American Authors rock downtown Albany: Exclusive interview with Zac Barnett
By NICOLE WALLACK
Rock band American Authors made a huge debut with their chart-topping single “Best Day of My Life” off of their first album, “Oh, What A Life.” Their debut album catapulted them into fame, and now their follow-up album “What We Live For,” seems poised to firmly plant the band in superstar status when it is released on May 13 by Dirty Canvas/ Island Records.
I spoke with American Authors lead singer and guitarist Zac Barnett about the band’s follow-up album and their current club show tour, which will be passing through Albany at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen on April 27.
Albany Student Press: What motivated the small more intimate club shows for your tour?
Zac Barnett: We just wanted to start playing this new album. We’ve been working on it for so long that we wanted to do a tour leading up to everything else and really just make it a small intimate show where our fans can really come out, hear the new songs, and we can really start gauging a real reaction from people who know our music. So far it’s been great; it’s been a lot of fun to be able to go out and see a lot of the venues that we first started out at. The reaction has been awesome to the new music. I know, for me, when I was going out to small club shows of bands that I loved and I knew they’d be playing the entire new album, it was always kind of one of those things that was like okay this is work for me. I’m not just showing up and I’m not going to know every single song that they’re going to play so really it takes a lot of focus and it takes a lot of listening. I think when you do these small club shows there’s a special energy that’s in the room, and it really makes it nice for people to discover the music for the first time.
ASP: Were you expecting the amazing success of those singles from your first album that prompted those big shows and all of that exposure?
ZB: Not really. We were just writing to write and we were just trying to write good, fun, exciting music for us, and we were trying to not hold back. And that was the first time we had ever done that where we weren’t trying to label ourselves or brand ourselves into any certain scene or genre, just kind of having fun. The music took off so organically and so quickly that it was just this kind of ever-going, ongoing rollercoaster that led to making the album and touring for a long time and it was cool to finally get that time off to go back home and do it all again and record a second album.
ASP: Did you feel any kind of pressure with that follow-up album?
ZB: There is always a little bit of pressure. For sure, there’s going to be pressure but for us, we just tried to really work as hard as we could and write the best songs that we could. And also it was important to us to not stop writing and not just feel like okay we have some songs that are pretty good and stop. Even when we had some really good songs, we still didn’t stop. We just kept going, we kept writing. We’re still writing to this day even though the album is coming out soon and everything is out there. We’re still writing because you never know where something great is going to come from.
ASP: What is your writing process like?
ZB: It’s all super collaborative. You might get an initial idea, that’ll come from a certain person, but then we all bring it into a room and we all work on it together and make it into what the final product ends up being.
ASP: You were the Blue Pages, before you were American Authors, what prompted that name change?
ZB: We had just been a band for so long that we had been performing for so long under one name and our music had changed so much since the first day playing together. We were in a new city, we had moved from Boston to Brooklyn, and it was a new time and it seemed like the right move for a new chapter in our lives are musicians.
ASP: Do you feel that your experience going to Berklee College of Music helped you to develop your skills?
ZB: Berklee was great. Because for one, it allowed us to meet each other. Without Berklee we wouldn’t know each other and we wouldn’t be in this band, at least not what it is today. So that’s huge right there. Also it’s nice because it does facilitate you with a bunch of tools that you may not use every day, but it’s always nice to have them in your back pocket. Sometimes with those tools you can learn just as much what not to do as what to do from them, which is very cool. I think that it just overall gives you a better understanding of music. It teaches you a really solid foundation. We all know our theory and our training. We are true musicians and we can all read music and write music out. So I guess that’s cool. I don’t think any of us have done it in a long time but it’s nice to have that solid foundation under your feet.
ASP: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
ZB: It really is always about practice. Practice and having an open attitude about things. I know so many people who just stay in their own bubble and they’re not open to trying new things and are not open to doing things maybe a little differently. Music is changing so much nowadays, that you really need to have a good attitude and be open to always experimenting and always being willing to write with new people or experiment with new genres or try something that might be a little scary and a little different because without that you’re really just limiting yourself.
ASP: What kind of music do you listen to?
ZB: I listen to a bunch of different stuff right now. There’s this electronic duo from England that I’m really into right now. They’re called Honne. I also listen to a lot of country music. I find that in modern country music, there’s a lot of really good melodic ideas that can really inspire me to get in the mood to write…My new obsession is Babymetal. It’s my main obsession right now. It’s a Japanese metal band, fronted by three teen idol girls. It’s like pop-y Japanese female singers over super hardcore metal.
ASP: Who is your biggest musical influence?
ZB: I grew up on so many different things. I started out listening to classic rock, which is a huge part. You know The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, that was always so huge. And then nowadays I’m always looking for new stuff. Our most collective influence is probably Coldplay. They’re just so great. There’s just so much stuff that’s so great out there…We’re taking so many influences from so many different places. We understand that nowadays, all new music is the same now. There’s not as much split into genres anymore. It’s not like in the ‘90s where you had Backstreet Boys versus Nirvana, or whatever it was. You just don’t have that anymore. Now your Nirvanas are competing for the same slots as the Backstreet Boys. So for us, we really just listen to everything and we try to stay modern and stay new with what we’re doing with our music and kind of add all of these different elements that we’re hearing into our music. I think that a big thing that we really tried to do with this album is we really tried to mess around with vocal sampling and doing all that different vocal sampling you’ll hear on the new Justin Bieber album and kind of what DJ Snake and Diplo are doing with their music. So you’ll hear a lot of that stuff. We also tried to put some tropical house influence into a few of the songs and just experiment with what that would be like coming from a band. And I think that we did a really good job of incorporating that into our music, while also staying true to who American Authors are.
ASP: What is your favorite song on the new album?
ZB: I really like the whole new album. Honestly, I really do like it. I do have a few favorites. I really like the song “Mess With Your Heart,” which has that tropical house influence in it, which I think is very cool. I think we did a really good job with that. I really love that song. “Replaced” is a really cool song on the album and it’s also our first ballad. We’ve never done a ballad before, so that one is really special. “What We Live For,” the title track, is awesome, I think that’s one of the best songs on the record and also “I’m Born To Run” is really cool too. “I’m Born To Run” and “What We Live For” are already out now; you can get those now even though the album doesn’t come out until May. Those would be my four favorites.
You can follow American Authors on Facebook at facebook.com/americanauthors, Twitter at @aauthorsmusic, and on weareamericanauthors.com for additional information on “What We Live For” and their current tour. “What We Live For” hits shelves on May 13.