Sometimes a collaboration takes very little effort. And unlike so many other things in today's very choreographed music industry, when it's right, it's just right. And that's exactly how the new single from X Ambassadors and BRELAND was born.
Last month, the Sam Nelson Harris-fronted act teamed up with rising singer Daniel Gerard Breland (who goes simply by BRELAND) for their song "Alcohol," which came about from Nelson's desire to right a fun, no-frills track simply about enjoying a good drink—no clever puns or analogies, just alcohol for the sake of alcohol. As it turns out, Harris and Breland's fusion was a soulful, whiskey-drenched confection, the latest of X Ambassador's impressive, ongoing (Eg) series, which follows the band's standout collab with another Variance favorite Medium Build.
"He really is one-of-a-kind. He's incredible, and I'm so excited for his future in this industry and, honestly, what he represents in the country world," says Harris of BRELAND, speaking with Variance following the song's release. BRELAND has quickly proven to be a star in the making, with a powerhouse live performance and a unique ability to flow seamlessly between country, gospel, soul, rap and a slew of musical sounds. "It's just the coolest thing in the world to see," Harris adds.
If there's anything X Ambassadors' (Eg) series has done so well, it's shone a bright spotlight on artists Harris and his bandmates Casey Harris and Adam Levin love. It's not just random acts getting together because their labels think it's a good idea, but in most cases, it's artists linking up because they generally appreciate each other's work.
That is certainly true of Harris' appreciation for Medium Build, the moniker of Alaska-based Nick Carpenter.
"I am obsessed," says Harris of Carpenter. "I think I was listening my Discover Weekly [playlist] on Spotify, and his song 'comeonback' was on it and I stopped and listened to it from the top, and then I listened to it again and again, and it made me so emotional. And I hit him up on Instagram, just DM'd him and was like, 'If you're ever in L.A., I would genuinely love to just take you out for coffee or if you want to write, too, whatever!' And he was down to write. So he came to L.A. and the first day we got together, we wrote 'Friend For Life.' And I left the studio on such a high.'"
Harris explains of the background for that song: "I love my friends so much, and I have lost some dear, dear friends. And after listening to 'comeonback,' I feel like he's able to talk about friendship in such a powerful way. Friendships can wreck you emotionally, man, and when a friendship ends, it can feel worse than a breakup when you have a really great friendship that feels like it's blossoming. It's not something that's easy to talk about."
Perhaps part of the reason Harris gels so well with artists like Medium Build and BRELAND, whose own ability to translate such emotional stories into gripping music, is because of Harris' own, innate capacity for doing the same. Anyone who's ever listened to X Ambassadors' "Unsteady" on repeat (hi!) knows the feeling.
"My aim is to wreck everybody," says Harris with a hearty laugh. "But really, I feel like my best stuff comes when I'm able to talk candidly and personally about my own life and my own experience. And maybe in my personal life, I oftentimes put my problems and my issues to the side to take care of other people in my life who I love and it's sort of like my problems don't matter. So my music is really a space where I get to talk about how I feel from my perspective and it's so liberating to do that."
This new music comes at a time for Harris when he's also been embracing his own solo music, even performing live on his own. And in this new season of life, he says allowing himself to explore new territory, even if it felt familiar already, unlocked a new side of himself creatively. And as for what comes next, he says he's OK with "throwing everything at the wall right now."
But more specifically, he says: "Next is the new X Ambassadors record, which is coming next year—top of the year. And I'm so excited about this record. It is about my hometown. I grew up in upstate New York and central New York, near the Finger Lakes—Ithaca, New York ... It's kind of this faceless place; people know that it exists and have heard it's pretty, but it has such a unique specific identity to it. And in my attempt to try and figure out my own identity and who I am, I went back home because that's a huge part of who I am. And as badly as I wanted to escape that place when I was younger, I keep coming back to it. It brings me a lot of peace and I wanted to talk about the place where I'm from. I wanted to talk about the people that raised me, the people that I come from, my friends, people I grew up with, my family, my brother—who's in this band with me—my mentors, my teachers, people I've loved and people I've lost. That's what this new record is all about. It's about my town—my hometown."■