Sometimes you can't help but wonder what it's like to be a big-time rock star: selling millions of CDs, traveling the world, getting major airplay on the radio and MTV (at least when MTV plays music) and being catered to from coast to coast. It's even more abstract a thought when you see a band that used to play your local bars hit it big (Hey, Dave -- how's the road treating ya?) -- especially when you remember that band when its members were teens and just out of high school.
Nevertheless, it's also undeniably cool to see a band that you feel a connection to hit it big and build a successful career. Even so, you also have to wonder if the guys that seemed so close can still keep it in perspective after a few trips around the world. With All American Rejects, that's not the case.
"Tyson (Ritter, AAR's bassist and lead vocalist) and I are just two boys from Stillwater," founding guitarist and songwriter Nick Wheeler said nonchalantly before the band returned to Tulsa for a show at The Brady Theater last April. While the band's success (three hit albums and now on a third hit single from its latest disc with "I Wanna") might indicate otherwise, it seems these guys really are still Oklahoma boys at heart.
While it seemed inevitable to some that the band would get a break and hit it big (The Edge's Chuck Stickl once said he knew immediately the band had something special when it played its first Edge event, even before getting signed), it was never a foregone conclusion for the band.
Granted, it definitely was an aspiration for the band, as Wheeler said that he and Ritter continued writing songs and marching forward, even as the rest of the band fell away after high school.
"For fun, we wrote down the addresses to all of the labels from our record collections," he chuckled in hindsight. In turn, the pair sent its home recorded demo tapes to each label, hoping to generate any interest with their songs.
And in an unlikely twist of fate, Ritter and Wheeler were able to do just that. As Wheeler shares it, "Doghouse Record, out of Toledo, Ohio dug ours out of a stack and liked it -- it was all luck!"
Shortly after recording the band's first EP, Same Girl, New Songs, for Doghouse and playing a few shows, guitarist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor, both from Edmond, joined the band, now the All American Rejects were complete.
The band's 2002 self-titled full-length debut not only scored a hit single with "Swing, Swing", but also got the band signed to Dreamworks Records and sent the band to the next level with three hit singles off of its sophomore release, Move Along.
During the past decade, however, the band hasn't stagnated. Although its songs are still upbeat and innately fun, the group's writing has progressed past simple pop-punk and into a more complete rock sound. One listen to the band's latest disc, When the World Comes Crashing Down, which was released last December, proves the point.
While last spring's hit single, the tongue-in-cheek kiss off song "Gives You Hell," still nods to the band's fun loving past, follow-up ballad "The Wind Blows" and even the disc's lead-off single "Mona Lisa" show a band that has matured considerably.
When asked how the writing process has changed throughout time, Wheeler shared that, "Our goal each time is to get off the road, clear our heads and remember why we do this. We write the songs for ourselves, not for a hit single or radio airplay or to give the fans what they want."
As result, the group's sound has transitioned from disc to disc. "We definitely go through an identity crisis each time and freak out, wondering what's next," he admitted. "It's like starting all over again..."
Throughout time, however, Wheeler also admitted that the group -- he and Ritter, in particular -- have become more confident in the writing and recording process.
"This time we went into the studio with our acoustic demos, and the rest was unplanned," he explained. Previously, we'd have already recorded the songs at home and practiced them so all we had to do was go in and lay down the tracks. This time, we wanted to have the experience of making a record -- to go into the room and let the magic happen."
As a result, much of the new disc was created on the spot, adding to the new textures and energy on the disc. So far, the gamble has paid off with strong album sales when the industry itself is suffering and hit single status for "Give You Hell," as the band served as house band at MTV's 2009 Music Video Awards.
A stop to open the New York Stock Exchange in September and involvement in the NASCAR Challenge, as well as an ongoing touring schedule has kept the band busy throughout 2009, and the pace is just looking to slow down right before the holidays.
After such a successful year, it's natural to wonder how the band keeps a level head. "I think it comes from the people you surround yourself with -- and part of it is just a matter of going home in between," Wheeler said.
"I think it's really about remembering why we do this," he said. "It's hard sometimes, and it's still a job, but we've got to remember we got into this because we loved music. This is what I've wanted to do since I was 7, and if I remember that, I think I'll be OK."
If coming home is part of keeping things in perspective, this week will be part of the band's grounding. Back-to-back homecoming shows in Oklahoma City Tuesday and here in Tulsa at Cain's Ballroom on Thanksgiving eve (Wednesday, Nov. 25), will mix a touch of home with the kind of fervor that only a hometown show can provide. Although it's a co-headlining tour with Taking Back Sunday, All American Rejects are undoubtedly the hometown favorites for both shows.
If the adulation proves a bit much, the shows also serve to bring the band home for Thanksgiving, where family will undoubtedly remind the members of what Wheeler shared at the beginning of the conversation: "Tyson and I are just a couple of boys from Stillwater."
So long as they keep it in perspective, you can only expect more success for the boys. For now, though, a homecoming show at Cain's Ballroom on Wednesday night is the perfect way to kick off a long holiday weekend. Tickets are still available for $40.50, and Anberlin will open the show.
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