The All-American Rejects' Tyson Ritter Tells Us About Songwriting, Running Into An Old Flame, and His Small-Town Roots
Recently, we got the chance to sit down with The All-American Rejects' Tyson Ritter and ask him about the band's new album Kids In The Street, his songwriting, and his musical influences. Here's what he had to say...
MetroLyrics: Growing up in Oklahoma, who were some of your musical inspirations?
Tyson Ritter: I mean, definitely my dad. Everyday he'd pick me up after school and we'd take dirt roads and he's have a six-pack of beer and I'd drive. He'd play all sorts of music for me anything from Black Crowes to INXS to AC/DC. He really loved rock n' roll. That kind of always stuck with me. My mom, my pops, and my grandma [were] huge musical fans and [they] got me into that.
ML: The All-American Rejects formed in 1999 but you guys really broke out in 2002 with the release of your debut self-titled album. Can you tell me where that album came from, being that you wrote it when you were still essentially a teenager?
TR: We wrote like 5 songs and started touring around Oklahoma and Texas. We sent all our CDs out to every record company that our favourite acts were on. All of a sudden Doghouse records came and saw a show and they were like "Well, you guys need a record's worth of material in order to do this", so in the next 6 months Nick dropped out of college and I graduated highschool early and we wrote the rest of the record (6 songs). We flew to New York and recorded it after that summer of touring and the rest is sort of history I guess.
ML: From that album, "Swing Swing" was the most popular single. What did that song mean to you guys at the time?
TR: You know, it's a lyric about a girl that I was seeing who was pretty much the muse for the whole record. It's funny, I ran into her for the first time in 10 years last year and I just gave her a big hug and I was like "Thank you SO much!" She seemed a little bit distraught by it but it's funny how powerful music can be cause it almost seemed like she was kinda holding onto something. Music turns into a person, and that person is still alive: it can mess people up a bit.
ML: You guys have had a number of massive hits, BUT your most popular lyrics on our site are "Gives You Hell" followed by "It Ends Tonight". What do you think it is about those songs specifically that connects with fans of your lyrics?
TR: I think "Gives You Hell" is just an anthem of, you know, defiance to someone in your life that you think hasn't believed in you. The song is a big middle-finger to anyone you don't like and those songs are always fun, I guess. "It Ends Tonight", I think that when it came out it was just sort of appropriate for people who never had the lyrics to stand on. It was funny — the other night I was talking with my tour manager and I had just met him and he was like "Hey, 'It Ends Tonight', man: I'm surprised you were the first person to pull that out". And I was sort of like, "Hmmm." You know, when a lyric and a melody comes together for the first time, in the 50's the most popular one was probably like "My girl hurt me" or something, [or] "Don't take my baby", but to be the first person to drop lyrics like we did in "It Ends Tonight" was cool. Like with "Dirty Little Secret", I think when a lyric has never ben used in a song before, it has more of an impact.
ML: Especially when you know it's something as simple as "It Ends Tonight", but it can really hit hard with your fans.
TR: Yeah. Lyrics don't always have to be 8-layers deep to have an impact.
ML: Totally. So Nick Wheeler and you form the songwriting force behind All-American Rejects. What's that relationship like?
TR: When we started writing our new record Kids In The Street, it seemed like our relationship had changed just as it's done throughout the past 10 years. I think just as we become more individuals, the more that we bring unique things to the music we create. Every time we do a record, the music changes. Kids In The Street was our first stride towards something that proved that not only had we grown together as writers, but as individuals as well. The sort of conflicts in the music play along with the lyrics but also reflect the development of the band.
I think the difference between us is that Nick is very controlled and I'm very chaotic, and when you stir that up you get some sort of tasty cocktail.
ML: Speaking of Kids In The Street, how would you say it differs from your previous albums?
TR: I mean, I think it's just us after 10 years. I like to think of musical discovery like Magellan, you know, travelling, discovering new parts of our world. This record I feel like we kind of got in a rocketship and jumped out of this world. Our producer was a really big influence on the fact that this record is more diverse sonically than all our others combined. I think this record has proven to be a bold move for us as a band.
ML: I've read that you referred to the theme of the record as "a callback to the moment in your life where you're so dumb but so smart at the same time." What exactly did you mean by that? Can you elaborate on the themes on the album?
TR: We called it Kids In The Street because there's a reflective moment where you think back to those pure moments in life where it's funny how when you turn into your twenties, you blow out your candle of naivete and light the flame of cynicism. It sort of obscures the joys that you once had, so this record tries to let you grab into those moments in the songs. Where I'm from we run down dirt roads and you know, we didn't have all these terrible outlets to poison ourselves, we just had a fast car and a dirty road and a great girl that would experience life with you in those lost moments of your youth. It's kind of a good mirror that shows you the person you once were. Honestly, when I think about who I am or who I was, I think about some of those cherished memories of being a young adult. Not like being 15 but being almost graduated from high school and just really knowing your sh*t even thought you didn't know nothing at all.
ML: Is it sort of a rejection of some of the negative and toxic aspects of fame and big-city life or what comes along with that?
TR: Yeah, when I moved to LA after I broke up with my lady and fired my manager at the time, I just realized when you sacrifice everything for a job that you love dearly, you lose some of the sense of self and the reality that you had. When I reflected on the moment that I wanted to sort of embrace and try being "real", it was that moment right before I left Oklahoma for the first time. Those are moments of pure joy and reality had a virginity to it. It's a lot more precious to me.
ML: On that note, I've heard that this album holds that cohesive theme as opposed to previous albums that had many themes. What was it like having a clear mission driving the making of this album?
TR: It's funny, we really didn't have a vision until we sat down with Mike and Chris, the other guys in the band, and we sort of had a big jury trial for the songs. That's kind of how we do it, we write like 30 songs and then take them to the butcher shop and see where we can trim the fat. And then what was left was this skeleton of a story of a man who, like myself, moved out to Los Angeles, ran with the wrong crowd for a few months, [and] got torn down by that. I'm a simpleton from Oklahoma, and when a girl rips your heart out in a big city kinda way, it's different, man. It's a little bit more of a cardiac arrest that happens. From that, I sort of spun out of control and then through writing and through music I feel like this is a lyrical record of putting the pieces back together; settling up old accounts, if you will. I feel like that narrative you hear in the album just kind of happened by accident. When you write 20 songs that are all chronological, and based on your life at that moment, it definitely comes together as a story. In past songs, I would just sort of use people in my life for inspiration. I didn't have much to complain about. I was so domesticated and bored. This record is a lot more of a truthful record, personally. The last records were more stories.
ML: Tell me about your new single (title track) "Kids In The Street". Is that sort of a representation of the album as a whole in one song?
TR: It's definitely the mermaid at the front of this ship. We're really proud of it not only sonically but I feel like lyrically it paints a picture that anybody can sort of look at and haze their eyes over in reflection. So yeah, I'm really proud of the song, and I'm really proud of the record. There's songs on the record like "Heartbeat Slowing Down" which is the one I really want to get to, where we had Mika from the UK who is an incredible singer and he was accompanied by this massive choir. It's probably the biggest most anthemic song we've written as a band. As far as the record is concerned, "Kids In The Street" and "Heartbeat Slowing Down" are really the standout tracks.
ML: The music biz has evolved a lot and it seems that rock bands don't have as easy of a time selling their music as they might have 10 years ago. Is that intimidating for you coming out with a new album?
TR: I mean, I don't know. We've enjoyed this for 10 years, I think that those 10 years made it so that we can enjoy it for 10 more. As long as we keep making music that our fans love, then we'll be as satisfied as they are.
ML: Lastly, I've read about the writing retreats that you and Nick take. Can you tell me a bit about those and how they play into your songwriting?
TR: I'm a creature of my environment. If I'm in the woods, I write like i'm in the woods. If I'm in a suburb of a city, everything's a bit peppier. I think it's funny Nick and I we choose to seclude ourselves in log cabins and little hold-ups because we have to sort of beat ourselves into submission of sort of looking inward as opposed to having all this distraction where we can put it off and put it off. Also I feel like the city feeds us different energies so being able to write different songs, I think that's where we're real. That's reality for us. Like me at a house where I sleep on the couch you know, that's not my reality. My last 10 years have been on a bus and then the other times just catching up with family. So when Nick and I take these little trips, I think that's sort of when we're really finding ourselves, which is really necessary for our writing.
ML: Do you have a favourite lyric of all time?
TR: Man! That's tough. I think it's the melody that has to be perfect with the lyric too. I'm not one of those people that just sort of geek out over lyrics. I think they have to be married to a beautiful melody. I'll have to get back to you on that one, man.
ML: What's your favourite cheesy karaoke song?
TR: I like to do "Apeman" by The Kinks. That's a sleeper hit that no-one knows but everyone can pick up by the end of the song. And then [there's the] Man From Mars: anytime you pull out Bowie and can do it, the crowd's in awe. I love it, it's such a good time. We're pretty hardcore karaoke-ers! It's a big deal for us, we dress up for it.
ML: What's next for you guys? Touring?
TR: Yeah we're on tour right now doing a little club run then we'll jump on board with Blink-182.
Watch the video for AAR's new song "Kids In The Street" on VEVO:
You can pick up the band's new album Kids In The Street on iTunes.
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