Redefining Alternative Rock: An Interview with X Ambassadors

They went from underdogs to top dogs in a time span of only a few weeks since VHS was released back in June. But with epic tracks like “Jungle” and “Renegades” blowing up your speakers, how can anyone be all that surprised? For X Ambassadors, music runs in their blood, and they are spreading like wild fire. So much so, that it was only a matter of time before they became a hot commodity in the alternative rock arena. Behind every lyric, drum beat, piano key, and guitar strum, there lies that naturally distinctive, enigmatic element that immediately hits you like a ton of bricks­­­­­­—you’ll be okay, though, don’t worry. To say their sound is unique would be an understatement, and their album, VHS, is too diverse to be categorized as alternative rock. Goosebumps will prickle your skin once you grasp the burning passion these guys exude, through both recordings and live performances.

All of the tracks on VHS capture the striking realization that life can be burdensome when you’re not where you want to be at this very moment. However, take it from X Ambassadors’ guitarist, Noah Feldshuh, “you have to just keep going.” As they’ve already demonstrated, the X Ambassadors are not just musicians. Rather, they are a shining beacon of hope for all of the underdogs both inside and outside of the music industry. Check out what else Noah had to say below!

Since your tour kicks off in only a couple of days, how are you feeling? Are you guys pretty psyched?

We are definitely psyched. We kind of feel like we’ve been on tour already because of how our schedule has been as of late, so we don’t necessarily feel like we’re jumping off on tour, but we’re excited that we get to be back out there playing shows and stuff, you know? We’re definitely excited to get to the bus on the 18th.

Yeah, I’ll bet! Are there any areas you’re especially looking forward to playing at, or is everywhere pretty much equally great?

Oh, man! I mean, it’s always great to play in New York and places around there, and also L.A. But you know, it’s never all the same. But it’s usually wherever we have mostly family, we’re always really excited when they can all make it out there to come see us.

Well, the feeling is clearly mutual with your fans. You’ve already sold out tickets for a few shows, and the others are quickly filling up, as well. Since it’s still so early in the game, does that feel like a big accomplishment?

It’s absolutely great. We feel super blessed. We’ve been playing music together for so long, and it’s great to not actually have to worry about the attendance of the shows. People are there, and they’re there for us, so it’s always special.

Yeah, of course! When you started out a few years back, you were originally just the Ambassadors, is that right?

Yes! Yeah, that was before we linked up with Interscope Records. We had to add the X for legal reasons.

Oh, really? I didn’t know that.

Yeah, that’s why (laughs).

Does X Ambassadors symbolize something totally different?

I mean, we were trying to differentiate the name a little bit, but still stay true to our fans that we had made up to that point, and not sort of have to revamp the whole thing. We went through a couple of reiterations, and landed on X.

Yeah, it’s not too far off, which is nice. We all still know who you are.

Yeah, exactly.

So, personally, I find it a little difficult to name the genre your music identifies with the most. I think you guys have a very eclectic sound, and since you’ve said before that your influences come a variety of backgrounds, could you maybe name a few?

Yeah, so it pretty much spans the gamut, in terms of the influences that we all listen to in the band. But our fallback for describing our genre, is usually alternative rock, but with R&B and soul and hip-hop, that kind of sensibility. So that’s sort of where we all come from, you know? That’s sort of the school we’re all from, but we all listen to everything. We all are just big fans of music in general, so we all listen to everything.

That’s wonderful though—it’s cool that you don’t limit yourselves to one specific genre. So, you guys all pretty much grew up together?

I grew up with Sam and Casey [Harris]. I met Sam when I was in the first day of kindergarten when we were five, and Sam and Casey are brothers, so they’ve known each other for a while (laughs), and we met Adam [Levin] in 2006 when we came down to school the first week of college, in the freshman dorms. We sort of grew up and spent a lot of formative years together with Adam, as well. So, we’ve known him for about a decade.

Wow, that worked out well.

Yeah! It was perfect.

So at what point did music begin to play such a huge role in your lives? When did you realize “you know what, we all like music, why don’t we try to pursue something like this?”

When Sam and I started our first band, I think when we were about 12, and it sort of took off from there. I don’t know if there really was a point where we had to stop and think about it—but there was definitely a point where we all quit our jobs and decided we were going to really go for it, and that was probably in 2010 or 2011, or somewhere around there. But it’s been a very natural progression. It’s always been something that we all love and love to do, and it’s always been something we’ve wanted to do for forever.

Sam and Casey’s mother is a singer, and their father’s a great music enthusiast, Adam’s mom is a dancer, and my parents are in the arts, so we’ve all had some form of art in our lives growing up, which made it a lot easier.

It’s good that it definitely runs in the families then.

Yup! Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

It’s also really awesome how you guys put yourselves on the music map. You all signed with Interscope Records after Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons heard “Unconsolable,” off of the Love Songs Drug Songs EP.

That’s correct! That’s definitely correct. We love those guys, we owe so much to them, and to our producer, Alex Da Kid, who is also made of pure talent, as well. So, we have a good team behind us.

Yes! I’d imagine it was a very exciting time for you to be discovered like that. That’s pretty fantastic.


What was it like working with those guys in the studio?

Yeah, so the way we work, both with when we collaborate with other artists and when we write for ourselves, is very sort of 21st century. Even when we’re in the studio, we’re all sort of sitting at our own little stations on our laptops and stuff. One person has control over the main speakers and stuff is not your quintessential studio session with the band, you know what I mean?

We did that behind the set, and that enables us to record the band, and record anywhere we are, which is how most of the record went. “Fear,” the track the Dragons were on, sort of followed that method. It was a very remote process, so we never actually went to the studio with those guys. But, Dan came up and played the song with us, and sang the song with us. And you know, even working remote with those guys is awesome and we’ve been on tour with them, so we got to jam out together a bunch of times.

Yeah, it’s still very collaborative, so that’s pretty great.

Yeah! Yeah, definitely.

Now, I’ve read in your bio that VHS is mostly about exploring the difficult challenges you’ve each endured upon venturing into the music industry. Would you say that that sort of sums up the record?

Hm, I’d say yeah! Yeah, that’s a great way of interpreting, yes. You know, we’d like to think that it could mean a lot of different thinks to a lot of different audiences, but it definitely tells our story, for sure.

Would you mind telling me a bit about the difficulties you faced, that may have possibly influenced the songwriting process itself?

Well, for example, you know “Renegades” is about defying the odds, and breaking the boundaries and such, so that’s a very personal song for our band, first and foremost because Casey, our keyboard player, is blind, and so he is an example of that great person who defies the odds, so that’s a very personal message. So, you know, things related to that message sort of runs through all the songs, basically.

I think innately, when you write the song, no matter what it’s going to be, it’s going to have your personality in it, and it’s going to be coming from some place personal, just because you’re the one writing it. So, that’s pretty much spans the gamut of our record, and spans itself throughout.

Yes, and you can definitely detect that in the record.


I must say that listening to the album as a whole was definitely an emotional roller coaster, even for myself. So, I’m kind of curious, when you listen or play your own music, are there ever times where you feel the same way, to the point where you’re overwhelmed by the power of your own music?

Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. Definitely some of those songs that tug at your heartstrings a little more, and especially when we’re on stage. You get those feelings a lot. I would say “Unsteady” is probably the one that sparks the most emotion.

I wholeheartedly agree with you (laughs), I love “Unsteady”—that one just really hits home.

(Laughs) Well thank you, thank you.

What’s the main message you want to send to your underdog musicians, who are maybe dealing with the same struggles you guys had in trying to make a career out of music?

Just keep at it, keep going. Keep getting better every day. You know, that’s really what we did.

And it’s a good thing you did, too.

Yeah (laughs). Yeah! I’m glad we did it, too.

Imagine Dragons, along with Jamie N. Commons, are also featured on VHS. Can your fans expect any more collaborations with either artists in the future?

Oh, definitely! Definitely. You know, we love and thrive off of collaborations. We have a huge, huge list of so many talented artists out there and stuff. You’ll definitely see some more collaborations in the future.

Oh, good. I can’t wait to hear! And what do you hope to do in your future work, in terms of musical style? Do you think you’d like to experiment a bit more on the next album?

We’re going to stick with alternative rock, but we’re going to try to redefine the whole genre and we’re going to figure out a way to make it our own and hopefully find something new and exciting that we and everyone else will love.


X Ambassadors will be playing Oct. 22 at the Bowery Ballroom and Oct. 23 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in NY. On Oct. 25, they will be performing at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA. Their new album, VHS, is now available. For more information, visit