Let’s be clear—it’s been quite some time since the men of The All-American Rejects were, in fact, rejects. With careers exceeding the 10-year mark, as well as four albums and a slew of radio hits under their belts, the mere notion is damn near laughable.
But in an era in which DJs are headlining rock festivals, and more and more artists are incorporating tech-infused accents and finishes into their albums, finding a band that’s still true blue to their rock roots is truly a rare commodity.
While Tyson Ritter (lead vocals/bass/piano), Nick Wheeler (lead guitar/backing vocals), Mike Kennerty (rhythm guitar/backing vocals) and Chris Gaylor (drums/percussion) have embraced the powers of technology to a certain extent, they have by no means completely abandoned the genre that ignited their careers initially in 2003.
Following the release of the catchy yet weepy pop rock hit “Swing, Swing,” The All-American Rejects set off on a mind-bending journey chock-full of breakthrough singles and a whirlwind of months-long tours. Despite reaching mainstream fame, which has cursed the personal relationships and creativity of countless acts, the four-piece remain closer and more invigorated than ever.
And with the band’s latest album, Kids In The Street, who can blame them? Featuring Tyson’s most mature and introspective lyrics to date, the album also manages to return to the effortless and DIY-inspired roots of the band’s self-titled debut. Throw in more complex instrumentals to complement the relatable and at times bleak musings, and the opus has brought the men of The All-American Rejects to a whole new musical level.
Check out the transcription below to hear how The All-American Rejects have survived in light of musical shifts, why Kids In The Street has ignited a fire within the band, and why Wheeler is eagerly awaiting a rock revolution.
You guys have been touring consistently since the last time you spoke with The Aquarian Weekly, right before the Bamboozle Festival. What was it like to play the fest in its birthplace, Asbury Park, NJ?
Bamboozle is always great. This year in particular was a lot of fun because it was on the beach. It’s the first year it’s ever been like that, at least in our experience. We did one performance indoors, and we did Bamboozle Left once.
I’m a huge rubbernecker (laughs), so if I see anyone famous or that’s been on tv I sort of geek out a little bit. We saw Kevin Smith roaming around backstage wearing a hockey jersey with his own last name on the back. That was awesome.
Yeah, it seems like the star power this year was brought to a whole other level.
Absolutely. The Bamboozle has become a huge event. It used to be more of a festival for people in the scene. We still were so honored to be a part of it, but now, playing alongside the Foo Fighters and Bon Jovi, we’re stoked that we got to be involved.
The All-American Rejects have been a band for more than a decade. Obviously touring is a big part of that, but is the grueling schedule something you ever really get used to?
As far as touring goes, I wouldn’t say that’s fully the norm because every few years we take a bit of time off to write a record. And then we get used to being at home and in the studio, sleeping in the same bed night after night. Then, when it’s time to go back on tour, we have to re-adapt and remember what that lifestyle on the road is like.
I will say that The All-American Rejects—the band—is what we’re used to. This is all we know. We’ve gone through the formative “young-kids-becoming-adults” phases as a band and performing, which isn’t normal whatsoever. This entire concept gave us a lot of fuel and ammo for our writing, especially for Kids In The Street. It’s really kind of all we’ve known, and coming off of tours for When The World Comes Down, we were ready to take time off and make a record.
It’s been a trip putting life on pause to tour, then seeing where we are a few years down the road when we put on the brakes to write again. We’re always in different places and headspaces, and there’s always something else going on in our lives personally. It’s crazy going through life in this skewed version of reality; sort of like Back To The Future Part II (laughs).
And it seems like you guys are in constant evolution. As you said, the latest album is entirely new, especially from a lyrics perspective. Would you say this album has re-invigorated the band?
I think making this album, living this album and touring with this album is almost like The All-American Rejects returning back to its original form. It was pretty DIY when we started, and Tyson and I first started writing [13 years ago]. We did it all ourselves. Not to say we don’t have a great machine behind us these days; that comes later. In the past, we overlooked and weren’t involved in certain decisions and creative processes outside of the music. This time around, we’ve been really hands-on throughout the entire process, whether it’s music videos or any other way the band is portrayed.
I think that has to do with the fact that this is the record we’re most proud of. Our mindset nowadays is that all of our peers and these other bands out there are either broken up or have fallen to the wayside.
Music is completely different nowadays. The fact that we can release these albums, put on shows and kids still come out is a big deal. It really lights the fire under our asses to make this band the best that it can be.
You bring up a good point about the scene right now. It seems like most bands have either fallen to the wayside, as you said, while others just plug and chug albums that they know work just to stay relevant.
I think it’s really easy to get into a routine, especially when we’re on tour and it’s the same thing day after day. I think what happens with a lot of bands is that they kind of take that and apply it to their creative process and their music. A lot of bands out there just create the same record over and over; they find something that works and try to re-create it.
If you don’t challenge yourself creatively and don’t push yourself to do something different when you have the chance to do so—when you’re making music—I think people get bored. That’s when things fall apart.
It’s obvious that you guys really get a joy out of performing. How do you keep that love alive, despite the redundancies and sheer exhaustion that comes with touring?
It really is the best job ever. Sometimes touring does get redundant, but you have to be reminded of that—it’s the best job ever. What keeps it fresh is that you switch the setup a bit, but there’s also this “push and pull” process with the crowd. People expect a show, which we give them. But it’s an audience-participation sport. It gets to the point where we can only give so much without the audience giving anything back, and vice versa.
The best nights are the ones where the crowds are having the times of their lives and forgetting about everything else. They put their cell phones down, aren’t taking videos and putting them on YouTube and not fucking texting during the set. They just lose themselves. And when that happens it’s a really magical moment; it’s an amazing reset button for us. It happened to us in Utah of all places. That was an incredible show, and it reinvigorated us for the next show. We’re just fortunate kids keep listening and keep coming back to see us perform.
Do you think that’s a big generational issue, just with the rising popularity of smartphones? That people always want to be connected?
There are times I feel a generation gap, yes. It makes me wonder if kids are just doing things differently than a few years ago, or from when I was going to shows as a kid. I just feel like you need to put the phones down, get rid of the wall between you and the band you paid to see in person, and really lose yourself.
Hell, I’m even guilty of it; I can barely sit through a movie without checking my phone and texting. But live shows are moments in life when you can just forget about yourself and just have a good time.
Are there any bands that you take cues from in your performance style?
Growing up and seeing shows like Metallica and Bush, I wasn’t trying to become that, but it’s what we draw from. It’s tough because I’m at the age where I’m sort of jaded and I’m not paying attention to a lot of the music out there. If I go to a concert it has to be one that captures my full attention.
The Cure [are] one band I totally lose myself when I watch them. They have a lot of great songs, but they also have a lot of tracks that I don’t know. They’ll play for three and a half hours, but it doesn’t matter. They do what they want to do and the audience is just lost in it.
You’re hitting the road this fall with Boys Like Girls. How does it feel to be reuniting with the guys since the last time you played together in 2006?
We have a rare opportunity to take some bands out this fall that we really like and enjoy listening to. Boys Like Girls were a band we took a chance on six years ago on our Tournado tour, and I really dug those guys. I haven’t seen them since, so this should be a fun little reunion, and we’re playing a lot of great venues.
You guys have consistently kept pace in the scene, in light of all these shifts taking place within the music industry. What does the future hold for The All-American Rejects?
Things are so different nowadays. When we released our first record, there was no such thing as YouTube or Facebook. We started making demos and playing shows; now people just focus on how many friends they can get on Facebook, which is a completely different approach than it was. It’s a different school of thought.
There’s something to say about changing with the times and adapting, and being a rock band when guitars aren’t cool and aren’t on the radio. There are times I hope there’s going to be this shift and rock music is going to be cool again, and kids are going to pick up real instruments and not just want to be DJs. Some bands have managed to reinvent themselves and change with the times. We grew up seeing the bands that were able to do it, and hope we can survive as well, to some degree. It’s inspiring to see it’s possible, so you never know. Next year, maybe it’ll be cool again to play guitar (laughs).
The All-American Rejects will be at the Starland Ballroom on Sept. 19 and the Best Buy Theater on Sept. 21. The band’s latest album, Kids In The Street, is available now through Interscope. For more information, go to allamericanrejects.com