X Ambassadors fans have gone almost three years since the release of VHS, the album that thrust the group from Ithaca, New York, into the pop spotlight behind the hits “Renegade,” “Jungle” and “Unsteady.” But by no means have fans been left empty-handed while waiting for a follow-up album: The group has released six singles over the past year.
It’s an interesting approach to following up a breakthrough hit album. And this may be the wave of the future, especially for major label acts, with new music being first parceled out in a series of singles, while the new album is saved for release at some to-be-determined point — perhaps after a single starts making noise online, or on radio or streaming services, or to create further anticipation for a major tour.
Whatever the strategy, X Ambassadors keyboardist Casey Harris is fine with a shift in focus toward releasing singles. He said it suits a group that always has new material in the works.
“We’re always writing material and we always just want to put out material for people to hear,” he explained. “We have so much material that we’re sitting on that it was practically leaking out our ears. We sort of had to release tracks to relieve a little bit of the pressure at some point. But we also want to find out, to be honest, what people like.”
Harris also thinks putting out singles aligns with how music gets heard these days.
“With everyone listening on streaming services and on their phones, and as important as radio still is, I would say the singles-focused market is purely driven by streaming because [of] playlists and [the way] people jumble [them]. People are really listening to single tracks by different artists. It’s, in a way, really powerful because you have a higher chance of at least getting some of your material heard if it happens to be on a ‘what’s new’ playlist or what not.”
Of the singles that were released last year — “Hoping,” “Torches,” “The Devil You Know” and “Ahead of Myself” — only the latter made much of a chart impact, going top-10 on Billboard magazine’s Adult Alternative chart and top-15 on the Alternative Songs and Rock Airplay charts. Now the band is waiting to see if either of the singles released this year — “Joyful” in January and “Don’t Stay” in February — will add to the momentum.
Meanwhile, the next X Ambassadors album remains in something of a holding pattern. Called Joyful, it is essentially finished, but Harris didn’t offer many clues about how it compares to the hip-hop-inflected pop-rock of VHS. Still, he seems confident that fans of the previous album will like what they hear.
“I would say, as much as I love VHS and still really love playing that material live, this album, I think, is head and shoulders musically and songwritingwise and performancewise and productionwise head and shoulders above where VHS was,” he said.
X Ambassadors aren’t waiting for Joyful’s release to get back on tour. For the current outing, which will take the band (along with Shaed and Mondo Cozmo) to the Majestic Ventura Theater this weekend, the core trio of Harris, his brother, singer/guitarist Sam Harris, and drummer Adam Levin are joined by a touring guitarist and three backing singers, who will help bring to life the harmonies and backing vocals used in many of the group’s songs.
“It’s really incredible having them all playing with us,” Harris said. “So much of this new album, we just went crazy with it. We weren’t thinking about how we would play it live when we recorded it. So fingers crossed in the future we might add even more people to the tour. But it’s really fun. I love having a full stage full of lots of people.
Harris is loving life offstage as well. In March, he married his girlfriend of five years, Olivia. And life in X Ambassadors is better than ever for the keyboardist, who has been blind since birth but found his calling with music and learning to play his instrument.
“I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing with my life if I wasn’t in this band,” Harris said. “We’re really close. We know how each other works. We know what makes each other tick at this point. I can’t tell you how grateful and how lucky I feel to have had a band that’s remained this close and this constant for so long because I know a lot of bands that don’t last this long and a lot of bands don’t stay this close-knit this long. And I’m grateful that me and my brother get along so well. He’s my rock, you know, he’s the best, him and my wife, of course. Yeah, it’s pretty incredible.”
The X Ambassadors perform on Saturday, May 12, at the Majestic Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. Mondo Cozmo and Shaed open at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 653-0721 or visit www.venturatheater.net.