Belly Up Aspen welcomes All-American Rejects |

Belly Up Aspen welcomes All-American Rejects

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lauren DukoffThe All-American Rejects play an early show Friday at Belly Up Aspen.

ASPEN – When the All-American Rejects set out to make their third album, in 2007, they were determined to focus on the album. They didn’t want simply a bunch of individual songs, but a collection in which each track was another piece of a flowing, integrated narrative that added up to a story, a theme, a statement.

That strategy was torpedoed, but in the best way. While the band paid attention to the album, “When the World Comes Down,” the world focused on “Gives You Hell,” which became the most-played song on Top 40 radio for the year 2009. “‘Gives You Hell’ became bigger than the album,” said Nick Wheeler, the All-American Rejects lead guitarist and, with singer Tyson Ritter, part of the band’s songwriting team.

The band, which also includes guitarist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor, hope they have corrected that with “Kids in the Street.” The album, due for release in late March, is Ritter’s loosely autobiographical account of trying to find some kind of grounding after the grinding, surreal process of writing, recording, promoting and touring behind a hit rock album.

Wheeler, who leaves the lyric-writing to Ritter, was slightly hesitant to get too detailed about the themes of “Kids in the Street.” But he said that, generally, the album was about “coming smack down into reality from the last record cycle, and finding yourself starting over. And really, all we have is music – that’s how we find ourselves.”

But how exactly do they find the music – which, for the All-American Rejects, is typically a balance between hardcore rhythms and catchy melodicism? After an album cycle that takes several years – a cycle that the All-American Rejects have been through three times now, beginning with the eponymous 2003 debut, which featured the hit single “Swing, Swing” – how do you shoo away the distractions and noise and get back to the quiet, contemplative first step of making the next album, the writing?

Wheeler and Ritter have developed an effective solution: Hide out. Find a place that is truly away from it all – a place where they don’t know anybody, where their manager can’t find them, where the phone won’t ring (or even better, where the phone can’t ring, for lack of cell service).

“It can be pretty much anywhere, as long as it’s removed from distraction. It’s our get-shit-done trips,” Wheeler said. “Even on our first record, when ‘Swing, Swing’ did well, we realized you’ve got to slow down and get your head on straight after an album and a tour. It’s a culture shock coming back to reality. You’ve got to get used to it.”

Wheeler was speaking from Boise, which might seem like the kind of slow-paced, out-of-the-way spot where he and Ritter can hole up and write. But this was not one of their retreats; the All-American Rejects were in Boise for a show on their current Shake Off the Rust tour, so named because the band had been away from the stage for a year and a half. They continue to shake off the rust Friday night in Aspen, with an appearance at Belly Up.

The All-American Rejects formed in Stillwater, Okla., Wheeler and Ritter’s hometown. The two met as high school students, and while still students formed the All-American Rejects, with Wheeler originally on drums and Ritter playing bass. In late 2002 they released “The All-American Rejects”; soon after the band was signed to DreamWorks Records, which gave the album far broader distribution and sent the band on the road for the Too Bad For Hell tour. The All-American Rejects also joined the Vans Warped Tour in 2003.

When that burst of activity ended, Wheeler and Ritter pointedly did not return to Oklahoma. “We just decided to pick up and start a new reality,” Wheeler said. “It’s weird, because you can start your next life, your personal life, anywhere.”

The two landed in Destin, Fla., which seemed to do the trick. There they started writing songs for “Move Along,” the 2005 album which would be certified double platinum.

“Going places where there’s not even cell phone service, it curbs the distractions,” Wheeler said. “It puts one task at hand, right in front of us. When we want to flesh out songs, this is the best way to do it.”

Following the tours behind “When the World Comes Down,” and all the hullabaloo surrounding “Gives You Hell,” Wheeler and Ritter stayed in Chicago – not exactly the quietest place they could find, but it happened to be the last stop on the 2010 Warped Tour. Over a few weeks there, they wrote “Out the Door” and “Fast and Slow,” both of which are on the upcoming “Kids in the Street” album. They also spent time in Portland, Maine, and in a cabin in the Sequoia National Park, a day’s drive from Los Angeles, where both now live. Surrounded by giant trees and little else, the two came up with “Beekeeper’s Daughter” – the first single, already released, about a guy who believes his girl will always be there waiting for him, regardless of what he does while she waits – and “Bleed Into Your Mind.”

With the All-American Rejects just embarking on the next album cycle, a span that could take a few years, Wheeler isn’t thinking yet about where the next writing retreats will take place. But he might start crossing places off the list – starting with spots he and Ritter have already been. Returning to the locations they have already visited doesn’t seem to get the creativity flowing.

For one of their writing sessions for “When the World Comes Down,” the two returned to Atlanta, to the same hotel, the Virginia Highlands, they had camped out in while writing “Move Along.” The return visit didn’t produce any songs.

“It’s hard after you’ve squeezed all the juice out of a place,” Wheeler said.

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