Most middle school assignments feel futile and annoying in the moment. And then there are those that are still paying dividends more than a decade later.
Consider the beginnings of Down With Webster in that latter group. Originated during a seventh grade music class assignment, the genre-bending six-piece band has since come a long way, selling hundreds of thousands of singles and touring extensively, helping to build a fervent fan base. Now, they're finally ready to release Time To Win, Vol. II, their first full length album and a follow up to 2009's EP, Time To Win, Vol. 1.
"We're really excited. It feels like the first thing we've done that's totally relevant to where we are as a band at the same time you're releasing it," says bass guitar and keyboard player Tyler Armes. "We've grown a lot since the EP, and this record is a big step forward musically, lyrically, and from a production standpoint."
Where DWW is at now is an impressive ways away from where they started. Created for that school project in 1998, the Toronto based crew decided to carry on even after the school year, and practiced extensively in a garage at Armes's dad's house that summer. Once high school started, the guys began to get spot gigs, playing shows around the city in clubs where they weren't legally allowed to buy drinks. Before long Armes and his bandmates, guitarist/singer Pat Gillett, rappers Bucky and Cam Hunter, drummer Marty and D!ggy the DJ, were winning talent shows, making fast fans of friends, friends of friends and their friends and, upon high school graduation, decided to bypass university life to chase their musical dreams.
"I think we all had this naÃ¯ve idea that we were going be the youngest, coolest band of all-time, and be on the radio when we were 17 and 18," says drummer Andrew "Marty" Martino. "We were excited to be out on the scene at a young age, but looking back now, it's really clear that it was better not to be exposed too early.
They weren't ready, he says in hindsight, because the group was still honing in on their unique sound. Not easily classifiable, DWW employs elements of rock, hip-hop, funk music and just about everything in between in their recordings. "There are a couple guys who are into classic hip-hop; our drummer Marty is into 1970s fusion and R&B; our lead singer Pat is huge into Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin," Armes says of the band's make-up. "So I think the band was an outlet for everybody to add their piece and what made them happy musically. And that's the sound we still have today-drawing from pretty much everything that's been done before and trying to make something new out of it. It's not extremely focused on being one narrow thing, like a lot of music is. It's a melting pot.
Over time, that eclectic-sounding stew caught the ears of plenty of tastemakers. The guys spent some time in the studio with super producer Timbaland, who wanted to sign them, as did legendary Kiss frontman Gene Simmons. But no situation felt right until Universal Motown, which inked the group to a recording contract in April 2009. Then, in October of that year, DWW released their seven-song EP Time To Win, Vol. I. The release was certified Gold after increasing in sales week-over-week for 18 months after release. It spawned three Top 10 radio hits that each went Platinum and had a #1video on MuchMusic. DWW continued touring relentlessly throughout North America gaining legions of new fans with their incomparable live show, constant interaction with fans online and through home-made videos and free new music that culminated in DWW winning Online Artist of the Year at the Canadian New Media Awards, beating out Arcade Fire and Deadmau5.
Before having an official single or video, the group was able to tour across Canada, packing sold out clubs on the strength of social media word-of-mouth alone. Their energy, excitement, passion and ability to have fun on stage all make DWW a huge draw for hordes of concertgoers, exemplified by the festival circuit of more than a dozen shows that they headlined this past summer.
"I think one of the reasons that it connects live is because [after] kids see it's a real band and everyone's playing and playing well, it adds another dimension to the music" Armes says of the success of the band's renowned live performances. "In terms of hip-hop shows, a lot of times people are used to seeing a rapper and their DJ, so I think it's a cool thing to see a live band on stage. There's a ton of energy on stage. Everyone goes bananas the whole time we're up there."
He and his cohorts are aware of the importance that the stage has played in their recent rise, so it remains their love and focus. "Our live show is everything," he continues. "Of the music alone, it's not enough for people to totally get into what you do. We were playing a show in Chicago and Bootsy Collins was there and came backstage to meet us and said he loved what we did. For me, that's a lot cooler than selling records- having your idols and people that are great at their instruments dig it. The live show really was our vehicle to get where we are now."
Where they are now is a band on the cusp of major stardom. DWW were nominated for Best New Artist at the Juno Awards in 2010, and then for Pop Album of the Year in 2011 where their performance opened the show to rave reviews and huge TV ratings. Also this year, they won Best Pop Video and performed alongside Drake and Lady Gaga at the Much Music Video Awards becoming the first artist to perform two years in a row.
With their home market of Canada already strongly behind the sextet, the band is eager to make waves overseas and to conquer America by building on the strong core fanbase resulting from over 100 shows played in the US to date. Time To Win, Vol. II is what's going to help bring them to that point. The album's first single, "She's Dope," is on the verge of Platinum certification in Canada and the second single, "Big Wheels", is quickly climbing the charts.
"The U.S. has always been this weird, scary monster in the Canadian music scene," says rapper Cam Hunter, only half kidding. "When you were growing up, everyone was like, man, you can't say you're from Canada. And then people like Drake and Arcade Fire made it-there's a lot of stuff coming out of Canada. So I think there's more of an optimistic outlook from the rest of the world about what Canada's doing musically right now."
Armes explains, "The plan for this band was always focused around the music, and the live show. We want people leaving the concert thinking "that was absolutely amazing, I need to go see them again". It's a slower build, but you need to connect with people for them to care. All the success we've had and hope to get, you always work for it. There's never a moment that we're hoping to catch lightning in a bottle or hit the lottery. Those moments-even when they come, are few and far between-they're not usually the ones that pay off. You gotta grind. That's what we've realized."
With Time To Win, Vol. II, expect more than a few new listeners to happily realize what Down With Webster's grind and music is all about.