X Ambassadors will spread the universal language of music
Group will open Big Stars series
June 30, 2017
X Ambassadors drummer Adam Levin remembers visiting Park City when he was a kid.
"We came to ski," Levin said during a telephone call to The Park Record from his home in Silver Lake, New York. "I haven't been there with the band, and I have never been there in the summer. I'm sure it's beautiful."
X Ambassadors — Levin and brothers Sam and Casey Harris, who play guitar and keyboards, respectively — will open the Park City Institute's St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert series at 7 p.m. at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater. Local artist Ryan Hiller will open the show.
The band, known for the No. 1 hit "Renegades," from the 2015 album "VHS," will play songs from that "VHS," but also some new songs, Levin said.
"We've been working on the new record for the last six months, and we will play some of those songs," he said.
There are at least three new songs that X Ambassadors have released as singles this year: "Torches," "Devil You Know" and "Hoping."
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"To be honest, however, I don't know if those new songs will be on the new album or not," Levin said with a laugh. "Although the new album is done, we still write because you never know what will come after the pressure is off. I mean, 'Renegades' was the last song we wrote and recorded for 'VHS,' and look what happened."
Of the three new songs, "Hoping" is one the band released with a social purpose.
Proceeds will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union, which works to "defend and preserve individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States," according to its mission.
"I don't know where your political views lie, but you can probably guess where we stand," Levin said with a laugh. "With the current climate of the world, our country and politics in general, we felt it was an important time to support an organization such as the ACLU, who fight for our civil rights."
"Hoping" was not written with the ACLU in mind.
"We wrote it during the presidential election last year," Levin said. "After seeing all the stuff that has gone down since then, we knew we wanted to use it to support the greater good.
"The ACLU has been great working with us and we encourage everyone to stream and buy that song, because every cent from that song will go to the ACLU."
Still, Levin said he originally got into music not because he could make political statements, but because he loved playing drums.
"I had two older brothers who played guitar and drums," he said. "We had neighbors who would call the police on them, so when it came my time to pick up an instrument, my mom forbade me to play the drums."
Levin took guitar lessons at his mother's request, but didn't like the instrument.
"I would hang out with the drum teacher, and he would teach me some stuff," he said. "After a while, it became clear to my mom that instead of treading water with the guitar I was advancing quickly on the drums. So, she allowed me to switch over."
At that time, Levin was also experimenting with beat programming.
"As passionate I am about acoustic drums, I'm almost more passionate about the programming," he said. "I do a lot of hip-hop production, and to be honest, most of the drumming I do in [X Ambassadors] is me on the drum machine or on the laptop, where I go into the studio and I will do some layers or add fills."
Levin said he hears parallels between hip-hop and metal and hardcore drumming.
"When I was growing up, there was the metalcore movement that was all about breakdowns and half timings," he said. "If you listen to the hip-hop on the radio, you can translate the beat patterns into death metal or metalcore break downs.
"That's why you see artists like Skrillex and others who cut their teeth in metal back in the day doing electronic music."
Levin met the Harrises 11 years ago.
"We were just 18-year-old kids and wanted to jam at a rehearsal space once every two weeks," Levin said. "There was no career path, really. It was just what we liked to do, because it's fun."
From there, the three began setting little goals.
"We wanted to stop playing covers, and then we wanted to start playing shows," Levin said. "Then we wanted to record and make the songs good enough for us to get signed with a record label."
X Ambassadors signed with Interscope in 2012. Two and a half years later, "Renegades" hit the charts.
"Being in a band, you think you know which of your songs would become a good single, but this one surprised us," he said. "At the time, we had nothing going on, and we were actually wondering if we were going to get dropped by the label.
"After 'Renegades,' we were on tour for a year and a half, and that set up all that followed. It was a great experience for us."
"VHS," the album that featured "Renegades," was recorded while the band was on the road.
"We did things in hotel rooms and places like that and didn't really have much of a budget," Levin said. "That was great, because it taught us we could do quality stuff without having to rent out a million-dollar studio.
"Making 'VHS' and promoting it was great for us, because we went from nothing to touring in a bus and making money to support ourselves. Now, with the new record, we're going to do this, but try to get to the next level."
Last year, X Ambassadors got another surprise when the song "Sucker for Pain" got picked up for the soundtrack to David Ayers' DC Comics film, "Suicide Squad."
"It was funny, because that was a song Sam recorded years ago and we all thought it was dead," Levin said. "All of a sudden we got a call that it was in the movie and all of these artists — Li'l Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Logic, Ty Dolla Sign — were on it.
"We still haven't met any of those guys in person. We just know them through emails, which is funny to me, but we're very thankful for the opportunity to have that song [in the film]."
Park City Institute will present X Ambassadors at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 3, at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater. Ryan Hiller will open the show. Lawn seats are $49. For information, visit http://www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.