The alt rock band X Ambassadors may have gotten their big break with the help of a big star – Imagine Dragons frontman Sam Reynolds, who happened to hear the band's acoustic version of "Unconsolable" and quickly called his producer friend Alex da Kid to make something happen.
After the band's 2015, however, X Ambassadors are now close to stars in their own right, scoring a massive hit on radio and television with "Renegades" and releasing their first studio album this past June.
The Ithaca-born rock band will begin bringing its star-making year to a close with a set at FM 102/1's Big Snow Show X, performing alongside Weezer, Glass Animals and BORNS at The Rave on Day One – Thursday, Dec. 10 – of the concert event.
Before they hit the stage, however, OnMilwaukee got a chance to chat with guitarist Noah Feldshuh about the band's young origins, balancing corporate and artistic credibility, and – the hard question – deciding between "Batman v Superman" or "Captain America: Civil War."
OnMilwaukee: Now, you knew the Harris’ (lead singer Sam and keyboardist Casey) way back when you guys were five years old?
Noah Feldshuh: I did! I grew up with Sam and Casey. We met each other when we were five years old on the first day of kindergarten during naptime. Casey and Sam, needless to say, have known each other much longer than that because they’re brothers. So we forged the relationship very young, and Sam and I started playing in bands together when we were about 12. We’ve been playing together ever since, and we went to every sort of grade of school together. Then, when we were in high school, we started playing with Casey, because the sibling rivalry sort of died down a little bit. In the first week of college, we met Adam in those very formative years, and we’ve been playing together ever since. So it’s very much like a family dynamic for our band.
OnMilwaukee: What’s that dynamic like – not only the family dynamic but also with a band member, Casey, who is blind?
Feldshuh: It brings us all together for a common purpose, absolutely. We all love Casey, and we’re here for him. At the same time, we’re all in it together. It helps us to be inspired by him and what he’s doing, and in turn we live for him, and we’re all in it together. It helps solidify that family dynamic.
OnMilwaukee: Was there a challenge in either touring or performing with a blind band member that Casey and you guys had to overcome that you might not think of at it first?
Feldshuh: The thing people don’t really realize – and I can’t fully speak for Casey, but I can speak as someone who’s grown up with him for my entire life and has been with him forever – is that most of our fans and a lot of people that we see are not touring musicians. And to be a touring musician, you have to be in different places every single day and different environments. Every time the hotel is different, it’s a different layout, and everything is different. The hurdles he goes through to not be in the same place every time and to deal with a new environment every night – and not just a stage environment. That’s one thing, but your living environment is another. He’s just the most incredible person, and he’s an inspiration to all of our whole band. We live for Casey, and what he does every day is pretty incredible.
OnMilwaukee: On "VHS," you guys have several home video interludes throughout the album chronicling your lives up to this point. Were all of those legitimate home videos you found?
Feldshuh: Yeah, we all went through old movies of us touring and from our childhood, so that’s all authentic audio lifted from VHS tapes that support the record.
OnMilwaukee: Obviously "Renegades" is your big hit, and that was very closely tied to Jeep and their ad campaign. Were there any concerns working with them that you didn’t want to seem too corporate or selling out or something like that?
Feldshuh: Yeah, there are always concerns. You want to protect your creative brand and who you want to be and your creative integrity. What was great with us for Jeep is that they partnered with us and didn’t try to make us into something. We wrote the song outside of knowing about the car, which is the most important thing. And then the second most important thing about the partnership was them not trying to change us or what we were doing. We wore the clothes that we wanted and had final say in all of the direction and all of the creative background. They were really endorsing us, and it was very much a partnership. And that was very important for us.
I think the stigma of – this kind of dates our band but – when Sam and I were growing up, it was a bit of a sell-out thing to have your song in a car commercial. I remember when Led Zeppelin sold their sold to Cadillac, there was a big stigma about it. But I think nowadays, it’s like whatever gets your music out there. With the Internet and everything, music is so ubiquitous that, in order to make a splash, you almost need to have something like that to get into everyone’s living rooms.
OnMilwaukee: Your music has a lot of cinematic background to it, whether it’s on "Renegades" singing about Spielberg and Kubrick, or an interview with Sam where he talked about movies like "The Place Beyond the Pines" and "Boyhood" in his head while writing music. What is it about that connection between music and film that really speaks to you guys?
Feldshuh: I think that cinema is an art form that is unlike any other because it incorporates music and visual art, and we’re all very moved by that. We just love art and want to bring it into that creative space, so many movies that we grew up on and love.
OnMilwaukee: Was there a movie in your mind while putting the album together?
Feldshuh: There’s not one in particular. One interesting fact, though, is that Sam and Casey’s mom wrote for the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons back in the day, and they were actually written into a couple of episodes. So that was a very big moment when we were very little kids. We were obviously big superhero fans, and they play a role on our record as well.
OnMilwaukee: Since you’ve brought up being a fan superheroes, if you could only see one – "Captain America: Civil War" or "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" – which one would you pick?
Feldshuh: Oh man … if I could only see one, I would see one and then sneak into the other.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.