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Bottlerock 2016, Interviews, Music

Interview: X Ambassadors talk sold-out shows, and the influence of Prince, and David Bowie

By: Josh Terzino 

X Ambassadors. (Photo: Nick Walker)

X Ambassadors. (Photo: Nick Walker)

Brooklyn indie-rockers X Ambassadors, who released their debut album, VHS, on June 23rd, 2015 via KIDinaKORNER/Interscope/Universal Music Canada, have spent the last two years on the road in support of their two EP’s – Love Songs Drug Songs and The Reason. The band has extensively toured Canada, performing alongside artists such as Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit, Kodaline and Panic At The Disco. In the US, X Ambassadors have performed at Made in America, Lollapalooza and Firefly Festival and have headlined their own tours including “Into The Jungle” which followed the success of their single “Jungle”, a track that has seen 50 million streams around the world.

During a press conference at the BottleRock Music Festival, X Ambassadors discussed sold-out shows, the thrill of hearing themselves on the radio, the influence of Prince, and David Bowie, and more!

I’m curious to know if, one, you’ve ever had a sign language interpreter interpret one of your sets and if not, what do you imagine it would be like if every band offered open access to deaf fans by having  a sign language interpreter with them? Perhaps even adding one to your rider?

That is an excellent question and an excellent idea. We’ve never had one and it is something we’ve talked about amongst ourselves once or twice but we’ve never actually put anything into action.

Yeah I never thought about putting it on our rider, that would be excellent. I think there are a few situations where there is a sign language interpreter available, which is unfortunate. But wherever possible I think we would love to have that.

You’ve worked very hard to get where you are and you’ve given a lot of credit to your fans. Can you tell us a little about your journey and learning as you go and how everyone you meet could be a stepping stone to get you where you need to be?

For us, every big break we’ve got from the start has been from performing somewhere, or taking an opportunity we weren’t supposed to do. A good example, we were brought to our record label by Imagine Dragons who saw an acoustic performance we did in Pittsburgh. It was a thing where we got a call “Do you wanna drive at like 5 am and do this acoustic show or just just drive at noon and do it easier?” And we were at a stage in our careers where we wanted to take every opportunity-we still do. So we woke up early, did that acoustic performance with no hope or aspirations of what would happen and just through a random series of events that one acoustic performance was what Imagine Dragons saw. That got us signed, they took us on tour, then toured us. There’s been so many things like that where, this thing isn’t even worthwhile to do but we do it anyways, and something wild come from it.

In a broader sense, you never know what’s gonna happen. We thought “Renegades” was just going to be another song we put on our record. We didn’t think it would be a single-when we wrote it it wasn’t like an “a-ha” moment. But that turned out to be a massive success. So you never know, we really try to take that to heart.

Where were you guys when you first heard on the radio and how did that feel?

Our first song we ever heard on the radio was actually our old song “Litost” off our Ep before we signed with the label. That song happened to catch on in Norfolk, VA. We were driving across a bridge with a lot of tunnels along the way, so we heard our song come on and then we heard about five seconds of it and then we were in a tunnel and we lost it. It was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was just wondering, you’ve had a lot of sold out shows, and I wondered what 3 words would you use to describe the feeling of having a sold out show?

One word. Amazing. We’re so lucky. We’ve been a band playing shows for so long with like, ten people. Or three people. We’re so lucky to play for a thousand or a couple thousand people. It’s always a good feeling.

What is the best show you’ve played so far?

I don’t know if it was the best, but a show that meant a lot to me was when we played a sold out show in our hometown of Ithaca. That was just amazing because we hadn’t played there since we were kids, basically.

Yeah the coolest thing about that was that we were expecting it to just be our friends and family and there were actually fans there. It so immediately took me back to being a kid in Ithaca and I was seeing bands. But it was even more special because those kids were seeing a bunch of guys on stage who were also from that little town.

We’ve lost great musicians Prince and David Bowie this year. Would you say either of them were influences for your music?

Absolutely! There’s no way either of those artists didn’t have a major influence on us as a band. You know, as a songwriter and performer Prince was my pillar. Bruce Springsteen and Prince, that’s what I compared everything I did to. I really, really admired Prince as a musician and a humanitarian. And I was so, so devastated. And David Bowie, too! What a legend. Such an innovator and weirdo and that’s what made him so great.

What was your big “a-ha” moment when you knew you were going somewhere?

For me it was as a senior in high school and I made a demo with my band. And I played it for a guy who worked at a music store there. I would always go in there and play with the guitars and talk to this guy about music. And he said “I think you guys would do really well in New York.” And I’d always told him I wanted to move to New York so that was a, uh, extra little push that I needed.


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