Interview with X Ambassadors frontman Sam Harris

By on October 6, 2014
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Photo Credit: Nick Walker

HHM: In the early stages of the band you seemed to have a hard working DIY attitude, did you make a conscious effort to concentrate on certain aspects? Touring, songwriting, stage presence, networking etc.


Sam: Yeah, well, All of those things really. When you’re a fledgling band, you’re first starting out you have to…that’s where you put in all the leg work. For me, my job was, outside of rehearsing and making sure we had a great live show, making sure the songs were good, outside of the creative side of it, I made a point when I was a kid, well…I say when I was still a kid, I’m still a kid I guess…when I was in college, to make friends. To use connections with my friends to meet other people to always have people that would come to the shows. Everyone I knew in college was somewhat creatively inclined or knew someone who was or worked with companies that dealt with creative people. The way we got started was a good friend of mine Christine Nebiar, she loved me, loved the band and came out to a bunch of shows and she kept asking me ‘What can I do to help you?’ She was working for a music charity program at the time. She knew some people so she got us in touch with Samantha Cox at BMI who we’re still with and she’s the best. She hooked us up with our management, who we still have. From there it sorta went. That was a big thing, so going back to the creative side, having a kickass live show. That has always been number one for us. Especially nowadays when so much of what you do as a band is tour, you have to have a great live show. You have to have one that stands above all the others. That’s something that we have always strived to do and will continue to do that throughout our careers. Also, when we were just beginning, we knew it was top priority to get a van. We begged, borrowed and stole to get the money together to get a van. That van broke down and we got a little bit more money to get another van. This is our second van. We still have it. She’s still kickin’.


HHM: Wow, really?


Sam: Yeah, she’s still kickin’. Yeah…I mean, it’s all these little details, gradually once you get the pieces together you get out on the road. You start out playing to nobody, the nobody turns into a couple people, couple people turns into a couple more people, before you know it you’ve got a full club on your hands. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re still doing clubs and theatres and that’s great for us. We have our sights set higher and we’ll continue to try and build, keep hitting these markets and do whatever we can.


HHM: Had you always had the drive for the ‘Majors’ or was there a certain point where you thought you might really have a shot at being a Major Label artist?


Sam: Yeah, I always wanted that. Ever since I was a kid playing in bands, I always wanted to be on a major label, doing things at the highest level possible. I got a really sour taste in my mouth after moving to New York for the first, kind of entering the world of Indie Rock. We were living in Brooklyn and a lot of these bands we were playing with, who we really liked, the music was great, they just didn’t like us. They didn’t like the way we sounded, which is fine. We’re more of a mainstream alternative rock band. That was the cool thing at the time, to be signed with 4AD or Domino or any of those kinds of labels. I mean, they’re great labels. They are really well run labels. I had absolutely nothing against them, I just wanted to be on a big label. That was the kind of music that we made and that’s where we work. It’s excited. But, who knows man, we could wish years from now that we were on a smaller label, but right now it’s exactly where we want to be. Our label kick ass. They really kick ass. We couldn’t be happier.


HHM: What would you consider as your first big tour, that maybe gave you the biggest push?


Sam: Our first big tour was opening for Lights. It wasn’t a big big tour but, she was playing rooms like this. They were the biggest crowds we’d ever played in front of. We still have fans coming up to us “Yeah, I saw you two years ago on the Lights tour’” and I’m like “Fucking shit dude, that is crazy.” They were so cool and really nice. We got to see a level of professionalism that we hadn’t seen yet. That was the first one, then obviously touring with Imagine Dragons was amazing. Those guys are our buddies so it made it even easier. Their whole crew and everything. Every time we go out on tour with them it’s like coming home to family. It’s so special, the relationship that we’ve built with those guys. Those tours are amazing and hopefully we’ll get to tour with them more in the future.


HHM: Did you notice a difference when you started playing those tours, bigger crowds, bigger venues, on the social media side?


Sam: Yeah, you do. You totally do. We got as many new fans on our social medias and as many people coming up to us after shows saying that they saw us with Imagine Dragons as we did with the Panic! At The Disco tour, which was smaller venues. Those were theatres, those fans are rabid fans. They are rabid and it’s fucking great. If they like something, they will latch onto it and they will be loyal to you.


HHM: At some point it becomes more of Fandom rather than just fans.


Sam: Yeah, and that’s so cool to see. It’s funny, we were playing to probably four times as many people with Imagine Dragons but we had the equal amount of attention. Those big arena shows, as an opener you kind of get lost. In the more intimate venue, like a theatre, even though it’s not that intimate, people can latch onto something easier.

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Photo Credit: Nick Walker

HHM: Do you try to make yourself easily accessible even on those bigger tours?


Sam: 100%, you can’t not do that. Even Imagine Dragons are out after every show doing meet & greets with their fans. Granted, they can’t go to the merch table like we can, but they do that still. They will continue to do that for as long as they can. It’s so important, it’s so so important to connect with your fanbase on a face to face basis when you’re starting out.  We have seen what it has done for us. The music industry is not easy. It’s gets really hard, really heartbreaking and depressing sometimes. But when you play shows for your fans, and you talk to them afterwards, you hear the stories about people who have listened to your songs and have had your songs get them through tough times lives and they tell you their stories, that’s when you can remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s what really does it for me. Some the stories I hear, I’m like “Oh my god, I can’t believe I did that for you and you don’t even know me, I don’t even know you.” That’s so important to do, to give back to these people in a way that’s not just giving away free tickets to a show. You have to meet them. You have to shake their fucking hands, look them in the eye and let them tell you how much your music has affected them. That’s important for them and for you.


HHM: I see with a lot of bands, their fans latch on and they have the same stories with how the band has helped them in one way or another. Sometimes I question the true validity of that, but with you guys, your music is pretty tangible, it is a hell of a lot more intimate than just some words scribbled down onto a piece of paper.


Sam: That’s honestly where I get a lot of the stuff that I write, from talking to people. People in my life, not fans necessarily but that is such a huge part of being human. It’s interacting with people, hearing their stories and retelling their stories. Maybe that has something to do with it. We really really really value our fans, especially where we’re at now, we’re still a growing band. We’re still developing, the majority of the people in world have no fucking clue who we are.


HHM: It’s getting better.


Sam: Yeah, it’s getting better, but our fans know and they love us. They love us with a passion that is really something else. It’s really cool. We’re lucky.


HHM: Did the rise that you guys are seeing, does it add a lot of pressure as far as stage presence, songwriting to sort of live up to this or had you already started to prepare yourselves for this?


Sam: We have always put a lot of pressure on ourselves to sort of be the best that we could be. To do our best in the recording studio, on stage and everywhere else. So, yeah, the pressure is definitely a lot more intense now that we are with a major label. There are people breathing down our necks to try and get sales up, you’re worried that the single isn’t gonna hit at radio. There’s always that, but I think the more that stuff starts to happen, in order to survive you have to start looking at it like ‘Okay, I know all the stuff that is going on, I cannot control 99% of it, what I can control is the songwriting, my work ethic, like what I’m doing every day, taking care of mind and body. That’s so fucking important. It’s something you forget. When you’re in your twenties, you start to play shows all the time. I just start doing yoga before and after every show. My body is just fucking deteriorating because I am so stressed with everything. It’s all going in my back. I play a show, I don’t stretch and I can’t move the next day. Little things like that and not worrying so much about the intangible, about what’s gonna be your big song. You never know man, We have no idea ‘Jungle’ was gonna do what it did, or what it’s doing or what it may continue to do. Maybe there will be another song, who knows? All we can control is this, playing shows, what we’re putting on that stage, the music we’re putting out, making sure it is new, exciting, pushing the boundaries of who we are and what music is out there already. That’s all you can do. I allow myself to get caught up in the stress and everything else. I’m working on that, it’s something I gotta learn to deal with.


HHM: I mean, it’s only gonna get worse.


Sam: Only gonna get worse. In a way, I’m having an easier time dealing with the stress now that I know what’s there and I’m actively taking steps to not let myself get caught up in the pressure of it all. That’s making it easier.


HHM: Gaining the attention of Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, that couldn’t have hurt huh? Did that give you a little bit of a confidence boost seeing as though you had no relationship or ties to him prior. He kind of went to bat for you guys and that is pretty fucking amazing. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen very often.


Sam: Oh my god man, yeah, 100%. It’s so cool. He’s the greatest guy. It wasn’t just him either. It was all of those guys. It was the whole band. They all heard us and said “These guys are great, let’s try and make something happen for them.” It’s like unheard of in the music industry. Who helps other people in this fucking industry.


HHM: Everyone should be worried about their own units moving, but these guys stuck their necks out for you.


Sam: It’s crazy. I can’t speak more highly about those guys. Everything they have done for us is really incredible. Dan is great springboard for me as far as songwriting as in creative input. He’s the Executive Producer on our album and has been on our last two EPs. He’s super busy but still takes the time to answer my texts and emails about what songs he likes, what songs he doesn’t like. All the little details, I try to involve him whenever I can. They really went to bat for us in a big way and that’s something we hope we’ll be able to repay them for some day.


HHM: I Want Half!


Sam: Yeah, ya know? They’ll make some money off, hopefully they’ll make some money off of it.


HHM: Love Songs And Drug Songs being your major label debut, had you already had most of that material or were you like ‘Oh my god, we just got signed now we have to write a dope record?’


Sam: No, I mean, ‘Unconsolable’ was already written ‘Litost’ was already written ‘Brother’ was one that we wrote half in the studio with Alex and half not. What else is on that record, Umm ‘Love Songs Drug Songs’ ‘Stranger’ and uhhh…can’t remember. *haha* this is bad…. Anyway a lot of we wrote in the studio with Alex when we got there. I’d say half and half. Half of it we had written or we had been working on and the other half we just got in the studio the first time with Alex and did it. Oh, ‘Down With Me’ is the other one. That had also been written prior as well. The reason we wrote over the course of about a month and finished it up in two weeks, a lot of it had been ideas that had been floating around and then you have two weeks to put the whole thing together. Then you do it. That was for both EPs and for this record. We had three weeks to get everything together for the record. The FULL LENGTH RECORD. We did it. We did it man. I’m proud of because we write constantly. When we’re on the road, we’re always writing. None of The Reason was done in the studio. Everything was recorded on our laptops, on the road. Love Songs Drugs Songs was I’d say half that, half studio. The full length is mainly done on the road, on our own and a couple songs we did some parts in the studio. That’s how you have to operate these days. You have to be touring, writing and recording all at the same time. You actually can. We actually prefer the way that sounds a lot of the time. When we’re doing stuff on our own.


HHM: I guess budget wise that has to help out tremendously.


Sam: Yeah, that helps out tremendously. Ya know. We’re not making money off record sales, nobody is. You gotta cut down costs and we have the ability to make our stuff sound exactly how we want it to sound, on our own. It’s so crazy and so cool that that’s the way it works. We have complete freedom when we’re actually recording and creating the material. Then when it gets down to the tricky stuff, when we’re in with Alex or in with another engineer, We can kind of touch things up, rearrange some parts, but for the most part we’re getting the original sound *snaps finger* right off the bat. Which is cool.


HHM: I know I am a little late to the game…but, your original full length Litost, what happened to it?


Sam: Well, we had to take it down. We had just signed and it was also under the name Ambassadors. We also wanted it down, well not down, we didn’t want to push it. Our sound had changed so drastically. We were kind of ready to move on from it. I don’t know…those songs are great. I’m not ashamed of those songs. That was our first foray at doing this. That was the first thing we did after we graduated. We were like ‘Do we really want to make a fucking go at this thing, let’s do it.” We spent months and months working on that. We got some great songs out of it. ‘Litost’, huge ya know, ‘Unconsolable’, still songs that we play til this day. But, ya know, it was just a lot of political stuff. We just had to take it down.


HHM: With some releases on Interscope and a handful of respectable “Features” have things sorta settled in for you guys and you can relax a little, start to write music for yourselves or do you still feel the heat?


Sam: Hell no, always feeling the heat man. It’s like, financially, you don’t really make money in this business until you’re making a TON of money. We’re still grinding. It’s all amazing stuff that’s been happening. We couldn’t be more thankful for everything that’s happening. We got Jay-Z on a remix, Jay-Z is like my hero. It’s absolutely incredible. We’re still grinding. We’ve still gotta work. We’ve still got to put in our time. We’re not the biggest band in the world yet so we have a lot of work today.


HHM: Is the dynamic a little different when you’re working on collaboration stuff? I mena, I know you’re recording separately etc but…


Sam: Yeah


HHM: But does it change your writing style knowing that someone else is pretty off center from yourself so does it change it a little bit?


Sam: I wouldn’t say consciously, I always try to make an effort  because they are so many songwriters out there that are always writing stuff for other people or to collaborate with other people, trying to consciously write something that will mesh with their style or fit with another songwriters style. I’d like to think about it like if I was in the shoes of someone who was…this is a little different because I am talking about songwriting or writing for other people. Say I was ….say Lady Gaga and I was looking for a new hit single, I would want to find something that was written by someone who was doing their own thing. Someone who is unique. I don’t want some pale imitation of Lady Gaga. I want something that’s new, that’s fresh. The artists, the big artists that you’re writing for are always looking to change up their shit. To do something different. Something that pushes the boundaries. I try to write stuff that I like, that I think is cool. Then I work on it with Alex. He will kind of guide me as say “This is shit, this is shit, this is shit, this is kind of cool, maybe work off that but don’t make it shit, this is shit’ ya know? Then whittle it down to it’s something that we both think is cool. In terms of collaborating with like Jaime, I love Jaime’s style, I absolutely love it. ‘Jungle’ was just kind of me feeling like I want to fucking rock out too. I love alternative hard rock. That’s a big foundation for me. Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, all of those bands were big bands for me growing up. To get to be able to do that was pretty cool. Maybe I got into the mindset because I knew Jaime was gonns do something like that. I didn’t know Jaime was gonna be on the track when I wrote the chorus. I just wrote the chorus and Alex as like, “Cool, give this to me.” I asked if he even wanted to me to write verses and he said ‘ Naw, I don’t even know what I’m gonna do with it yet.” Then he gave it to Jaime and he did his thing.


HHM: It was just that big of a hook man.


Sam: Thank You.

 x ambassadors photo credit Dave Luttrull

HHM: What’s your most comfortable writing process?


Sam: Ya know, I love to write on the road. I love it. There’s something about it. Being in airports, on trains or in cars, or hotel rooms. There’s something cool about it. It helps me get outside myself. It’s a little bit easier than when I am in one space for too long. I feel like I’m just as productive in both situations. I’m just more comfortable on the road writing than when I’m in New York writing for two weeks in the same place every day doing the same shit or in LA in the same studio doing the same shit.


HHM: That makes sense, get you away from where you’re at, a little less pressure.


Sam: Yeah, it’s nice. I’ve written some of my best stuff on the road.


HHM: What is the deal with your full length?


Sam: It’s done. We’re getting the packaging together. We’re getting everything going.


HHM: You’re still riding The Reason so it’s a little early to be like “Here’s a full length!”


Sam: Yeah, we’re still going on the EP a little longer and building up hype about the band. We want to release this record in the best position that we possibly can. It’s done, it’s pretty much all new material. There’s only three songs taken from the two EPs total. Out of those twelve songs, we took three of those. It’s gonna be ten tracks.


HHM: Reworked?


Sam: No, same. There’s gonna be ten tracks total. We recorded like fourteen, but…


HHM: Enough for a bonus ‘B-Side’ EP


Sam: Still enough a ‘B-Side’ EP. Yeah, we’ll have bonuses for Target and what not.


HHM: Are there any Winter tour plans that you are allowed to divulge.


Sam: Right now, no. We’re gonna finish this tour up then I’m gonna be back and forth between New York and LA. We’re getting ready to put the record out so there’s a lot of meetings. I’m still writing. We’re gonna be writing up until the moment that we send the record off to the presses.


HHM: Just in case.


Sam: Just in case man.


HHM: Fuck that track, THIS ONE!


Sam: Yeah man, you never know.


HHM: I mean, you are in the Majors now, this is a singles game.


Sam: We’re not putting the record out until February or March so who knows what I could write in the meantime.


HHM: One single could change the entire outcome of that record.


Sam: Exactly.

Interview by DaveHHM

Love Songs Drug Songs – EP – X Ambassadors

The Reason – EP – X Ambassadors




Author: DaveHHM

Dave Luttrull: Owner/Editor in Chief of Hellhound Music. Star Wars nerd, Gamer, Destiny homer, blogger, writer and lover of all things music.