Guitarist Noah Feldshuh and brothers Casey and Sam Harris have been playing music together since elementary school in Ithaca, New York. However, it wasn’t until they met drummer, Adam Levin in 2006 that Ambassadors were formed. Though only the lead singer and pianist are biological brothers, there is a distinct quality of kinship when Sam Harris, the voice of Ambassadors, talks about his band mates, “We’re not just a couple of different songwriters that got together in college. We’re a family.”
An important theme on their latest album, Litost, written by the band during a stressful period in which Casey Harris, Ambassadors’ pianist, had to have a kidney transplant. “I wanted to go all out with this record. I wanted it to be big and bombastic, and right away you could connect to these songs, and I think that’s what we achieved.” Headlining downtown venues like the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge, Ambassadors have an impressive sound, somewhere between The Police classics and MGMT dance tracks. I talked to Harris about living in NYC “on the cheap,” R&B, and what you can expect to see at their Thursday, December 22nd show at Piano’s.
How’d you guys get started?
We started up in college. My brother, Noah (guitarist) and I had been playing music together since we were kids and we met Adam, the drummer, when we moved to New York.
How has your music changed since college?
We’ve started dabbling a lot more in electronic influenced music. Things have gotten dancier. We’ve always been very groove oriented. It’s developed and changed into something that takes itself a little less seriously. When I was a young writer, I was always lamenting about one thing or another. The older you get, the more you realize how little these things matter in the grand scheme of things: break ups, not having any money. At the same time, you’re almost more fascinated by them, because you see yourself and other people constantly worrying about them..
Where’s the influence for your song writing come from?
We all grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop and R&B. One of the first records I remember buying was Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival, who is one of the saddest musical figures, because he’s just gone so downhill since that record’s come out, but that record itself is out of this world. I kind of lost some of those early influences on my musical taste when I got to high school, and started listening to “cooler” stuff, like The Stooges. I’d go see Fiery Furnaces and Arcade Fire play. Coming back to New York, and being so immersed in all the diverse music I just really wanted to go back to fun stuff, because I felt like my music was suffering from the idea of an “image.” The new music we’ve been writing and recording is oddly enough, very influenced by Jagged Edge and D’Angelo, maybe not lyrically, but certainly melodically.
We’ve recorded some awesome covers. We did a really cool Ginuwine cover of Pony, which the audience goes crazy over. We did, Let’s Get Married, by Jagged Edge. Ultimately, I grew up in the 90’s, so at the end of the day I’m a 90’s music kid. That’s always the stuff I’m going to fall back on. Our singleUnconsolable, is a good example of the R&B influence. People seem to gravitate to it.
What’s it like being an up and coming New York City band right now?
We do everything on the cheap. Tour a lot. And everyone thinks you’re cooler because you say you’re from Brooklyn, even though you know you’re not that cool [laughs].
How do you live on the cheap in New York?
I sublet my room! I crash at peoples’ houses. You do favors for people, record and write songs for free. You do shows for free, and then when you need a favor you’ve got an endless supply of people to call on. Be nice.
What’s your favorite venue in the city?
The Brooklyn Bowl is great. They have a shower in back, and I work up a sweat onstage, so that’s really nice. At the end of the day though, I love Bowery Ballroom. The venue has so much history. The first time we played there, was the first time we all felt like, “Huh, this might actually be something we can do for a living.”
What can someone coming to your show expect to see/hear?
We all work really hard on stage. It’s always been very important to us to have the best live show that we possibly can. Expect to see a lot of sweaty Jewish men [laughs] dancing around like it’s our patriotic duty!
Sound wise, someone said to me yesterday that we sound like all the good bits of Peter Gabriel and U2 put together. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult, but I’d like to think it’s a compliment. I don’t really write songs in any generic way. They all sort of happen accidentally. I’ll wake up one morning, feeling awesome and sit down to work on music and end up writing the most depressive song ever, and I’m just like, “Where the hell did that come from?” It’s spontaneous
Catch Ambassadors at Pianos on Thursday December 22. Click here for more info.
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