X Ambassadors interview – frontman Sam Harris
Two brothers and a lifelong friend packed up their things in a small town in Upstate New York and bolted for Brooklyn to pursue musical success. What starts as a typical story about a couple of guys, a dream, and a big leap of faith, has already taken twists and turns for the better for brothers Sam (vocals, guitar) and Casey Harris (keyboard), and their friend, Noah Feldshuh (guitar). The three found drummer Adam Levin in Brooklyn. After a very short time of banding together, the quartet, who call themselves X Ambassadors, have landed themselves big fans (and collaborators) in Grammy-winning producer Alex Da Kid and the mastermind behind one of the hottest bands in the world, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons.
Frontman Sam Harris phoned CleveRock Music Portal’s hotline from his apartment in Brooklyn on Thursday, June 21, 2013 to talk about all the exciting things happening for X Ambassadors.
Sam and his bandmates had wrapped up acoustic performances for VH-1 and Teen Vogue earlier that day.
“It’s pretty exciting stuff. Things are all building up,” Harris said.
For those unfamiliar with the X Ambassadors’ sound, Sam explains,
“We embrace top 40 and pop guilty pleasures, and we make them a little weirder, a little more soulful, a little more sexier. We have so many different influences musically, so the music is really a crazy combination of stuff we grew up listening to, everything from D’Angelo to the Red Hot Chili Peppers , from Tribe Called Quest to Kings of Leon. We also grew up listening to a lot of crazy, weird jazz, like Jonathan Coltrane, and I play saxophone on stage now, and that’s a big part of our sound. It’s all over the place.”
X Ambassadors unique sound quickly caught the attention of a radio program director in Norfolk, VA, who placed the band’s song “Litost,” in rotation. “Litost” became the station’s #1 song, beating out top name acts such as fun. and the Foo Fighters.
While in Norfolk playing a gig sponsored by the radio station, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds got his ears on what is now the band’s lead single, “Unconsolable,” and he then passed the song on to Alex Da Kid.
“Alex produced two tracks on our record and was also the executive producer. He also runs this label, KidinaKorner, which is a sub-label of Interscope. His management reached out to us and said, ‘Alex would like to meet with you guys.’ So, I met with him when I was in London. We were at this fancy bar and in walks Alex in his sweatpants and sweatshirt and I just thought, ‘Man, this guy is awesome.’ We just sat and talked about music for three or four hours and had some drinks and then he called me up and said ‘we want to get you guys into the studio as soon as possible’ and we want to try and do some tracks together. We were negotiating everything out in the deal while we were in the studio and it all moved really quickly,” Sam Stated.
Within months, the band inked a deal, recorded and released their debut EP, ‘Love Songs Drug Songs’ (05.07.13; KidinaKorner/Interscope).
“We finalized the deal and went into the studio two or three months later, recorded the rest of the EP in two weeks, mixed it in a week, and it’s been out a month now. It all happened very fast. The first conversations with Alex happened in December. That’s how fast this has all happened,” Harris said.
While Alex is a big piece to the band’s early success, it’s Reynolds who has taken X Ambassadors on the road and under his wing.
Harris sings Reynolds’ praises:
“He’s awesome! Dan was a great resource. Alex comes from the hip-hop world, where as Dan is a rock musician, so he knows about band dynamics and gets that and was a bit of a balance in the studio with us. He co-wrote the chorus on the song ‘Stranger’ with me. I’d never done any kind of co-writing with anyone. What he did was help me realize what the song was about, and help me bring out these qualities that I was a little hesitant about. He was like, ‘This one has got to be funky, you’ve gotta just bring that flavor.’ And I did, and I just went for it. And had I not worked on the track with Dan I probably would have gone in a completely different direction with it. Dan has been really awesome on the road. They are really just a great group of guys.”
Sam attributes the band’s early success out of the gate to his lifelong relationships with his brother, Casey and friend, Noah from their humble beginning in Upstate New York:
“I think we were always in bands together. You develop this language between the group of people that can’t even be described in words. Casey, and I, and Noah, have been in bands together since I was 12. We collectively had this dream of doing this professionally for so long. That’s really what’s drive everything. You make these sacrifices just because you have this collective goal that’s bigger than you. It takes a lot of the selfishness out of it. There’s a family element to our band, literally and figuratively, that has been a big factor on how far we’ve come, but we still have a long ways to go and there are many trials and tribulations ahead. I really have faith in all these guys. These guys are my brothers.”