Towards the end of Ambassadors’ opening set last month at the NorVA,
The band + 96x. (Lauren Keogh | laurenkeogh.com)
While the Lumineers provided a great set and in-the-crowd encore that night, Ambassadors ignited a cerebrospinal bomb on the dance floor. I didn’t know who they were going in, and I went away a devoted follower. Harris was kind enough to grant me an interview, which was one of the most fascinating I have ever done as a journalist with topics ranging from DJ Shadow to Aziz Ansari to meditative piano-tuning to the haters (who should go fuck themselves) to films to the humor of sad things.
AltDaily: Tell me about your love for Ginuwine, and if you’re a fan of Parks and Rec.
Sam Harris: It’s partly a nostalgia thing. Our love for that type of mid-to-late 90s, hyper-sexualized R&B extends beyond just one particular artist. For instance: 112, Jagged Edge, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah… all of these are examples of musicians we listened to as kids and loved them more and more as we got older. But there’s no irony in it; we genuinely (no pun intended) love this type of music. With a song like “Pony”– on the one hand, it’s totally over the top and a little corny, but on the other hand there’s a certain type of conviction he has, a true love for the art of talking dirty, that is really pretty sensational. Plus, that beat is ridiculous.
As for Parks and Recreation, I don’t think any of us watch it regularly but we always have a good time listening to Aziz Ansari’s stand-up in the van.
You have a very interesting bio, but I must say blind piano tuner sounds like the basis of a Vonnegut short story. . .or maybe the lost plot turn of Player Piano.
Workin it. (Lauren Keogh | laurenkeogh.com)
Haha, that’s my brother Casey. He did indeed work as a piano tuner in Manhattan before things started taking off with the band. And it certainly comes in handy when we’re in the studio–no need to go out and hire anyone to tune the piano (or fix the Rhodes or put new reeds in the Wurlitzer or practically anything else keyboard related). He took two years off, practically in isolation, to learn how to do it all. He went to a school in Vancouver, WA that was specifically for the blind who wanted to learn how to tune pianos. I went to visit him a couple times; there were only, like, three other people in the whole school. It was tiny.
Right now you are playing clubs. Any fear success will bring you to arenas, which can be less intimate and have a less direct transfer of energy?
Nope. If you’re good enough, you can make a club feel like a stadium and a stadium feel like your living room.
I think the best musical theory I have ever heard is “Music you can dance to is good music.” You certainly seem to subscribe to it, but your music is darker and more complex than a lot of dance music. Do you foresee more dance music that appeals to the mind and soul and not just the body?
More than anything, we want to catch people off guard and not notice that they’re dancing to something that’s making them think until it’s too late. I think that there’s a lot of crappy dance music out there that hasn’t had enough thought put into it, but there’s an equal amount of great shit out there too. I don’t think that people will ever get sick of listening to dumb music. I think that most people in the world want to listen to something they don’t have to think about too much. People who work their asses off all day don’t necessarily wanna go home and read Proust. But there’s a way to sneak it in there in a way that’s not pretentious and doesn’t take away from the relatability of the song. Not saying that we’ve mastered the art of it yet, but that’s the goal.
Did you hear about the Miami club that shut down DJ Shadow’s set because it was “too futuristic”?
Yea, I did. I think the whole thing is pretty hilarious. I love DJ Shadow and I’m sure he thought it was pretty funny too at the end of the day. Fuck the haters, right? Go future or go home. I do hope he still got paid though.
Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being was kind of my bible senior year of college, and I spent six weeks in Prague partly due to his influence. Could you tell me about his influence on your music?
What I love about Kundera is his fearlessness. He isn’t afraid to say some ugly shit along with something so incredibly poetic and beautiful. He flows seamlessly in and out of the two. It’s a lot like what Martin McDonagh does with a movie like In Bruges; that dude will have you in stitches one minute, and in the blink of an eye he’ll have you crying like a baby. And he goes back and forth like that the whole time. What I take from writers like them is that oftentimes the saddest things in life are pretty funny, and the prettiest things can be just as ugly, and vice versa. I always try to incorporate that into how I approach my material.