A decade on from their breakthrough, X Ambassadors have discovered inspiration back home - the theme of their forthcoming, reflective album ‘Townie’.

In the musical universe, the 10-year career mark can be intimidating. No longer a fresh face, pricking the ears of hungry talent scouts, nor established enough to stage a ‘highly anticipated’ comeback, artists who are a decade on from their breakthrough must think big to stay relevant. The pop-rock band X Ambassadors have seized the challenge; they’re on a global tour as we speak, firing up fans with excitement for their new album Townie which drops officially on April 5th.


The 12-track project comes after a busy few years of mega collaborations – with superstars including Lizzo, Rihanna, The Weeknd and SZA – and composing music for major feature films such as Transformers (‘Torches’) and Suicide Squad (‘Sucker For Pain’). Perhaps unsurprisingly Townie sees the LA-based three-piece, consisting of brothers Sam and Casey Harris and friend Adam Levin, return to their humble roots to reflect on growing up in Ithaca. It’s an ode to the Upstate New York town – which, as restless adolescents, the trio believed to be isolating and mundane – as well as the people who shaped those formative years.


Released today as a single, ‘Your Town’ is a heart-wrenching standout of the album, written as a tribute to Todd Petersan – the band’s childhood teacher who played a vital role in their origin, and who passed away in 2021. Also out now is ‘No Strings’, a smooth, meandering symphony which crafts a gracious portrait of Ithaca itself – both the unassuming, mundane aspects and its important community. This LP looks back but in many ways is about moving forward, and indeed marks a new chapter as it sees X Ambassadors take charge of their production. From the sounds of Townie’s initial offerings, it is seamless and elevates the bands’ phenomenal, relatable-as-ever lyricism, and soul-stirring vocals to enticing new musical heights.


Reflecting on the project, Sam Harris shares, “A gas station glows in the night, two miles from the Tompkins County line. It cuts through the bleak, winter night like a grotesque, twenty-first-century lighthouse. To the east— the college town of Ithaca, NY. To the west, everything else. The air is cold and unforgiving. The landscape is every shade of grey and brown on the colour wheel. A couple of teenagers loiter in the parking lot, plotting their escape. Most of them know they won’t ever leave this town, so tonight their escape is a temporary one. Rollies and half-drank liters of Mountain Dew. Grapefruit blunts and chapped lips. Their baggy clothes full of restlessness and longing.”


Poeticism is in X Ambassadors DNA, that much is clear when we speak to the band about their beginnings, inspirations and where they picture fans listening to Townie – on a walk or drive in autumn.

How are you feeling to be back on the road? Has the tour got off to a good start?

It’s been a bit of a rocky start to be honest. My brother wasn’t able to join us on this European run, so it’s our first tour without him and we miss him a lot. I’ve also gotten this horrible throat cold and had to cancel a show in Stockholm after losing my voice the night before in Oslo. But I’m getting back on my feet now and it really is so fun to play shows for our fans again.

Your upcoming album Townie is an ode to Ithaca – your childhood home – when did you initially get the idea for this project?

I left Ithaca when I was 18– I’m 35 now, so it was literally half a life-time ago that I lived there. Growing up there profoundly impacted me. The town itself and upstate New York’s beautiful nature, but also the people who I grew up with, the people who raised me, who moulded me, who I fought with and loved and got into trouble with and dreamed with and who I still think about every day. Losing my teacher and mentor Todd Peterson in 2021 was the spark that started this album. His passing really shook me and drew me back to those formative years of my life — I felt I had to write an album dedicated to it.

Can you talk about your creative process for Townie and how you developed the tracklist?

I had this image in my head of a Sunoco gas station just outside of my town, surrounded by trees, glowing like a beacon on a cold winter night. It started there. That feels like home to me— as a kid I spent so much time at gas stations like that, killing time waiting for the night to begin and dreaming about what it’d be like to fill up on gas for the last time and drive far away from home. The songs came together slowly at first, but once we decided to retreat to the Catskills to make the album it all fell into place. We found a beautiful studio called The Outlier Inn run by this wonderful guy Josh Druckmann. It’s a farm basically, with a bunch of cabins and a state-of-the-art recording studio on it. That’s where we wrote ‘Your Town’, ‘Start a Band’, and a few others that became the beating heart of the album. The rest had been written in LA, but we finished everything in that studio.

How does the project stand out from previous ones?

It’s much more focused. That was the plan from the beginning— to make something that felt very cohesive and like a singular “mood”. For most of our career, we’ve had so much fun shape-shifting from song to song on every album and trying to cram in as much sonically as we can. For this one, less was more and I wanted us to have specific limitations to see how creative we could get in those confines.

You put out ‘No Strings’ last month, why did you choose to release this track – the last on the album – first?

‘No Strings’ was always going to be a single. It’s the most light-hearted song on the album and felt oddly similar to our song ‘Renegades’. Seemed to me like a good way to pay homage to our beginnings while at the same time introducing something new.

Where do you picture your audiences listening to the album, is there a specific time and place it serves?

This is a fall/winter album, for sure. I’d recommend it on a walk or a drive or a bike ride or any commute. It’s meant to be listened to front-to-back and I think any of those environments would be perfect for it.

Looking back, what role did music play through your childhood/teen years? Was there a particular artist or album which you remember having a profound impact on you?

I was obsessed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers throughout middle school and high school. I just loved the camaraderie of that band— they felt like a real family and had been through so much together. It was always my dream to have a band like that, and I feel now more than ever that I’ve accomplished that. I mean I’m literally in the band with my family (my brother), but Adam and Russ are like my brothers too. The years, the struggles, the wins and losses, the extreme highs and lows of touring— all those things add up. They can either break you or make you stronger and I feel like we’ve become the latter.

What is the origin story of X Ambassadors?

My brother Casey and I had a band in high school called The Fuzz Brothers, which was essentially the same original line-up of X Ambassadors; me on vocals, my friend Noah on guitar, and Casey on keyboards. When the three of us moved to NYC, we met Adam and started in a shitty rehearsal studio you’d rent by the hour in mid-town Manhattan in 2007. Adam, our original guitarist Noah and I were attending the New School University and my brother was working as a piano tuner a Beethoven Pianos on the Upper West Side. We had a bunch of terrible songs that I thought were great, and it took us 7 years of cutting our teeth and writing and playing whatever shows we could book (which weren’t many) until we finally landed a record deal with Interscope / KidinAKorner in 2013. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but that’s a whole novel.

Since producing your first album VHS, what is something valuable you’ve learnt which has changed the way you write songs?

The first thing I learned was to chase things that made me uncomfortable. Those were always the themes that I discovered to be the most interesting not only to myself, but relatable to everyone else. We all have these things we keep inside that we’re afraid to share with the world, until we hear someone else say them out loud; then we can laugh or cry and say “holy shit I feel like that too sometimes!”. It always felt good to dig deep into my soul and try un-earth some real shit. But now I think I’m starting to re-evaluate things and move away from being such a catharsis junkie; I’m trying to find ways to simply just write for the joy of it. Not as some way of healing— that will come or it won’t— but just to try and make things that turn my brain and my heart on for a moment.

You’ve produced singles for major films, most recently ‘Deep End’ for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, what do you enjoy about making music in this context?

I like working with parameters sometimes. When you’re writing specifically for a film, they’re either just taking a song you’ve already written and putting it in or you’re given very specific notes on what kind of tone, theme, etc they want for whatever specific part of the film the song will be in. It’s a lot of compromise, which isn’t very sexy, but it’s nice sometimes for me to let go of my own ego and just do some damn work. Sometimes the songs turn out great, sometimes they’re shit. And sometimes you think it’s shit but everyone else thinks it’s great. It’s a toss-up. But I love movies: my dad has worked in the movie business as a unit publicist for almost 40 years (his job being one of many niche film jobs that you rarely hear about on movie sets), so growing up my mom, brother and I got to go visit him at work a lot and see what the process of making films is like up-close. It changed my life, not only getting a peek behind the curtain of something that I loved so much but also to see so many people working so hard to make a piece of art (or entertainment, however you want to look at it.)

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Making this new album. As emotionally charged as it is thematically, I had so much fun making it toward the end. I’ve never felt closer to my brother and my band and I’ve never been more proud of something we made together.

What’s one thing you hope to tick off your career bucket list in the coming years?

I hope I can eventually tick-off ticking things off any sort of “career bucket list”. I hope I can get to a point where I’m just so happy making the things that I make and living my life the way I want to live it. So much of my career is a literal crap-shoot— you can’t count on anything other than your own desire to make interesting things and how disciplined you are in making them.


Listen to My Town by X Ambassadors now: