August 28, 2008, is an important date in Trevor Kelly's life. On that day, he turned 18 and started working at Ted Brown Music, a small chain of instrument and accessories stores in the Tacoma, Washington, area. His stint there was about more than being a part-timer who rented instruments to kids in band; it was also the birthplace of He Is We, the airy pop project he formed with fellow employee Rachel Taylor.
“Our shift was, like, 3-8 every day, and our boss would leave at 6, so at the end of the night, we would have two hours to goof off and mess around and be horrible employees, so we did that for a while,” the candid Kelly, a former metal musician, says. By the fall, the pair were making music together and soon settled on a band name. Taylor was occasionally reprimanded for writing lyrics on company time, but that hardly derailed the band. Eventually, she quit or was let go (Kelly calls Taylor's exit “a mutual agreement”) and Kelly quit, which allowed the two to spend more time collaborating. “Our bosses knew we were doing music,” Kelly says, “but I don't think they understood the extent.”
Considering they now tour nationally and are signed to major label Universal Motown Records, they are evidently taking this thing pretty seriously. This “hobby that grew into an actual business,” as Kelly calls it, is founded on sentimental, acoustic-based pop with Kelly's guitar at its core, Taylor's youthful vocals providing the uplift and lyrics consumed with the beauty and power of love and faith. (To answer a question they get all the time, no, they're not dating.) The average He Is We song seems built to score an especially tender moment in a Zac Efron movie trailer. The duo's smooth-around-the-edges sound plays it so safe that it rarely allows the listener anything deeply vulnerable or inspiring to chew on. To their credit, however, Kelly and Taylor never pitch their tunes as provocative or universe shattering. The band's MySpace page once compared their music to “a hot cup of cocoa on a rainy day,” and Taylor described 2010's My Forever as a record that “pairs well with a rom-com and pint of Ben & Jerry's.” Kelly is amused by Taylor's characterizations and is unconcerned with criticism. “You get accused of, ‘Oh, it's bland' or, ‘Every song sounds the same,' and I feel like once you get consumed [with] that, it's not fun anymore. I really could care less. I know that sounds kinda rude, but ... ” he says, adding a jovial chuckle.
With all their recent upward movement, Kelly feels some guilt for not visiting his old employer in a year and a half. Although He Is We's early gestation occurred on Ted Brown's dime, the store holds no hard feelings toward the band. When the group began distributing CDs, they received a list of stores that stocked the item so they could forward the info to fans, and he found Ted Brown Music's name on the list. “I was like, ‘That's so cool that they went out of their way to purchase the CD so they could distribute them,'” says Kelly, who also enthusiastically entertains the idea of doing an in-store there. “It's a huge part of the story and how we began and met there, and they're every part of that, so it's really nice to see them actually appreciate it.”
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