X Ambassadors singer Sam Harris on music, Taco Bell, responsibilities as a straight white male
Like many bands, X Ambassadors strives to deliver a good time to fans at its concerts. But this New York-bred, Los Angeles-based trio goes a step further by also striving to provide a safe haven of inclusion at a time of increasing polarization.
Or, as lead singer Sam Harris told the cheering crowd at his band’s September concert at the KAABOO Del Mar festival: “No matter who you are, you do not have to be afraid. Do not be afraid to speak out against racism, against sexism, against homophobia, against Islamophobia, against anti-Semitism, against xenophobia. ... Do not be afraid!”
Harris usually makes this on-stage declaration prior to introducing “Renegades,” X Ambassadors’ chart-topping 2015 hit. That message of inclusion informs 2017’s “Hoping,” a gently optimistic song the band wrote the day after the 2016 presidential election. For the first six months after its release, all proceeds from “Hoping” went to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been fighting President Trump’s immigration ban.
What compels Harris to speak out?
“Well, I feel like it’s my responsibility, as a straight white male, to say: ‘Hey, I’m standing on this stage as your ally. I will fight for your rights.’ We have somewhat of a platform to let people know what we stand for, and I don’t see any other choice for us,” he replied.
“It just is necessary for me to stand on that stage and say those things. I know or say — I don’t really know — how scary it must be for anyone who feels marginalized right now, or feels oppressed in this country and world. But I will let you know I am here for you, we are here for you, and we will continue to fight for equality and justice in this country and make this this a safe space for you.”
Harris returns to San Diego for a Friday show at the all-ages SOMA with X Ambassadors. The band features his brother, blind keyboardist Carey Harris, and drummer Adam Levin. Guitarist Noah Feldshuh is on an extended hiatus from the band.
Harris, 29, spoke from Nashville, where X Ambassadors was rehearing for its winter and spring tour. The band will be previewing some of the songs from its upcoming second album, “Joyful,” whose title track is an Elton John-flavored piano ballad. Here are edited excerpts from our interview.
Q: You will be performing at SOMA, San Diego’s oldest all-ages venue. Is that by design?
A: We always try to play to all ages, as much as possible. We have a young fan base, although it’s pretty diverse, from very young to people in their 70s. But, in general, we like our shows to be open to everybody of any age. I remember being under 18 and I’d be so pissed off I couldn’t get into see Kings of Leon or The Strokes, and I didn’t have a fake ID. We don’t want anyone to miss out on their first concert.
Q: What was your first concert?
A: James Taylor, with my parents, at some festival.
Q: The three members of X Ambassadors have all relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Have you taken up surfing?
A: No, none of us surf. But we all drink juice.
A: Juice? The kind Snoop Dogg raps about on “Gin and Juice?”
A: No. Something healthy!
Q: Your upcoming new album and its title track are entitled “Joy.” Are you feeling optimistic in these troubled times?
A: It’s about how we persevere as human beings in times of strife, struggle, hardship and heartbreak, and it’s not meant in a broad sense. The song is very personal for me, about some serious hardships and heartbreak I’ve endured in the last couple of years. And also about looking to people around me who inspire me and make me appreciate being on the planet. One of them is my brother. We started writing these songs together and he’s always been a big inspiration to me. I wrote the song for him. The album is, appropriately, about that theme, about — when your world feels like it’s falling apart — how do you cope and what do you do? I’m not even claiming I have any answers. But something that helps me is just to be joyful about being here and appreciate the heartbreak, and anything else, because that’s part of the wonder of being alive.
Q: Do you still eat at Taco Bell?
A: (laughing) No, I have not eaten at Taco Bell in a very long time. Ever since that early tour where we only ate Taco Bell — because that’s all we could afford and we had those gift cards — I have not eaten at Taco Bell.
X Ambassadors, with Fletcher
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: SOMA, 3550 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District
Tickets: $28 (general admission); $58 and $138 (VIP packages)
Phone: (619) 226-7662
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