Currently giving the gift of music and getting back in the groove are American Authors, a band who hopes nothing more than what they do brings joy to fans, listeners, and collaborators across the globe.
American Authors frontman Zac Barnett understands that the face of music has changed. In our conversation, he reflected on how during the band’s mainstream come up around 2013, there was a distinct sound floating through radio waves that, alongside One Republic, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford and Sons, he was part of. With that in mind, though, he and his bandmates, James Adam Shelley, Dave Rublin, and Matt Sanchez, have strived to evolve with the times and not stick to one sound. Every album of theirs has been critically acclaimed for a reason: they’re fun, gratifying, and original. Their style is wholly their own, honing in on their own feelings and experiences before molding them into the perfect musical package, complete with a bow. Their latest release, Counting Down, dropped mid-September with the exact idea of giving fans something new and positive to listen to during these unprecedented times, which is truly the ultimate gift.
Not only have American Authors been touring all over the world for years, but you’ve been a staple at music festivals over the course of your career, as well. What has this time, one of no true lives performances, been like for all you? Because I feel as though performing for your fans and music lovers alike is a big part of who you are as a band.
It is, for sure. We’ve been pretty constant with touring since we first hit the scene over eight years ago now, so yeah, touring is huge for us. I will say, as bad as it sucks to cancel shows, which we’ve had to do, but this whole pandemic kind of hit at a time where American Authors were actually just coming off of a tour and we were going to take a little time to just kind of refocus and recenter before starting to get back in the studio. We did have to cancel shows, but we didn’t have to cancel the whole show.
For me, it sucks, because this is the longest time that I’ve been away from my bandmates. It’s the longest time that I’ve gone without doing a show here or there. I really feel like American Authors got it easy, where it’s like, I have friends in so many other bands that just had to cancel six months worth of touring. I can’t even imagine that. I can’t imagine if this would have come last summer, just a year ago, when we were on tour for the entire summer, then we went to Europe for a month, and we had so much stuff booked. I can’t even fathom what that must be like for bands. My heart’s with them, my heart’s with all the crew members out there that are going without work right now, and everyone in between. It sucks and it’s a bummer.
It’s very different also, because now there has been a shift to these online shows, which I know you’ve done a couple of. What is your perspective on the change over to streamed concerts or Internet performances?
Oh, it’s fine. It’s nowhere near the same, though. I don’t think they have the same energy. I’ve even done live shows that are kind of more produced live stuff for like Good Day, New York and other morning shows and I still don’t even think those have the same energy as when a group goes in and gets to perform live on a TV show. I don’t know, but it’s not the same. It’s cool for now! I think it’s nice to do, especially to raise awareness for different causes and to raise funds. I think it’s a good thing, mostly, because it’s kind of all people can do right now, so I would never discourage it, but it’s definitely not the same.
Of course, there can be a reason behind the performance, but you still won’t feel that give and take with an audience the same way you would on a stage.
Yeah. I mean, you don’t feel the give and take, you don’t feel the energy the audience doesn’t feel. It’s just like watching another version of a music video almost for me…. What I like about going to a live show is, as an audience member, I like to feel the music just throughout my body and my blood and my bones like it is shaking me. I love that. I want to see bands and I love the idea that you just have no idea the unexpectedness of what’s going to happen on their stage. I like, even as an audience member, feeding off the other audience numbers that are around when we’re watching that performance, you know?
I understand completely. That’s something that I don’t think can be replicated. You can try, but I don’t think anyone can find a way to do it.
You definitely cannot. I think this is definitely setting up a new cool way to do performances for the future. I think everyone will kind of start to be equipped to do really nice professional live streams or shout outs or whatever from their home, so I think you may start seeing more of that in the future where people can do sessions from home now and can just zoom in and whatever. There’s going to be a lot of that stuff. You’re not going to have to travel as much for certain things, but the idea of a live concert and the live show is never going to go anywhere and it can’t be replicated at all.
That’s true, there are many pluses to all of this – especially for musicians who might have people that want to collaborate with in another state or even another country. I like the perspective that it can still bring people together in a new way.
Yeah. It’s cool. It’s definitely kind of normalized it for me. It’s been really cool to still make music like writing, collaborating, doing stuff not in the room. Can it work? Yeah, sure. You are lacking energy, like similar musical energy still, but there’s cool things about it. It makes some things really accessible, which I like.
Absolutely. Now, Counting Down, your new EP is finally out in the world for people to listen to and love. How did this EP, this project, come about? Because it’s surely an interesting time to release music and I read that much of the songs came around during the Seasons era last year.
Yeah. They were written and everything was pretty much done like two months after our third album, Seasons, came out, so we’d had them for a while. We started releasing singles, like a song called “Microphone,” leading up to our January/February tour with Magic Giant. Then we did the collaboration with Seeb on the song “Best I Can.” That came out and then at that point it was kind of like, “Well, we have these other three songs that we have are almost finished. This seems like a good time while everyone’s kind of in hibernation to just put another album out for our fans and give more music to people that are hanging out, hanging at home, and need more shit to listen to.”
Well, fans are glad you did, because even though Counting Down is an EP, it has everything: fun, depth, inspiration, anthemic instrumentation, and soul-warming melodies. What do you want listeners to get out of it, now that it is out in the world?
It’s really cool because American Authors are at a point where we have three full length albums out now and I think this EP really encompasses all the different kinds of music that we’ve been fortunate enough to put out on those albums. We have really classic, kind of uptempo, fun American Authors stuff that people know us for with Oh, What A Life. Then you have the more sentimental, moody songs that are on Seasons. Then you have kind of the pretty heavy pop tracks that are a little more familiar on our second album, What We Live For. So this EP, just in five songs, for me, really has all of these styles and it allows us to now take this time to move forward and get back to the drawing board of what we want to do for the next batch of music.
As a band, you’ve never really tied yourself down to one sound or idea. Like you said, you’ve touched on pop music, you’ve dabbled with folk, classic rock, and indie – and you’ve done it all exceptionally. Where do you draw these inspirations from? Have they changed over time?
It’s always different. I think with every album, we were always looking for something different. With the first album, we were really just discovering ourselves and kind of coming into what American Authors were. I think with the second album, it was definitely more like a pop driven collection of songs. Then the third one… well, Seasons was kind of digging in deep and it was more so a “Look, this is where we’re at in our lives. This is the mood we’re at and we’re writing it down.” This is what we’re writing right now as we’re letting those emotions really spill out. That’s why I don’t necessarily know what the next step is. I could tell you right now, we literally just started writing. We just started writing again for the first time since March when we left each other. We already have like three songs that I feel super, super stoked about and they’re really, really good.
Wow, that’s exciting. How your writing process changed, if at all, since being kind in this weird lockdown time? Or were you able to just fall right into step as you used to?
It was cool. It was a great thing because we actually got together. The dudes came out – I have a home studio, so they came up to my home studio when they landed – they got off the plane, got COVID tested with the rapid test, so they got the results, and they were both negative. Then they came over and we just kind of like hunkered down at my studio at my house and just wrote. During this time, you know, I’ve been writing so much by myself just because I haven’t been around a lot of people. It was pretty incredible for the last six months just to be alone at my home, working on music by myself, because I hadn’t done that years since everything with American Authors is so collaborative. I actually had an incredible time just getting back to my roots and just being by myself, being my own writer, and being my own editor. Everything became kind of just all self done, so I was nervous going into collaborating with multiple other people. Honestly, though, the first day we just got back into it and it was super nice. It was like riding a bike, just falling back into it. That first day we wrote a freaking killer new song and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
I’m so glad you guys got back into the groove of things. You mentioned that you had used this time to work on music as your own artist. Will we get to hear any of those songs or any of those ideas on a possible American Author’s forthcoming record?
You’ll hear them. I have a lot of stuff that I’m working on right now. I have a bunch of different projects that I’m working on that should be coming out sooner than later. It’s just been a lot of fun working on different things right now and I am, we are, super excited.
COUNTING DOWN BY AMERICAN AUTHORS IS OUT NOW ON ALL STREAMING PLATFORMS!