into the new year, but exciting times ahead already kicking off at the end of this month - We The Kings are going to be bringing a pretty epic show to New Zealand and Australia playing your debut self-titled album in full for us for its ten year anniversary!
DANNY: Yes! We're so excited to bring the show there, the ten year anniversary is a big thing for us and this is something that people wanna hear, and it's always fun for us to revisit the crazy, intense, fast first album that we did. It just gets the crowd going so we can't wait to play it!
TIANA: That entire album is pretty iconic, released in 2007 and it just became huge, particularly in Australia hitting platinum back in the day. Listening to it from start to finish again recently, it just takes you back to such a specific snapshot in time, but it's so enduring still to this day...what do you think it is about this album that still connects so heavily with your audiences?
DANNY: Honestly, that was what we played after we got off our jobs delivering pizzas or just going paycheck to paycheck to pay for musical instruments so it was just very heavy and fast and just really all about the good times and hanging out. And I think a lot of people still relate to that, you know, just letting loose. And that's what that first album is kind of all about for us, just hanging out, letting loose and going nuts. And I couldn't think of a better audience than the people in Australia who show up to our shows. You guys just get rowdy with us, we love it, I can't wait to be there.
TIANA: We are quite a rowdy bunch, that's very true.
DANNY: You are! I love it! (laughs)
TIANA: And in terms of your fans, there seems to be such a fierce loyalty that does come along with the territory, the whole pop punk/pop rock genre or however you want to label it...but what are the fans like these days compared to back in the day when you first brought this album out? Has there been a shift or has it stayed relatively the same?
DANNY: I wouldn't say a shift, I would more title it a "growth", you know? This album's the same for everybody, even we revisited it and we were like "oh my gosh, wow, I remember where I was when I wrote this part in the song" or where we were when it first came out on the radio...and people will say a lot of that stuff at the shows, like "I met my best friend at one of your shows" or "I got married shortly after I met someone at a show"...it's crazy that these songs are a really fun way for people to revisit and look back to where it all began, whether you're on the stage or watching the stage, it's the same all the way round.
TIANA: That's so true actually, I re-listened to 'Check Yes Juliet' the other day and I legit still knew all the words, and it just skyrocketed me back in time to such a specific moment.
DANNY: Yeah, it's so fun, and we love how it brings people together because it did for us (laughs).
TIANA: Yes, the majority of you guys have known each other since you were kids, finally forming into We The Kings when you were back in high school....how have you all maneuvered fame and creating all this music along the way AND growing up together into adulthood? Has it been a smooth ride?
DANNY: We've been very fortunate, it's been a very smooth road and it's funny...I'm holding my five month old son in my left arm and you on the phone in my right arm...and it's a very different dynamic than if we were doing this interview in say 2009 or 2010 when I'd probably be holding you in my right hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other (laughs). It's been a very fun ride and we've been very fortunate and as we turn the page of our lives into fatherhood and everything like that there's always one thing that stays the same and it's how We The Kings has just been a very amazing part of our lives and, as we hear along the road, everyone else's lives. And we're super excited to revisit where it all began with this first album.
TIANA: Back in those really early days what kind of music were you guys all into, was it always going to be this type of pop punk/alt-rock kind of music that We The Kings would end up playing?
DANNY: Um...yes and no! We all always envied the Jimmy Eat Worlds and Blink-182s of the world that you could tell just started out in the garage and went straight to the arena sort of thing. That sort of personifies the dream that we had back when we were working in the pizza shops and stuff like that. But for me as a drummer, I sort of lean towards metal. In metal music the dummer becomes the lead singer in my opinion (laughs). That was more my language musically if I just wanted to kind of hang on my own, but as far as the vibe of just getting together...it was always Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World and just playing music with your friends. That's kind of really what inspired us to get our sound.
TIANA: Now the debut is coming at us live in a few weeks, but you guys also last year released the tenth anniversary album 'Self-Titled Nostalgia' which features reworked versions from the debut, and we also got a sneaky look at some new music with 'Plains, Trains and Cars'. You also snuck out another new single 'Festival Music' last year as well...this is the first time we'd really heard from you guys since 2015, is there anything you an reveal about what might be coming next from We The Kings?
DANNY: Welllllll.....I'll say this. I can't reveal too much because we're working getting our ducks in a row in a very exciting way. And it's not a problematic thing to postpone a release date, we just have new factors that are very exciting! And I'm not gonna say you're not gonna hear some new stuff while we're out there...I'll just say that maybe it's not gonna be just the entire first album by itself..... (laughs).
TIANA: You guys have clocked up some massive tours and shows over the years, you've had five studio albums and now even more new music on the horizon...but has there been a highlight for you personally with We The Kings after all these years? Or has it just been the whole ride that's stood out...
DANNY: Wow...well I almost need to give two answers to this question. Personally as Danny Duncan, there was a time when we played after a baseball game for a concert series and my late grandfather who was a big fan of the baseball team came along. They put us up in a suite and we played the summer concert series, and they had our picture up on the wall inside the stadium. And my grandfather got to see all that, he'd watched me buy my first terrible drum set back in the day so it was very cool for me to be able to show my grandpa the dream that I wanted and to be able to live it out before he left us. That personally was a very big moment. But then, as you said, entirely for us to be able to do what we do...it's never been lost on me. As a whole I need to step back and take a deep breath and just go "wow", I can't believe we're so fortunate to be able to continue to do this.
TIANA: Well there's certainly a huge amount of people that are grateful that you guys have kept doing your thing...
DANNY: Oh yeah, yeah! And now we get to go to Australia, can't complain about that!
TIANA: Do you have anything you want to tick off in Australia while you're here?
DANNY: For us it's been a very cold winter here in the States, it's still winter and I think it just snowed in Florida for the first time since 1988. 1988 was the last time there was snow in Florida and it's snowed this year! So it's been a very cold winter and from what I understand it's been a very hot summer over there, you guys are almost over it already! But I think we're gonna show up like the clichéd dads with sunscreen on our noses and the big hats, just ready to enjoy the summer! We're gonna show up fresh, ready to soak up the sun, that's what's been on our minds.
TIANA: Maybe you can help us all appreciate the summer again, everyone's getting very whingey about the heat.
DANNY: Hopefully so, hopefully it's a contagious feeling! (laughs).
TIANA: Just to traipse back to yourself briefly, you mentioned earlier that as a drummer you were into your metal...but are there any bands or artists that you listen to that would shock your fans?
DANNY: There was a lot of stuff back in the day, I used to listen to like Darkest Hour and The Bled and stuff like that, it was always just so fun for me to listen to that. And as you learn drums you just kind of want to expand, with pop rock it's very fun and very linear, but especially in bands like The Bled...they just have these time signatures, like I swear they just roll two pairs of dice and whatever they get that's the time signature they play in (laughs). You always want to expand into different genres and appreciate what they're doing.
TIANA: Are you a typical drummer who will just sit around drumming anything you can get your hands on?
DANNY: Yeah, I'm kind of weird like that. With other drummers who I meet, they'll practice and find like a YouTube video or something that somebody's doing or a specific lesson...but for me I just kind of go and play. It's always just been more of a therapeutic thing to me than like really truly a craft that's taken way too seriously. I just kind of play whatever's on the vibe, whether it's something soft and jazz-like, or just running on double-bass and I'll do it as long as I can. That's more the route that I go, that's how it's always been for me and I think that's why it works the way that it did. It's always been a fun therapeutic thing with my friends, and it hasn't changed really.
TIANA: I am definitely not-so-secretly a frustrated wannabe drummer, I keep air-drumming in the car and then accidentally hit the accelerator thinking it's a kick drum...I have to reign it in, seriously.
DANNY: (laughs) I have a funny story actually about that! I was listening to a Senses Fail album when I was working at a pizza place, I think it was 'Let It Enfold You'...and it was a song called 'The Irony of Dying on Your Birthday' or something like that...and I played that fill in the beginning and I punched my steering wheel on the downbeat and it broke! My steering wheel broke! So instead of just turning it left and right, it was like holding a joystick and I had to like hold it up and also turn it...that was my first car, it was a piece of junk and I broke my steering column drumming on my steering wheel. Good times! (laughs).
TIANA: That is phenomenal. Well there's a lesson for all of us there, I'll try to avoid making that same mistake, but if it happens at least I'm in good company. Now to wrap things up...it may be a bit of a strange question since you are living and breathing an amazing career...but what do you think your life would be like right now if you weren't playing music?
DANNY: Ohhh I don't know! I don't want the expected answer to be like "trying to play music". I'd definitely still have a drum set setup somewhere...but I was going to college for business when I was like 19 and this all happened, I went to a Community College for like half a year, and I wasn't happy. I'd be somewhere miserable, but also still trying to get into music somehow. I'd probably find a way to be on the road for sure.
TIANA: Well I'm glad that isn't the reality and you are doing what you're doing, and all your Aussie fans are so excited to see you and the guys come out here in a few weeks time!
DANNY: Thank you so much for taking the time, I'm excited as well! More excited, I'd say. See you then, take care!
Catch We The Kings when they roll into town in a few weeks, ticket info and more below!
FOR WE THE KINGS TICKETS, HEAD HERE
FOR MORE WE THE KINGS INFO HEAD HERE
PRESENTED BY SELECT TOURING, BLUE MURDER AND MUSIC FEEDS
BY TIANA SPETER