Zachary Barnett
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“We all Have the Ambition to be the Biggest and Best Band”: American Authors Interview

New York-based rock act American Authors currently signed to Island Records. Formerly known as the Blue Pages, they emerged as American Authors in 2012. They made their debut in 2013 with the release of their upbeat song “Believer”. Comprised of Zachary Barnett (vocalist), James Adam Shelly (guitarist), Dave Rublin (bassist) and Matt Sanchez (drummer) they released their second single “Best Day of My Life” with Mercury Records“Best Day of My Life” earned a triple-platinum certification from the RIAA and vaulted to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It instantly introducing the world to their recognizable sound.

Since then they have recorded three albums and toured all around the world. They have appeared on the stages of Lollapalooza, Firefly Music Festival, BottleRock Napa Valley, Reading Festival, and many more.

On February 1, 2019, they released their third album Seasons. Collaborating alongside producers Cason Cooley and Trent Dabbs the band elevated their sound to what can best be described as “upbeat with soul”.

As we met with the band we had the opportunity to watch as they performed their soundcheck for the show. To say they take their music seriously would be an understatement. They meticulously checked to make sure everything could be properly heard while working together to make sure no one sound overpowered anything else. However, they addressed everyone on a first name basis and made it very clear how grateful they were to have such an amazing team working on their tour. It was instantly clear how well rounded and positive these guys were.

As the rest of the band went to go grab something to eat, Barnett stayed behind to answer questions about the identity and sound of American Authors. Interviewing him felt more like a conversation between friends.

Shortly after our photo session some fans saw him and asked if they could take a photo of him. To which he enthusiastically replied, “Oh yeah, of course!” These guys love their job, crew, and fans and make sure to show that in every single ounce of their identity.

How are you feeling about your European tour?
I feel really good. We just did like a Navy tour in Italy, Spain and it was super fun. It was good to get over the jet lag and play the same show with a longer set. All summer long we have been doing a 40 minute set in the states so we got to do the longer set this past week with the Navy shows. So we’re all good, no jet lag, and prepared for tonight.

How did you figure out your tour locations? Italy, Germany, Spain, France and then at the end Russia which is a hop, skip, and a leap away.
Yeah, it was just like these smaller shows, these one-offs, like smaller shows that we are doing that were added in last. So I think what happened was that we made sure to book the Navy shows and that’s what got us over here, and then once we had that we were able to lock down a bunch of festivals on the random days in between.  So we were like “Alright cool, we’ll already be over here so why don’t we do a few headline shows”. We just kind of fit them into the off days.

How would you explain your group dynamic?
It’s good, we’re like best friends to the point where there will be times where we don’t get along like Dave and Matt, our bass player and drummer, got into the other day in Italy, it was our last day in Sicily.

We were checking into the hotel and Matt cut Dave off in line to check in to get his room key and Dave like flipped his shit and lost his mind and they got into like a huge argument. It was just Matt being a dick to Dave, but then it triggered something more in Dave and he just lost his mind and went crazy.

So like siblings spend so much time together and then finally something happens.
Totally the siblings vibe because straight up less than 24 hours later everything was all good.

Have you guys grown to mimic each other?
Well, we all have kind of like our inside jokes and stuff. I have amazing impressions of everyone. Really good impressions.

Do you guys, you, in particular, use the music to develop further as a human being? In one of your interviews, someone had said: “Music and words go hand in hand”.
Yeah, all the songs we write are expressions of what we are going through and of what we are dealing with in life and our relationships with our friends and families and kind of what we are feeling with everything going on, it totally goes hand in hand. Everything we write comes from a real place.

How do you guys help yourselves stay grounded and avoid getting big heads?
Sometimes I wish we had bigger heads than we do. We’re are just kind of like sensitive in our own ways with our art but we are also very like out-going and fun, and I don’t know if a normal dude is the right thing to say but just like well-rounded people.

We all grew up just doing a whole bunch of different things. From musical theater and choir to sports and different activities, so I think we are all pretty polite and grounded people. It was never a thing for us to get a big head.

Upbeat with soul on “Seasons“

So with your new album, I have been trying to figure out how to describe it. You guys have a very upbeat tone and that’s always kind of been your signature and now this one is more “upbeat with soul”.
I was going to say somber.

In one of your interviews, you guys said 80’s gospel with a mix of trying to fit in with a mix of trying to deal with things.
We said all of that? That’s a lot? I think it’s like standard American Authors but with a bit more of a serious tone. But I don’t know if that’s right.

So “upbeat with soul”?
I like what you said. I think that is the best I have heard. That is better than any of us have ever explained it.

What influenced you guys to go into this soulful-somber-seriousness?
It was something we always had in us, but before we wrote “Believer” and “Best Day” we were like trying to be Coldplay part two and it just didn’t work for us. Then we kind of stumbled upon this whole sound of what American Authors kind of became, we always had it in us but we were kind of just experimenting in the studio and we wrote a few songs.

We wrote “Deep Water” and we wrote “Can’t stop me now” from the album “Deep Water” and then “Neighborhood”. With “Deep Water”, when they brought it in, it was something super passionate for us to do and we were just getting these amazing responses to it. So they brought it into the label and they played it and the entire staff went “Woah, this is really cool, what band is this?”, and we said “No! It’s American Authors” and they said “What? This is sick!”.

I think we have all of these songs that really mean a lot to us and we thought “Let’s push this, let’s keep this going, let’s explore this route and do something a little different”. What’s cool about this new album is that even though it might have a bit of a different vibe sonically we still have our old school elements and we do still try to keep that message of hope with the lyrics and like going through real things, but at the end of the day seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

I read that you recorded a large part of your album outside of Nashville. Was it inspiring to be recording in such a musically inclined part of the USA?
It was cool. Nashville is super fun and it’s such a music town where you can just go out and there is live music everywhere at all hours of the day.

We went out, we were like 20 minutes outside of the city at a friend’s house, and basically just did the album in the woods. Out in a beautiful house in the woods overlooking this beautiful valley and so, I think it was neutral ground.

I moved to LA and the rest of the band still lives in New York so it always kind of sucks writing in your hometown because there are always a million things to do. If we are recording in New York it’s always like “Oh well”; first of all, people show up late because they got their shit there, then they all leave early because “Oh, I have to go to dinner with my girlfriend” or “XY is going on tonight”. But in Nashville it’s different. I love the city but it’s kind of just like “I guess we’re just here, and I don’t got shit to do”. So it ended up being a nice neutral ground.

In between Elton John and Queen

Another thing I have noticed is you guys are hilariously active on social media outlets like Twitter. For example, when your fans ask questions the answers you guys sometimes come up with are hysterical. However, you guys are not very political but you are outgoingly loud about certain things such as climate change, Earth Day, Pride. Is that a way you build a relationship with your fans?
Yeah, and fans aside I think it is important when you are at a certain level you have this outreach on social media and it’s really important to use that. Use that for good, at least for what we think is good, and to get our words across because we don’t really bring politics into our music it’s more of like an emotional level but I think it’s like “Okay, look if we have this outreach on social media we are going to use it to really get our feelings across, and especially speak what we feel is important and what’s right”.

What does your level of fame feel like? Obviously, there are Elton John and Queen and then there are bands that are just starting, and then there is this wonderful spectrum of the in-between.
We’re like an in-between spectrum. It’s cool. It’s okay. I would rather be on the Elton John level I think. At least right now.

Being knighted must be pretty cool.
Yeah, I would like to be knighted. It’s funny because I think we all have the ambition to be the biggest and best band. That’s what we have always wanted. Dave and I were talking about this earlier actually, how sometimes you kind of feel like anxiousness to be like “Well, why isn’t this going a certain way right now or why isn’t this doing what I wanted it to do and yada yada yada.”

What’s so important is that you’ve gotta live in the moment and you’ve got to be thankful and grateful for what’s actually happening right now.  I think that’s so important. Obviously, we would love to be Coldplay today, like that would be amazing, but we are also thankful and grateful that we get to walk around Hamburg and eat currywurst and play an awesome show tonight at a great club with fans that are dedicated and love our music. So I think it’s important to live in the moment and live for today.

And aspire to go further.
Well, you always aspire, but I think sometimes if you get so crazy wrapped up in it, you’re going to get angry and not be able to enjoy the right now and see the positives and all these steps.

Photographer: ©Katrin Arfmann
Photo gallery

Original Article can be found at Messed! Up Magazine.

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