Get to know Bunbury Music Fest performers X Ambassadors

One the hottest bands on alt-rock radio, X Ambassadors will perform on Friday at the Bunbury Music Festival. CONTRIBUTED
One the hottest bands on alt-rock radio, X Ambassadors will perform on Friday at the Bunbury Music Festival. CONTRIBUTED

Radio friendly band to play on Friday.

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Want to go?

What: The Bunbury Music Festival

When: June 3-5. The X Ambassadors play Friday, June 3.

Where: Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Cincinnati

Cost: $89 (single day)

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The up-and-coming indie-rock band X Ambassadors are part of the Bunbury Music Festival lineup this season. Although they had already been coming to Cincinnati regularly for several years, the days of their car breaking down on the way to the gig, as happened three years ago, are over.

Since their major-label signing, “Renegades,” the second single from their debut full-length album, “VHS,” has achieved platinum status. Their 2016 follow-up single “Unsteady” is currently all over the radio.

Before their discovery by Dan Reynolds, lead vocalist for Imagine Dragons, who heard an acoustic version of one of their songs by chance, X Ambassadors lead vocalist Sam Harris said they were committed to earning a living as musicians, but times were tough.

“There was some brief (record) label interest, but no offers came,” Harris said. “There was a lot of sleeping on couches and barely scraping by.”

The music of X Ambassadors is notably hard to classify. Harris’ voice is often prominently in the foreground, stretching into falsetto.

“I’m fascinated by vocal techniques,” he said. “I listen to a lot of female vocalists, those high registers. I would try to sing along to Aretha Franklin in the car. (The band) never really had a scene, or sound we’re part of, and it took us awhile to reconcile that that was a good thing.”

Harris said the songs are about 50 percent autobiographical, with the other half consisting of characters and stories he has heard from other people. Even though “Renegades” was sold to a jeep commercial almost at the same time that it was released to the public, and the video features a montage of disabled individuals overcoming their handicaps, the song is quite personal. Casey Harris, the band’s keyboardist and Sam’s brother, has been blind since birth.

“Unsteady,” about a child coming to terms with his parents’ divorce, is equally personal. But Harris said the songs are written in a way that can be interpreted in a number of ways.

“ ‘Unsteady’ is about my parents’ divorce and how it affected me as an adolescent,” he said. “But it also came from seeing other people’s families, hearing those stories. The beauty of that song is that, even though it’s dispiriting, it has a universal message. A lot of people have come up to us and told us it helped them get through the loss of a loved one or a bad breakup.”