Tyson Ritter discusses the band’s new music, the perfect night on stage, and his most grounding moments
It’s been over five years since The All-American Rejects released their last studio album, but this past August, the band finally delivered two new tracks and a corresponding music video. “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes” are set to be part of a forthcoming EP that should arrive sometime in the near future.
The two new tracks find the Oklahoma rock band exploring new directions. They hit the studio with a variety of different producers while lead singer Tyson Ritter began collaborating with fellow writers other than bandmate Nick Wheeler for the first time in the group’s career.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught with Tyson Ritter to discuss the band’s new music, the perfect night on stage, and his most grounding moments.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking because you recently released two new songs, and you are preparing to release a new album come the new year. Just to start, how is the mood in camp?
Tyson Ritter: Everything is great. We just got off a six-week run with Dashboard Confessional, before we let go of the “Sweat” film, and that was really great. Excited to hear people sing back the new tunes, feels like we woke up a five year sleeping giant and it was with purpose.
CF: Your two newest songs, “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes”, come along with an 11-minute video. Can you tell us about where the concept came from and why you felt it fit the songs perfectly?
TR: Jamie Thraves is an incredibly accomplished music video director that approached us with a concept when he heard the songs, and he came with a very simple concept that just said, “I see Tyson playing a woman. He’s a productive of this man, Robert’s fantasy. And I see him playing Robert as well.” Musically, “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes” are kind of polar opposites of expression for the band and it was really important for me that they were paired together because after five years of being away from music, as a collective band, I think it was really important, for me especially, that not only was there kind of an offering that felt fresh, but also that had an impression of growth behind it. And I think a song like “Close Your Eyes” is kind of in a place of a spectrum that we are not really known for touching, so I really thought it was important that this was a sonic offering that went from A to Z.
So visually, the film was, like I said, birthed from this incredibly brilliant director that did my favorite Radiohead music video. I, of course, had questions for him, but there was an immediate instillation of trust because he is an incredible artist, Jamie. We just sort of started corresponding via email for about 2 weeks about the life of Robert and what he was to him and we even installed, when I started to build the characters, we added a lot of our own personal anecdotes of things that happened in our lives that we said happened to Robert. So we really focused on building a character that this explosion of fantasy actually came from.
CF: In the second part of the video, there is this scene where Robert pays everyone out for being there, but then it snaps back into that never happening. What is the history of Robert? Where did he come from? What brought him back to this home that he seemed like he’d been gone from for a long time?
TR: For me, Robert was someone I wanted to make sure a lot of people saw themselves in. I think we are all different people when we enter a room, whether it’s filled with people we know, strangers we don’t… as we age, this thought in our minds about our own identity and self worth, it becomes a little bit more of a question we seek as we age, and I think Robert is a guy who is fighting that conscious thought, where he wants to discover who he is, but he also wants to run away from himself and, in order to keep his identity secure, he actually went to the extreme of paying people to maintain this facade, this happy existence that he wraps around himself to keep himself either balanced or satiated with the fact that when he is Robert, he is Robert, and when he is Betsy, he is Betsy, and I think, for me, there was a bit of an analogy there for me with the band because I feel like growing up in front of a record button since I was 17, putting out “Swing, Swing”. I am an older man now, and I think as a band, if anybody has followed our records, I think we’ve always been a band that has had a functioning identity crisis. If anything, that’s just been what’s worked for us [laughs].
I felt like Robert was almost an extension of the band, but also I think Robert speaks volumes to people everywhere who might feel like they’re troubled in their own identity, or lost within themselves. I think it’s really common, and for me I feel like we can all stand on a lot more common ground admitting to ourselves that we don’t know everything about ourselves, or the opposite. I don’t know if I’d actually trust a person who said they knew exactly who they were at my age.
CF: You’ve been working on the new album for some time now. I understand that your plans were to write in the studio because it was going to be a more of an in-the-moment creation. Can you tells us a bit about your songwriting process?
TR: This time around we were kind of geographically disbanded. I had written every song up until then with Nick – he moved to Nashville – and I felt like it was kind of a blessing in disguise in that we knew that the music needed to go somewhere else. We knew we needed to dip into a well that we hadn’t dipped into since we were kids, so this geographical boomerang that we put on ourselves in this break actually yielded something that was a lot more exploratory for me because I got to write with other people for the first time, which I haven’t done before, and it’s a very nerve-racking experience I think, being a kid who wrote songs on sad Sundays in my 15-year-old trailer house, and then going and working with people who do it for a living.
It was a bit of a discomfort there for me to get over. In doing so, we found some songs that we hadn’t… as far as the songwriting process goes, when I sit down at a piano, I listen to the sound swirl in my head – it’s almost like a washing machine – and I’ve got to try and put my hand in there at the right part of the spin cycle so it doesn’t get ripped off, and when I do it right I come out with a lyric that couples with a melody. Usually it falls out at the same time, which is kind of like the one little bit of magic that I guess my Oklahoma self can say that I have. That’s like my only superpower, to pull melody and lyrics out of thin air. I’m like a Nickelodeon magician [laughs].
CF: You said you wrote with some people for the first time from outside of camp, who did you work with?
TR: I wrote with Benny Cassette, this guy who is on GOOD Music, he is known for doing tracks with Kanye, and I felt like it was nice sort of question mark going in there with him, and we came out with a couple songs that I’m pretty proud of. “Close Your Eyes” was that sort of adopted, kind of atmospheric, kind of 90’s Duran Duran kind of vibe that we ended up pulling out of that song, And it felt like a fresh direction for me, a really inspiring, in I was like, “This is a good song and it doesn’t to me sound like a Move Along track.” It just felt fresh, so we did that and then this guy named Ido I wrote “Sweat” with, and that was kind of equally exploratory for me because it was really unnerving. It was, like, one of my first writing sessions and in that tension and in that sort of polarity of nerves, you can find, sometimes, sometimes you can pull a diamond out of that tightness.
CF: It has been five years since you’ve released a new album. What was it about now that gave you this creative impetus to create more once again?
TR: I think there was this sort of realization for me that songs were coming to me, and it was a natural process. It wasn’t something where… I think when we were writing the Move Along record, I remember feeling like I had to sit down and write, and with these tunes I sat down because I wanted to, and I wrote the songs because it came, instead of asking it to. I think there is a difference between sitting down and really just digging your nails into your brain, sort of looking for a hook or looking for a song. When you let it come to you it’s like, a great song will sit down next to you, without the invitation. When you are constantly praying over some alter of a piano just for a song to come to you, that is like the death of great art to me.
I think this all came back together because it wanted to because we all just genuinely missed being in a studio together and flowing off each other. I think that’s why we choose to work with different producers for this record because each song has a different producer, and I think the importance of that was just keeping the environment of cutting a song in two days, we’ve never done that. In our past, the records that we’ve done, we spent nine months doing, and every track we did for this EP so far has been two days, and it’s great because you don’t get to turn around and look over your shoulder and see if there was a blemish that you missed.
Because for me, every record I listen to… like when I listen to the Fleetwood Mac Rumors record, it is the blemishes, the accidents, it’s a Rolling Stone record that has a shaker that is too loud, it’s these accidents that make some of the greatest records that we all love because it becomes sort of a quark, a signature, some sort insignia for the actual purity of the moment it was captured in, so that what we tried to do with these two day sessions, just put it all on there, throw all the paint on the wall, and you can always paint over if you look back in a few days and it doesn’t seem right to you. But as far as just getting the thought out, we kind of limited ourselves, which is nice because we are a band that’s probably put 150 tracks on the “Move Along” track. So this record, it might be 20 or 30.
CF: You said you just finished a tour with Dashboard Confessional. Can you tell us about what makes for a perfect night on stage for you?
TR: I like to say that a great show is like a beautiful life. You come out on the stage, you birth yourself out to this audience, you share this invisible umbilical cord that is feeding itself two ways because you start feeding, they start feeding, and if it is this balance, if it is this beautiful sort of mutual progression into the… there is a moment I think where those of us who have been to great concerts, we look around and we know there is this beautiful symbiotic connection that everyone is feeling.
It might just be a moment. It might just be one song sometimes, but it happens when it is a great show. And I think for me, you start with this, like I said, this beautiful birth, you are feeding each other, you grow up through this beautiful show, and at the very end you die and it’s a beautiful death that is celebrated, and I think that, like to me, I know when it’s a connection when I walk off that stage and I tell myself if my heart would have stopped beating with that one, I think that would have been a good one to die on. It’s not so morose, but it is that beautiful. For me it is like my idea of this concept of an afterlife is the greatest moment of your life just on repeat, and for me, I think when the show is right, and when it is really there, you want to live in that moment forever.
CF: Throughout your career we can imagine that you’ve had a fair share of interesting experiences. But is there one moment that stands out, a grounding experience or moment of perspective that reminds you why you do all of this?
TR: That’s funny, I think as I’ve grown up, there’s been things that have been brought to my attention that made me realize that I didn’t realize or that I didn’t actually know there was a reason why I was doing some things. Like, I didn’t know the music was going to affect people in a way that they could like hold on to it like a lifesaver. That Move Along record, for me that was eight of the hardest weeks of my life, writing in Atlanta, and at the end of it we came out of it with songs that we were really proud of, which was a beautiful feeling. But for it to go a step further, and for people to try and survive through something that they might be struggling through with songs off that Move Along record, that was a bigger thing to me.
When you are just a punk kid from Oklahoma and somebody walks up to you in a hotel when you are checking out and you have the noise from last night still ringing in your ears, and he comes up and says, “Hey, my brother, I had two tickets for this show, and he didn’t get to make it because he passed a couple months ago, but he almost made it, and I just want to let you know, that “Move Along” song gave him another six months to live,” and I tell my mom, I might be a bad guy or I might be a bad son or maybe I’m not the most perfect man in the world, but knowing that somebody took something and charged themselves to have the will to live longer or to believe that they could overcome something and for them to point the finger at you and say, “Hey, you did that for me,” for me it’s so daunting.
I try to avoid talking about it because that’s the gift we are all probably searching for, that feeling where you have purpose without intention. I didn’t make “Move Along” to be received the way that it was, it’s like this byproduct that you’re almost like, “Wow, I wasn’t going for that, but that you brought it there for yourself,” it’s like, man that’s sweeter than… this is probably the best thing that I’ll ever do for people. “Move Along” did a lot for some people and I wasn’t really aiming for that. Not that I had my aim anywhere, but I think there is something magical when you don’t have the intention of the outcome, and the outcome makes you feel fulfillment and purpose.