Meet Brooklyn’s Own Ambassadors of Music

Sam Chapin

 

Indie and Soul are two words that don’t often meet, much like Gospel and Electronica. But all of these genres, and a host of others, feel right at home in the spectrum of Ambassadors’ influences. Hailing from Brooklyn, the four-man band has been making music together for more than five years. Comprised of lead singer, bassist, and sometimes drummer, Sam Harris, keyboardist and brother of Sam, Casey Harris (who is legally blind and has been since birth), guitarist Noah Feldshuh, and drummer Adam Levin, Ambassadors are quickly gaining traction and becoming a prominent presence in the New York music scene as well as the country at large. Sam Harris recently spoke with Highbrow Magazine.

 

On the band’s inception.

 

I grew up in Ithaca, New York with my brother Casey, who plays in the band, and Noah, our guitar player. Noah and I had been in bands throughout middle school and high school. Casey and I had always played music together since we were little—we used to sing with my mom, but then the high school band thing happened to us and we really loved it. I had been acting for awhile, and music was part of my family—my mom’s a musician and my dad is a crazy music appreciator—aficionado. And I kind of feel like I’m carrying on their legacy.

 

So I turned to doing music more. We all decided, after being in a band in high school, that we were good enough to continue into college, in some way, shape, or form. The band, as it is now, formed, I’d say, somewhere in my sophomore year of college, with Adam coming in on drums and Casey moving to New York. It had just been Noah and I for the first year. We all really wanted to finish school, so that sort of took precedence above everything else. So we finished school and we didn’t really get serious about things until right after we graduated. And right after we graduated we went and recorded our first record, Litost, which is an EP, or an LP, I guess.

 

We recorded an EP beforehand but it was not the sound that we all wanted—it was recorded poorly. (laughing) We still sell it at shows to make money. Litost was recorded the summer after we graduated. We did it upstate and it took 5-6 months for it to be recorded, mixed, mastered, ready to go. After that, which was last year, we started putting a team together—we had no representation, no connections at all. We just had this great product. I guess a lot of bands do it the other way around. They have a whole huge network already, and then they record and release the record and it’s like boom. For us it was a lot more organic. We just worked our asses off on the record and then, afterwards, we really started to build a team of people around us who would help us go further with it. We got a manager, a booking agent, now we have publishing, PR people working for us. So things have been slowly progressing with this record.

 

We finished it last year and we put it our just this past May—officially released it. We had been shopping it around, which is a really depressing thing because unless all the stars have aligned for you, it’s going to be really hard to shop your product around no matter how good it is. In this day in age you need to have everything already happening for you before you have any label interest. In retrospect I don’t even know why we were so intent on putting it out on a label. I guess it’s because we were all still stuck in that mind-frame that you did need a label to really break, which is totally not true and it wasn’t even true then so I don’t even know why we were thinking about it.

 

On his bandmates.

 

They are all really awesome dudes, I wish they were here right now to talk about themselves. The way that we operate as a band, we always try to make it a very democratic process. I write all the lyrics and the vocal melodies and because of that, sometimes I come up with chord changes and stuff. But whatever demos I create, I always bring it into the band and we reinvent it. And they always put their own spin on everything, even if it’s a line that I’ve already written. They’re doing it differently and it always sounds better.

 

We’ve had this philosophy for a long time that when you collaborate with other people on something, 90 percent of the time it turns out better because if you’re open to the idea of collaboration and if you allow changes to be made, you will surprise yourself with how much more you like a song or a script or anything. With movies it’s the same way. An actor, nowadays, will direct and write, produce and star—all that stuff, but they will always do projects where they are one cog in a bigger machine, and that’s always really exciting. All of the best directors need good actors to work with. There has to be someone whose  vision is driving the project, but you can’t come up with all these ideas on your own.

 

It’s physically impossible for me to have the exact same idea that Noah has, or that Casey has, or that Adam has. It’s impossible, so why not take advantage of that? Casey’s my brother and Noah and Adam are my two best friends. I’ve only known Adam for six years, but I see him practically every f***ing day, and Noah I’ve known since kindergarten. We went through all of school together—every single school, and almost every single grade we were in the same class.

 

On booking shows.

 

It started out with us making Facebook events for our shows, and then when Twitter came into the equation, we started Tweeting about the show—it was just our friends, you know. It’s just all of our friends in a room watching us play. And since then we’ve had a couple opportunities to open for other people and get on the road. Booking was really tough at first.

 

Before we had management, I made up a fake manager’s name—Paul Lewis. It was so stupid because I should have just made it myself so when I got to the venue and the guy was like, ‘Well where’s Sam, your management?’ I could be like, ‘Oh, you’re confused. I’m Sam, I’m the lead singer.’ They would be like, ‘Wait, what? Okay, whatever.’ So at all of our shows, Paul Lewis spoke for us. They’d be asking, ‘Where’s Paul?’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh, he’s out of town. He had another show to go to tonight—he’s a real busy guy.’ I’m sure Paul is still out there, making some band very happy.

 

Now we’re at a point where we’ve been able to get on the road, which really has made all the difference. We’ve been able to get on the road with some really great folks and that’s broadened our fan base. We all of a sudden have actual fans, you know, people who don’t know us. People who just love the music and saw us live, or heard us through a friend, or heard us on the radio—we’re getting radio play now, which is really cool. I was so intent on getting blog attention that I completely forgot that there is still a lot of people that listen to the radio. That has really helped us sell records.

 

It was tricky at first, it was really tricky at first, especially doing things completely on your own because you are relying on so many people to do you favors. But honestly, if you make an effort to be a really friendly person—you go out there and you hang out with other people who are doing the same things that you are, and make friends, you will have opportunities come your way.

 

On the band’s influences.

 

We were just on the road with this girl, Lights. She’s Canadian and her genre is sort of the opposite of what we’re doing, but she really loved our music and brought us on the road a lot. We did a whole U.S. tour with her, we did a tour in Europe with her.  That sort of broadened my tastes a little bit.

 

I’ve always liked pop music and now, with publishers, I’m writing for other people and that’s really fun. She sort of made all of that okay—hearing her sing and seeing how into it these kids are—these young kids just go crazy for her, and they went crazy for us too because she liked us so they liked us. That’s just how it works.

 

 

In terms of bands that are influencing me today, contemporary bands, I love a lot of this dark R&B stuff that’s coming out, like The Weekend; I’ve always loved Drake—I know he’s not really underground, or necessarily cool, but I love him. There’s a ton of great indie stuff coming out too, like Foster the People, Bon Iver, and all those dudes that are really changing things for indie-rock right now—it’s awesome.

 

But I love watching the rap and hip-hop world change and how that’s developing now. It’s weird, it’s like half of it is going to this super Euro-dance, house vibe. That’s guys like David Guetta who are pioneering this sound. …I love watching genres change and redefine themselves and it’s the most exciting, for me, to watch in R&B and hip-hop. I really respect a lot of what other people are doing.

 

Let me look at my Spotify playlist and see what I’ve been listening to. (he checks his Spotify playlist) I love that new Twin Shadow record. I think that’s really awesome. The new Fiona Apple record is one of my favorite things that I’ve heard in a really long time. As is the new Frank Ocean—I love Frank Ocean, he’s one of those R&B dudes that is totally redefining the genre. ….A lot of the music I’m listening to now I was listening to in the 5th grade, oddly enough, because I’ve sort of gone full-circle with my tastes.

 

 

On the popularization of indie rock.

 

I think it’s interesting how indie rock is becoming this mainstream format. A lot of people see it as a bad thing, but I can’t see it as a bad thing. I think a lot of it is really smart, important music that people are making. The more people can hear it, the better. I had a girlfriend in high school, who shall remain nameless, and she would play me—she had great taste in music—these bands and I would be like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing, who is this?’ And she’d be like, ‘(sighs) I really don’t want to tell you.’ I was like, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Well, because then you’ll listen to it all the time and it won’t be my own thing, you know? I want it to be mine.’ And I just thought that was the most ridiculous thing in the world, you know? Why you would want to keep good music from other people just totally baffles me. ….

 

On his favorite show thus far.

 

We’re in a really exciting point in our career because we’re just now really starting to be an active band in the music scene. And we are doing our first West Coast tour soon, which is going to be really awesome. We just were in London and as crazy as it was getting over there, and as expensive as it was getting over there, figuring out all the logistics of borrowing gear, I had so much fun playing out there. But I love touring down South.

 

We did a bunch of shows in Texas around SouthxSouthwest and oddly enough I had the best time down there. It’s a f***ing weird place, Texas is a weird place, but maybe it just had to do with the crowds that we had at those shows. We were playing big venues down there with Lights and they were all sold out—1,100-1,200 people and they were just so receptive.

 

 I think our music does really well down South, people really love it. But, oh, you know what? Now I’m remembering. There’s this radio station, in Norfolk, Virginia, that’s a pretty big alternative rock station—a lot of record labels look to this station for upcoming, unsigned bands, and this one DJ happened to find our song on Spotify and put it on the charts. People were calling in and requesting it and the song just started to take off on the radio out there and that led to a couple meetings with record labels. We played this show, in Norfolk, after our song had been on the radio for a while and the radio station really wanted to set some sort of show up for us. So they said, ‘Well, it’s kind of last minute but we could put something together for you at this water park nearby.’ And we were just like (laughing) okay.

 

So they built a stage and it was a whole big to-do. They had these cabanas set up just for us with food and drinks—it was really cushy. They had these VIP lounges for people who had specifically called in to get VIP tickets to see us, who had paid upwards of $150. So we did an acoustic set there for a couple hundred people who had bought tickets to the water park—you had to buy tickets to the water park to get in, it wasn’t like five dollars or ten dollars to see a show. You paid 30 to 40 bucks for a day-pass at the water park to come see Ambassadors play an acoustic set. And these were just all our fans—people who loved our music and we hadn’t experienced that really. A bunch of people that you don’t know who just love your songs and are there to support you and see you live and get such a thrill out of seeing you live and meeting you afterwards.

 

 

The people who had VIP tickets had a chance to sit down with us and we got to talk to them and sign stuff for them—it was like, out of this world. I was so incredibly happy. So that was the best thing we’ve done so far, better then playing for thousands and thousands of people, which we actually have just recently done—we played Lalapalooza and that was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had….

 

But there was something about the intimacy of that thing and the fact that this town is such a champion of our music, it’s crazy. …You remember your first shows. Those are amazing moments, and those bands—you have a connection to them forever. I remember my first concert, a De La Soul concert. Oh, no, you know it was? It was, um…(singing) “Oh I see fire and I see rain”—James Taylor! James Taylor, with my parents. He said f**k ! He said f**k , in a song, and I was like, ‘He’s awesome! Did James Taylor just say f**k?’ But yeah, Norfolk, Virginia, my favorite show so far.

 

On the near future.

 

We have a music video coming out pretty soon. I don’t know where we’re going to premier it yet, but it’s for “Unconsolable,” the first real single we’re releasing on the record. I mean I guess “Litost,” which is the song that’s been doing well on the radio, is a single—we did release that as a single, but we’re making a video for “Unconsolable,” it’s in its final stages now. It’s starring the wonderful Zosia Mamet, from Girls and Mad Men. She’s an incredible actress and we were lucky enough to have her as part of the project. It’s going to be really cool—it’s really dark and weird, so look out for that.

 

For more information, visit  www.ambassadorstheband.com.

 

Author Bio:

Sam Chapin is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. 

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