Q&A with the All-American Rejects
Before the spring WILD opener went on Friday, I sat down with the founders and frontmen of the All-American Rejects, singer Tyson Ritter and guitarist Nick Wheeler. They strutted into the classroom in Cupples I wearing “WILD” visors, arguing about barbecue and looking for chalk. While discussing the pros and cons of Salt + Smoke, Ritter wrote “Go Hawks” on the chalkboard and then, upon further examination, decided to draw a bird-like creature for extra effect. Once they were assured their love for the Atlanta basketball team had been documented, they were ready to begin.
Student Life: So you all created your first demo when you were still in high school?
Tyson Ritter: Yeah, I think we all did. He (pointing to Wheeler) was in high school when he did his first seven-inch record.
SL: How did it feel to get started so early?
TR: We always knew we wanted to get out of Oklahoma, get out of our town. It was about utilizing whatever creative force we had a talent for and realizing that school just wasn’t going to be it. Not that we gave up on school—it was just that music was always first.
Nick Wheeler: It wasn’t questioned—you didn’t even think about it; it was just what you did.
SL: Were you surprised at how successful that first album became?
NW: (chuckles) Yeah.
TR: Oh, yeah. We made it on a tiny little indie independent record label called Doghouse for $15,000 and it sold 2 million records. We definitely only expected it to be like, “Maybe we get to be in a band, and maybe we get to go around the country a couple times before we figure out what the f— to do with our lives—before we inevitably have to go back to college.” But it never happened!
SL: It was amazing how many people knew every word to some of the songs.
TR: It was a trip! Especially coming back now—like 15 years later—to realize there are like three records that people really know.
NW: And one some people know.
SL: How did it feel to get your music so widely thrown out there? For a while it was in every video game soundtrack, TV show, movie…
TR: I think anybody who signs a record deal is signing because they want to share their music. At the end of the day, if you want to share your music, you want as many people as possible to be able to get a hold of it. And, the screwed up thing at the time was that Rock Band was the only thing that was selling music. It was Napster, and YouTube hadn’t figured out the way they tracked it with Billboard and with SoundScan…So all the s— was just there—but it never amounted to anything for the band, and the artists were getting robbed. Being a band that started in  and made it through the 2000s, the evolution of the music industry, from Myspace to Facebook to YouTube to Vimeo to Vevo… we’re like this lucky little dinosaur.
SL: Speaking of, it’s been almost four years since your last album—have you been working on anything new?
TR: Somewhat. Some songs here and there.
NW: I think we might put out a song in like four weeks.
TR: We haven’t thought about going to make a new record or anything. But, yeah, I think we’re going to release a real new song before this Blink-182 Tour we’re doing this summer.
SL: Are you excited to come back?
TR: It’s been a long time. [Nick Wheeler has] been building his brewery, and I’ve been acting. We’ve all been kind of doing other stuff.
SL: I remember seeing you on “Parenthood”—what other stuff have you been working on?
TR: I’ve been doing a lot of s—. A lot of s— that gets struck by lightning.
SL: What’s the difference between being on stage and being on a set for you?
TR: You have to be very big on a stage. You have to play to the back seats. On a set, you’re just trying to tell as much of the truth as possible. On stage you bulls— everybody. On set you have to tell the truth.
NW: That’s cool to know; I didn’t know that. I’ve learned about acting.
SL: So tell me about the Kids in the Street “BurnBothEnds” project?
TR: We asked everyone to submit art that made them think of being a kid. You know when you smell something and you go “Oh s— dude, [macaroni and cheese]. That reminds me of my mom. It’s raining outside. And I’m sitting in here and its steaming on my face.” We wanted kids to submit art about what it feels to be a kid in the street.
I think, when we had written that record, I was coming out of my 20s, and I had a nice long weekend where I said, “F— it—I’m going to do all the s— I was supposed to do in college.” And just burn both ends for a couple of months. It was nice. I think it’s necessary for any person going through college. Take advantage of your 20s and use them [for] what they’re for—they’re for learning, [because] your brain can still do that; they’re for partying, cause your body can still take that; and then once you get to thirty you realize its all out of your system and you’re thankful that you had your time.
SL: All right, what’s your best “college” story then?
TR: Well we went to Wayne University in Wayne, Neb.
NW: Oh that was a good one.
TR: A town isolated, just surrounded by like ten thousand acres of cattle land.
NW: There was just nothing there but the University.
TR: And so we went to a house party afterwards, and they had offered us their sacrificial Juicy Juice with yeast.
NW: They said they made wine. It was literally Juicy Juice they put yeast in and then left in their basement.
TR: And we drank it without question!
NW: They offered us the drink—we drank it. They offered us the smoke, which I don’t think was even smokeable, but we smoked it.
TR: We partied in Wayne, Neb. with these random college kids.
NW: That was it. That was my favorite college memory.
SL: So did you all get to do anything in St. Louis besides Salt + Smoke?
NW: Not really. Just walked down—what’s that street? Dunbar?
SL: Delmar [Boulevard]?
TR: Yeah. It’s kind of cool, but its kind of really not, isn’t it? It’s kind of the bastardization of fresh commercial success. There’s nothing real there; its all so sterile. And let me just put in—Blueprint Coffee needs to learn how to make hot coffee, not just fancy coffee. I just wanted hot coffee; it could taste like you dumped turds in it for all I care! All right, I’m done.
SL: Well, before you go out, what’s the song you most love to play for the crowd?
TR: Um…I mean I always love the whole “Move Along” experience. That song has a really positive message, where a lot of our other songs are really snarky or may have a bad opinion towards somebody. So “Move Along” was empowering and saved a lot of people’s lives, as I’ve been told. Like, I was checking out of a hotel, and this kid was checking out next to me, and he was like “Hey man, your concert was awesome” and I was like “Thanks, bro” and then he said “My only regret is that I couldn’t fulfill the second ticket that I had.” Apparently his sister loved “Move Along,” and it got her to live another six months past when the doctors said she would live, but she didn’t make it to the concert. I went and called my mom and was like “I might be crazy, or a bit of an asshole, but knowing that somebody wanted to live a little longer because of something we wrote in Atlanta?” We were going through our first presidential race where we were old enough to vote, and “Move Along” was originally about the whole John Kerry/George Bush race, but then I made it a self-empowering thing. So mom: I might be a bad man, I might be an asshole, but I think this might be something good. “Move Along” was a song that told people not to cheer up, not to feel any different than you do, but just to keep going. I think we were the original “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
NW: Way before World War II.
SL: Poor Churchill.