They’ve had Jay Z guest on a remix. Imagine Dragons feature on their album. And their vocalist sang on Eminem’s last album without even realising it. US rockers X Ambassadors must be the most connected new band on the planet.
The four-piece are well aware that many bands are sniffy about working with other musicians as the “You must write your own music brigade” of Real Rock bores still hold sway in some quarters.
But X Ambassadors singer Sam Harris tells Loaded the New Yorkers are only too glad of the chance to work with megastars.
“You’ve got to get your ego out of the way,” insists the shaven-headed frontman. “The song is everything, so make sure it’s the best it can be. Sometimes, someone else has a better idea than you do.
“The hip hop world does collaborations so well, but the fact we welcome collabs on our music does set us apart from a lot of alternative rock bands out there.”
X Ambassadors have just released their own debut album VHS, which features their hit Jungle. That track featured rising British blues singer Jamie N Commons – and had a remix by none other than Jay Z.
“Jay Z is the king of New York,” laughs Harris. “How are we going to top that for a remix?” The remix came about through X Ambassadors producer Alex Da Kid, a Londoner who has worked with Jay Z, Dr Dre and Rihanna. “Alex phoned us and said ‘Hey, we got Jay for the remix.’ That was one of the better phone calls of my life.”
ADK worked even more magic when he weaved Harris onto Eminem’s song Wicked Ways from the rapper’s album The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
“Alex asked me to sing a chorus for a song he was working on, but he didn’t say who it was for,” recalls Harris. “He was being very cryptic.
“He phoned a few days later saying ‘I want you to listen to something.’ After my hook, I hear Eminem come in and start rapping. That was just crazy. Would I work with Eminem again? Er, yeah! I don’t know if he’d want to work with me again, but we’d love to do it again. Jay Z too.”
Harris puts X Ambassadors’ collaborative enthusiasm down partly down to the artistic background of his and his older brother – the band’s keyboardist Casey Harris.
Growing up in the small upstate New York town of Ithica, their father is a film publicist. Rob Harris has PR’d movies from The Goonies and Gladiator to Black Swan and The Revenant. And Sam acted a lot in Shakespeare plays in college before forming X Ambassadors with childhood friends Noah Feldshuh (guitar) and Adam Levin (drums).
“You’re part of a team when you act,” explains Harris, 27. “You have to interact with the people around you and the story. Collaboration is a big part of acting.”
Visiting their dad at work allowed Sam and Casey to realise that the glamour of Hollywood involves “real, tangible jobs”, so becoming a rock star actually felt a realistic aim.
“But upstate New York is really rural and removed from any action,” Harris insists. “Growing up in a small town like Ithica is really frustrating and I dreamed of leaving as soon as I could.
“Of course, as an adult I see that as a blessing, because wanting more gave me and the rest of the band something to fight for.”
The isolation also shaped X Ambassadors’ sound. “We only had access to what was on the radio,” he recalls. “That was the bigger alternative bands like Kings Of Leon and Coldplay – bands with a big, ambitious sound. That’s the core of who we are, trying to be as big and loud as we possibly can.”
The biggest hurdle in the fledgling X Ambassadors existence was recruiting Casey on keyboards. Two years Sam’s senior, the singer was initially reluctant to let his big brother join him, Noah and Adam.
‘We didn’t get on well when we were younger,” Sam admits. “Plus, I was the younger brother and X Ambassadors was my thing! I held out for as long as my stubborn, adolescent mind allowed, but Casey is really, really talented.
“It’s brought us so much closer together. We still know how to wind each other up, but that goes for all four of us in the band. We’re all basically siblings – that gets you through shitty early situations like breaking down on the side of the road in the van after playing a show to 10 people.”
With the confident, genre-splicing sound of VHS a surefire hit, X Ambassadors’ days of sparse crowds are long gone.
There’s one final way Harris wants to continue to follow in his father’s footsteps. He did the soundtrack for his girlfriend Tess Harrison’s short film It’s Perfect Here with Feldshuh and says: “I’d love to do a full-length film soundtrack.
“And I’m 100% going to act again on stage one day.”
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn