The W's were a Christian ska and swing revival band, formed in Corvallis, Oregon in 1996. Success came quickly to the band and their first album, Fourth from the Last, was a sleeper hit unexpectedly having had the strongest debut of any Christian album to date for its distributor. They toured the United States several times with a variety of artists. Touring highlights include Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit to St. Louis and dc Talk's Supernatural support tour.
Their mix of "swing pop" and ska was uncommon in the Christian music industry. They were more popular within Christian music than their neo-swing counterparts such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers or The Brian Setzer Orchestra were in the general market. Their songwriting was known for its irreverence and frivolity, and for its reflections of the band's faith. Before breaking up in 2000, the group had released two albums, topped Christian rock radio and sales charts, and won two Gospel Music Association awards.
The W's formed as a ska band at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon in 1996. The original lineup consisted of Andrew Schar (Lead vocals, Guitar), Valentine Hellman (Tenor sax, Clarinet), Todd "The Rodd" Gruener (Bass), and a fourth member, Zak Shultz (drums). All were attending Oregon State and mutual residents of Avery Lodge. The band was originally spearheaded and envisioned by Shultz, but he eventually moved to Seattle, Washington to work for Brandon Ebel with Tooth & Nail Records. By September 1997 Shultz had left, and the group had been joined by Bret Barker (Trumpet), who Schar met through Campus Crusade for Christ, and James Carter (Alto sax, background vocals). Peter Kelly drummed for a short stint during the summer and fall of 1997, but broke his arm in a freak skate-boarding accident only a few days before first recording with Five Minute Walk. The band then recruited Brian Morris to replace Kelly from a local punk band.
The W's discovered a break when a mutual friend from Eugene, Aaron James (employed at the time by Five Minute Walk Records), offered them the spot opening for Five Iron Frenzy in Concord, California. Following the CD release party for Five Iron Frenzy's Our Newest Album Ever! in November 1997, they signed with Frank Tate's Five Minute Walk Records. Within a year they had produced their first album, Fourth From the Last. The album was extremely well timed, being released at a time when neo-swing was extremely hot in the general market. In its opening week it sold almost 9,000 units, representing over half of the total stock that had been manufactured. This was the highest selling band-debut to date of any album for Five Minute Walks' distributor, Chordant. This also placed Fourth at the No. 4 spot on both Billboard's "Heatseekers" and "Top Contemporary Christian" charts.
Despite being pulled from the shelves of LifeWay Christian Resources stores for containing "indecent" words The W's sold 31,000+ copies within five weeks, and eventually over 200,000 units, peaking at No. 147 on "The Billboard 200". Fourth From the Last received the Dove Award for "Modern Rock Album of the Year" in 1999. "The Devil Is Bad" was The W's hit single from the record. It peaked at No. 1 and No. 6 on the Christian rock and hits radio and charts respectively, and won the Dove for "Modern Rock Recorded Song" in 1999. The song was also released on the double Platinum certified annual compilation WOW 1999.
In late 1998 the band appeared on the cover of 7ball magazine, representing the widest media coverage the band garnered throughout their career. The cover reflects the visual signature of the band at the time. Fourth From the Last was themed around bowling, a sport which band member had mixed feelings about. At least one member (Todd Gruener) was said to hate the sport, while Andrew Schar had played in a league. Closing out 1998, the band played some dates with one of their mainstream counterparts - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and alternative band Cracker.
The year 1999 brought continual touring and the release of a second album. They played at Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in January. From late that month until May the band opened for Christian rock heavyweight dc Talk on their 65 city "Supernatural Experience" tour. During this time the song "Moses" entered Christian radio as a second single and peaked at No. 3 on the Christian rock radio charts. That May the band went into the studio to record their second and final album, Trouble With X. Summer brought further touring and appearances at Christian music festivals. That fall the band embarked on the national "Holy Roller Tour" with The Insyderz, Five Iron Frenzy, and Justin McRoberts. Shows on this tour were held at roller skating rinks across the country.
In November Trouble With X was released. This album was not as successful critically or in retail, peaking at No. 21 and No. 25 on the Billboard "Heatseekers" and "Top Contemporary Christian" charts respectively. Like many bands of the "swing revival" movement, The W's were caught in the mass exodus of popularity from the genre. Some copies of Trouble With X included "The Rumor Weed Song", which was made for the episode Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed of the children’s video series VeggieTales. The song was also included on the WOW 2000 compilation, which also achieved double Platinum sales.
Touring continued in 2000 alongside labelmates Five Iron Frenzy, Philmore, and Soul-Junk. Drummer Brian Morris departed and was replaced by Courtney Stubbert. The W's commenced recording for a third album, though it was never released. The album was to feature Glen Galaxy of Soul-Junk, and was said to be "a bold new step" for the band. One song from the sessions, "Somewhere Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea" was released on the compilation Take Time To Listen Volume 5. The W's broke up in December 2000, citing "artistic differences."
The W's. (2013, June 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:28, August 22, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_W%27s&oldid=558449978
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