Alternative rock band X Ambassadors has always poured plenty of heart and soul into their music, and according to the band’s singer Sam Harris, it’s practically impossible for them not to. Aside from X Ambassadors’ latest album “Orion” showcasing the band’s “next chapter,” Harris and the rest of the New York-native group wanted to enhance their sound for everyone by releasing an app that creates audio-only music videos for the visually impaired, inspired by member Casey Harris, who was born blind. Sam Harris sat down with Metro to discuss the band’s latest album, tour and dive into why their music is what keeps them going emotionally.
X Ambassadors singer Sam Harris on band’s latest album, tour and personal connection to music
What went into making your latest album, “Orion?”
This album took a while. We put our first record out in 2015 and went on the road for about two solid years after that — that’s when we first started to work on the follow-up. We actually ended up creating some great material that we were proud of, but then looking back at it we just felt like it wasn’t cohesive enough. It just wasn’t what we wanted our next chapter to sound like. So we got off the road finally and we took the rest of 2018 to crack down on it and get it to a point where we were proud of it. It felt like a natural progression for us as a band — not a crazy leap, but still something that we felt pushed us artistically and creatively in a new and exciting direction. It’s a very emotional record and there is a lot of personal stuff in there. Dealing with the end of a relationship is potentially what it is, and then also the beginning of a new life and a new chapter. A lot of it also came from one of the original members of our band and one of my best friends from childhood. He ended up leaving the band for a lot of different reasons and he struggled with a lot of demons. It was really hard to let him go, so a big part of the record is for him and about him, or at least it was for me personally.
You said the original album you wrote wasn’t what you wanted your next chapter to sound like, how do you find that sound?
It’s more of a gut feeling, but we try everything and sort of throw it at the wall. My goal with the material we were creating at that time was to showcase what we could do, because people knew us as this alternative rock band but I’m a singer— and I really wanted to really sing. This music just didn’t go as deep as we wanted it to—with the exception of a few songs. A few songs stuck around and we released some as singles like “Joyful.” I really do think some of those were really our best work and they are better as stand-alone records in my opinion. But the rest of the songs that we created around those just didn’t feel right, so we decided to really focus on what the songs were going to be about and the message we wanted to send to get as personal as we possibly could and not worry so much about the facade. So that ended up with us creating a lot of really cool stuff and really coming together as a band.
You also write for other artists such as Lizzo. Does the process change at all when writing for yourself versus writing for other people?
The process is always the same — anything I write has to be personal. The fun thing is when I write something that’s personal for another artist, if they find it personal too that means that I’ve really tapped into something that is universally loved by more than just me. It’s like whispering a secret out to the world and someone else hears it and may relate completely. Then they tell another person and they also relate, so it’s a really cool way to connect with people and connect with other artists. For instance, working with Lizzo, she is just so genuine in who she is and as a songwriter, she really knows what she wants to say. Writing for someone like her is really me facilitating words and music to help show what she’s feeling, but everything I throw out there has some sort of subconscious meaning to me.
I saw you also created an app that creates audio-only music videos for the visually impaired. Can you tell me more about your inspirations for “Boom?”
My brother Casey, who plays in the band with us, was born blind. He has about ten percent of his vision, and we always wanted to create a media experience that my brother can get something out of too. Every time we create a music video it’s kind of just like listening to the song for him, he’s always said that. So slowly over the years, we’ve tried to do things like incorporating live sound into our music videos — just different things to give him more of a unique experience when consuming it as well. [The app] is an audio-only experience and you can choose to experience it in either the sonic landscape of Ithaca, New York where we’re from or Bushwick, New York where the band started. It’s 360 sound, so if you hear something to your left or behind you and you turn to face it, you’ll hear it front and center. You’re listening to the sounds of the environment around you like Casey would have heard in Ithaca or in Bushwick while the song is playing simultaneously.
What do you like the most about performing your music live in front of audiences on tour?
It’s the thing that keeps me going emotionally. It’s a really hard industry to be in and break into and at every level it’s hard and exhausting. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you’re creating stuff in sort of a vacuum. I struggle with feeling very lost and depressed, and getting out in front of a crowd and seeing our fans who really connect with our music and who have taken the time out of their busy lives to come to a venue, pay money to see us, stand on their feet all night and sing their hearts out to our songs — that is just the greatest affirmation and gift that any of us could ever get.
To learn more about X Ambassadors’ tour and album visit xambassadors.com