Backstage before a show in Denver, Colorado, Sam Harris has a moment to reflect on the reception so far by his audience to X Ambassadors’ latest album, the very eclectic Orion.
The singer for the New York alt-rockers couldn’t sound happier if he tried. “We’re right at the beginning of [the tour], so it’s still very new, fresh and exciting to play in front of people,” he says.
“We did a two-week short trial run of this new show around the release of the record and that was really great – those were kinda underplayed, smaller venues. We got to perform in front of some of our more die-hard fans.
“It’s funny,” Harris continues. “We’ve been in the studio working on new material for the last month and a half and I just always forget how much I miss being on stage and playing. Happiness is a sentiment shared from both views of the stage it seems.
“You just see it in their faces when you’re looking out into the crowd, that they are genuinely so happy to be there. It makes all the difference in the world.
X Ambassadors’ music has all been of a tight, astute vision, which has meant wonderful execution of hit songs like ‘Renegades’, ‘Unsteady’, ‘BOOM’, and ‘HOLD YOU DOWN’. Given the band’s history of collaborations, production work, and omnipresence in the music scene, it’s natural Harris would be looking to push his own parameters with new material.
“I went into a pretty good creative space after the record,” Harris says. “I realised I love working in the context of a storyline, and writing stories for characters.
“Who knows what this will end up turning into, but for this next project, I’m starting to create a narrative for a concept. I’m starting to piece together songs that we’ve started demos for and am starting to write new material accordingly.
“In a way, it pulls the personal details out of me easier. Rather than thinking, ‘What’s the next personal expedition I can go on?’, it’s always better when it happens in the context of a larger theme.”
So many bands make music based on life experiences but X Ambassadors’ music is largely shaped by other musicians and their interactions with them.
“We’ve been very fortunate to collaborate over the years with a lot of different artists,” Harris says. “Most recently we worked with Lizzo on her record, which was such a blast. I was a big fan of Coconut Oil, her first EP, and reached out to her manager to set up a writing session – that was almost a year ago.
“What I loved the most was creating an environment where there was no pressure. Working with Lizzo was just fun and exploratory, and we’d go to territories she hadn’t felt comfortable going to.
“Trying everything, bringing that mentality into our work has been really helpful.”
Relaxed and removing a self-imposed pressure means Harris has come up with some of his best material – early in their career, the band worked with producer Alex da Kid who inspired a good work ethic.
“Every day I would send him some new idea I was working on, and that was very valuable to learn early on.
“I find that our process, a lot of the time, it’s kind of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks – but you’ve got to have a lot of ammunition.
“With Ricky [Reed, producer for Orion], he had a similar style to Alex, so I can try everything and not have to worry about curating it. At the very least, we’ll have fun making weird noises in a room together!”