A four-piece alt-rock outfit based in Brooklyn, American Authors use their razor-sharp musicianship and natural mastery of songcraft as a jumping-off point for sonic exploration. On their debut album Oh, What a Life, singer Zac Barnett, guitarist James Adam Shelley, bassist Dave Rublin, and drummer Matt Sanchez weave in everything from hip-hop grooves and Afro-Latin rhythms to dance-pop synths and Queen-inspired vocal harmonies—all while staying true to a rock-and-roll energy and melodic sensibility that’s highly refined. Featuring their breakout hit song “Best Day of My Life” and follow-up single “Believer”,” the sunny yet soulful Oh, What a Life is also built on a magnetic sense of optimism that’s carried American Authors from their formation at Boston’s Berklee College of Music to their down-and-out early years in Brooklyn to their current status as an internationally touring band on an ever-growing rise.
“Our number-one rule when we went to make this album was that we weren’t going to hold back or limit ourselves on any one particular sound,” says Barnett of Oh, What a Life. “All four of us have really eclectic musical taste, and we wanted to tie in all the different kinds of music that have inspired us throughout our lives. The most important thing was that we have fun and experiment, and see what happened when we got rid of any boundaries we’d put on our music in the past.”
Produced by Shep Goodman and Aaron Accetta, Oh, What a Life was born from the intensely collaborative approach that American Authors always take in creating new music. “Our songs tend to start with the four of us getting in a room together and trading ideas back and forth or sharing stories—a melody or groove or lyric can come from any of us,” Shelley says. And as they gradually brought in more sounds and styles to shape Oh, What a Life, the band ended up adding a host of new instruments to their repertoire, learning to play banjo, mandolin, accordion, melodica, and mandocello—as well as mastering the use of synth and drum machines—while in the throes of the recording process.
Despite their lack of restraint in making Oh, What a Life, the album proves a tightly crafted collection of pop-rock gems that—song after song—reveal American Authors’s irresistibly openhearted spirit. From the amped-up dance beats that kick off “Believer” to the epic folk-rock of the album-closing title track, the band channels their high-as-the-sky hope into songs marked by both soaring intensity and summery ease. On the anthemic “Best Day of My Life,” those good vibes radiate by way of breezy harmonies and propulsive rhythms, while “Luck” (a song about “family and the sacrifices we all make to follow our passions,” according to Rublin) turns its tension into stomping beats and blissed-out melody. Even in their darker moments—such as “Trouble,” an aching, acoustic-guitar-laced track that serves as Oh, What a Life’s sole straight-up love song, and “Heart of Stone,” an angst-ridden number driven by nervy guitar riffs—American Authors maintain a triumphant mood that’s deeply infectious.
The mix of boundless energy and melodic finesse that fuels Oh, What a Life owes much to each member’s near-lifelong devotion to making music. Forming in 2007 at Berklee—where Barnett, Shelley, Rublin, and Sanchez were all students—the band first took the name The Blue Pages and threw themselves into perfecting their pop-infused brand of indie rock. After two years of struggling to record and book tours on their own, the group dropped out of Berklee and moved to Brooklyn, where all four bandmates shared a cramped Bushwick apartment. Once they’d gotten settled in New York, the band changed their name to American Authors and began breathing new life into their songwriting and sound. “Being in a new city and feeling the inspiration that comes from that, it just felt like a fresh start,” says Sanchez. “We decided to go with American Authors for our name because an author can be anyone who tells a story through words, and we consider ourselves storytellers with our song lyrics,” Rublin adds, noting that the name also refers to each member hailing from a different corner of the country and bringing his own distinct background to the group.
Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, American Authors crossed paths with Shep Goodman while playing a gig in the city. Eventually signing with Goodman and Accetta’s production company Dirty Canvas, the band wrote and recorded “Believer” and quickly saw the track thrown into rotation on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation radio. With “Believer” fast landing on the Alt-18 Countdown and their eagerly received single “Best Day of My Life” building on the band’s momentum and greatly boosting their social media following, American Authors soon inked a deal with Island Records, took off on their first tour, and set to work on their debut album. “Everything happened so fast with ‘Believer’ and ‘Best Day of My Life’ blowing up and us going on tour, we ended up writing and recording the album at the same time,” recalls Sanchez. “But the way it worked out was that we didn’t have the chance of overthink anything—it was just us in the studio having fun and making the music that we wanted to make.”
Releasing Oh, What a Life in March 2014 and embarking on a national tour with OneRepublic in May, American Authors have spent almost the entire past year on the road and consider playing live essential to the band. “We love feeling the energy of the crowd and giving that energy back, and we go into every show thinking that this might be someone’s first show ever or their last show ever,” says Shelley. Already working on songs for their next album—with the help of a studio set up in the back of their tour bus—American Authors aim to continue instilling their music with the joyful urgency that fills their live show and first album. “One theme that runs throughout Oh, What a Life is this feeling of hopeful determination,” notes Barnett. “Before ‘Believer’ started taking off, we were at such a low point of being broke and jobless and down to our last dollar, but we just kept pushing to stay motivated and stay hungry. Our songs aren’t saying, ‘Don’t worry, everything’s gonna work out okay!’—they’re about all the ups and downs that everyone has to deal with, and how you have to keep moving and do what you want and create your own future, so hopefully someday you can look back at the good times and bad times and see how far you’ve come.”