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COURTESY OF LAUREN KALLEN

September 13, 2017

X Ambassadors Frontman Talks About Cayuga Sound Festival

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X Ambassadors are returning to their hometown of Ithaca on September 23 to headline Cayuga Sound, an outdoor music festival at Stewart Park that they curated to “bring bands that people of all ages would want to see,” according to lead vocalist Sam Harris.

The platinum-selling band is known for their hit song “Renegades,” which brought the band to the top of the prestigious Billboards Hot 100 list.

Harris said that Ithaca was an “artistically vibrant community and encouraging of creativity” and “an instrumental part of their careers.”

He went on to say that the town “put it in their heads that they could make a living off of being musicians.” Harris recognized that his passion for music was more than just a pastime, but a lifestyle. In 2004, Harris and his bandmates played all over town: “we played at every nook and cranny and brought our friends out.”

Harris pointed out that then Ithaca was not as musically diverse as it is currently: “There was not as much a scene for alternative rock, R&B and hip hop.” This forced them to pursue a new sound: “We made do by creating our own scene and found encouragement.” X Ambassadors brought a fresh sound and Ithaca fostered their passion for innovation in the music scene.

X Ambassadors have been greatly impacted by Ithaca’s music scene and are now curating Cayuga Sound Festival. When asked about his involvement in the festival and why the band wanted to help organize it, Harris responded that he “wanted to create a festival in our hometown that I would have wanted to attend when I was fourteen or fifteen. We didn’t have many opportunities to see bands that we loved to listen to when we still lived in Ithaca. It was a city that was often kind of forgotten about, unless bands were coming Cornell or Ithaca College.”

Harris described sneaking into a concert at Cornell: “I saw Arcade Fire play there but I had to sneak in because I was obviously a high school kid, not a Cornell student. So I exed my hand and I just walked in the door. But it was an amazing show. So we wanted to bring bands like that to our hometown.”

The festival’s lineup is exciting, reflecting a diverse range of sound. Harris said that “the Roots co-headline came about after them asking X Ambassadors to play with them.” Together, the two bands worked on a Sam Cooke cover “Bring It on Home to Me.” The collaboration was so successful that the X Ambassadors played at a festival the Roots curated and now the Roots will be performing at the Cayuga Sound Festival.

Artists Tei Shei and Margaret Glaspy are also set to perform at the festival. Harris is a big fan of Tei Shei’s music and stated that Glaspy left an amazing first impression when they spoke on a panel. He described Glaspy as “eloquent” and that he “loved her as a person.”

The lineup also includes local Ithaca artists. Harris said “the minute we realized we were doing this, I wanted to get some local talent to really show off what Ithaca has to offer.” One of the Ithacan artists that will be performing is Sammus. She is a talented musician involved with Ithaca Underground and is currently a PhD student at Cornell. Harris said “I knew her since high school and she is an incredible rapper.” The diverse lineup will give the crowds a wide variety in sound and reflect Ithaca’s talented community.

Recently, X Ambassadors released several singles: “Ahead of Myself,” “The Devil You Know,” “Torches,” and “Hoping.”  Harris said “We have a new album coming up the top of the year next year.  We’re so excited.”

X Ambassadors’ career was prompted by the Love Songs Drug Songs EP. When asked how their sound has transformed from that release in 2013, Sam stated “I think you’re going to be really surprised and impressed by the next record. Harris said, referencing their 2013 EP, “we have taken the soulful element and really amplified on this new record. That has always been the type of music that has affected the band members the most. Soul music and R&B music.”

Harris said while growing up he listened to Jackie Walton, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and more. These soul artists “had such an impact on me and we want to pay pension to those artists on this new record.”  He stated the new single, “Ahead of Myself,” “is a little bit of  a bridge between the two worlds of VHS, the last record, and this new sound. Something that has an alternative feel to it but also soul and is lyrically intimate and revealing.”

When asking how fame has affected their music, Harris said that “the biggest way that our career has so far affected my songwriting, if anything, is that I definitely get up in my head sometimes about previous successes we had and trying to replicate those, which you really can’t. You can’t make something that already happened and if you do it’s just going to be a replication of what it was before. You have to constantly be evolving and moving forward and going deeper. If anything our success is forcing us all to take a closer look at ourselves and who we are and what we truly are made of and what we believe in.”

 

Bella York is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at iyork@cornellsun.com.