Whether it be on the radio or on stage, the X Ambassadors — you may know them from their hits like “Renegades” and “Jungle” — deliver a powerful sound that translates into a captivating live show. The Ithaca rock band is currently hitting up festivals across the world, a tour which saw the group take their talents to the Free Press Summer Festival in Houston, Texas last weekend.
WSN sat down with lead vocalist Sam Harris and drummer Adam Levin after their show to discuss last year’s debut album “VHS,” the relationship between the band members and what it’s like having their own official day.
WSN: How’s the tour been so far?
Sam Harris: It’s a little weird because right now we’re just doing festivals so it’s not really a tour per se. But we’ve been on tour for about a year and a half now promoting this record and promoting the songs from this record, so it’s been quite the journey.
WSN: On your album “VHS,” you guys have a lot of interludes. What was the reasoning behind that and what do you hope that the audience takes away from them?
SH: Well, we wanted to kind of show people who we were and what our journey’s been like so far. Casey [Harris], Noah [Feldshuh] and I all have known each other for years and years and Adam too. We met at the beginning of college — that was 10 years ago. We’ve been the band, the four of us, for ten years and we wanted to really show that. And also just kind of paint a picture of growing up, young boys in a small town and what that’s like, and I think we accomplished that.
WSN: Talking about those relationships, like you said, you are very close and have known each other for a long time. How do you think that it’s affected the band, from your songwriting to recording to performing?
Adam Levin: I mean, being a band, you’re constantly around each other. I think a lot of bands — some have a long history, like us, where they grew up together, they learned their instruments together, built it together, and sometimes it’s a mix of four guys who wrote up one song together that exploded. So, I think we’re really at a huge advantage because we know how each other works. We know how to press each other’s buttons just enough, but not too much, you know?
And being on the road, you’re on the road for a year and a half promoting an album and you go straight into recording another one, and recording can be a really stressful thing, and it’s all opinions and so just knowing how to work as a group and with those individuals is extremely important.
WSN: In your music videos, you address some really important topics, from alcoholism to disability. As a well-known band, do you feel a responsibility to speak about these issues?
SH: I feel like it’s our responsibility to make something that is heartfelt and honest and true and something that tries to move you. Our music is very emotional and we put a lot of our heart and soul into it, so I think that the music videos that we make for the songs, so far, really we try to lend that to the music. We try to make them compliment each other.
WSN: Do you know when your next release is going to be?
SH: We are releasing the deluxe version of our album coming up soon with some new songs on it. It’s going to have a couple new tracks on it which we’re really, really excited about. And other than that, we’ve been writing ever since we put “VHS” out, so we haven’t really stopped writing. Granted, it’s been a little bit harder — we haven’t been writing quite the same volume before “VHS” came out because we’ve been touring so intensely for the past year and a half. But still, every day. A little bit every day. The next release will hopefully be next year.
WSN: How did you approach those new songs? Was it any different from the ones on “VHS” or other releases you’ve done like “Love Songs Drug Songs?”
AL: Not really. No, same work flow and obviously we’re really—
SH: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
AL: —happy with “VHS,” and I think stylistically things are definitely different, but as far as our approach, we’ve gotten into this mode where we can write — working on multiple things, everyone working at their own thing at once — and bring it all together, and that’s continued to work. And also our approach to “VHS” was not a studio approach; it was more spending time in the bedroom or in the van, or wherever you were working on it. I think we’ll have a little more time in the studio for this record, but we’ll still kind of have that same approach for this new record.
WSN: As you said before, you’ve been on tour for a long time. What’s been your favorite tour memory or moment so far?
SH: Oh man.
AL: I kind of don’t want to say another festival because I don’t want to throw this one under the bus. This festival is great! I’d say Hangout Festival was the highlight of recent memory.
SH: For me, we just ended our VHS 2.0 tour in Ithaca, in my hometown. And playing that show was definitely a highlight. That and Terminal 5 in New York. Because both of them are kind of home turf. Those two in a row are like, God, I felt like a king both of those days. And they made May 14th, 2016, the day that we played in Ithaca, they made that day, the mayor of that town officially made that day “X Ambassadors Day.”
WSN: Congratulations, that’s exciting!
AL: Thank you!
SH: [laughs] Yeah, it’s hilarious. So cool.
WSN: You guys have — I don’t want to say a uniform — but…
AL: We definitely do.
SH: Yeah, we definitely do.
WSN: I wasn’t sure if that was an okay classification.
AL: That’s what we call it.
WSN: Can you tell me a little bit about that?
SH: I just think all black looks really good. For right now, for this record, you know, we’re kind of starting — this is square one. So, uniform color, starting with a base pallet. And then, who knows? Maybe for the next record we’ll start incorporating a little more color into our wardrobe.
X Ambassadors continue their tour at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, and head to Europe later this month.
Email Hannah Shulman at [email protected]