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A Word with American Authors

Photo: Lucy Watkins
The band that brought you summer anthems "Best Day of My Life" and "Believer" visited Valparaiso University for a springtime concert. American Authors played a full set for the university students on Friday, April 17th. On the cusp of exam season, the concert gave a little taste of summer that seemed simultaneously too close and too far away. The American Authors opened with their crowd pumping "Believer" off of 2014 release Oh, What a Life. They followed through with upbeat tracks "Luck" and "Hit it." The crowd surged every time Zac Barnett, lead singer, climbed the barricades saying, "Indiana's great, but why do they have the crowd so far away!" 

American Authors previewed a new song, "Nothing Better Than You," which features their same feel good style with a nice flow in the verses. The song's catchiness and all around feel has the potential to be this year's big release for the band.

On top of a new song and commanding stage presence, American Authors' boasted a powerful, clean, and "better-than-the-recording" sound. The band pulled out a slow cover of Florida Georgia Line's claim to fame single "Cruise". The audience sang along, smitten and ready for summer drives. Of course, they closed with their positivity-rich single "Best Day of My Life". They left the rowdy crowd chanting "Encore," but to no avail. One of the most impressive things, besides James Shelley's insane mid show guitar solo, was the band's ability to excite a crowd. It didn't take long for the band to have the somewhat quiet and reserved Valparaiso students hands up, dancing, and screaming. 

Photo: Lucy Watkins
Before the show, multiple campus media organizations had the opportunity to catch up with lead singer, Zac Barnett, and drummer, Matt Sanchez.

Let’s talk about your early years at Berkley, 'cause we’re at a university setting here, that’s what we are interested in. Lets talk...in regard to your vision, who you would become as an individual later so how did that shape you guys at Berkley?

Zac: We really didn’t know, we just started playing music together. The main thing we shared in common at Berklee was that we wanted to go to school to find other musicians to start a band with. Obviously a rock band, that’s what we’ve all grown up on. So when we started playing music together, it started off as kind of retro, indie-rock type stuff, then slowly morphed. We started doing electronic based stuff. Berkley was great because once we met each other, we got our bearings straight there. We got our foundation there. We got a lot of great tools and a lot of knowledge.

Matt: Yeah it was never really (the) plan; we all come from very different backgrounds, musically. It was a very natural thing. We never sat down and said “we’re going to become a band and write songs and try to become the biggest band in the world.” It was never planned; it was just something that happened.

Z: But then we felt like our time in Boston was up, we got what we needed out of it. So, we left school, moved to Brooklyn, New York, and that’s where we formed American Authors. We kept writing, playing, doing everything ourselves, releasing our own videos and albums and booking our own tours. Which then it eventually paid off and got us to where we are right now.

We talk a lot about vocation here at the University. What do you think you’re meant to do in life? Do you believe that your vocation has always been solely music? Or do you believe that there are other significant pieces of your life that help you with your music? Like you focus may be on music most of the time, but there are other things that you’re really interested in and that kind of help bring out your musical talents too?

Z: Nah, its pretty much always has been music. It’s always been music. Which has been a big thing for us too, something that we’ve always shared in common, which has really helped us grow with our musical changes and becoming the band that we are today. We never had a backup plan; we’ve all been playing since such a young age. We played music in high school and before that. And we all decided to go to college for music because Berklee College of Music, that’s all it is. It’s all contemporary music there. So, it’s always what we’ve wanted to do.

M: But with that said, other things do come to the surface ... We like to give back because of how much the world’s given to us. So we’ll partner up with different charities and things like that because we do feel like that is somewhat of our responsibility. When the world gives you so much, it is good to give back. So I feel like when you talk about vocation it's like music putting all that good energy into the world and it gives us what we put out there.

Photo: Lucy Watkins
On a day-to-day basis, what brings an inspiration to you guys? What do you think about in terms of your music and when you get up in the morning are you thinking about new songs are you thinking about what’s going to inspire your next song?

M: Waking and sleeping thought.

Z: Its pretty constant, you know, it always kind of hits you in different ways and in different places. It always changes, and everyone’s different too because we all write and we all write together and we all write on our own, so I think different inspirations come at different moments. I know for me it's so random. Yesterday morning I was on the treadmill running and I had an idea and I wrote a quarter of lyrics for a song on the treadmill while I’m running and shaking with the phone in my hand. You kind of hit and strike it at any given time. I guess as far as content goes, we’re inspired by daily life, like everything that we go through. And every song that we’ve written is all from personal experience and what we’ve been through. I think so much of American Authors’ themes come from the struggle and the sacrifices that we make to do what we love in life, where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten to this point, the obstacles that have been in our way and how we’ve always been able to overcome these obstacles. Its always been through our hard work and that was pretty much it. 

Especially with our first album, with “Best Day of My Life” and “Believer," those were two of the first songs that we wrote together as this group that we are today. We were at such a low point at that time. The hurricane just struck New York, a couple of us didn’t have jobs, and we just didn't have much money. Just looking at this group, this unit, and being able to get through those hard times together rather than looking at that and going, “okay I should just give up.” It's more so like, “okay, you find that light at the end of the tunnel and how do you get to that point.” That really affects our music a lot. I think we always draw inspiration from that.

M: Definitely from that, and along the years we’ve learned that we inspire each other. That fact that the four of us write, sometimes it comes from different places at different times. So, not everybody is necessarily always on the same page, but we all have this really strange way of pulling each other into the same space, like headspace, when we’re writing. So there’s that aspect to that too.

What makes your band different from other indie and alternative rock bands?

Z: We’ve always had as many different styles of music as we can, and we’re never afraid to try new things and to take that inspiration from other places, from any genre of music and try out new instruments, learn new instruments that maybe we’ve never even touched before or even really knew what it was. I think that kind of gives us a unique styling and a unique sound for sure.

How hard was it for your band to get to where it is today?

Z: Pretty hard, it definitely was not an easy road.

M: I think its one of the hardest things in the world.

Z: If you’re looking for easy I would definitely not take this career into mind.

M: You got to beat some big odds, and then if you’re lucky enough, the stars align and you do beat those odds, then there’s a whole 'nother set of odds you got to beat. It’s a constant uphill battle. It’s a marathon, it really is. We’ve come so far, but we also know that we have so much farther to go.

Z: Its not even a marathon, it’s a Tough Mudder. You’re not just running, you have obstacles.

M: It’s a triathlon. But we would not trade that for the world.

Z: They’re good obstacles and they're really fun. Sometimes.

How do you think your music represents your band?

Z: It is our band. It represents us. It’s great.

M: We represent our band, and the music is us, so it’s all intertwined. We each have our different part of it that we contribute, whether it’s me waking up in the morning, not having a cup of coffee and being angry.

Z: What does that have to do with our music?

M: It has a lot to do with it! You waking up in the morning and going for a run.

Z: Its true… I guess.

M: It's all part of us is what I’m saying. You can see it in our music is all I’m saying. Our personalities are in the music.

Photo: Lucy Watkins
I saw on your bands Twitter feeds that you recently preformed in front of congress and Michelle Obama; can you talk a little bit about that experience and what it was for?

Z: It was great. It was for compensation and music rights for radio and streaming services and what not.

M: The event was called Grammy's on the Hill.

Z: It was put on through the Grammy's and basically to work with Congress and to raise awareness about getting fair compensation for musicians. Which is super important for today and the modern society and modern world where albums just don’t sell anymore.

M: It was pretty cool, we were there to honor people that are heading us up. Alicia Keys, she was there because she’s been a really big contributor and supporter of the cause. Michelle Obama as well. She was there and that was really cool to see. We didn't just play for congress, they came on stage and played with us. They’re not good timekeepers, I got to tell you.

What’s your favorite part about being on tour so far?

M: Going home.

Z: You get to see the world and that’s pretty cool. The amount of traveling we get to do and the amount of people we get to meet is really amazing and just everything from the shows and the different energies from different crowds and different countries and different cities to having days off and exploring and going on adventures, it's really a dream come true.

M: Absolutely.

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