X Ambassadors’ Long Road To Success

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Sam Harris, the vocalist for American rock band X Ambassadors, can’t quite put his finger on how many shows his band has played over the course of the last 12 months. He believes it could be in the vicinity of 200, but questions this number within moments of having mentioned the figure.

In the bigger picture, the number of shows the group has played is irrelevant as Harris insists that making a living from music is something that he and his bandmates have been dreaming of since forming in upstate New York in 2006.

“This is something we have been working for our whole lives,” Harris tells us in advance of X Ambassdors’ show at Casino New Brunswick in Moncton on Friday evening. “Now that we have started to see the wheels turning that much faster these last 12 to 18 months, we don’t want to squander the opportunity.”

Currently on tour in support of their June 2015 album VHS – reissued this past June as the more comprehensive VHS 2.0 – the group’s success has been buoyed here in Canada by their current single “Unsteady,” as well as their hit “Renegades.” The latter single has been certified for a whopping 320,000 copies sold in this country while the former song recently attained platinum status in Canada – the first country in the world to reach this impressive benchmark.

The group’s current Canadian tour sees X Ambassadors playing a number of the country’s secondary markets. Following the group’s sole New Brunswick show on Friday, the band is slated to perform in Laval, Sherbrooke, St. Catherine’s and Guelph before returning to the United States for more roadwork before breaking for the holidays.

Harris says there is a very good reason why the group is taking the time and making the effort to visit secondary markets whenever possible.

“When we were growing up in Ithaca, we were constantly feeling left out when it came to bands visiting the area. Bands that I would have liked to see never played anywhere close by, and, if they did, it was a venue I couldn’t get into. That’s why we do our best to hit those smaller markets and towns along the way. If we can give a fan an opportunity that we didn’t necessarily have growing up, it’s all worth it,” Harris says.

Music is something that Harris and his brother Casey – X Ambassadors keyboardist – hold dear to their hearts. Growing up to the sounds of the Beatles, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell and Billy Joel, the Harris siblings were enrolled in music lessons at a fairly early age.

Sam started his first band while a Grade 7 student; Casey joined the group’s ranks while in high school. But while their upstate New York upbringing may have been ideal while the siblings were younger, the brothers instinctively knew the writing was on the wall if they were serious about pursuing music.

Together with guitarist Noah Feldshuh, the Harris siblings made the approximate 230-mile move to New York City where they enrolled in the city’s The New School private university in 2006. It was there they met drummer Adam Levin, a Los Angeles native who agreed to join the band.

Looking back on the early days of the band, Harris admits the time the group spent trying to make a name for itself proved to be more frustrating than intimidating.

“We were writing these big arena rock songs because that’s what we grew up listening to. New York wasn’t having it though; the city seemed like it was light years ahead, which resulted in us feeling a bit like outsiders.”

The group proceeded to do the only thing it knew how: It played shows anywhere and everywhere that would have them. Harris says the experience proved to be a cornerstone of the band’s development.

“All the bands we admired were great live bands. It made sense that we would try to play live as often as we could.”

Although there were a number of bumps along the way, X Ambassadors caught a break in 2012 when their ballad “Litost” was featured on a Spotify playlist. The song caught the ear of the program director at a Virginia rock station, which added the track into rotation.

The following year, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds co-produced the group’s 2013 EP Love Songs Drug Songs, followed by The Reason EP in 2014.

It may have taken the group longer than anyone might reasonably expect to get some momentum happening behind their work, but now that things are moving in their favour, don’t expect X Ambassadors to be letting their foot off the gas anytime soon.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve had the chance to devote time to writing new material and getting those creative juices flowing again. It’s a great feeling; we are all sharing in the excitement and happiness of our hard work coming to fruition.”

What: X Ambassadors
When: Friday Nov. 19, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $39.99 plus taxes and service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca