There’s a very good chance that a little indie outfit from Ithaca, NY is one of your favorite bands and you don’t even know it. X Ambassadors have been making waves on the underground for quite some time. From the snowballing success of their EPS to the World Cup virality of their single “Jungle” and a score of featured collaborations including both Eminem’s “Wicked Ways” and Zedd’s “Transmission” released earlier this week, it seems almost impossible to turn one’s head without catching wind of their urgent blend of indie rock and slow burning R&B. And that isn’t even counting the overnight success of their single “Renegades,” which has looped on televisions across the country thanks to Jeep and put them on the national radar like never before.
To what do Sam Harris and the rest of X Ambassadors owe their astronomical rise? The talent and hard work are a given, but the band were also blessed with a huge dollop of luck. Their song “Unconsolable” was making below the radar rounds on Portland radio when it fell on the right set of ears. “The guys from Imagine Dragons heard our song and immediately showed it to their producer Alex da Kid,” Sam explains. “Alex liked it enough to set up a meeting with me, and we hit it off. Seeing what he had been able to accomplish with Dragons and Skylar Grey and hearing his new artists like Jamie N Commons, it was a no-brainer. We signed with his label KIDinaKORNER pretty quickly after that.”
And a rise to Imagine Dragons-type arena domination seems all but certain at this point. With the chart climbing success of “Renegades” (which breached the top 10 on alternative radio last week) and the prevalence of another of Sam’s creations – Rihanna’s latest hit “American Oxygen” – the sky’s the limit from this band of up-and-comers.
I got a chance to talk with Sam about the band’s quick and astronomical rise to prominence, the songwriting process behind hits like “American Oxygen” and “Jungle,” and X Ambassadors’ upcoming album VHS – which drops on June 23. Check out what he had to say as well as the lyric video for the aforementioned “Renegades” below.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys first come together?
Casey [Harris] and I grew up in a very musical household, so we’d been playing music together since we were very little. Noah [Feldshuh] and I first met in kindergarten, when we were both around 5 or 6. We started our first band together in 7th grade and our first show was the Boynton Middle School talent show (we played ALL original songs). The three of us also had a band in high school, then when we all graduated we decided to move to New York and try to do our thing there. Noah and I met Adam [Levin] the first week of college – I heard he was a drummer, so I slid a copy of our demo under his door with a note and my phone number. He hit me up and we got together to jam. Immediately we all clicked and we haven’t looked back since.
Where did the name X Ambassadors come from?
Adam plays with Remo Coated “Ambassador” drum heads on his kit. We were in the practice space trying to come up with a name, basically looking at objects around the room, and he said “What about Ambassadors?” None of us completely hated it, so we took it. Then the X came along after we realized there were about a million other bands named Ambassadors. We became much more google-able after that.
What was it like collaborating with Rihanna on her current hit “American Oxygen?”
Alex and I labored over that song for about a year. When I first came up with the idea for the chorus, he immediately thought she would do a killer job singing it. Then she and Alex worked out the concept together for the verses, and I just came in and put words/melody to that idea. And there’s no one else out there who could’ve done a better job with that song than her. She’s incredible. I look up to her a lot as an artist. The song, her performance of it, and the music video she did, together make an incredible powerful piece of art that I’m honored to have been a part of.
Last year your track “Jungle” was everywhere. How did X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons come together to pen it for the World Cup?
That was all orchestrated by the wizardry of Alex da Kid. I had this chorus that I’d worked out and sent to him; one day he was in the studio with Jamie, and he showed him the hook. Jamie liked it, cut verses to it, and Alex put it together and worked his magic. It all happened in a matter of days. I wrote/recorded that hook in my girlfriend’s kitchen, sitting at the table. It was pretty raw.
“Renegades” has blown up in a big way over the past couple weeks after its appearance in Jeep’s current campaign. How do you feel about the role of advertisers in giving exposure to emerging artists? Do you think it’s something we can expect to see more of in the future?
I think that the taboo of having your music in a commercial or in a movie trailer or in a TV show is completely gone. With tools like Shazam and SoundHound, it’s a very real way to discover new music. And it’s a great way for unknown artists to showcase themselves. For large companies, it’s easier (and cheaper) to license songs from relatively unknown artists; and for the artists, it’s one of the only ways to make money anymore. For us, it’s been a godsend. We never would’ve gotten the exposure we’ve had without having our songs in commercials. It’s helped us immensely.
What can we expect from your first LP VHS?
It’s our story. It’s a culmination of almost 15 years of hard work; from the moment we first started playing music together in 7th grade, until now.
What albums did you have on heavy rotation during the writing process of VHS?
Drake “Nothing Was the Same”
Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”
Bruce Springsteen “Nebraska”
Prince & The Revolution “Purple Rain”
Seinobo Sey “For Madeleine EP”
Nina Simone “Nina Simone Sings the Blues”
Sam Cooke “The Best of Sam Cooke”
Bobby Womack “The Bravest Man in the Universe”
Mavis Staples “You Are Not Alone”
What can we expect from X Ambassadors in 2015?
If X Ambassadors were a drink, what would you be?
New York tap water.
X Ambassadors hit the road this summer, playing festivals – including Bonnaroo and Life is Beautiful – and joining Milky Chance on their US tour. And don’t forget to pre-order VHS at http://smarturl.it/VHS. Fans who do will receive three tracks: current single “Renegades,” their hit “Jungle” and fan favorite “Unsteady.”
Tags : 2015, Alex Da Kid, american oxygen, Artist Insider, artist interviews, Eminem, Imagine Dragons, Interscope, Interview, jamie n commons, jeep, jungle, KIDinaKORNER, music, New Music, renegades, rihanna, sam harris, VHS, writtalin artist insider, x ambassadors, Zedd