ORLANDO – Sam Harris points out that while Ambassadors sometimes gets tagged as a garage band, that’s not entirely accurate.
“Technically, we’re not a garage band,” he said. “We’re a basement band.”
And that distinction has a lot to do with the fact that Sam and his brother Casey and their middle school friend Noah Feldshuh grew up in Ithica, New York.
“We had a basement in this house in Ithica where I grew up, and that’s where we’d record and play and smoke pot,” said Harris, the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band. “It was a nice place to have for a bunch of young creative minds.”
From that modest beginning, the band got far more serious about their musical interests when they got to college. They also knew that Upstate New York just wasn’t going to be the play where they got discovered.
“We started playing in Ithica, where there are maybe two clubs, and we had our friends from high school who were really into us,” Harris said in an interview with Freeline Media. “I remember this one music store I would constantly hang out at. I was really into buying recording equipment at the time, and I got to know the owner. We had the idea of moving to New York for college and do the band thing out there, and the owner of this music store said ‘I think you guys would do really well in New York.’ ”
So they moved to the city in search of a wider audience – and found it.
“We started out playing everywhere we could – parties for people at college, and we’d play free shows,” he said.
Today, Ambassadors just released their album “Litost” in January, and the band is now on an extensive spring tour that will include a stop at Orlando’s The Beacham on Saturday, March 10.
Sam and Noah were attending the New School — where they also met their future drummer, Adam Levin — while Casey worked as a piano tuner. By 2010, they were committed full time to their music – but as they started work on their debut album, a medical crisis brought everything to a quick halt.
Due to a medical condition that had plagued Casey since he was a kid, he needed a kidney transplant. His mother volunteered and gave him her kidney. At this point, Sam’s brother and mom were both in the hospital recovering. It was during this period that Sam Harris came up with the creative inspiration to start writing the songs for “Litost.”
“We had been playing together for years in high school, and I had met Noah when I was five years old in kindergarten, and we started playing music together in middle school, where everyone and their brother was starting a band, and we said, ‘Hey, maybe we should, too,’ “ Sam Harris recalled. “So we’d been playing music together for a while, and this medical thing happened at a time when we were all in school. It was definitely kind of rough, but it was a very, very creative time for all of us. The operation went so, so smoothly and everything was so fine, but everything is emotionally tricky dealing with it all at once. But it created some really great songs.”
Harris said the songs don’t necessarily reflect the medical emergency that Casey was going through, or the family’s reaction to this experience.
“I was feeling a little useless, but in a good way, in that it got me to write a bunch of the songs that turned into this record, ‘Litost’,” he said. “It was a trying time, but also very creative and productive, and everyone was very excited to get going. The funny thing about this for me is that of all the songs I was writing, none of them was about what was going on. I’m a firm believer that you can’t write about something that is happening to you. It’s really only years later when you can digest it.
“But the whole experience opened the floodgates to write about other things in my life – with girlfriends and getting older and things you go through in college,” he added. “I wouldn’t say it was the focal point of all my writing, but it certainly sparked the fire for all the other things in my life. It was good. Sometimes you need to just stop before things get too crazy.”
And the title of the album, Litost, is a nearly untranslatable Czech word, from a book by Milan Kundera, which means a state of feeling miserable and humiliated.
“Litost comes from a book that I read when I was sort of writing a lot of the material on the record,” Sam Harris said. “That word stuck with me. It’s an undefinable word, that doesn’t have a translation in English, meaning the state of torment upon the realization of one’s inadequacy. It sort of fit with what I was feeling at the time, with everything going on, and wanting to help people. A lot of the songs have this sense of longing to them, constantly sort of battling yourself. That’s where it came from.”
While the band is proud of the album, they’re also very committed to perfecting their live shows and giving audiences a great, riveting performance.
“More often times than not, I talk to people who see bands they love, and they say ‘Oh, it was so boring live,’ and that’s something we never want to happen,” Sam Harris said. “We want the live show to be the real place where we make our fans. I’m very particular about our recording sound. I think we are all really involved in making records, and we rehearse so much. We’re always trying to get better and fine tune it and know what makes us tick, and figuring out the little kinks in our live show. Right now we’re working on a bunch of new material and planning on taking it on the road with us, and that’s where it will really get tested.”
And that will include the band’s stop on March 10 at The Beacham, the club at 46 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando. Call 407-246-1419 for more details on Ambassadors’ show, or log on to www.thebeacham.com. Ambassadors will also be performing on March 9 at the State Theatre in Tampa and on March 11 at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale.
Harris said the entire band is excited to be making their debut performance in the City Beautiful.
“We’ve never been to Orlando,” he said. “We are really excited about this, because right now we’re really cold. I definitely believe in having a great live show, just to have fun and enjoy yourself, and keep pushing yourself. At the end of the day, you gotta make people move, you gotta make people feel.”
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