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Interview: American Authors

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Zac Barnett talks the band’s name, the highs and lows, and the best show he ever saw.

Interview: American Authors

In this article…

A lot has happened since we spoke with Zac Barnett of rising band American Authors back in March. Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 had just gone missing, and the search still continues for the plane. Donald Sterling's private racism was broadcast for the public. A young boy was saved from a dog by his cat. You know, plenty of major events. 

The band has been busy, too. They went to SXSW (where Zac said they were looking forward to the beer, brisket and BBQ). They went on their first string of headlining tour dates with Wild Cub. They also played a couple of festivals.

But beyond all that, this band (comprised of Barnett, James Adam Shelley, Matt Sanchez and Dave Rublin) has a really great story to tell through their music. Their debut album, Oh, What A Life is filled with songs just brimming with positivity. It's the kind of music that can help anyone through low times, which this band has had. It's been a long journey creating their debut album, and we talked about that plus what kinds of books the guys like to read and a lot more.  

CHARGED.fm: I'm always interested about band names, so I want to ask you how you guys came up with the name American Authors?

Zac Barnett: So American Authors is this idea that an author is just someone who writes a book or a novel, but it's someone who tells a story through written word. And we look at ourselves as authors because we tell our stories through our lyrics.

And then the American aspect is that before we all met each other at college, at Berklee College of Music in Boston, we all come from all different parts of the country. I grew up in Minnesota, our bass player Dave is from New Jersey, our guitar player/banjo player James is from Florida, and our drummer Matt is from Texas. So that's the American Authors story.

CHARGED.fm: Nice. So this one was suggested by a friend of mine. With a name like American Authors, are you guys avid readers? Do you enjoy sitting down with a good book?

Zac: So Matt is the biggest reader. He's a pretty big reader of fiction. For me, there are a few fiction books that I like. I'm very into Chuck Palahniuk who wrote Fight Club and Survivor, which is one of my favorites by him. But I think what I'm more into now are biographies of different musicians. I really enjoyed Scar Tissue which was the biography of Anthony Kiedis from the Chili Peppers. So I like reading stuff like that every now and then.

CHARGED.fm: Very cool. So I was actually at Lollapalooza last year and you guys were the first band I saw to start the entire festival off.

Zac: Oh sweet dude! Thanks for checking us out.

CHARGED.fm: That was also my first Lollapalooza, was that the first time you guys had been there too?

Zac: It was our first time performing, which was awesome. I actually went to Lollapalooza in 2008 just as a fan. It was like one of the first Rage Against the Machine reunion shows. So I went to Lollapalooza by myself just to see Rage because I was such a huge fan of theirs growing up. I had such an amazing experience there when I went, so being able to play the festival last year was really exciting.

CHARGED.fm: So you guys have been hard at work getting the album ready since last summer, I take it.

Zac: Yes.

CHARGED.fm: You guys have been around for quite some time and you're finally putting out that first album. Describe the journey, because it seems so crazy that you form and seven years later it's finally happening. What went into all that, the process taking so long? It seems especially odd because your music is so vibrant, why do you think it took a while to catch on?

Zac: You know, it's just something where it took us a while to find ourselves and to find something or the situation to write music at the right time. But everything that we write is exactly what we're into. It comes from the heart, and they are all true stories.

It's been a really cool journey because when we started, we started playing rock music together seven years ago when we first met. But the different sub genre of rock music that we've been playing has just so naturally evolved over the years that I think in the past couple years when we formed American Authors, the music that we were doing was so inspired by our new surroundings living in Brooklyn, and we kind of threw any rule that we might have had out the window. We just put all of our influences into this album and really had a lot of fun experimenting with different instruments, different styles of music and whatnot.

And as far as lyrics go, it's really inspired and about everything that we've been through; all the ups and the downs and the highs and the lows, the sacrifices that we've all made to pursue our dreams and what we love to do. I think the title of the album, Oh, What A Life, really sums that up in a sense. It's easy to look back on life and look at what's going on and what's in the future and think, "Man. Crazy world out there."

CHARGED.fm: I mean, were there any serious low points where it seemed like this might now happen?

Zac. Sure. I don't think there were any doubts. We all went into music straight out of high school and went to college for that, and this was the only plan in life and option that we had. But there were definitely times when you're living in a crappy apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn NY together and working shit jobs, and it was really tough.

I mean right before everything picked up with "Believer" and "Best Day [Of My Life]" which were the first songs we ever wrote as American Authors, I had just lost my job. I was working in a small French restaurant in Lower Manhattan, and when it went out of business I lost my job due to Hurricane Sandy. So I was down to my last dimes, living off the small savings I had, so there were definitely low times.

But I think the big thing, and I think what this album really gets across the most is even when you're in those times, just don't give up. Keep pushing, keep your head up, and I think that's just such an important thing in life.

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CHARGED.fm: And that really comes across in your music. It's all very uplifting, especially the lead singles, and I think that's probably a big reason why they caught on so strongly. It seems like they've especially blown up across the media landscape in promos and stuff like that. What is it like to hear your music all over the place?

Zac: It's great! It's awesome, man. I mean it's always a little surreal, but it's always really exciting. It's definitely a "That Thing You Do" moment where we just kind of freak out and lose our minds when we hear it. I think also, it's very cool when our friends and family hear it too. That's always really exciting for us.

CHARGED.fm: So you guys were a blast to watch at Lollapalooza. It seems like you have a really great time performing for people. Is there a specific mindset you guys have during your live performances or is there anything you're particularly aiming to do?

Zac: We really just go into our live shows giving it our all, giving 110%. We look at it like, this could be someone's first show ever or someone's last show ever. So we just want to do our best, have fun and give the audience the performance of a lifetime.

CHARGED.fm: We like talking about live events on our site. What are some of the best shows you've ever been to as a fan or that you've maybe been a part of?

Zac: Best show I've ever been to, hands down, is Paul McCartney. Nothing will ever beat it.

CHARGED.fm: When was that show?

Zac: Hm, I went and saw McCartney back when I was in high school, in 2003. So that was the best. Everything that we do in our show, I still think back to that concert and think of how we can take inspiration from what he does live.

[Talk to someone else about directions]

Sorry, my girlfriend and I are just trying to find this restaurant.

CHARGED.fm: No worries.

Zac: But yeah, but I think as a band, it's always really fun and great touring with other bands. We've toured with some really great people like Silent Film and The Mowgli's. I know the last major tour that we did was in the winter and it was with a band from Sweden called The Royal Concept. And that was so cool in a sense that their live show was just so top notch that it was just nice to watch them and think, "Oh man. What could we do now to up our live show? That was really cool what they were doing, what can we do that's different but could be just as good as that?"

CHARGED.fm: Right. So I'll wrap this up so you can get to dinner with your girlfriend, but what's on the rest of your plate in 2014?

Zac: Well the album is out now, and we're super stoked. We're just touring man, touring and press and promo and touring, touring, touring. We're going to hop over to England for a little bit, then Australia, and then this summer we're going out on tour with OneRepublic and The Scipt.

Make sure to check out the band's debut album Oh, What A Life on iTunes and check out their numerous tour dates supporting OneRepublic and The Script, because this band is truly a ton of fun live.

Want great tickets but hate paying fees? Check CHARGED.fm to find tickets for less and NO FEES!

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