Down With Webster: Playing By Their Own Rules

Uncompromising, that’s the word that best describes the rise to fame of Toronto band Down With Webster.

If any young band wants to follow a template on how to successfully break through into the music business, they could do worse than follow the route carved by these six musicians who have maintained their independence in establishing a career which has culminated with the release of their second major studio record for Universal Music titled “Party For Your Life” which they just launched with a high-profile 11-date national tour.

“We were going to drop the album last October,” reports Cameron (Cam) Hunter one of the band’s two MC’s along with Martin (Bucky) Soja, lead vocalist Patrick (Pat) Gillet, DJ Dave (Diggy) Ferris and the band’s two-man rhythm section; drummer Andrew (Marty) Martino and bassist Tyler Armes. “We released our first single `One In A Million’ early last year and put out the title track in anticipation of us releasing the record. But by that time, we had written new material and wanted to make some changes, so we held off until January and then we released our third single `Chills’.

“It’s crazy to have all these songs out before the record drops. Normally, I’d be a bit worried but I strongly believe in a lot of the songs off this album, so I’m not concerned,” Cam explained, calling in from a limo en route to Toronto International airport where the band is set to fly out to Vancouver to commence their current tour.

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Considering the success these rock/rappers have cultivated over the past few years, you’d been forgiven for thinking that Down with Webster’s acclaim had come virtually overnight. Yet their rise to the top has in fact been a steady climb which actually goes back to 1998 when two 13-year-old students; Gillet and Armes performed for the first time in a talent contest at Toronto’s Glen Ames Public School.

Realizing they were on to something, Gillett and Armes quickly gathered together a bunch of their mates and began performing at impromptu parties in front of their friends. “It was a fun thing at that point, no 13-year-old kid has a concept of what they want to do with their lives,” reflected Cam. “I think we have retained some of that innocence over the years, we are still not huge strategists in our forward thinking.”

“Right from the beginning, we had an indie spirit that was contagious,” Cam continued. “We started out making music for ourselves and our friends; we didn’t think anyone else was going to listen. That changed when we’d throw a concert for our friends, I’d be looking at the front few rows and realized that the people at the front weren’t necessarily our friends but they all knew the words to our songs and they were all singing along. I thought, `okay’ this has gone way beyond just making music for our friends.”

DWW recorded a six-track indie release; “The Reverb Session July 03” to sell at their concerts during 2003-2004, but Cam reports that initially, major labels weren’t interested in signing us. “Let’s face it, our band was a hard sell, there was originally seven of us (Kap Fairlie since departed) , most successful domestic rap artists had to succeed in the States before coming back to Canada and we didn’t exactly fit the profile of what labels were signing at that time,” Cam noted.

[quote]“The thing about us is that we are constantly writing so we didn’t want to wait nine months to release an album and then wait another nine months to do the follow up,” [/quote]

But what should serve as a blueprint for other struggling artists, Down With Webster stuck to their guns, continued to develop independently and used every opportunity to promote themselves to the public, showcasing at such established industry functions as NXNE (2007) and Canadian Music Week (2008) where their energetic performance at Lee’s Palace drew rave reviews from Toronto media. They even found time to release a 14-track self-titled independent release on June 26th 2007.

When the band won the 2008 Rogers Mobile/Universal Music Best Unsigned Band in Canada contest, labels started to take an interest. Kiss bassist Gene Simmons courted them about signing with his new label and rap star Timberland wanted them for his Mosley Music Group stable but the band rejected these offers to instead sign with Universal.

“There’s a public perception that signing with Gene Simmons or Timberland would have been a major move for the band,” noted Cam. “But that perception can be different from the reality of the situation. It’s one thing for Justin Bieber to sign with Usher’s label, but with us, the fit with either label didn’t seem right for us”.

According to Cam, the band felt both Simmons and Timberland wanted to change the band’s musical approach while DWW themselves where happy with the progress they were making independently. “By the time the labels came knocking we had built up enough of a foundation, we knew what would work, we knew what our sound was, all this was already in place so we were lucky in that sense,” explained Cam. “What we was looking for was a partner rather than a dictator. You don’t want an outside influence to shape what you are going to do.”

Down With Webster found that partner in Universal Music, and with further concerts on the Warped tour and Virgin Festival dates in 2009 refining their sound, the band went into the studio with James Robertson to record their first major release, a seven-track EP titled “Time To Win Vol. 1”, released October 6th 2009.

Such was the reaction to their debut single, a rap cover of Hall & Oates’s ‘Rich Girl’ followed by `Your Man’ that both singles sold platinum which also fuelled their first major WINtour 10 national tour. When `Whoa Is Me’ became the third hit single off of their debut release, plans for the release of their 13-track Time To Win Vol.2 got pushed back to the following year.

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“The thing about us is that we are constantly writing so we didn’t want to wait nine months to release an album and then wait another nine months to do the follow up,” explained Cam. “That’s why we split Time To Win in two to cut down on the release dates but Time To Win Vo.1 did so well, the second release got delayed anyway.”

With the success of `She’s Dope’ off Vol 2, Down With Webster’s credibility was established, leading to a WINtour 11 tour plus a headline date at the CNE band shell in 2012 and last year opening for Marianas Trench on their national tour.

And now, with the release of their new CD, “Party For Your Life” (produced by long-time producer James Robertson in conjunction with Boi-1da), Cam feels the band is becoming even more sophisticated as they progress in the studio. “Our progression is natural,” he notes. “As an artist, you don’t want to do the same thing two or three times in succession. I feel like things are changing for the better. A lot of bands have their sound mastered for the first album but successive albums sound watered down versions of their original. I don’t think we’ve mastered our sound yet, our first album wasn’t bang on and our second album wasn’t bang on and I don’t think our new album is there yet either – but that’s a good thing. There’s nothing scarier than thinking you’ve already done your best work or that you’ve already hit your peak – we are definitely not there yet!”

What has worked for Down With Webster is their mastery of social media. Right from day one they used Face Book and Twitter to announce and promote their gigs, their self-made videos are all over You Tube and they’ve successfully used all these resources to sell their indie releases and pre-promote new product and tour dates.

“The band came of age when social media was first starting out, I had Face Book when it first became popular, ‘boasted Cam. “It was invaluable to promote those first few shows, we have grown up using it, if we hadn’t accessed social media, I am sure things would have been a lot different, its such a powerful medium.”

`Its a medium they continue to use as they kicked off an 11-date tour which started in Vancouver and ended at Barrie Ontario’s The Ranch venue. `We will be ramping up our production for all future dates, ‘noted Cam “‘For the longest time we had a very stripped down production which relied on us being very energetic, lots of jumping around and us going absolute crazy. But from going on the road with Marianas Trench last year, we got an insight on what things can be done to improve the overall look of the stage and on this tour, we will be using some new ideas to come up with a bigger production.

With the success of other white rap-pop bands like Grammy winners, Imagine Dragons and Macklemore and Lewis now in vogue, it seems the band critics call “the next Beastie Boys” stand to earn a fair shot at U.S exposure. “Its impossible to tell, either a bunch of things go right and it happens or a bunch of things go wrong and it doesn’t,` commented Cam. “At a certain point, all you can do is make the best music you can , work as hard as you can but always try to have fun. The rest, I believe is just plain luck.”

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