Indie rock band, American Authors will be in South Africa in just over a week, playing a gig in Cape Town and Johannesburg. We had a chat with Zac Barnett (lead vocals, guitar) as he was making his way to the studio to lay down some vocals for their new album…
You guys went to Berklee with the idea to meet like-minded musicians and form a band. Does that sort of thing happen a lot these days? Musos and bands are generally self-taught, aren’t they? Like mostly starting out as garage bands?
I’m pretty much self-taught. My dad taught me, he was a guitar player so got me my first guitar and taught me the basis of what I know. We all started of different but once we got serious about music we started following our passion for music which then especially blossomed when we went to college. Al lot of people go to Berklee and a lot of people go to music school for different reasons: film scoring and composition, all these different things but for us it was more so about finding people to start a band with. I think the most important thing is that we got real lucky with that and we ended up finding each other and started writing together and performing together and booked our own shows. It was weird because it sort of was this DIY sort of experience that a lot of people get in their garage or wherever they start off and we just kind of got our start at university.
Do you think it gave you a bigger head start going to a musical college?
I don’t know, you know? I think everyone has a different path and things work out differently for everyone but I think for us it gave us a strong foundation and it really kind of gave us a lot of proper tools that we needed to get what we needed to get to where we are today. None of us finished school – we all dropped out when we realized that we had a cool vibe going on, you know something special. Once that we knew that we had something cool between us and we kinda knew that we had outrun Boston and outrun that scene we just decided to go for writing and go for the band. Our goals were performing 24/7 and really just put our hearts and souls into it full time.
You were initially known as Blue Pages back in the day, before 2006. A lot of bands actually start out under different names. Why not stick with something and see if the name works out?
For us it was a new place and writing different music. We had changed so much since we first started out together so it was just time for a fresh start and with the name change it was just re-branding ourselves and run along with it and moving on to a new beginning.
OK cool. So tell me – Best Day of My Life did extremely well. It was used across a variety of media platforms from TV series, live shows to video games, movies and TV commercials internationally. Even here in South Africa in a TV commercial. What was your initial reaction to this success?
We were stoked about it, man! We were super excited. The very first commercial we ever got was for a Lowe’s Hardware Store commercial here in the United States, you know and the song was barely even finished. Our producers sent it to a friend and he sent the song to another friend who sent it out to some companies and one of them wanted it for a commercial. That’s kind of responsible for where we are today and really elevated us to the next level. Other people maybe look at it with an old school mentality but the music industry has changed so much. The cool thing for us with our music in all these commercials and films is that it opened us to a whole new group of fans all over the world. So it is pretty amazing that these commercials and everything are allowing us to get to new places like South Africa and reach out to fans all over the world.
Do you actually know how far this went? Because it is India, New Zealand – oh and in the South African commercial it actually stars one of our friends
So do you know how far it reached or does it just sort of spiral and you don’t really keep count?
Dude, I had no clue! We can’t keep track of all the places. We got really lucky and we’ve been super fortunate to have our song picked up by so many different places. What is nice about it is that our team comes to us and we go through everything. We’ve had some instances where we don’t do the commercials for products we don’t stand behind or what the commercial is portraying and we don’t give our reasons for that to those people. That is very rare but it is still nice that we have that control.
And with something that big, do you think there is a downside to it? How much stress does it put on the band to produce a song of that magnitude again?
You know, we definitely set the bar high sometimes by having that single that has had so much global success but we love writing and we’re always writing and we’re very excited now because apart from coming to South Africa soon and other than that we’re back home in Brooklyn right now working on our second album and its coming along great and we have a bunch of new songs. I am actually on the train right now on my way going to the studio to lay down some vocals so we have a bunch of songs that we’re really excited about.
Cool, you jumped the gun there a bit because I wanted to get to your new album and your visit to South Africa just now, but quickly, tell me what has been your best TV appearance (because you’ve been on a shitload of shows), your best festival and what has been your best live venue so far?
So best TV show… our first TV show ever was The Tonight Show with Jay Leno…
That was very, very big. It was just a great experience. I think another awesome TV show was Ellen Degeneres. She is super sweet and it was a super cool vibe. We really had a fun time. Live… I dunno, we’ve done some really cool live venues – from sold old club shows that we’ve done ourselves to like, you know we’ve toured with One Republic also. I’m a fan of outdoor summer festivals so we did Lollapalooza a couple of years ago which was really rad when we were first starting out, so to see everything blowing up back then was really amazing.
You guys have been n the band since the start, with no changes. What leads to the success in staying together?
Everytime we talk about time, I don’t wanna get nostalgic – it just goes by so fast. We’re all great friends, we also hang out with each other when we’re not on the road. I don’t have any secrets for staying together. I think a big thing when you’re on tour all the time is finding your personal space. Finding that alone time.
You are coming over to South Africa very soon now. 2nd of May in Cape Town and the 3rd of May in Johannesburg. Any of you guys been here before? Any connection to South Africa?
No, never been there before. It is one of those places that we’ve always heard amazing things about so we’re really excited! We’re all taking a few days after the shows to have a kind of vacation and chill out. Really looking forward to get some surf in. One of our buddies live out there and is also working on the shows, so we’re just gonna hang, man.
So you have no idea what to expect in South Africa. Have you prepared or are you just going to go ahead and do it?
Dude, all I know is from my surfing buddies that there are parts I need to go see and then I know from what I’ve seen in Neill Blomkamp films, haha!
Haha, did you go and see Chappie?
Hell yeah, I saw Chappie! Considering I am a huge Die Antwoord fan and also a fan of Neill Blomkamp, I loved it!
Have you ever seen them live?
We did a couple of festivals together in Europe, so we saw them over there.
Probably at Pukkelpop?
Yup, that’s where I saw them.
Back to you guys, as far as the new album goes…
Yeah as I said earlier, we’re working on a new album and we’re jsut writing what we know and what we love. We’re in such a different place than we were at two or three years ago and it is coming along great and so far we’ve almost got half of the album done and we’re really excited.
Any idea when you guys are gonna wrap it up?
Probably around mid-summer, but we should be finished by the end of the summer 2015.
Good luck with the album and we’ll see you guys in South Africa pretty soon
Cool man, thank you so much.