The X Ambassadors have always done things their own way. That was apparent with Boom, their app which creates audio-only music videos for the visually impaired, with their new collaboration project ‘Eg,’ where they work and record with other artists, and especially with their latest album, ‘The Beautiful Liar,’ which features a storytelling aspect in the form of a podcast about a blind teenager and her shadow weaved throughout the songs. The inspiration comes from band member Casey Harris who is blind, but the motivation also comes from their need overall to be just who they are in that moment—unique.
Frontman Sam Nelson Harris had his own experience when penning the latest from the X Ambassadors, but its the live aspect and touring that he says ignites the magic of what fans will hear from the album. Coming from a time of uneasiness and even sadness, ‘The Beautiful Liar’ was his way to express his feelings and try to work through the art of not caring—something that freed up the creative process for the musician.
Now, with live shows back, the X Ambassadors are prepared to take this show on the road again and they plan to do it with just lights, a little bit of smoke and the band on stage… and its more powerful than ever. Sam Nelson Harris sat down to chat more about what audiences can expect.
What went into creating your latest album, ‘The Beautiful Liar’?
A lot of anxiety and mental anguish and duress… But you know, making this record was probably the most fun I’ve ever had making an X Ambassadors record personally, but the songs themselves contain all of the other stuff that I just said. It’s the weirdest and most kind of fun album we’ve ever done, and it also is pretty dark and it goes places where I think thematically we have not really ventured before. A lot the stuff on ‘VHS’ and on ‘Orion’ was filled with a little bit more of a sense of hope and optimism. I had lost a lot of that when I was making this record just with the state of the world and our country and kind of the state of my life too… I felt like I was unraveling. So, I decided to not fight it and to explore it.
Did the fun side come from it being cathartic?
It definitely did, it was a release of giving any of the f*cks. I didn’t care anymore really about anything other than what felt good at the time. Also, I really did want to express a side of myself as a songwriter that had a bit more of a sense of humor because that’s where my taste generally goes. I like dark comedy and something that is filled with humanity and raw emotion, but part of that raw emotion is laughter and humor. I like multi-dimensional art and I think that’s what we endeavored to make on this record.
That’s what’s closest to real life as well.
Yeah, I’ve laughed my ass off in moments of my life that have been the lowest and I have cried my eyes out in moments of my life that have been the highest.
You said your finished writing during March-May of 2020. Did having the album help you get through the pandemic creatively?
It did, but it was also a big source of stress and anxiety. Normally, when we put an album out, we need to tour it, for all of 2020, we were expecting to release the record and we were going to finish it at the end of our tour anyways in March… plans changed. But you know it ended up being a blessing in disguise because then we had a lot of time to make this narrative podcast that was such a big part of it. For me, I really wanted to do something else with the record that was more than just making an album. I wanted to tell a bigger story. So, it all worked out in the end.
Over the course of 2020, we wrote a lot and did this other project that was a collaboration project and something we wanted to do for a while—it’s called ‘Eg’ and it’s essentially an outlet for us to work with any artist we want at any time and not have to worry about me singing on it or it sounding like X Ambassadors or what people think X Ambassadors should sound like…we just kind of make whatever we want. We were in writing sessions with so many cool, young artists so we just decided to create an outlet for some of those songs to come out. It was both a creatively fruitful time and a time of a lot of existential and very real stress. There was that feeling of: Will I be able to make this career last without a tour, or, will I ever be able to tour again? My brother is immunocompromised so before the vaccine, it was like, will we ever have a vaccine? Will it ever be safe to go out on tour again? What do I do? It felt like a different job to me.
As you mentioned with the podcast and Eg and Boom, you always try to do things in a unique way. What motivates you to do things differently?
With everything that we do, I really wanted to have our fingerprints on it, I want it to line up with the identity of the band. Those things in particular, my brother is blind and he is a member of this band. He is a huge part of my life and him being blind has played a big part in my life and the way that I see the world and obviously with how he experiences the world… So, when it comes to creating content that is always in the back of my mind.
With the Boom app, my brother uses Microsoft Technology every day on his phone and his computer and we partnered up with them for the last album, they had the idea to make another music video for Boom that didn’t have any visuals and had it completely auditory. For the podcast, it was a similar thing… I wanted to tell a story with this album, I wanted there to be a narrative and I knew that from writing the first couple of songs. Ultimately, I’ve always wanted to make an album that had this book on tape narrative throughout—it’s been in the back of head for a long time. Casey and I grew up listening to so many books on tape and radio dramas, that was a big part of his life and through him it was a big part of my life.
When it came to the story, the first thing I thought of was this blind teenager who’s shadow comes to life and starts speaking to her, and because our protagonist is blind it made sense to do it in context of a medium like a podcast that is completely audio. It’s always I think important for me and for us as a group of artists to feel like everything we are doing is specific to us. Because it is so easy to get lost trying to do exactly what everybody else is doing…the temptation is very powerful. But ultimately, that’s not what people are going to respond the most too. They are going to respond to something that feels totally new and totally unique, so that’s what we’re always striving for.
How does it feel to finally take this project on tour?
It feels great. It is so cathartic… this is really the catharsis being able to be on tour and embody these songs and exercise some of those demons on stage. To also be able to bask in the glory of a room full of people again…as scary as it is on paper to do it again, it just feels amazing. Our audiences have been so hungry for live music and to see us again, I don’t know, it’s hard to put into words. I feel both so at ease because it feels like I’ve reconnected to that other half of myself again and also so full of energy and adrenaline all the time.
Catch X Ambassadors Friday, Oct. 29 at the TLA.