Giving them hell

You’ve heard The All-American Rejects’ mythology before.

Talented small-town Stillwater high schoolers’ album gets scooped from the trash by a record label intern: music videos, hit singles, major-label deals, high-grossing worldwide tours and dalliances with celebrities ensue. In short, all the stuff that constitutes the first half of an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music: you know, before the heroin problems and velvet capes.

But the band of scruffy, powerpopping teens that originated in 1999 and blew up nationally when catchy pop-punk was all the rage (Sum 41, anyone?) has managed to avoid the squabbles and noxious drama that have disintegrated the infrastructure of so many groups struggling with the weight and pressure of fame.

“We’ve never fought,” said lead singer and bassist Tyson Ritter, all of 27 years old. “I’m not completely sure why, but it may be that we have two things in common: the fact that we’re from Oklahoma, and the fact that we want to stay in this band.”

Now, little more than a week since the release of the Rejects’ fourth studio album, Kids in the Street, Ritter and company — whose lineup has remained intact since DreamWorks Records released their 2003 debut — look more like a perennial pop contender than some short-lived upstart.

“We didn’t buy into the hype of running and chasing success,” Ritter said. “Regardless of label pressure — regardless of anything — we always take our time to craft our next record. Because not only do we want to tour for a long time, we want to be proud of it, to share it. The bands that haven’t survived, they haven’t for a reason: You hear the falseness in the music they put out. And when you don’t believe a band you love, you quit listening.”

‘Raised them right’

This dedication to
preservation has kept audiences’ ears. Ritter shrewdly has guarded
against the usual offers and requests to invite collaborators into the
Rejects’ fold.

“That stuff’s been an option,” he said. “People throw that shit at you.”

One such opportunity manifested during the recording of Kids, after the Rejects heard the work of a fellow Oklahoman in Los Angeles, a gifted singer named Audra Mae.

voice was so massive and soulful,” Ritter said. “We got in touch with
her management because we loved her voice and that she was from
Oklahoma. You meet Okies out here and they’re always kindhearted, sweet
people. We hit it off like ham and eggs.”

Mae, who was born at Tinker Air Force Base, raised in Edmond, and attended Putnam City High School, sings backup on three Kids tracks,
including the first single, “Beekeeper’s Daughter,” a playful pop
number that’s cracked the Top 40 on three Billboard charts since its
Jan. 31 release.

mamas obviously raised them right,” said Mae, an LA resident for nearly
a decade. “You get used to bands where the lead singer’s just a
bullheaded idiot — it’s not like that with them. They’re really brothers
and they love each other so much, it was so nice to be around. We hung
out, talked about cars, Oklahoma, and Tyson filled up my gas tank and
washed the windows on my car ’cause he’s the sweetest man alive.”

Step up to the Street

enjoying worldwide success with hit singles like “Dirty Little Secret”
and “Move Along” (a finalist for Oklahoma’s official state rock song),
Ritter found himself hardened with cynicism after years of “living in
front of a tape recorder.” After a break in the band he described as a
ninemonth “lost weekend in LA,” he felt the need to channel his
“quarter-life crisis” into a record.

Instead of dialing up a
DJ to take advantage of mainstream pop’s dubstep craze or bringing Katy
Perry in to hatch a hit single, the Rejects did what they usually do
when they need to write songs: They fled.

this case, to a cabin in Maine. “We go up there for the windows, ’cause
we stay inside the whole time, but the windows sure show a nice
picture,” Ritter said. “We found some really cool moments for the
record, like ‘Walk Over Me,’ which I remember was one of those songs you
write in 10 minutes. Those are the ones that weren’t compromised by

The Rejects
are a throwback-type band that’s unforgiving in its commitment to the
classic-rock era’s idea of unforced, “pure” songwriting. At its best,
this process captures gushing, earnest moments of gleeful puppy love
(“Swing, Swing”), dramatic breakups (“It Ends Tonight”) and
when-all-else-fails optimism (“Move Along”). It’s unique to the modern
pop landscape.

a difference between being a mainstream band and being a mainstream
band that really floods itself into the mainstream,” Ritter said. “When
you’re contriving collaborations and doing something that didn’t
actually happen, I smell bullshit.”

Hey! Read This:
• OKS Chatter with All-American Rejects’ Nick Wheeler

Matt Carney

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