Fans of X Ambassadors, the genre-hopping rock band known for their massive hits “Renegades,” “Unsteady,” and their latest, “Boom,” know the threesome are dedicated road warriors. All that commitment and hard work manifested in a passionate and powerful show at Revolution Live three years ago. Now they’re back with a new record, just as devoted, and just as keen to deliver another heartfelt experience.
Despite having played concerts all over Florida multiple times over the years and looking forward to returning to Fort Lauderdale next week, X Ambassadors frontman Sam Harris admits that between shows, there isn’t a lot of downtime.
“Most of the time it’s just shows and work, honestly," Harris says. "I wish we could all — I haven’t even been to the beach in Florida on tour. I’ve been before when I’m not, but honestly, it’s hard.”
Early-morning routines, soundchecks, meet-and-greets, radio promos, and, of course, the show itself occupy the band’s time from one city to the next. However, this particular stop in South Florida might disrupt the well-oiled music machine, but in a good way.
“My dad is gonna be there. He lives in England, so I don’t why he’s there, but he’s’ gonna be in Florida,” Harris says with a laugh. He tried to explain to his dad the time crunch, but in typical dad fashion, the elder Harris brushed it off. “'Right, right, right. So I’ll see you for breakfast,'” Harris says, chuckling and imitating his dad’s response over the phone.
Having Mr. Harris in the crowd at Revolution will emphasize even more so what is already a family affair since Sam is joined by his brother Casey, on keyboards, each and every night. Rounding out the trio is drummer Adam Levin. New Times spoke to Levin in 2016 and he shared some of the early hardships a struggling band endures. That was, of course, before “Renegades” exploded and X Ambassadors' situation improved dramatically.
During that interview, Levin discussed the transition between surviving on Ramen noodles and being so hot, Rolling Stone magazine declared X Ambassadors to be one of the young bands music lovers needed to know. Three years on, are they known, so to speak?
“No, I don’t feel like we’re at the level I want us to be,” Harris says. “I think every artist feels that. I think that’s healthy to a certain degree. I’m so proud that we’ve been road dogs for so many years and that we have built a very loyal fan base. Our fans are so important to us. They are the ones who are coming out to these shows, who are taking time out of their busy lives to see and hear our music. I’m very, very proud of how far we’ve come.
“I think success is really, in my mind, I want to continue to push myself as an artist and try to make everything I do just a little bit bigger and better than the last thing I did. That is a lifelong goal and hopefully one I will never achieve because I think it would be a pity if I felt that I achieved that. Then I’d have nowhere else to go.”
Part of that ambition to move forward is finding what Harris calls “the next big thing that defines who X Ambassadors are.” Harris acknowledges the band isn’t particularly “Instagram savvy” and thus they share the story of X Ambassadors through other means, namely, their music (or even writing music with and for others the way Harris did with burgeoning superstar Lizzo), something that feels more natural.
Their latest attempt at continuing their narrative is Orion, the long-anticipated follow-up to their debut, VHS. This version of Orion, released after a lengthy, arduous process of tweaking and refining, is actually the third incarnation of the album. There were songs that didn’t make the cut, not because of their quality, but because they didn’t quite fit the tone of the record. In fact, instead of leaving those tracks on the cutting room floor, XA dropped them as stand-alone singles in the forms of “Joyful,” “Don’t Stay,” and “Ahead of Myself.”
Harris says the original project leaned a little bit more towards “soul and R&B and had a little more of a retro feel to it.” As fans of XA know, those are all sounds the band has absolutely crushed. Still, it wasn’t sitting right with Harris and the others.
“It was cool and fun for us to explore that territory, but it did feel a bit like putting on a costume. It didn’t feel so much like, this is really who we are.
Who they are, for years now, has been an amalgamation of styles. X Ambassadors are masters of combining genres into something that becomes uniquely them. In order to accomplish that, Harris says, “it has to really be taking this melting pot of influences and turning it into something that is ours. Not just necessarily trying to recreate a certain sound or vibe.”
That’s not to say a song like “Joyful” is any sort of throwaway. Harris calls it one of the favorite things he’s ever written and the band regularly closes their shows with it. “It deserved its own space,” he says.
The keystone, however, the song that tied the entirety of Orion together, and indeed the final song to be written and recorded was “Boom.” Confident and sexy and featuring a swaggering guitar riff created by one of the album’s producers, Ricky Reed, Harris tells us that once “Boom” was done, the album was ready.
“I feel like it’s a new kind of sound for us. I can tell it’s doing something when I had a guy come up to us after a meet-and-greet the other day. And it’s so odd he chose to do this at a meet-and-greet. After he’s taken pictures with us, he shook our hands, and took a photo with us and said to us, ‘You know, I really hate that "Boom" song, but my kid loves it.’ I’m like, ‘OK. All right. Thanks, dude.'"
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At least someone likes it?
“I know. And the fact that a kid likes it makes it so much better," Harris says. "If the kid’s on your side, you know you’re doing something right.”
Editor's Note: The show was originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 23. Those tickets will still be honored.