In Conversation With - X Ambassadors
X Ambassadors is formed of three extremely talented individuals; lead vocalist Sam Harris, keyboardist Casey Harris, and drummer Adam Levin. We had a chat with them before their headline show at London’s Scala, about their new album ‘Orion’, which is out now.
Settling into the dressing room, surrounded by band equipment and bottles of water, and after discussing the coolness of Doc Martens, Sam began telling us of his love for London and the UK. His family had spent a lot of time in London in his teens and early adult-hood, even before the band had started touring. We then move on and talk about the bands unfortunate set at Glastonbury in 2016, where there was a faulty with the sound equipment resulting in them only being able to play one full song. According to Max, it was definitely worth it and Sam said that he would love to go back to the festival at some point.
Their music has taken them around the globe over the last few years and Sam admits that when you’re performing and recording the more popular songs a lot, it’s easy to forget why you wrote it or what it was originally about. “It’s like, 'I hate these old songs', until you get back in front of an audience and seeing all these people sing along to the songs so strongly and so passionately, all over the world, it’s crazy. It’s the biggest boost of confidence and sense of purpose I feel like I could have.” He also talks about how once he releases songs, they have left him and are now ours, the listeners.
Speaking of releases, Sam tells us that 'Happy Home’, a track that made the crowd go wild at their previous Electric Brixton gig, will not be featuring on the new album, but it will be released at some point, as an exclusive with Target. “It just didn’t fit the vibe of this record. We had got off tour, listened to everything we had and didn’t feel like it was right. The record was a hodgepodge, made between tours, so when we finally sat down and looked at everything, that one just didn’t feel like it fit the project.” Max comments on the fact that the newly released tracks are more positive and Sam laughs. “The ones we put out.”
“I can’t help but write about stuff that I’m going through in my life and I think that the last record lacked in optimism, which was where I was at the time.” He tells us of the tough emotional experience he had gone through with a friend, his self-exploration and the contradiction of amazing and sad things happening all at once, which is where all of his energy was going. Until he realised that he needed a couple songs that gave him “some light a the end of the tunnel” which is where ‘Hey Child’ came from.
“But don’t worry, you will get your load of X Ambassadors angst.”
When asked about working with Ricky Reed, Sam was quick to say “I love Ricky”. They met when they were working on Lizzo’s record and ended up working on three of the songs on her album; ‘Cuz I Love You’, 'Heaven Help Me' and 'Jerome’. They ended up sending him the songs they were considering putting on the album and after listening to them he told them that he wanted to be a part of it. When they officially began working, “We sat down and listened to everything, you listen to every single one, get detailed notes and detailed thoughts right there.” Ricky challenged them to put more of themselves into the songs that they were writing, to Sam, that was like being given a gift.
Usually it is Sam who writes most of the songs, leaving Casey and Adam to create the ‘musical landscape’, but recently, the band has started to do a little bit more of collaborative songwriting. Especially now that they have been collaborating a lot with other artists lately, it means that the rest of the band get to experience the process of song writing, and not just Sam’s way. Sam says that he loved bringing other perspectives into his song writing and helping him to finish it, which is why he loves collaborating with new artists and song writing with the other members. It’s not always possible to have all three members in the room together, so they often record things to send to each other and back and forth and so on.
Sam and Casey’s mother is a jazz-cabaret singer, so they grew up playing music with her and going to watch her gigs, before she became a part-time singer. They also had an excellent record collection, thanks to their father. When they got to high school, Sam had started a band and became obsessed and simultaneously, Casey had started his own band. Finally they came to their senses and inevitably joined forces. “We fought against it for awhile because we were, you know, angsty teenagers and didn’t like each other but then, music was the thing that ended up bringing us together. We haven’t stopped since.” When raised in a music family, there’s always that sense of musical community, being surrounded by musical family friends, excellent records and the confidence to perform, it’s an encouragement for yourself.
“It’s just growing up.” His response to my question on how the band has changed over the years. It’s been four years since they released their first album in 2015 and since then two of them have gotten married and Casey now has a baby. “With that comes a certain assurance and confidence that I just didn’t have in my twenties. I’m a little bit more confident in my own skin, I am who I am and I’m learning to love that a little bit more.” Laughing over my shock of that happening when you get older, he says, “It’s a process and it’s not just an every day thing. I promise!” In this album he says we should expect to notice that there is more honesty and a lack of fear to be personal in the tracks.
“I’ll be honest with you, I feel like I spent so much of my time worrying and wanting bigger and better things and not really taking the time to appreciate where you are.” He says when I ask where he would like their career to be moving. “I hope that this next record brings me a new little bit of joy and an artistic satisfaction, putting something out that feels real and feels like us at the best of our abilities as a band.” We joke that we will be back in the same place next year, another interview backstage talking about their newest venture, and then on a more serious note, “you can’t predict what will happen, no matter how much you want it or chase it and that’s amiable as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons.” He admits that he really loves performing ‘Hey Child’, due to Sam’s personal connection to it and the positive message behind it. Another couple songs that he loves is one they wrote with K-Flay called ‘Confidence’ and another acoustic ballad called ‘History', which is “pretty heartbreaking but also really fun.”
“I’d love this record to send us into the stratosphere.” And that is where we hope they will be next time we catch up with X Ambassadors.
ORION is due to be released on the 14th of June 2019.
Words by Jesse Wells and Photography by Max Herridge