INTERVIEW: American Authors Talk Turning Struggle Into Art
We chatted with American Authors member James Adam Shelley about how the "Best Day Of My Life" hit-makers went from rags to riches.
When it comes to success stories in music, one of our favorites comes from the NYC-based foursome American Authors. We've gotten to know the band quite well over the past year, from when they were all living together in an apartment in Brooklyn just releasing their debut EP, to the release of their brand new album Oh, What A Life and its uber-successful single "Best Day Of My Life." After the upbeat song made its way into commercials for brands like Lowe's and Hyundai, as well as appearing in the trailer for the movie Delivery Man, fans developed a serious love affair with the song's positive message. As a result, it's been climbing our Top 100 chart for weeks.
We got the chance to speak with lead guitarist James Adam Shelley, who revealed to us that all four band members help write the group's lyrics, as well as a few other choice secrets about American Authors. For instance, did you know that they love country music? How about the book that inspired the imagery behind "Best Day Of My Life"? You can find the answer to that, and much more about the up-and-coming rock stars, in our exclusive interview with American Authors:
ML: We first got to know American Authors last year when we premiered your lyric video for "Believer". How have things changed for you guys since then?
JAS: We have more fans! That's huge. Also, our schedule's a bit more hectic. We've started to get used to getting up at 5am. Today, we were told, "You don't have a lobby call until 7:45!" and I was like, "Whoa, really? I get to sleep in?"
ML: Speaking of fans, you guys are excellent at replying to them on social media. What's your favorite part about talking to the fans?
JAS: We look at everybody as just normal people who are enjoying the music, and we love chatting with them and hearing their stories. People are appreciating the art, which is special in amongst itself. That's all an artist ever strives for: to be artistic and to have people appreciate it.
ML: Totally. On the subject of your guys' lyrics, do you guys have a go-to process when you start writing?
JAS: We kind of look at songwriting as "all rivers lead to oceans". There's many paths to take. Especially with art: writing songs is such a creative, free-form thing, so for us there's never really one way to do it. We all write lyrics, and we all write together. Sometimes it's two people, sometimes it's all of us, and sometime's it's just one person, so our lyrics come from all walks of life, from personal experiences to what you see happening in the news. You know, you wake up one day and whether you're feeling happy or sad or whatever it is, it can be anything, and come from anywhere.
ML: Is there an overall theme behind your new record Oh, What A Life?
JAS: Yeah, there's definitely a theme. We were all living in a small apartment in Brooklyn and playing music together for such a long time, working these part-time jobs and barely making any money. Nobody had anything, and all you wanted was to express ourselves and have people appreciate our music, our songs, and our viewpoint. It was a tough life. At the time, people were saying "Oh, you're living the life! That's so cool! I wish I could be doing that!", and I would think to myself, "For seven years, we were living in a tiny little apartment with no money...you wish you had that?" [*laughs*]
So yeah, the album's about that struggle, and us continuing to chase our dreams. That whole struggle of us trying to make something out of nothing. It represents that feeling of never knowing what's going to happen, but still striving to make your dreams come alive.
ML: That definitely speaks true to the album's title.
JAS: Every day we look at our lives and think "Oh, wow! It's so cool we got to experience all this". We have this viewpoint on where you should live life how you want it and you should do the things that make you happy. I want to look back on my life and say, "I had some crazy experiences! What a life I've had!", rather than "I had x amount of money in the bank".
ML: Can you tell us what came first, the song "Oh, What A Life" or the album title?
JAS: The song came first -- we feel like that song just summed up everything for us. From us laughing together, to the bad times...because, you know, as a musician there's no steady day. You have really high highs and really low lows. And that's what we based the album around. "Oh, What A Life" is about these extreme emotions, so we thought, "Yeah, this kind of sums up everything for us". "Oh What A Life" is probably my favorite track off the record, actually.
ML: Let's talk about "Best Day Of My Life": did you have any idea that it was going to be such a success?
JAS: I don't think any of us had any idea! It was like, five song ideas that we mashed into one song. We're excited after every song we write, because expressing yourself through a song is just the best, so we're always pumped after we finish a track. But with that one, we were kind of like, "I don't know about this one..." We all walked away from the studio that day and went "Well, good try guys! Maybe next time we'll get a better one!". A few days later, the studio called us and said "Whoa, this is kinda tight! We're really into this". So we went back to the studio and finished it up.
ML: I read a touching comment somebody left on "Best Day Of My Life" recently, they said "Thank you guys so much for writing this, whenever I have a bad day, I listen to this song and it just makes me feel so much better". How does that make you feel as songwriters?
JAS: That feels great -- we love hearing that something we created affects somebody else. That's one of our main reasons for writing. The song has already affected us: it came from our minds, our hearts, and what we feel, and so it's amazing to know that somebody else feels that as well.
ML: Were you guys just having a really good day and wrote that song? Or is there more of an explanation behind it?
JAS: We kind of based the imagery off the book "Where The Wild Things Are".
ML: Oh, cool!
JAS: Yeah! It also came from the fact that at the time, we had crappy part-time jobs, no money, and we were living in a small apartment eating ramen noodles, so the song's just about escaping whatever hard times you're having and just making your own best day. Going into a dreamworld and just living there.
ML: Are there any artists who you guys look to for inspiration when it comes to your music?
JAS: We come from so many different musical backgrounds, so we listen to everything from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Queen to modern bands like The 1975 and Bastille and even Kanye West. Even country bands like Florida Georgia Line! Anybody can write a good song out there, there's something special about expressing yourself in that manner -- we really appreciate that. On this album, we have influences coming in from everywhere, from urban drum grooves to folk instruments like banjo and the mandolin...even modern-day synths pop up on the album. We love everything from pop to rock to country, so our album's a reflection of that. We're influenced by so much music: music is a beautiful, beautiful thing! No matter who creates it and how you create it, it's just a very special experience.
ML: We agree, and we love all those artists you mentioned! Especially Florida Georgia Line, because we have a soft spot for country.
JAS: At the end of the day, we just look at music as what it is. You know how everybody always says, "We like everything but country"? For me, they're just the same as people doing rock or people doing rap, or R&B or anything else. They're just trying to be creative. So I appreciate that artistic freedom, and it may be a different style of music, but there's no reason to look at that and be like, "Oh I'm not gonna like it because it's country". I like it because I appreciate that somebody else is doing art!
ML: We always ask the people that we talk to their favorite misheard lyric that you've ever heard before. Is there any that come to mind?
JAS: I remember back in high school, I loved that band A Perfect Circle, and they had this line that I thought went "We're stuck in oblivion". But he actually said something completely different. But I remember being like, "Oh, that's really cool, he's staying he's stuck in oblivion in this crazy world". And when I found out the actual lyric, I just thought to myself, "Hmm, I'd rather just stick to what I thought it was originally". [laughs]
Check out the VEVO Lift version of American Authors' "Best Day Of My Life", live from Toronto below:
And if you haven't picked it up already, Oh, What A Life is available to download off iTunes today.
What's your favorite lyric by American Authors? We want to hear it in the comments.
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