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X AMBASSADORS on their newest album Townie

press conference

WORDS by  Tessa Swantek  TALENTX Ambassadors  PR °1824  

“Wherever you go, there you are”

Sam Nelson Harris of X Ambassadors brings up this age-old saying when speaking about their new album, Townie, being heavily inspired by the group’s upbringing in Ithaca, New York. While the album name-drops many places within Ithaca, it’s not necessarily about Ithaca. It’s about a feeling found in Ithaca that follows like a shadow - a deep loneliness, a feeling of insignificance and invisibility on a backdrop of a swallowing gorge. Almost every track on the album ends with a crackling silence, one that ends up feeling not so silent. Each track transports you to a hyper-specific setting, but then at the end, there you are. Alone in the car with a sputtering radio.

Feelings are at the epicenter of the album, and Ithaca is the only place that could hold them. Sam describes feeling “out to sea” as he went through an identity crisis as his friends had kids. Sam says, “We had never really done something that felt like a destination record, but it needed it. When we were in LA, it had already dawned on me that this was a record about upstate New York and where we’re from. I needed us to be there. We found a great studio called The Outlier Inn.” Sam candidly opens up about feelings of imposter syndrome that never really leave, in the same way that you can never truly escape your hometown. He says, “There’s a message on the record about owning up to that little kid inside you and embracing where they grew up. You can try and shake it and act like you know what you’re doing but none of us really do.” His brother, Casey Harris, the band’s keyboardist, says, “Society is so focused on ambition and future and the shiny big city but a lot of the time, in all the glitz and glamour, people forget about their grimy roots that made them. Don’t forget your dirty past.” 

The album takes us to the first destination in their “grimy past” which is their local Sunoco gas station. The lyrics are “6 am and I feel like I’ll never leave this place alive / But I swear I’m gonna die on my feet / Never come back to these upstate streets / I’m seeing my future and I feel like I’m getting high off the neon glow.” There’s something really striking about the album starting this way, especially in coming back upstate - needing to come back upstate - after finding that neon glow and the loneliness just becoming more atomic. Sam says, “The gas station early on became a symbol of this place and record. Growing up, we always used to meet at gas stations - specifically one Sonoco downtown and then go off to someone’s house or a place in the woods. It was near Cornell University so there’d always be someone there getting ready to go off into the big bad world. We’d watch this happen all the time and we weren’t able to leave yet. I think upstate New York feels very transient. For me, it’s more than that.” They have achieved an album that does feel transient, yet enduring. “Smoke on the Highway” is possibly the most representative of this as the track feels fleeting like tendrils of smoke curling in the wind out a car window, but the smell never comes out of your clothes.  

"I think upstate New York feels very tranisent. For me, it's more than that."  

Sunoco by X Ambassadors


The visuals of the locations throughout the album are very cinematic, which Sam credits to his father who worked as a film publicist; “We’d be on location on film sets with him. You’re seeing these incredible films being made and you go back home knowing that’s all out there. I do think that imbued itself in our DNA.” There’s a nostalgia to each location, equal parts sad and wistful. Some of the more interesting parts of the album take you to a location, but you feel as though you are floating above it, looking down. In “I’m Not Really Here,” he sings, “Feels like I’m / Grocery shopping on a Friday night / While my best friend’s watching that MMA fight / On his phone in the backseat parked outside / Yeah, I just kinda feel like / I’m not really here.” There is a lot of inanimateness in this track which underscores most of the album. When we get to “First Dam,” we get a track that is strikingly less inanimate as gray smoke, dimly lit gas stations, and uniform grocery stores are painted over in bright red blood.

When talking about “First Dam”, Sam explains, “[The song] is a true story where a kid threw a rock and hit me in the face and broke my nose. I had just started smoking weed so I’m high and my nose is bleeding so I’m freaking out. They bring me to this random house and call an ambulance. So I started writing about that and then I was like, but why write about this? I maybe liked some of the attention I had when I was hurt, sadly. I’ve always felt starved for that attention deep in my heart. It’s maybe why I do this for a living - put my pain on display. I’m afraid of being invisible, I think.” Sam talks about this honesty in the album as he says, “I’ve always struggled with getting hyper-specific and hyper-personal with my own life. I generally am the type to be as democratic as possible. I want something to feel like everyone can connect. But the longer I’ve been a working artist, I realized the more hyper-specific I get, the more universal the message can become.” 

"I'm afraid of being invisible, I think." 

“Women’s Jeans” is particularly hyper-specific, down to the bell bottoms, but is incredibly universal. He laughs as he shares, “I still feel like that 14-year-old kid who hated where he was and decided to dress like he lived in New York and got low-rise bell bottoms. I look back on that kid and I love that kid. Nobody else was dressing like that in my town. But it was still a costume, to some degree. I still feel like I’m putting on a costume. I think life just has a way of taking you along for the ride and there are moments where you are like, Am I just a passenger here? Do I have any autonomy? I’m not who I thought I’d be. I’ve been able to check off a lot of boxes in my life but it’s not exactly how I pictured it and I don’t feel any different - stable or accomplished.”

While most of the album is about feeling like a passenger in life, “Follow the Sound of My Voice” turns your attention to the fact that being a passenger means there must be someone else next to you, at least. The lyrics are “When I feel like I’m invisible, like nobody cares / You’re always there / Saying ‘I can see you, I can see you.” Sam wrote the song about his relationship with his brother, Casey, and Casey talks about how it was interesting to know more about Sam’s view of their growing up. Perspective is one of the most interesting things, if not the most interesting thing, about Townie. Sometimes the album takes you far above, then far below, then nowhere at all. The final track, “No Strings” leaves you feeling untethered, but still, there you are. Tethered.

Smoke on the Highway by X Ambassadors 


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