Alternative rock band X Ambassadors joined a press conference just a day before their first performance at BottleRock Music Festival in Napa, California. Members Casey Harris, Sam Harris and Adam Levin shared a few stories of how they got to where they are today, when they first heard their music on the radio and more!
I know you guys have worked very hard to get to where you’re at and you give a lot of credit to fans. Tell us a few stories about how your life has evolved with learning as you go that everyone you meet can be a stepping stone to get to where you need to be.
Adam Levin: I mean for us, you know, every big break we’ve gotten from the start has been through performing somewhere or taking an opportunity that was something we weren’t required to do. As a good example, we were brought to our record label by Imagine Dragons who saw an acoustic performance of us that we did in Pittsburgh one day. It was a sort of thing where – this was in 2011 – we got a call like, “Do you guys wanna drive? Wake up at like 5am and drive early and do this acoustic show? Or, just drive at noon and have it be easier?”
We were at the stage of our careers where we wanted to take every opportunity and we still do. So, we went. Woke up early. Did that acoustic performance with no hopes or expectations that anything would ever happen.
Sam Harris: You just never know what’s gonna happen. We thought that “Renegades” was just gonna be one more song that we could put on our record. We didn’t think it was gonna be a single. When we wrote it, it wasn’t like an “a-ha” moment or anything. But that song turned out to be a massive success. Yeah, you just never know and we really take that to heart. We keep an open mind and try to do as much as we can and say yes as much as we can.
Where were you guys when you first heard your song on the radio and how did that feel?
Casey Harris: Our first song we ever heard on the radio was actually our first song “Litost” off of an EP before we even signed with a label. We put out just an EP on our own and that song happened to catch on in a town called Norfolk, Virginia. We played a show there. We were driving across the bridge. It’s got a lot of these tunnels along the way. We heard our song come on and five seconds later we were in a tunnel and lost it. Then we would come out of the tunnel, song would be halfway done, we’d hear about another ten seconds and go back in the next tunnel. So, the first time we heard our music on the radio, we didn’t actually hear a full song. Maybe like twenty seconds of the song. It was pretty cool nonetheless.
If you have three words to describe what it feels like to have a sold out show, what would those three words be?
Sam: Do it in one word: amazing. We’re so lucky. We’ve been a band for so long and have been playing shows for so long to maybe ten people or three people in a room. To play a sold out show where there are a couple thousand people or whatever, it’s always a good feeling. It takes us higher.
What is the best sold out show or even not sold out show that you’ve played so far? What is the highlight so far in your career?
Casey: Not necessarily the highlight of our career but a show that meant a lot to me… We played a show in our hometown Ithaca so a sold out 2,000 person crowd. It’s the biggest theater they have in that little town. That was just amazing because we haven’t played there since we were kids basically. It was crazy coming back and having the crowd just be ecstatic. It was really something special.
Sam: Yeah, the coolest part about that was we were expecting it to be just a room full of our friends and family. There were real fans there. There were kids there. It immediately brought me back to when I was a kid in Ithaca going to see bands coming to town. It was even more special because those kids who are from that small, little town are seeing a bunch of guys on stage who are also from that same little town.
This year we’ve lost quite a few musical greats already. Prince, obviously, David Bowie, and many more. Would you say that either of them have influenced your music?
Sam: Absolutely. There’s no way that either of those artists did not have a major, major influence on us as a band and me as a songwriter/performer. Prince was one of my pillars. It was always Bruce Springsteen and Prince. That’s what I compared everything I did to. To try to see if it kind of lived up to what they did. I really admired Prince as an artist, performer and humanitarian. I was so devastated. We were all so devastated. And David Bowie, too. I mean, he was a legend. Such an innovator and weirdo. That’s what made him so great.
What was your big ‘a-ha’ moment when you realized you were going somewhere?
Sam: When I was a senior in high school in Ithaca and I made my first demo with my band. I played it for this guy who worked at a music store there. I would always go to this store, try out their guitars, talk to this guy. I played it and he said, “I think you’d do really well in New York” because I told him we wanted to move to New York. That was the little bit of encouragement that I needed.
Casey: I sort of always knew that I was going to be a musician no matter what. I don’t wanna sound arrogant but it was sort of like, in my mind, it was almost a matter of time.
Adam: For me, it was probably like the first time I played live. Not to be selfish but, I loved it and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if I was gonna have success or it wasn’t like an ‘a-ha’ moment. It was an ‘a-ha’ moment in a sense that this is what I wanna do professionally and this is what I wanna focus my attention on from that point on.
[Note: Questions are from members who attended the press conference]