If there’s a term 21st century pop-punk fans grown to hate, it’s “hiatus,” or more specifically, “indefinite hiatus.” Scene giants like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Blink-182 have all taken well-publicized vacations from the spotlight with no defined return date, some reuniting, some not.
The All-American Rejects took a different approach. The hitmakers behind “Move Along” and “Gives You Hell” went away largely anonymously, allowing their members to take a well-earned break and to fall back in love with the music that made them in the first place. Since the release of 2012’s Kids in the Street, the quartet — frontman Tyson Ritter, guitarists Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor — have been taking on their own musical endeavors and enjoying separate private lives in cities across the country.
That’s all about to change. A pair of new songs — “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes” — are due July 7, with their fifth full-length looming in the fall. We hopped on the phone with Ritter to get all the details: the benefits of pressing pause and ignoring outside pressures on your art, learning to love writing again, and returning to the project you’ve been wielding since adolescence.
Check out the music video trailer for the upcoming single, “Sweat,” below, and read on for our conversation with Ritter.
Kids in the Street was the last record, in 2012. A year later you released “Air,” a track under your own name to, in your words, “tide fans over until the next Rejects record.” Were you flirting with the idea of releasing a solo record?
I was just playing around. I had fallen back in L.A. We were a band who lived on the road. There’s an interesting thing when you live on that above-ground submarine for so long. Once you get back to your life you [ask], “What am I doing? What is this? I’ve got a house and I’m supposed to wake up in this everyday now.” Getting back into music, I was touching some water, putting my toe in it, seeing what it felt like to be in the studio by myself. I did [“Air”] with [producer] Greg Wells who we did Kids in the Street with. It felt really safe.
I don’t know what I was doing. I think I wanted to create and do something with the song that came to me while I was on this European run for 12 weeks with Blink-182 in 2013. I was [acting] on Parenthood at the time and they ended up using it. Looking back, I’m not even sure I understood the experience, like, “Wow, this is my studio, this is my time. This is my little playground.” To tide the fans over, I’m not sure it did any of that, but it was an offering.
What have you been up to for the last five years?
It’s been forever! Most people say they haven’t heard from us since 2009 or 2010, so to them it’s been seven years. It’s funny, I got in front of this microphone when I was 17, sent out to fly around the world, get courted by labels and we’ve gone on the road for 24 months for every record. We beat The Roots in 2010 for the most shows played; I think we did over 270. I got a doctorate in asphalt and rock and roll. The last five years, if you’re a fan — or seven, if you’re a fickle fan — has been us finally putting our feet into our own earth and going, “Oh, what’s life like without this thing we think is defining us?”
I’ve gotten married, which is a really beautiful, private experience for me. I’ve been exploring acting in the last few years, that’s been such a free form of art to take the pressure off writing music. I booked this HBO thing, and we were up in Calgary in the woods and I had this acoustic guitar staring at me every day, but it wasn’t asking me to step up to it. It wasn’t telling me that I have to do this and music came to me. It was this beautiful, natural thing and I remember when I was 15 and 16 writing that first record, I did it on those sad Sundays, by myself, not thinking, “Oh, this is what the label wants.” I think a lot bands get caught up in the chatter and the big wheel that they get turning from themselves and they can lose that sense of purity. That’s the one thing I knew that I didn’t want to do. For those who think of us as just a pop rock band, that’s fine, we’re just a pop rock band that is doing what we do as purely as we do it. To find this new offering, it took walking away from it and experiencing a bit more life.
Was there ever a moment where it looked like your Kids in the Street would be your last record?
We were presented this ASCAP Vanguard award, and I’m not a very eloquent person, but I said one of the things I’m proudest of saying. I said, “We as songwriters are only as happy as the last thing we wrote made us feel.” I think, leaving that fourth record, “Is this it? Are we going to do anything else?” wasn’t a question that I had in my heart. I knew that I was only going to put something out and that we were only going to put something out if it made us feel great. That’s the high we chase as creators. That’s the rush, finding that song that you love.
Kids in the Street was this perfect example of the Rejects experimenting. You can hear the growing pains because it was really lost in a fun way and I’m really proud of that record. We were throwing paint at the wall on every song and every song has its own little environment. It’s a record, to me, that sounds like a band trying to find it’s next record, and that’s cool.
There are two new songs coming, “Close Your Eyes” and “Sweat.” The first track feels different from anything in AAR’s catalogue — you’ve never been a man afraid of pop music, or sweeping synths, or big hooks — but it’s certainly unique to your repertoire. Where did these songs come from?
When I was in L.A. with my feet at my little red piano, I established this relationship with a guy down the street named Benny Cassette. For “Close Your Eyes” he had a handful of tracks — he is a great producer — and he called me up. I was like, “This is great. This is makes me feel uncomfortable, you just proposing something like this, so send ‘em my way. I’ve never tried anything like this.” The closest I had ever gotten to co-writing before was with [Weezer’s] Rivers [Cuomo] for the Raditude record.
Benny’s track had this groove where I felt like I was pulling myself back into the ‘90s in a fun way. Something felt really nostalgic about “Close Your Eyes” for me, so I went with it. Even lyrically, I’m proud of finding some sort of depth with that song that I don’t think I’ve grabbed on with previous Rejects tracks.
After the two tracks, you’re releasing a new album hopefully sometime in the fall. What can fans expect from it?
We’ve got six tracks on wax. This pairing, “Close Your Eyes” and “Sweat,” is a tasting. This is the sauvignon blanc and this is the cabernet. It’s not going to be the same Rejects record because it never is, if you’ve listened to one of our records. This time, to me, the visual offering is so important. The last five years of learning my craft as an actor and really developing that side of being a visual artist in that way has made me realize how important that really is — to put the eyes to the ears. This is going to be more of a visual experience. This record is going to be about your eyes and the headphones.