All-American Rejects’ Ritter on Being Bad, Doing Good
After nearly ten years of pop-punkdom, the frontman talks Powerpoint presentations, growing up, and being a "total vinyl kid"
Yes, Warped Tour faithfuls, it really has been nearly a decade since the All-American Rejects released their first self-titled record in 2003. You really have been listening to “Swing, Swing” for almost half of your life. We’ve all grown up (somewhat) since then, and Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter is no exception.
The band’s new album, Kids in the Street, drops on March 26 (the single “Beekeeper’s Daughter” arrived yesterday — listen to it below). We caught up with Ritter via phone from Aspen, Colorado, where he and the rest of the group recently performed at the X-Games, and chatted about boozing, “Beekeeper’s Daughter,” and Bono.
What have you guys been doing since 2008’s When The World Comes Down?
We had a hell of a ride with that last record. We didn’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot and do what so many other bands do: just crap out another record to try to capitalize on some sort of tailwind we’d created. We’ve been doing this for 10 years and this is our fourth record so we never bought into the whole “hurry up and get another one out” mentality. We jumped off in Los Angeles. We had this brilliant idea to get a place out there; as a result, I lost my way for a little bit. On the bright side, it made for a lot of great songs.
What do you mean by “lost your way”?
I just sort of fell into a dark period. I was like, “I’m 25, let’s completely wipe away everybody in my life and jump right into this bottle and not come out for a few months.” I realized nine months later that I was still there. I woke up one day and I was like, “Wow, what the hell is going on?” It’s that moment where you wake up and nothing hurts, but everything is just swimming. Nine months!
Was it about time to give birth to something?
Yeah, it was that, but it was also just the poisonous people I ran with. I hung out with a lot of bad kids. So I moved to New York, and now I’ve got my shit together. New York was a big reason why we have a record. I grabbed a skateboard and pushed from Bleeker to my friends on the East Side every night. We just stooped and sort of did more adult things.
Is that transformation reflected in the record?
I didn’t realize I was going to experience so much life in the three years between the last record and this one. I went from the floor to standing up, and I think the whole record reflects that thematically. It’s about a guy losing his way and finding it through reflection and self-realization. We started out having two songwriters, Nick [Wheeler] and I. We’ve always just put together collections of songs to compose a record. We would take writing trips, where we’d write five songs at once, in a house in Chicago. That’s been how our songs have seemed cohesive as records [in the past]. This record actually had a story. We realized we weren’t putting together a collection of songs for the first time, but we were actually putting together a record that told a story.
So fans shouldn’t expect the same All-American Rejects that they heard on the last record.
I think our first single, “The Beekeeper’s Daughter,” has a lot of things that fans know us best for, but it also has elements that, sonically, that we’ve never been daring enough to do. I’ll never forget when I was 17, Nick was like, “Can we put horns on this song?” I was like, “Nick, if we ever have horns on a song, I’m never going to speak to you again.” Now, all of a sudden we’ve got a song with horns draped all over it.
“Beekeeper’s Daughter” is a bit sexist, implying you only need a girl “for an hour.” Has this question come up before in interviews for you?
No, no, no, no. I haven’t done too many interviews. It’s about a point in my life when I was sort of completely involved in that moment of lost excess. I was treating everything like I had this bulletproof vest; I was encountering some terrible people and terrible women and I started to kind of firm up a lot; I wasn’t a likable guy for the moment. I was just sort of on my journey. I can see how someone could see it as sexist, but I don’t find it that way at all. By the time you get to the bridge of the song, you’re [supposed to] realize that this guy’s actually battling himself. When last chorus kicks in, it’s not this confident chorus, it’s more him telling himself this person is going to wait for him. In all truth, he might as well be talking to the wind. The female vocals in the bridge, she’s kind of telling him to fuck off, and that’s the resolve of the song. I was really going for a guy you were going to love to hate, as opposed to just hate. That’s kind of where I was with my own little journey, at the moment. Everything seemed disposable to me, including myself. The song is a Polaroid of my lowest of lows.
Who have you been listening to, now and while the band was writing and recording this album?
We’re very flavor-of-the-week in that we’ll find a record and it’ll be, like, Hawaiian sounds, and we’ll listen to that for a couple of weeks. I usually just listen to stuff that’s all composition and not a lot of melody. I got a turntable a few years ago; I’ll have a couple of friends over and I’m sitting in my room, I don’t want to put on like a lot of wordy shit. I like to put on a vibe. When I moved to New York, I just bought like a bunch of old records, like Miles Davis performing at Carnegie Hall. There was some ELO, too.
Can you remember the last thing you listened to on your iPod?
I don’t iPod. I’m a total vinyl kid. The only time I ever put anything on my iPod is if I have to do Petty Fest or Dylan Fest and I have to like whatever song I need to remember for that.
What else is on the horizon for the All-American Rejects? Anything outside the entertainment world?
I started a charity called Don’t Hate On Haiti right after the disaster. I really plan on ramping that up this year, now that I have a bigger pedestal to stand on (I started it when we had just finished a tour). I plan on doing a little bit more philanthropic stuff. It’s weird, you get to an age where you’re like, “Holy shit, if I don’t speak up for something then I don’t really stand for anything.” It’s nice to be able to give back to a culture. We’re headlining throughout April, and then I’m setting up this meet-and-greet, with a PowerPoint presentation and everything, for the cause. But I’m not going full Bono here.