The last time we got to see X Ambassadors was at SXSW a few months back, where they delivered an absolutely colossal performance. Vocalist Sam Harris took in the moment well, bringing his stage presence and the show along with him to a powerful height and he hasn't slowed down since then. With debut LP VHS on the way and an air tight tour schedule, X Ambassadors are putting in the work to give their fans what they want. Luckily for us, Sam put some time aside for a quick chat. Discussing whats next for the band, his thoughts on the album, their new single "Renegades," and getting to work with the amazing Rihanna, Sam fills us in on everything X Ambassadors.
I want to talk about VHS. To me this album feels huge: it's your first full length LP with "Renegades" already being well received. How big does this feel for you guys.
Well, it feels very big for us on a personal level. It's really what we've been working towards since we started our first band in seventh grade, back in Ithaca. This is it. There's a lot of history with our band; we've all known each other our whole lives and went through some of our most formative years together. This is one of those great big milestones in all of our lives. And, you know, this record itself too. Just talking about the songs that are on it, we've went through three different versions of the record in the past year... three different records. We wrote that many songs; we wrote I'd say 50 songs or something like that. It's twenty tracks now but it's a little deceptive; seven of those are interludes.
Talking about the tracks, to me it felt like your second EP The Reason was almost a response to Love Songs Drug Songs. Where does VHS fit along with these? What's the subject matter looking like?
Well, VHS is kind of a moment of reflection. I feel like it's us looking back on everything that has made us who we are as 25-year-old, 26-year-old men... what's shaped us as we've grown older, and it's the story of four best friends and brothers who all grew up together. I was actually really inspired by the movie Boyhood, that Richard Linklater movie. That one and The Place Beyond the Pines. Those stories that they told of kids growing up... that really helped. Very similar to my childhood and our childhoods collectively as a band, and I kind of wanted to get that.
I can see that connection; those are some very powerful films and "Renegades" definitely fits in with that progressive, anthemic feeling. Are a lot of the other tracks off the album sounding like that?
Yes and no. I mean there are a lot of anthemic songs on the record, but "Renegades" I think kind of stands on its own. It incorporates elements from all of the other songs on the record for sure. There's a little bit of soul, a little bit of rock and it kind of goes all over the place. Our goal with this record was to take something that incorporated all of our sounds and incorporated every single evolution we've had as musicians and as people. We've never wanted to put ourselves in a certain box and name it just one type of sound; that's not how we're influenced. We fell in love with many types of genres growing up.
Talk to me more about genre; where do you see yourself fitting in; who are you listening to?
Well, I'll tell you who we're listening to. Its hard for me to compare ourselves to other bands because we worked so hard to try and be different than everyone else, you know? But I would say the bands that we all love right now: there's a band called Young Fathers that just put out their record called White Men Are Black Men Too... incredible, incredible record. We love Imagine Dragons, those guys have been like a big brother band to us for so long. I think they are really onto something cool with their sound; we look up to them a lot. I really love this girl Seinabo Sey; shes amazing. There's these incredible voices that are out there right now: Seinabo, Hozier, I love that new Alabama Shakes record, this rapper out of Norfolk Virginia called D.R.A.M, he has this song "CHA CHA," fuckin' unreal. Those are just some of the musicians we love.
You mentioned Imagine Dragons being like a big brother band to you; I know you're signed under KIDinaKORNER with them. Did they have any influence or say in how this album shaped up?
They were executive producers on the record and we would run stuff by them and they would tell us what their favorites are and yeah they've always been there, but they're so busy its hard for them to be as involved as they probably wish they could be. A lot of the work is done with us and Alex [da Kid] but they would consult with us and we'd go through what their favorite tracks were and what our favorite tracks were and 9 times out of 10 our tastes align up, so that helped a lot.
They're definitely busy, but you guys seem real busy, too. You're in the middle of a your first substantial tour going all over the place: London, Paris, Berlin. You're doing it big right now; how are you guys holding up with all of the shows?
We're sort of figuring it all out as we go along. A lot of sleepless nights, just being constantly on the move. Fortunately, we've all been able to deal with our everyday lives. Like I just moved out of my place and put all my shit in storage cause I didn't want to have to deal with rent and shit but we're all kind of homeless right now but you know, just trying to wrap our heads around getting to all the shows.
I know I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, you have this tour after the release of VHS, but do you have any big plans after that?
Our schedule is completely sold through August and then September we're going to be getting ready for the fall tour that starts in October and getting our lives together. Rehearsing the songs and yeah we're basically just going to be on tour for the next two years. But, the record comes out June 30 and we've got the music video coming out next for "Renegades," lots of exciting stuff.
A music video for "Renegades" sounds cool; you also worked on a music video with Rihanna right? Rihanna isn't really a name I would think most people would associate with X Ambassadors; what was that experience like?
I hope they would associate us with her because I think she's an incredible artist. I really look up to her; I think she's amazing. I didn't get to work on the video but I did write the song. I wrote this song called "American Oxygen" that is going to be on her new record; it's her newest single. She did a video for it that was like the most incredible thing. I'm so proud to have been a part of that. I didn't really have much contact with her; I was writing it with Alex da Kid pretty exclusively. He would show her the song and get her input and we would work on it from there. I would take her notes and apply it to the song.
It's a powerful song and a great video.
Thank you, man. I'm so so fucking proud of that thing. I think it's one of the best things I've written in a really long time and I couldn't be happier to have her performing it.
One more quick question. Give me two words that VHS is and one word that it isnt.