Interview with The All-American Rejects: Never Count Out An Underdog

This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.

Dancing on the Top 40 hit list with great singles like “Gives You Hell” and “Move Along,” The All-American Rejects have earned their keep in pop rock radio royalty.timthumb-23.php

Fronted by singer/bassist Tyson Ritter, along with guitarists Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor, the band will play day two of the Bamboozle Festival, which takes place May 19 in Asbury Park.

The band originated in Stillwater, OK, where Ritter and Wheeler formed the band in 1999. With several high-charting singles throughout their 10-year career, The All-American Rejects needed a moment to regroup and refresh after the release of their third album, 2008’s When The World Comes Down.

Ritter took the opportunity to reflect on the realities of superstardom, as well as the effects of a rollercoaster lifestyle. Birthed from his cathartic coo is the band’s fourth album, Kids In The Street.

Released in March 2012, the record is a storytelling compilation of the band’s past and progression. No doubt an authentic addition to The All-American Rejects’ radio-friendly repertoire, the record still serves up soul-searching seeds to the evergreen development of Ritter’s sex, drugs and rock and roll woes.

In the interview below, guitarist Nick Wheeler spills the beans on the band’s journey of self-discovery, the challenge to develop an encompassing setlist, and why he’s bummed to be billed on a Bamboozle stage on a different day from Bon Jovi (who’s headlining day three).

Congratulations on the release of your fourth album, Kids In The Street! The record has gotten a lot of industry praise, and many have said this album really has “something for everyone.” Tell me about the creative process and development for this record?

We got off the road for our last record [When The World Comes Down] in late 2009 and Tyson and I both moved to Los Angeles. We hadn’t live there yet—in almost 10 years of being a band—we had stayed away for that long. We finally did and I can’t say it wasn’t for a couple of stupid girls; that might have had something to do with it. Anyway, I stay inside a lot. I just create my own world around me and I live in my bubble. Ty draws from the people and lifestyle around him which, in Hollywood, [can be a bad thing] as people don’t always make the most positive lifestyle choices.

Ty graduated high school early to make our first record and had some stuff he needed to take care of. He kind of lost himself a little bit. That’s always been the case with all of us: we kind of lose ourselves when we come off the road, and we come to this screeching halt wherever we are in life (or the country). We have to get our heads back on and figure out what reality is. When you go into promoting a record for two years, you’re not experiencing real life.

What’s different about this record is that when we came off the road and stayed put in one place, we realized we were grown up, even though we didn’t feel like it. Rather than settling down and getting our shit together, we’ve just been continuing on this ride for the last 10 years. The way we found ourselves was writing this record, as opposed to finding ourselves with somebody else or trying to figure out what else our lives mean.

Just writing Kids In The Street we figured out who we are as people now in life. Lyrically, Ty dug a lot deeper than he has in the past. We’ve been doing this professionally for 10 years so we’ve lived a lot. There’s a lot to talk about. We’ve messed up a lot. We’ve been a lot of places and we know what works. We know what’s successful, and we haven’t always been the band that maybe sometimes we should have been, but we’ve kept on doing what works for us. We never want to recreate anything. We never want to do something over. We don’t want to write the next “Move Along” or “Gives You Hell.” We want to do something different. Each time we might be shooting ourselves in the feet but if we don’t grow as musicians and our listeners don’t grow with us, then what are we doing it for?

The vocals and guitar work on this album, in particular, are really impressive. Do you feel that this record was an opportunity to challenge yourselves as musicians?

I think each record has helped us grow to figure out what we are capable of and where we’re going to go next [musically]. What’s different about Kids In The Street is I think it’s the bravest record we’ve made. We did some things we thought we could get away with on this record. We were able to do things like create a song as a section, which we played live on the floor with a 30-piece orchestra. It’s awesome that we’re able to do that but I don’t know that we’d be able to get away with it in the past. I think we’ve had to take baby steps to get here and be able to do things like that. On this album, we played around with the music—made guitar sounds that don’t sound like guitars—and we just want to do stuff that keeps it exciting for us. At the end of the day, if we get onstage and we’re not excited to do what we do, then nobody’s going to be excited to be there. That’s the way we see it.

Who are some of your personal favorite guitarists and inspirations?

I grew up listening to Richie Sambora. I’m kind of bummed we’re not playing the Bon Jovi day [at the Bamboozle Festival], but we’ve played several shows with them before and I’ve always been a big fan. I grew up with my sister’s records—a lot of Def Leppard—so I’m a big fan of Steve Clark and Phil Collen, as well.

The band is uniquely positioned in that you’re able to stay true to your rock roots, but radio also has been really great to you guys. This is a challenge and fine line that a lot of bands tread, but your authenticity as a rock band really breaks those barriers. How do you guys see yourselves positioned in the industry?

We’ve always been chameleons. We’ve always been lucky that the songs speak for themselves. However we get to come across, like a pop song, or rock song, or pop/rock like “Gives You Hell,” we’ve been lucky that people just hear the song and they don’t hear the way that it’s presented. That gets harder and harder every time we put out a record. Things get way more “radio-y” every time. It’s still difficult being a rock band. We’ve always been the underdogs. Whether it’s getting our songs played on the radio among everything else that’s out there, or just standing on our own as a band and not getting pigeonholed, I think this record is our opportunity to stand on our own.

Each time we put out a record there are just more bands we get lumped in with. This time we’re kind of alone out here. There aren’t many bands left [that we are being grouped with], at least not on the radio. It’s kind of interesting. Either we’re the last of a dying breed, or we’re going to keep on being able to do [our thing musically]. We’ll see what happens, I guess.

You guys announced last year that former Taking Back Sunday guitarist Matt Rubano had joined The All-American Rejects as a live bass player. How has that been? Has it changed the onstage dynamic?

The All-American Rejects dynamic has never changed. Tyson and I have written the songs for the last 10 years. Mike and Chris put their flavors on it and it’s the four of us, the core members of The All-American Rejects, but we’ve had a bunch of help in the past from a couple of different keyboard and bass players to put on more of a show in a way where Tyson can drop the bass and just be a frontman, which he’s very good at. I think that brings a really cool portion to the show. Matt’s insane! He’s an incredible musician—he plays our songs great and brings his own flavor. There’s a really cool moment in a new song called “Gonzo,” and it has two bass parts. It doesn’t sound as ridiculous as like Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottoms” or anything like that! But there’s this cool moment where he and Ty have this dueling bass thing. It’s really cool

With a laundry list of hits like “Move Along,” “Dirty Little Secret” and “Gives You Hell,” it must be difficult to formulate a setlist—particularly for a show like Bamboozle, which has such a mixed crowd. How do you decide which songs to play?

This year all we’ve been doing is headlining. We’ve been playing 90-minute to two-hour sets every night. We do it because we want to. We actually enjoy playing these songs and it’s going to be hard to cut that in half. We grew up going to concerts ourselves, you know? We’re not going to cheat anybody. We’re going to give people what they want to hear. We’re so proud of this record and there are so many cool moments that these songs bring to the show that we don’t want to cheat those either. I don’t know [exactly] what [the setlist] is. Every day I open up Microsoft Word and I stare at a list of songs trying to figure out what we can do for Bamboozle, and these shows with Blink-182 we’ve got coming up. I just get frustrated and I’m like, “Fuck.”

The All-American Rejects play day two of the Bamboozle Festival, which takes place May 19 in Asbury Park. They will also play at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center on May 20. For more information, check out allamericanrejects.com. 

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