The W's

The W's

Infobox musical artist |
Name = The W's

Img_capt = The W's circa 1998
Landscape = yes
Background = group_or_band
Alias =
Origin = Corvallis, Oregon, USA
Genre = Ska, Swing / Swing revival
Years_active = 1997–2000
Label = Five Minute Walk
Associated_acts =
Past_members = Andrew Schar
Brian Morris
Valentine Hellman
Bret Barker
Todd Gruener
James Carter
Zak Shultz
Courtney Stubbert

The W's were a Christian ska/swing band, formed in Corvallis, Oregon in 1996. Success came quickly to the band and their first album, "Fourth from the Last" 1998, 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 as diverse as dc talk, Jennifer Knapp, Five Iron Frenzy, and Soul-Junk.

Their mix of "swing pop" and ska brought a unique sound to 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.cite web |url= |title=Interview with the W's |accessdate=2007-03-01 |date=1998-09-30] 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.Kelly stayed in Philomath, Oregon, got married and became a successful youth leader and social visionary.] The band then recriuted Brian Morris to replace Kelly from a local punk band.cite news |title=Christian swingers |publisher=The Tampa Tribune |id=ISSN|1042-3761 |page=4 |date=1999-02-27]

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.cite journal |last=Hendrickson |first=Lucas W. |year=1999 |month=January |title=W's Good, Devil Bad |journal=CCM Magazine |id=ISSN|1524-7848 |volume=21 |issue=7 |pages=34 |url= |format=reprint |accessdate=2007-02-05 ] Within a year they had produced their first album, "Fourth From the Last". The album was immediately successful; within a week it had sold 9,000 units and achieved the #4 spot on Billboard's "Heatseekers" and "Top Contemporary Christian" charts. cite web |url= |title=The W's > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums |accessdate=2007-03-01 |publisher="Allmusic" ] This represented the highest debut to date of any album for Five Minute Walks distributor, the EMI Christian Music Group.cite web |url= |title="Fourth from the Last" Review |last=Baldwin |first=Steven Stuart |coauthors=Stonehocker, Linda T. |accessdate=2007-03-01 |year=1998 |publisher= [ The Phantom Tollbooth] ] The album peaked at #147 on "The Billboard 200". Despite being pulled from the shelves of LifeWay Christian Resources stores for containing "indecent" words the album eventually sold over 200,000 units. The album received the Dove Award for "Modern Rock Album of the Year" in 1999.cite web |url= |title=Dove Award Recipients for 1999 |accessdate=2007-03-01 |publisher=Gospel Music Association ] "The Devil Is Bad" was The W's hit single from the record. It peaked at #6 on the Christian rock radio charts and won the Dove for "Modern Rock Record Song of the Year" in 1999. The song was also released on the double Platinum certified annual compilation "WOW 1999".cite book |last=Mount |first=Daniel J. |authorlink=User:Daniel J. Mount |title=A City on a Hilltop? The History of Contemporary Christian Music |year=2005 |url= |accessdate=2007-02-12 |pages=293]

The year 1999 brought continual touring and the release of a second album. Beginning in January,"Supernatural Experience Tour Dates" from, now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate||date=20001110042200] the band opened for Christian rock heavyweight dc Talk on their "Supernatural Experience" tour.cite web |url= |title=The W's Biography |accessdate=2007-03-01 |publisher="Christianity Today" (courtesy of Five Minute Walk Records) ] During this time the single "Moses" received Christian radio airplay and entered 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."The W's: Tour Schedule", now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20000523091820] That fall the band embarked on the national "Holy Roller Tour" with The Insyderz, Five Iron Frenzy, and Justin McRoberts. [ Roller Tour handbill] . Retrieved November 15, 2006.] cite web |url= |title=Five Iron Frenzy Gigography |accessdate=2007-07-11 |author=Five Iron Frenzy |year=2006 |publisher=Five Minute Walk |archiveurl= |archivedate=2006-07-07 .] 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 #21 and #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".cite journal |author=Gordon (a girl called) |year=2000 |month=January/February |title=Album Reviews: THE W'S, "Trouble with X" |journal=HM Magazine |id=ISSN|1066-6923 |issue=81 |pages= |url= |accessdate=2007-04-24] 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. 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".cite album-notes | title=Take Time To Listen Volume 5 | year=2000 | bandname=Various Artists | format=liner | publisher=Five Minute Walk | location=Concord, California | publisherid=FMD2402 |mbid=6d2f3321-5f19-409b-a02d-88a169dbdcdd] [ "The W's Music"] . Retrieved November 15, 2006.] The W's broke up in December 2000, citing "artistic differences.", now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20021130014400], now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20010202053200]

After the break-up

Some members continued to produce music following the demise of The W's. Gruener and Morris joined Corvallis friend Mark Cleaver in the indie band Bendixon. Bendixon Biography. Now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20010301185107] Bendixon released two albums, "Bendixon" (1999) and "Slaying Of The Dragon" (2000).cite web |url= |title=Bendixon Profile |accessdate=2007-03-01 |publisher="Cross Rhythms" ] [cite web |url= |title=((( Slaying of the Dragon > Overview ))) |accessdate=2007-03-01 |publisher="Allmusic"] Their sound was comparable to Weezer or All Star United, and like The W's most of their songs could be considered fun or witty.cite book |last=Powell |first=Mark Allan |title=Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music |year=2002 |chapter=Bendixon |pages=78] Schar and Stubbert formed the band Alpha CharlieThe W's News, formerly hosted at Now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20020212044011] and released one album, "...and I wait" (2002), before breaking up in, now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate|site=|date=20041212192954] Early member Shultz eventually relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1997"Zak Shultz Biography", from Now hosted at the Internet Archive. waybackdate||date=20030224182228] and is involved with the local music scene there.

Bret Barker and Valentine Hellman continued to collaborate with Five Iron Frenzy. They both appeared on Five Iron Frenzy's 2000 album "All the Hype That Money Can Buy". Barker additionally appeared on Dennis Culp's solo effort "Ascents" (2000), "" (2001) in both the additional musician credits and as a recording engineer, and as an engineer on "The End Is Near" (2003). Barker joined The O.C. Supertones in 2004 and played with them until their breakup the following year.


filename=The W's - The Devil Is Bad.ogg
title=The W's "The Devil Is Bad" (1998)
description=Sample from The W's "The Devil Is Bad".

The music of The W's is similar to the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue, or The O.C. Supertones, but less ska-based than the latter. "HM Magazine" commented that "the closest thing in the Christian market was Ralph Carmichael's big band project" ("Strike Up The Band", 1995).cite journal |last=McGovern |first=Brian Vincent |year=1998 |month=November/December |title=Album Reviews: THE W's "Fourth From the Last" |journal=HM Magazine |id=ISSN|1066-6923 |issue=74 |pages= |url= |accessdate=2007-04-24] Though they were often cited as third wave ska or swing revival, their overall sound did not fit neatly into any musical genre.cite web |url= |title=((( "Fourth from the Last" > Overview ))) |accessdate=2007-03-02 |last=Smith |first=Jim |publisher="Allmusic" ] Band members generally agreed with this assessment: Andrew Schar noted that "Our music gets labeled swing, but we're not really swing",cite news |first=Susan |last=Hogan-Albach |title=Otherworldly unplugged; Christian band The W's swings with wit, whimsy |publisher=Star Tribune |id= |page=09B |date=1998-09-05] and Sax player James Carter, "I think 'swing' and 'ska' are just terms people are comfortable using. I don't think they completely describe the music we play at all".cite web |url= |title=Interview With James Carter |accessdate=2007-03-01 |last=Jensen |first=Cathy |year=1999 |publisher= [ Decapolis] ] Bass player Gruener described their music as "kinda ska, kinda swing, kinda rockabilly, kinda crazy, kinda punky". "Cross Rhythms" provides the most concise explanation: "This is Swing Ska!".cite journal |last=Rimmer |first=Mike |year=1998 |month=October |title=The W's "Fourth From the Last" |journal=Cross Rhythms |issue=47 |pages= |accessdate=]

Reviewers, who noted a lack of depth in songwriting, regarded both of The W’s albums as "fun". "CCM" reported that lyrically, their songs "swing between subtle spirituality and and general goofness."cite journal |last=Urbanski |first=David |year=1998 |month=September |title=Reviews |journal=CCM Magazine |id=ISSN|1524-7848 |volume=21 |issue=3 |pages=54 ] Elsewhere this style was described as "an odd marriage of reverence for God with forced attempts at irreverent wackiness",cite web |url= |title=((( "Trouble with X" > Overview ))) |accessdate=2007-03-02 |last=Huey |first=Steve |publisher="Allmusic" ] while the "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music" cites this as a "subdued approach to ministry",cite book |last=Powell |first=Mark Allan |title=Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music |year=2002 |publisher=Hendrickson Publishers |location=Peabody, Massachusetts |isbn=1-56563-679-1 |edition=First printing |chapter=The W's |pages=1008-1009] other commentators saw it as a disappointing lack of spiritual message, especially on "Trouble With X".cite web |url= |title="Trouble With X" Review |accessdate=2007-03-01 |last=DiBiase |first=John |date=1999-10-24 |publisher="Jesus Freak Hideout" ] cite web |url= |title="Trouble With X" Review |accessdate=2007-03-01 |last=Stewart |first=James |coauthors=Marihugh, Josh |year=2000 |publisher="The Phantom Tollbooth" ]

Several songs draw directly from biblical stories. The song "Moses" is about struggles with faith and insignificance. It draws inspiration from several biblical figures and stories, including Moses' Burning bush, Gideon, Peter's denial of Christ, and Pauls role in the death of Stephen to show how God can use anybody for his purposes. "The Devil Is Bad" draws upon the story of the The Fall of Man and the Temptation of Christ as examples to encourage resistance to sin.Fact|date=February 2007 "Used Car Salesman" paints a colorful description of the Devil, selling sins as used Hondas. They also criticised the church and Christians generally. "Tip From Me" is about breaking broad perceptions of Christianity and the Church.cite journal |last=Martin |first=Rachel L. |title=Holy Rollin' |month=January/February |year=2000 |issue=28 |journal=7ball Magazine |url= |accessdate=2007-05-14] In the song "Stupid" the band used the example of abortion clinic bombings (see, for example Eric Robert Rudolph) to make a pronounced statement about hypocrisy.

Other songs, such as "Dexter", "J.P.", and "Frank" retell parts of the lives of band members.cite web |url= |title=Todd Gruener Interview |accessdate=2007-03-01 |date=1999-04-20 |publisher="Jesus Freak Hideout" ] "Hui" retells the 1987 film "North Shore". More mundane topics include the hardships of school ("101") and of touring and making music professionally ("Two More Weeks", "Open Minded"). Another notable song was their cover of John Denver's "Country Roads", which some thought worked well as a swing tune.cite web |url= |title=The W's "Trouble With X" |accessdate=2007-03-02 |author=Kevin H. |date=1999-10-16 |publisher=" [ Real Magazine] " ]


tudio albums

* 1998: "Fourth from the Last"
* 1999: "Trouble With X"


* 1998: "The Echoing Green / The W's Split EP"
* 1998: "Take Time to Listen Volume IV" (Five Minute Walk)
*:* Contains "Pup" and "Moses."
* 1999: "WOW 1999" (EMI CMG)
*:* Contains "The Devil Is Bad."
* 2000: "Take Time to Listen Volume 5.0" (Five Minute Walk)
*:* Contains "Somewhere Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea", from an unreleased album.
* 2000: "WOW 2000" (EMI CMG)
*:* Contains "The Rumor Weed Song."

Notes and references

Further reading

* "7ball Magazine" (19) (July / August 1998)
* "7ball Magazine" (21) (November / December 1998)

External links

Concert reviews
*Feb 1998 - [ under the heading "2/1/98"]
*Aug 1998 - [ The Phantom Tollbooth]
*June 2000 - [ The Phantom Tollbooth]
*December 2006 - []

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