Since its inception in 2009, the pop/rock group X Ambassadors has steadily amassed a substantial following, partly due to early standout tracks such as “Stranger” and “Unconsolable,” from the 2013 E.P. Love Songs Drug Songs, and more recent chart-toppers “Renegades” and “Unsteady,” from the 2015 debut full-length, VHS. In addition to having an uncanny knack for writing hooks, singer Sam Harris, keyboardist/backing vocalist Casey Harris, and drummer Adam Levin tour relentlessly, as evidenced by the hundreds of international shows they’ve played since their debut release. This spring the band hits the road in support of its latest album, Joyful, on a run that lasts through June.
Levin finds that he has to fill dual roles as a drummer and producer in the studio while writing the majority of X Ambassadors’ electronic-infused material. “While we do use live drums when recording, I spend most of my time in the studio programming drums and producing,” Levin says. “I believe that the modern drummer needs to not only be proficient on an acoustic kit, but also have production chops.”
Levin explains that adapting those produced tracks to the group’s live show can present an enjoyable challenge. “We tend to dissect the studio production and decide how we want to orchestrate the song in a guitar/bass/keyboard/drum setting,” he says. “The songs change when we play them on tour. Our music has a lot of electronic elements, such as samples and loops that we trigger via Ableton Live. On VHS, there were a lot of songs that were heavily programmed and had no live drums at all. It’s fun because you get to almost rewrite the song live. And I love to mix the acoustic kit with the samples from the studio production. For instance, on “Unsteady,” my live bass drum has the sample we used in the production, and I incorporate the trap hi-hat sounds. It adds a whole new element and makes the show more organic and exciting. For the Joyful tour, we’re approaching the new songs in the same way.”
In support of VHS, X Ambassadors spent the better part of two years on the road. Levin learned that maintaining a cool working relationship during long tour stretches comes down to good communication. “Being in a band is like being in a romantic relationship,” he says, “and it’s really important that everyone has a say in every business and creative decision. If there are disagreements, which there always are, we talk it out and come to an agreeable conclusion. Because we’re constantly together on tour and in the studio, it’s really important that we’re all on the same page. If there’s toxicity internally, it affects everything, and it doesn’t take long to rear its ugly head. We’ve gone through those situations. I also think we get along so well because each of us knows and enjoys our role in the band. Neither Casey nor I, for instance, wants to be the lead singer, and there are really no power struggles.”
Adam Levin plays Masters of Maple drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vic Firth sticks.
Also on the Road
Dale Crover with the Melvins /// Todd Sucherman with Styx /// Troy Luccketta with Tesla /// Thommy Price with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts /// Larry Mullen Jr. with U2 /// Robert Sweet with Stryper /// Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth with Bent Knee /// Zac Farro with Paramore /// Jim Eno with Spoon /// Paul Bostaph with Slayer /// Daniel Platzman with Imagine Dragons