On-set with the All-American Rejects
“You can sit beside me when the world comes down/If it doesn’t matter than just turn around/You be the queen and I’ll be your clown/You can sit beside me when the world comes down.”
The All-American Rejects front man, Tyson Ritter, sings the verse to “Mona Lisa” for the 29th time. “All right, nice pass,” comments the voice behind the glass. “Some good stuff in there.” Producer Eric Valentine sits behind the console in his Barefoot Studios control room and imparts his bohemian brilliance. On the soundstage beyond the wall, the band o’ Oklahoma brothers track live their third cd. Welcome to the womb of creation where minds meld, riffs congeal, voices carry, lives alter, skin sheds and a modern rock multi-platinum success story swing, swing for the fences. But for The All- American Rejects, the road to When the World Comes Down, their third long form musical offering, has been anything but a straight line.
“This record hasn’t been smooth sailing,” confesses Nick, sporting a wry grin across his boyish face. “After the success of Move Along, we felt an innate need to challenge ourselves to grow. And to challenge our fans to grow with us. On the last record, all the songs were there before we even entered the studio. We were completely rehearsed. We just had to show up, play the parts, producer Howard Benson pushed the buttons and in six weeks, we were done. This LP is where we’re at as people, not just artists, here and now. That’s why we took the bus trips and locked ourselves away in remote cabins to recreate this sense of torture like we had in the past, before we sold any records.”
Bus trips? Cabins? Torture? How divinely placed are the potholes on the creative road less traveled? “When we first started working on “Real World,” a pretty aggressive rock song for us, we all got in a room, jammed it, and it sucked!” recalls Mike. “So me and Chris went to Florida to Nick and Ty’s place on the gulf coast and hung out for about a month. Ty has this electric drum kit, tiny ass little practice amp. We put the drums through the amp and the song came together really cool. You’ll have to ask Ty and Nick about the cabin and cross country bus trip.”
“‘Breakin’’ came out of the bus ride,” says Ty. “I wrote the chorus at Eric’s studio but after several weeks of basic tracking, I had a meltdown and became totally claustrophobic; lost my touch. I was going soft on everything, like falling into this vortex, grabbing things on my way down. I was depressed and worse, afraid to just let go; certain doom to an artist. So Nick and me got in a bus and just headed east on Interstate 10 to wherever we felt like cruising. And ‘Breakin’’ came together along the way, just me and Nick in the back of the bus, figuring shit out, chords, verses. The song is so different for us. It’s different and weird.”
“Ty and I know each other so well that two weeks in the back of a bus, personal shit doesn’t come out,” says Nick. “We’re in this together. I’ve known him since I was 14. We discussed insecurities but accepted the process. We knew we were growing. The cabin trip up in Rabun County, Georgia, where they filmed Deliverance, we’d done like four songs, two of which are on the record, ‘Damn Girl,’ and ‘Falling Apart.’ It was like the 12th day in close quarters and we’re cracking and Ty says, ‘give it one more day, one more day’ and he sat down at his keyboard with his headphones on and I was diddling some guitar part from another song and he says, ‘Okay, I’ve got it!’ and he plays me the chorus from ‘Mona Lisa,’ and I’m like yeah, but we get back to the rest of the guys and jam it and there’s something not quite right. It sounded like alt country southern rock but the chord changes were too quick. Then, completely frustrated, we played it for Eric and he says, ‘what’s wrong with the demo? Just play it like that.’ And it worked and we decided to track it live and now we love it. A common theme throughout the process of making this record has been ‘what was the initial inspiration or thought for the song? Less is more has won out time and again.”
Beyond a band, AAR is four friends who discovered one other and scored the American dream. Tyson and Nick founded the group and released the EP, Same Girl, New Songs in the summer of 2001. Mike and Chris joined in 2002 and the new quartet hit stores with their self-titled long play debut, The All-American Rejects on October 15th, scoring commercial success with the single, “Swing Swing.” They toured tirelessly and in July 2005, presented their fans with Move Along, a breakout effort featuring three smash hits, “Dirty Little Secret,” “It Ends Tonight,” and the LP’s inspiring anthemic title track. From down home southern boys to multi-platinum stars, AAR broke through the pabulum of mainstream pop with a cache of great songs and an authentic connection to their adoring audience.
While success can often damage the psyche, it just brought the Rejects closer together. It has something to do with personality and good breeding. “I was enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma, was gonna be a physical therapist,” muses Chris. “’Til I got this call from Ty. Immediately deep sixed school and joined the band. I love playing drums and wish I could do this all the time. More I get to play, happier I am, less apt to get in trouble. I felt like I hit the lottery when I was making 50 bucks a show and not having to work for a living. Success is relative. When we got our first gold record, I started thinking ‘yeah, I guess this could pan out for awhile.’ The recording process of When the World Comes Down has united us in a deeper way. Tyson has really matured in the past year. We all have.”
Songs like “Believe,” a breathtaking homage to a fallen friend that examines why we’re here and where we might go once we cross over, the ambitious “Another Heart Calls,” AAR’s first duet taken to resonant new heights by the hypnotic vocals of a pair of Alabama sisters called, The Pierces, the soaring, roaring, antagonizing, “Hope It Gives You Hell,” (written on a road trip to Vancouver), the bouncy, effervescent “Falling Apart,” and the infectious, monster hooked, “Damn Girl,” illustrate seasoned composition, vintage production and a fierce, experimental spirit that contemporary fans beyond the Rejects’ passionate base will wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embrace.
“I want this record to be more than just good for us, I want it to be good for them, our fans,” insists Ty. “In the end, we’re just a band, close friends, who care deeply about what we do. When the bullshit eventually dies, love survives. I’m no rock star or hometown hero. I’m just a nobody. And like the song says, you’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.”