Nick Wheeler of the All-American Rejects Gives In-Depth Look at ‘Kids in the Street’
The All-American Rejects are gearing up to release their new disc ‘Kids in the Street’ on March 27, an album the band is calling more personal than ever, taking them down roads they never felt brave enough to traverse in the past. It’s not always easy to look in the mirror and talk about what you see, but AAR have come full circle on ‘Kids in the Street,’ capturing their past in songs heavy on nostalgia and overflowing with honesty.
The first single ‘Beekeeper’s Daughter,’ has caused a swarm all its own with stinging lyrics and a larger-than-life video that perfectly blends the song’s vibrancy and darkness — showing that things are not always as they seem. Reminiscent of an earlier sounding AAR, it will remind fans of that moment that they fell in love with the band in the first place, while showing hints of where the band is headed in the future.
PopCrush recently caught up with guitarist and songwriter Nick Wheeler to talk about ‘Kids in the Street,’ their globetrotting writing process, his dog Dex, and how Mika, Wayne Newton and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ inspired the new disc.
Tyson [Ritter] has said at the beginning of the writing process for ‘Kids in the Street,’ he was kind of in a dark place, and you were the one that pulled him out and helped him crawl back into reality. Was it as dramatic as it sounds?
That’s pretty accurate. Coming off of our last record (I say record, we were kind of cursed with ‘the song is bigger than the record’ thing last time around), we really wanted to make this record count. It’s not a matter of Ty not giving a s— … it was a huge ride. ‘Gives You Hell’ took us around the world twice in one year, and it was quite a reality check when it all came to a screeching halt. We had both moved to Los Angeles so it all just came to a complete stop.
… A couple months had passed and we needed to start writing and thinking about a new record, so we drove up to The Sequoia Grove National Forest. That was like the official first writing trip. We’ve always taken trips like that to write, just to seclude ourselves and remove ourselves from distractions. That first trip is actually where we wrote ‘Beekeeper’s Daughter,’ the first single and a couple of other songs that ended up on the record like ‘Bleed into Your Mind.’ The more lyrically darker songs were from that first trip and that’s pretty much because that’s the headspace he was in at the time, just kind of feeling bulletproof. I hate to put words in his mouth but these are words I’ve heard him say. Through that, we started to buckle down a little more.
For your writing sessions, you traveled to several different places (from a cabin in Maine to National Parks). What did that bring to the process for the two and do you find yourself inspired by the different locations?
It’s both; really all we need is a place to go with two bedrooms and a bar nearby so when you start to get crazy you can go grab a beer. It’s definitely to remove ourselves from distractions and I think we pull a little bit from our environment. Los Angeles is not real — it’s not reality, especially not in Hollywood where I live. Going somewhere, whether it be middle America or right up the East Coast, you definitely draw a little bit from your environment, attitude-wise at least; we’re not writing about foliage or anything.
I think through these writing trips, when we uproot ourselves like that, and even when we make the record, all of those comforts are removed … So I think that’s why removing ourselves from our homes really helps the creative process. Plus, we can’t sit anywhere for more than two weeks anyway. We’ve been touring for 10 years so our attention span, as far as locations go, is really short.
Tyson has referred to ‘Kids in the Street’ as “a crazy autobiographical picture.” Do you feel the same? Does it tell your story as well?
I think so. A song like ‘Beekeepers Daughter’ and ‘Someday’s Gone’: Those are directly autobiographical to Tyson lyrically. There are a couple of songs on the record however, like the title track ‘Kids in the Street’ and another song called ‘Gonzo’ — which is not Muppet related by the way — those are more just autobiographical about the band. ‘Kids in the Street’ is where we came from and ‘Gonzo’ is about when we starting touring.
There’s a line in it that’s a Hunter S. Thompson line: ‘We bought the ticket so we’ll take the ride.’ We signed up for this 10 years ago, and there’s a lot of this that we weren’t clued in on, whether it be sitting here doing phone interviews or just what ‘doing this for a living’ entails. A lot of times you’ll think, ‘I didn’t sign up for this’ and then you get on stage and it’s like ‘F— Yeah! This is what I signed up for, I get to do this.’ … It’s just kind of about those pure moments when we started the band, when we started touring and we were all in a van with everyone sick, but we were playing every night and loving it, it was fantastic. There are songs that are autobiographical and coming from all of us.
There’s a video of you and Tyson performing an acoustic version of the song ‘I for You.’ How far away was that performance from the actual recording on the record? Is it a ballad type song?
It is, we’ve been playing it on the tour we’re on right now. It’s literally an acoustic guitar and a vocal. It’s the first song that he and I have ever produced and recorded ourselves that ended up on an album. We’ve done all of our demos since we started out as a band, but this moment that we captured on that first writing trip to Sequoia Grove, there was like this game room in the cabin, it was kind of like an add on, it was all wood but it had this natural reverb, like a natural echo-chamber and it sounded great. His vocal performance was amazing.
Watch Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler Perform ‘I for You’
I wanted to ask you about another song called ‘Heartbeat Slowing Down,’ which has been referred to as “the pulse of the album.”
We wrote that one during our writing trip to Maine. We were up there for several days and we had nothing, Ty was really worried that the well had run dry — natural things that happen every time we take a writing trip — but this one in particular worried him. I heard him say that with this song he had to dig a little deeper, as far as being autobiographical, under some things he’d been feeling about a past relationship. That kicked off this writing trip really well.
I think we’re all in agreement that it’s one of the best songs we’ve ever written, and it might be the best song on the record. It’s epic: We had a lot of fun recording it too. We tried to emulate a British Boys Choir at the end of it. A lot of the demos we did in the bathroom and in the cabin in Maine ended up on the record of us just ‘singing like thisssss’ (Nick sings in a veryyyyy high pitched voice). In addition to that, we did the record with producer Greg Wells, who has done all of the Mika records. Mika actually was a British choir boy, so he actually came and sang a lot of the tracks on that song, and that was a lot of fun.
You mentioned producer Greg Wells — it sounds like he made a huge difference this time around for the band. What did he bring to the table for you?
I don’t like to talk down about past records, we’re proud of every single one of them and we try to make the best record we can each time. There’s just been different experiences, and I think what made the record with Greg Wells so positive is that it was more like he was along for the ride. When we made ‘Move Along’ , the only variable was us, the band. We made the record with Howard Benson, the way Howard Benson makes a record … Our last record ['When the World Comes Down' was with] Eric Valentine. [He] is a very meticulous, very thought out person, with everything that he does — so it’s almost like he held the reins and we let him. You want to trust the producer you’re working with.
With Greg, we trusted him, but at the same time he was more along for the ride and I don’t think any of us knew what we were going to come up with — especially with a song like ‘Kids in the Street.’ He’s an amazing pianist. I always feel funny saying the word, but he played a lot of the synths on that song and really helped bring it to life. It helped us go somewhere we haven’t gone before and maybe somewhere we’ll stay for awhile, or maybe it’s just a quick stop. But it was definitely a positive vibe and we loved going to the studio every single day. In the past it’s been more tedious than it ever was this time.
In some of the preview videos, there are flashes of a full orchestra. Did you work with a full orchestra on some of the new songs?
Yeah, we were in Chicago after Warped Tour and we were approaching the song called ‘Affection.’ I was watching a lot of the show ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ at the time and I really liked that fluttery, woodwind, string driven theme song to the show and I wanted to try something like that.
I orchestrated the song and we put this big full band session in the end; but for the first couple of verses and choruses it’s this really fluttery — almost ‘Fantasia’-esque sound. We actually got a string arranger to dig in a little further who does a lot of Disney stuff, [and] it came out really cool. We went to a soundstage in Burbank, Calif. and we cut it live with the orchestra. They would be playing the first couple of minutes of the song and Tyson would be singing live, and then the rest of the band came in and played the song live with them.
Watch a Preview Video Featuring Tyson Ritter and a Full Orchestra
Let’s talk about the video for the first single ‘Beekeeper’s Daughter.’ It’s another AAR classic: You seem to keep outdoing yourselves with these videos. How did the idea come together for the video and the Wayne Newton cameo?
That guy [Wayne Newton] is so nice, he brought his whole family, and he was a pleasure to be around. We shared a dressing room with him, he was a sweetheart. He even invited us out to his ranch, Shenandoah, next time we play in Vegas.
The video itself, I think it’s exactly what the song is. It’s sugary. It’s a catchy melody. It’s a classic Rejects pop rock song. But the lyrical sentiment is a little darker — it’s spiteful and the guy talking is kind of an a–hole. I think we really captured the vibrancy and the colors; and if you just look at it on the surface, it looks like exactly what it is. It’s bright. There’s dancing — it’s a great time. But if you look a little closer you see the devil girls, you see the barbershop quartet with the black eyes – there’s a dark undertone, where if you listen to the lyric and pick up on the details of the video I think they match perfectly.
We were thinking about going a really dark route and having Ty play this guy who’s unhappy in his personal life so he’s like a male prostitute. Not like in a ‘Deuce Bigalow’ kind of way but in a dark, sad, kind of way. We were so far down the rabbit hole with that idea when Isaac Rentz sent the treatment and we were all kind of like, “This is a breath of fresh air, I think this is good, is this good?” So we made it. We spent a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun doing it and it came out really cool. We’re pleased with it.
Watch The All-American Rejects Official Video For ‘Beekeeper’s Daughter’
I have to end by asking about your dog Dex. Can we officially call him an honorary member of the band yet?
Pretty much. I haven’t traveled overseas with him yet; he might have to stay home with Grandma and Grandpa for that but for any other tour he’s in. Everybody seems to get along with him, he’s a champion. We have 14 people on the bus — the last thing I want to do is put another body on the bus, but everyone seems to like him. He boosts the morale and he keeps me warm at night.