The rising indie-pop duo talks MySpace, fate and Justin Beiber.
It was just an average Thursday night on Capitol Hill for Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly, also known as rising star indie darling He Is We. The duo joined me on the dimly-lit upper level of Neumo’s, where, later that evening, they headlined the second concert in the Verizon Wireless Coffee Shop Series, with acoustic accompaniment from fellow Seattleites, The Scene Aesthetic.
Though Taylor and Kelly met while as co-workers at Ted Brown Music in Tacoma, it was similar tastes in humor and music that ultimately brought them together. Both claim that becoming friends on the job wasn’t just easy, but also necessary.
“[It was] the fact that we were both under the age of 100,” laughed Taylor. Kelly agreed: “We were both in way over our heads.”
“I’m running for president,” announced Taylor. Without skipping a beat, Kelly laughed with her. The whole conversation continued this way; the energy and chemistry between the two band mates was contagious, and it was hard not to laugh along with everything they said.
Taylor, who grew up in the San Juan Islands, and Kelly, a native of Eatonville, thought working at a music store meant walls of guitars and people with cool haircuts. However, they soon found that was far from the truth.
“It was like, 60-year-old men that sold trumpet rentals and tubas and cellos,” Kelly said. “Rachel and I were just punk 18-year-old kids that got jobs there.”
“They didn’t even want us to sell guitars, we had to sell these things called reeds,” said Taylor. “We didn’t know what they were!” Reeds, thin strips of wood used to produce sound in wind instruments such as the clarinet, saxophone and oboe, proved to be the most memorable and traumatizing part of working at the music store. “Kids would come in and be like, ‘yeah, what size reed am I?'” Kelly recalled. “I’m like, ‘two? I don’t know, two sounds good.’”
Regardless of their expertise in woodwind parts, Ted Brown’s two black sheep soon joined in their youthful forces and started jamming together in the back room of the music store. The rest, as they say, is history. The journey to fame for He Is We was surprisingly normal; perhaps that’s why sitting down with two best friends who happen to be musicians seemed so comfortable.
Taylor, who claimed she can still belt out all of the state capitals, learned to sing through cassette tapes. “I grew up on a island,” she explained. “It was one of those things where either you did a bunch of drugs, you did 4-H or you did what I did, which was sneak out of class and teach yourself guitar.”
Kelly’s upbringing was quite similar. “I also grew up in a small town,” he said. “You had the option to play sports and be a jock, or you could be a loser. I actually got involved in the church where they needed musicians.”
Rumor has it that Taylor and Kelly completely differ when it comes to music tastes; Kelly prefers metal, while Taylor is drawn to the pop genre. The two band mates, however, don’t seem to agree. Taylor explained that both she and Kelly dabble in different genres, and create their own tastes by picking and choosing particular qualities from all types of music.
“The things that he loved in metal, he found he also loved in hip-hop,” Taylor said. “The things I loved in hip hop are what I loved in metal — good beats, an awesome breakdown that gets your head going, and just like, filthy rips.”
Rather than use the “opposites attract” dynamic to their advantage, He Is We would rather be labeled as two music lovers whose tastes just mesh into one. “Everyone always wants to say we have the beauty and the beast here,” Taylor said.
As a testament to the current online age of music, you’d expect He Is We to have a complicated strategy behind their Internet popularity. However, Taylor and Kelly are humble — if not blissfully unaware — of their achievements and status as a successful group who began as just another band on Myspace.
“In the beginning we weren’t that band that spammed our friends – we didn’t have laptops,” explains Kelly, “Our fans know that if they add us, it’s not out of force.” Taylor added, jokingly: “Well, Justin Beiber and I used to date.”
He Is We’s fanbase grew after they shared their sweet, indie-pop blend on sites like MySpace, Bandcamp, Purevolume, LastFM, and Facebook. At the age of 20, Taylor and Kelly signed a deal with Motown/Universal; since then, the group has toured the country and spread the love with punchy songs about crushes, lovers and everything in between.
Above all, the co-creators of He Is We are just two small-town misfits who shared a love of music. With lyrics like diary scribbles and a live performance that’s intimate and captivating, Taylor and Kelly realize that enabling others to experience their thoughts and ideas through music carries far more importance than anything else. “[Music unites people through] the feeling of not being alone,” Taylor said. “It’s a story, and if someone relates to it, there’s camaraderie. The idea of knowing that their feelings are justified.”
He Is We’s debut album, “My Forever,” was released in November 2010 and is available for purchase online. It is also available on iTunes, along with two single releases: “A Mess It Grows” and “All About Us” (featuring Owl City). The band will wrap up their nationwide tour in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. on Saturday, Nov. 19.