The All-American Rejects
When they formed in 2001, The All-American Rejects were much like any other rising Oklahoma band – playing shows in cramped venues, cultivating a devoted fan base, building a library of songs and developing as musicians.
Now, three wildly successful albums later, the multi-platinum-selling rock band is one of the nation’s most beloved groups and one of the state’s biggest musical success stories.
“We’ve definitely done our time in tiny, dirty rooms, so getting to play big, pro-run venues was quite a cool experience,” Mike Kennerty, Edmond resident guitarist and backing vocalist, says. “But we still like to run the gamut of venue types, because it’s fun to play all different kinds of places. The small, sweaty, gross places are often the most fun.”
The foursome has been touring the world to support their third studio album, The World Comes Down, which hit stores in December 2008. Its first single, “Gives You Hell,” topped the Billboard Top 40 charts at No. 1 in March. Kennerty says that accomplishment gave the band the biggest feeling of “making it” so far. “We’ve been doing this full-time for about seven years now, and to still be hitting new goals is pretty crazy. I don’t know if any of us even thought we’d be a band this long,” he says.
In addition to Kennerty, the All-American Rejects are vocalist/bassist/pianist Tyson Ritter, guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Nick Wheeler and drummer Chris Gaylor. The band members have been able to push their craft further with their new album. Most of the songs on The World Comes Down started life with an acoustic guitar and a melody. From there, the band members put their heads together to develop fully arranged songs. “A few of them gave us a lot of trouble,” Kennerty says. “An example is ‘Mona Lisa.’ We tried to play that song every way we could think of and nothing was working until we threw our hands up and decided to just keep it true to that acoustic guitar/melody feel. Then, the arrangement of the other instruments just fell into place naturally and easily. We just learned that trying to force a song to fit into what is expected of our band is silly and counter-productive.”
The band knows their music holds great significance for many of their fans, sometimes playing an important role in the way listeners remember memorable eras of their lives. “I think it’s great, because I have the same kinds of associations with songs from when I was growing up. It’s just really cool to play a part in the timeline of someone’s life,” Kennerty says.
The grueling tour schedule keeps The All-American Rejects away from their Stillwater home for months on end. “The schedule can wear on you after awhile, but its just a matter of keeping things in perspective and remembering how good we’ve got it. The distance actually helps us appreciate home more,” Kennerty says. “This [fame] is old hat to my friends now. They couldn’t care less. But that’s nice. It makes coming home feel completely normal, and being home is my idea of a vacation, so the more normalcy, the better.”
Kennerty says, looking back, tour follies tend to stand out almost more than the fun parts. “I’ve hurt myself onstage more times than I can count, and had to visit more than a couple hospitals because of it,” he says.
The All-American Rejects are proud of their roots and thankful for their Oklahoma fans. “They were our first. So, really, where would we be without them?” Kennerty asks.
The state’s less-crowded music scene provided opportunities for The All-American Rejects during the band’s infancy. Oklahoma lacked the pitfalls of other states’ more jaded musical landscapes, and music fans’ hunger for something new and easy to love helped propel The All-American Rejects from obscurity to where they are now. On the other hand, starting a band in a region not known for its music industry meant The All-American Rejects had to blaze their own trail, a task they proved equipped for.
“Being from Oklahoma was a great thing for us as a band. Financially, it made it easy for us to tour around and still be able to pay the rent when we were only making scraps in the beginning. Plus, since there’s not a big music industry presence that’s taken for granted like in other cities, being from here motivates you to work harder, and I think we all were happy to put in the hours. Maybe that want to work is a little reflection of the Oklahoma in us too,” Kennerty says.
“Oklahoma will always breed great music. There are always lots of cool bands forming all the time. I don’t think Oklahoma will ever become a music Mecca, but I’m happy about that. I think the isolation is what gives bands a chance to tinker and figure out their own thing,” he says. “I’d tell any band getting started that hard work is the key to success. It isn’t just sitting around waiting for someone to notice you. Play shows, tour, do whatever you can. Make it happen.”