As the rhythmic core of musical renegades X Ambassadors, drummer Adam Levin has always brought a hip-hop bend to the alt-rock band’s beatific sound. He has helped spearhead the group’s unique fusion of styles and genres, often stumbling upon new sounds simply by embracing what he calls “happy mistakes.”
Still somewhat new to him, his band’s high-profile, platinum-selling success didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of many of those happy mistakes happening one after another, and years of tireless, sometimes thankless, hard work.
Back in 2009, Levin left his native Los Angeles to attend college in New York, where he was dead-set on making it in the music industry. The first week of moving into the dorms, he met X Ambassadors vocalist/saxophonist Sam Harris, and together with Harris’ older brother, keyboardist Casey Harris, they began working on music constantly.
Struggling to find an entry point into the New York music scene, the band hit the road, but had a hard time landing gigs at first.
It wasn’t until after its single Litost landed on a Spotify playlist and got picked up by a radio station in Virginia that the band starting seeing success in 2012. That came in the form of X Ambassadors’ first unexpected collaborator: Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, who, along with producer Alex Da Kid, helped get the band signed to Interscope Records.
“Touring in a van and playing for nobody, really just makes everything (now) that much better,” Levin said. “It also makes you appreciate what you have, and makes you work harder to keep going and not go backwards to how hard it was before.”
The band did several successful opening slots with bands like Imagine Dragons and Panic at The Disco, but didn’t fully breakthrough until Jeep featured the X Ambassadors song Renegades in commercials for its Jeep Renegade in 2015.
A driving anthem for the downtrodden and outcast who refuse to give up, the song encapsulated the band’s years of hardships. The song inspired countless others to defy their own obstacles, and became the band’s first bona fide hit, topping the Rock charts.
“It was a really exciting time, and we had to learn to look at (music) a different way,” Levin said of the band’s sudden success. “It was kind of overnight, from playing opening sets to headlining, to being on a bus, to having to be really out on the road for years at a time as opposed to weeks at a time.”
In the two years since Renegades, X Ambassadors has collaborated with the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello. They’ve played for thousands at every major festival across the country and have seen their debut LP, VHS, go gold.
Not letting their vaulted platform go to waste, X Ambassadors has also partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union in hopes of raising awareness for causes they believe in.
“For us as people, that’s what we believe in, and a lot of musicians or people who have the opportunity to speak out about those kind of things don’t because of how it will affect the money or people coming to the shows,” Levin said. “But we really think it’s important to take the time to say how we feel and to encourage others to act out and speak up and just to let people know that they have our support and we stand with them. We never for a minute had a discussion about should we do this or shouldn’t we — it was just something we did.”
As the band gears up for the release of its forthcoming sophomore album, Joyful, X Ambassadors has teased fans with a few new songs this year, including the powerful, gospel-hued title track and the dancefloor lament Don’t Stay.
“This new album does tell a story and has a theme, but I don’t want to give it away because I want it to be a surprise,” Levin said of Joyful. “But we’re so excited for everyone to hear it. I can’t even begin to tell you.”
Until the album’s release, which still remains TBD, the band is more than happy to continue to share these new songs and its inspiring message live onstage.
“We hear stories every night and talk to people every night who are marginalized by the current administration or just by their communities, or people who just feel like they’re unable to be themselves, which is a terrible thing,” Levin said. “But it is an opportunity for us to go and let them know they’re not alone and give them a safe place to be themselves in a place where they normally can’t.
“It is important to us to be joyful and get through those hard times together. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Joyful Tour
Wsg. Jacob Banks, The Aces
20 Monroe Live
11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
April 25, 6:30 p.m., $30.50-$46
20monroelive.com, (616) 451-8232