A young band, plagued by small club numbers and a lack of radio play, claws and fights its way to some modicum of success. The reason this sounds cliché is because it's a reality for thousands.
Even after years of working on side projects in addition to their main band, the members of X Ambassadors were still nearly destitute — and that was after signing with Interscope Records, thanks to a chance discovery by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds.
The quartet finally found success with the release of its major label debut LP, VHS, and in particular with the platinum-selling single, "Renegades," which was released in the spring of 2015 and had a commercial tie-in with the Jeep Renegade. Since then, the four-piece — brothers Sam (vocals) and Casey (keyboards) Harris, guitarist Noah Feldshuh, and drummer Adam Levin — has been busy steadily touring and sharing its brand of indie, which combines the energy of punk, the harmonies of R&B and soul, and the swagger of hip-hop.
This Thursday, X Ambassadors will return to Florida for a show at Revolution Live, and it's with "Renegades" that our conversation with Adam Levin takes off. He provides some insight into the not necessarily glamourous but always appreciated world of being a musician, along with both the joys and pitfalls of a life dedicated to rock 'n' roll.
New Times: What's been the biggest change in your life, and the band's, since "Renegades" took off?
Adam Levin: Everything. Not to sound — well, I'll say it: We were on tour, very broke. We were, like, four dudes eating ramen every night, taking turns putting gas in the car with our debit cards. I'm talking, like, seriously struggling, thinking we're going to be dropped by our label. No one cares. Nothing's happening. We had put out two EPs under Interscope and we'd had minor success with "Jungle," but a big label like that wants to see sales and money, and it wasn't happening and we didn't know what we were doing. We had nothing planned for 2015. 2015 looked like it was going to have a lot of down time, which is terrible if you're a band. Then in January, we were writing and working with [Grammy-award-winning producer] Alex da Kid, and we wrote "Renegades" and it got played in the Jeep commercial and everything just changed so fast. We were instantly on the road for the whole year.
We left for, like, a two-week tour in February and halfway through that tour, we got a call: "This is happening. You guys are about to be busy for, like, a year" — which was music to our ears. Our lives have changed in every way. Everyone can afford to pay rent. Everyone can afford to eat. I know money is the first thing I'm jumping to, but it's a nice side effect. The real best part is that we have new fans that are learning about our music through "Renegades," and now "Unsteady" is doing really well. We're superblessed.
Speaking of which, why did you agree to lend "Unsteady" to the film Me Before You?
That song was written two years before the movie. It was released two years ago. They came to us and had us rearrange it with an orchestra, to do this orchestral version with this guy Erich Lee, who's a great orchestrator and talented guy. You know, it just fits with the movie. We're at a stage, and I don't think we'll never not be, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Obviously we're going to say no to some advertising — like if there's a videogame where you're endlessly shooting people, we're not going to let them use the song. But we're going to take the right opportunities. We have so many cool things going on, you sometimes forget how lucky you are.
You're going to be on tour all summer starting this week. What are you looking forward to the most?
I'm looking forward to everything. We have so much stuff going on. I feel bad a lot because we're always complaining about how busy we are. We have no time off and everyone has a girlfriend. I'm the single one. I had a girlfriend and the busyness of the band was the problem in my relationship. This is my dream, so I'm doing that. It's hard for everyone; they want to spend time with their girlfriends, but everyone is happy, looking forward to it all.
So how do they manage to make it work considering the band's schedule? Are their girlfriends just really understanding?
Yeah, it's really hard. We were all in three- or four-year-deep relationships [when this all started], and so it works for some people, and doesn't for others. It's a lot of work, to make it work from the road. It's more work than being in a relationship where you're together all the time. You have to find creative ways to stay in touch and have things to talk about and stay interested. You're asking the wrong guy. [Laughs] I clearly wasn't doing the right thing. I'm the one it didn't work for, but I'm very happy.
With the Moth & the Flame and Foreign Air. Thursday, June 9, at 6:30 p.m, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $23.50. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.
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