– Most music journalists can recount stories of “discovering” artists is their early stages. We saw them playing a sweaty dive bar, received a self-produced demo in the mail, or caught them trying to win over an indifferent crowd as an opening act.

Before I became an editor, I racked up my fair share of stories covering music for newspapers in Florida, from which I can count Shinedown, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Derek Trucks, Dashboard Confessional and Hot Water Music on my “I knew them when” list.

But rarely do we catch these artists from the very beginning — like, when they were jamming together in high school.

About eight years ago, I was a judge for a high school battle of the bands in Bradenton, Fla. I don’t remember who won that day (I didn’t vote for them), but I do remember who gave the best performance. It was a power-pop/punk band named Broken Image.

At the time, the band consisted of two sets of brothers: Lead guitarist Travis Clark and his brother Taylor on drums, joined by Hunter and Drew Thomsen on guitar and bass, respectively. Travis, a child prodigy who was adept at both the piano and guitar, served as the group’s principal songwriter and unofficial spokesman.

Despite the members’ young ages — ranging from 15 to 18 — there was something about them that set them apart from the multitude of other teen garage bands. Yes, they were raw, but they had a unique sound and, as cliched as this sounds, a spark that others lacked. I was especially struck by Travis’ confidence and professionalism, along with an ability to poke fun at himself. (He said his dream was to get a sponsorship from Mountain Dew because he could drink a case of it in one day.)

This is what I wrote about Broken Image for the Bradenton Herald in 2003: “Rarely has a high school band sounded this good … if Broken Image continues to grow as much as it has in just the past six months, it may not have to wait very long to achieve its dreams.”

Turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark. After graduation and a new drummer, Danny Duncan, Broken Image changed its name to We the Kings — after the place they met, King Middle School in Bradenton.

That’s when things really began to take off.

Since 2007, We the Kings has racked up two critically acclaimed albums on S-Curve Records (an imprint of EMI), landing both in the Billboard 200. A third is scheduled to be released this summer.

They’ve sold more than 2 million tracks and had more than 56 million plays on MySpace, got 15 million YouTube video plays (including the No. 1 most-played music video), and had three videos make MTV.com’s most requested list.

Wait, that’s not all. We the Kings have performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and CBS’ “The Early Show,” appeared as guests on MTV’s “Silent Library,” and were nominated for an MTV Music Video Award and a Teen Choice Award.

On Sunday, We the Kings will perform at the Old Port festival on the Q97.9 stage.

I urge you to check them out. I’m looking forward to catching the band’s set, and hopefully will be able to meet them offstage to shake their hands and congratulate them on their success.

And to say, “I knew you when …”

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

[email protected]