By Brooke Magalis
X Ambassadors: an explosive, percussive, emotionally aware band. You can count on a stripped down live version of their music to be just as poignant as the tracks on their albums. They’ve got the double drumming and falsetto down to a science, and their music is laden with tasty guitar riffs, hearty acoustic guitars, and reflective keys. Their lyrics at times are fraught, at others, they are hopeful; sometimes, a single song contains the ambivalence of both.
The music X Ambassadors produces is communal and relies on relationships of all kinds–siblings, friends, lovers, parents, outcasts, the list goes on. There is something for anyone to relate to, and there’s something beautiful about that.
I guess we can start at the beginning, yeah? How’d you guys get your start?
X Ambassadors: We started in my parents basement at my house in Ithaca. Noah and I were around 12/13 years old when we decided to start a band. Casey and I had both been playing music since we were very little, but he didn’t join the band until we were around 15/16. We played pretty much all original stuff, with some Red Hot Chili Peppers covers thrown in there every once in a while. It was pretty awful. In the very early stages, I even used to rap. Noah’s mom found some video of our first show, and it’s pretty amazing– we built a stage in my backyard out of plywood and put on a show for all our parents’ friends while they were barbecue-ing.
Percussively, you all tend toward an incredibly tom-heavy, driving, full sound. The drum part in the beginning of “Unconsolable” is what made me start listening to you all. You keep it interesting in opting for rims over hi-hat, using communal elements like clapping and stomping, and you don’t shy from electronics. What pulls you in the direction of that sound? What kind of thought process goes into creating your drum parts?
X Ambassadors: The tom-heavy sound came out of trying to imitate an 808 with live drums. We all love hip-hop so much and wanted to have those kind of rhythms as the foundation for our sound, but we wanted to be able to do it with live drums. And then we started actually incoroporating REAL 808s and other electronic drum elements layered over the live stuff, which blew the door off completely. Adam is the real genius behind building our drums, he has his own crazy system for doing it. I’m not very good behind a whole kit, but I can hit a floor tom or two at the same time; so when I come up with rhythms on my own, that’s my go-to sound.
That saxophone. It’s another distinction of X Ambassadors. Where’d that come from? What made you all want to add that element?
X Ambassadors: We were trying to figure out a way to separate ourselves from the rest of the bands out there; we had the double-drum thing going on, but we started to see a lot of bands that were doing that. I had put some saxophone on the demo version of Unconsolable and had an idea to maybe somehow incorporate that into other songs. Then I started learning how to loop stuff and realized I could almost kinda make my own brass section if I wanted to. I wanted us to sound like Outkast or Otis Redding or something, and the horns are such a big part of that sound.
Let’s talk about lyrics for a moment. Yours tend to be pretty rich in imagery. Is this a conscious effort? Do you approach each song the same way, or does it vary?
X Ambassadors: I guess I approach every song in the same way, but always end up actually writing them in completely different ways. You never know how or when you’ll land on something good, so you just have to keep plugging away at it relentlessly. It’s a grueling, mind-fuck of a process. Lyrics are very important to me, as I think they are for all song-writers. What I have always tried to do is say the most with the least, and in the most colloquial way I can. I try not to beat around the bush too much. I also like a little tongue-in-cheek stuff, like the Beastie Boys or Kanye. If you don’t have a little bit of humor in your lyrics, the serious stuff can fall flat. It’s all about balance.
Who/what inspires you to make music? Who/what influences your sound?
X Ambassadors: The rest of the boys in the band inspire me everyday. Just being around them, making new, weird shit with them. And Alex, he’s been a very big influence on me as a song-writer. He pushes me to write all the time, as much (if not more) than I push myself already. He also got me to embrace the idea of leaving things a little un-polished, sonically; a little rough around the edges, scrappy. That’s a big part of our sound now, and I absolutely love it. We record pretty much everything on our own, on our laptops, wherever we are. I did the vocals for Renegades in our van and at my girlfriend’s parents house. The vocals for Jungle, I did in my girlfriend’s kitchen (come to think of it, I owe her a lot too… lol).
I just bought “Renegade” the other day (It’s great.). When can we expect another album from you all?
X Ambassadors: Very soon! We’re just wrapping things up now… I think we’ve tapped into something really new with this record. It’s a very personal, but sprawling sound.
Just a little rapid fire to wrap things up, if that’s okay with you all:
Favorite festival to play: So far? Probably Reading & Leeds.
Favorite food on the road: BBQ
On tour or in the studio: Tour
Indoor or outdoor concert: Indoor.
Favorite music genre: Soul