Upstate New York rock band X Ambassadors announced Wednesday (Feb. 22) that they’ll be performing a special show at Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre to benefit Planned Parenthood on March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day.
The group’s frontman, Sam Harris, took part in the women’s march in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, and both he and his band have been fairly vocal about their stance on new president Donald Trump and his controversial decisions. Repealing Obamacare is one of those possible decisions, which would result in a loss of federal funding for Planned Parenthood — part of the reason X Ambassadors are stepping up to help.
“It’s such a vital organization for women across the country,” Harris tells Billboard. “We want to make sure that Planned Parenthood is able to keep its doors open.”
Along with the benefit show, X Ambassadors will also be releasing a new song aptly titled “Hoping,” which does not yet have an official release date but will see all of its proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Harris — who is also appearing Friday (Feb. 24) at UTA’s “United Voices” rally to “stand against policies of exclusion and division” — chatted with Billboard about why he and his bandmates feel such a strong passion for supporting Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, their plans for continuing to doing so, and how their new music “reflects the times.”
Why do you think it’s important for Planned Parenthood to not lose federal funding?
For so many different reasons, but for all the women in my life, it was a vital part of how they learned about sex and contraception, and I’ve had a couple of friends who have had medical emergencies that Planned Parenthood has helped with. On a personal level, I believe a woman absolutely has the right to do whatever she wants with her body, and it’s crazy that that’s not a widely accepted belief.
Why do you think International Women’s Day and supporting it as men is important?
It’s honestly white males like us that are kind of the problem [Laughs.] So it’s up to those of us who really want to stand up for other people’s rights to do something about it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try to fight for people who are feeling like their human rights are being infringed upon. Then I’m not doing my job as a citizen of this country, as a citizen of the world, and as an artist – more than half of our fan base are women. And I grew up with very strong, independent, amazing women who are a huge part of my life.
So I would be doing a disservice to all of those people if I didn’t try to do something. As much as this may seem like a drop in the bucket, for us, we’re not stopping here. I will continue to speak out and speak for women’s reproductive rights, and women’s rights, and rights of all people on this planet until the day I die.
When you started as X Ambassadors, did you guys make it a goal as a band to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice?
It didn’t really become a conscious thing until later in our career. My brother who plays in the band [keyboardist Casey Harris] is disabled — he’s been blind since birth. So we’ve always been aware of speaking up for people who’s voices aren’t often heard, and standing up for “disenfranchised” people in this country and this world. That is totally a part of who we are intrinsically as a band and who we want to speak for. We want to speak for the people who feel like they don’t always necessarily have a voice and try to encourage them to speak up as well.
Yes, we always want to support people who feel like their voices aren’t being heard. It’s part of who we are and how we grew up. I grew up as an outsider always watching other people interact differently with me brother and look at him differently and not having the same advantages as people of this world and bearing witness to that. So that had an impact on me.
I think its an artist’s duty to kind of reflect the times and do what they can to make the world a better place. That’s every human being’s duty, I feel like. And for us, when we’ve sat down and been like, ‘Okay, what can we do to help?’ Because obviously this is a time in our country – and in the world, just in general – that is really, the whole world feels like it’s turned up on its head.
It’s not like this is a new thing, women having to fight for their reproductive rights, black people having to fight for their rights, Latino people, immigrants, Muslims having to fight for their rights. But, the time has come where now there’s a person in power to really make things go in an even worse direction. It’s definitely woken everyone up, myself included. This is one thing that we felt like — with what we do as musicians — we can play a show.
Do you plan to do more benefit shows?
We will try to do as much as we can as long as we’re a band to help benefit organizations that we believe in. We’re working on incorporating something in our next tour – we’ll be working closely with an organization, hopefully Planned Parenthood and ACLU, to have something set up at our merch table where people can become members of the ACLU or donate to Planned Parenthood or donate to the ACLU.
Will your next set of music touch on political issues?
In a way, yes. Right now, we are just kind of writing and writing and writing and writing. It’s weird, whenever I make a conscious effort to write about something, it doesn’t end well [laughs]. But unconsciously, things have definitely been coming out in this new music that are I guess political you could say, but not too heavy-handed. As Nina Simone said, an artist needs to reflect the times, and I think this new music definitely reflects the times.
What else can you tell fans about any new material you guys have been working on and what else is on deck for X Ambassadors this year?
We are working hard on our next record, we’ve been working since October. We have a ton of songs and we’re so excited about this new material. It’s some of the best stuff I feel like I’ve written for a very long time. We were writing while we were on tour for the last year and a half, but the minute we were able to slow down, stop, and be in one place, songs just kind of started pouring out of me. I’m so excited to get this material out to the world. It’s going to be a little bit of a departure from what you would expect from X Ambassadors as you know us.
I don’t really want to give much away because I can’t wait for you to hear the music and judge for yourself. But I’m writing from a place of… these last couple of years, this last year in particular, has a been a very crazy one. A lot of stuff, personally, going on that I feel like I have learned from and that’s found its way into my music in a very organic way. And I’m drawing from influences that are really, really special to me – a lot of soul, gospel, classic R&B stuff that I grew up on. We’re still singing about similar things, but this is definitely an important record for us and we’re excited to share it.