There's a new sound rising from the wild, wild mid-west.
It's the pulse of edgy pop-rock sung with unfettered emotion. It's pinprick hooks toughened by crunchy guitars and aggressive solos. It's songs that burrow into your head and stay there. It's The All-American Rejects.
Tyson Ritter (vocals, bass) and Nick Wheeler (everything else) are all-American rejects, and they're proud of it.
They grew up in Stillwater, Okla., where they spent years passing each other in the halls at school. For the longest time, neither suspected the other was seriously into music, though apparently each had good reason to be. "Stillwater was actually perfect for us, Tyson says. "It pretty much screams unexcitement. The only thing you can do here is drink beer, have sex or write music."
For Tyson, music held the biggest lure. When he was a kid, his dad, a serious music fan, would let him stay up late to check out rock videos on TV. "I'd be up all night," Tyson recalls, "watching AC/DC, then jumping up on the table in my pajamas and pretending to be Bon Scott."
Meanwhile, across town, Nick was getting into Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Poison through his older sister's record collection. He quickly moved from there through grunge and into punk. Each played guitar, with Nick eventually adding drums and piano to his arsenal.
Both started playing in bands in junior high. Their paths didn't cross, though, until one night when Nick and his group were performing at a party. Tyson was there, and it took all of a second for him to decide he had to join them - even if that meant a little white lie.
"We didn't have a bass player at the time," Nick remembers, "and when Tyson realized that, he was, like, 'Hey, I play bass!' The only thing was, he'd never played a bass in his life."
"I went right out, got a bass and learned how to play it," Tyson reports. "I stayed inside the whole time during Christmas break until I could come out and join the band."
Over the next few years, as Tyson and Nick began writing together, the rest of Nick's original group gradually disintegrated. "It was high school," he says with a shrug. "Some people just wanted to do the whole high school thing and weren't serious about the band. We eventually got rid of them." "It was actually pretty funny watching the band fall apart," Tyson elaborates. We wrote 'Don't Leave Me' the week the last guy quit. That song was definitely a big step up in our writing. Then we wrote 'One More Sad Song' and said, 'Let's just keep doing it this way, just the two of us.' It was kind of ironic that initially, Nick and I had less input than anyone else in the band, but when he and I were the only ones left, that's when the best stuff started happening."
The pair quickly locked onto a songwriting method that has worked for them ever since. "We're not part of a typical band that goes into a studio and jams out songs," Nick says. Tyson concurs: "It's definitely not something where you set up in your practice space, start with three chords and sing to it. What we do comes straight from the melody, then goes to the guitar, and it gets built from there." The melodies start with Tyson, who makes it a point to keep the radio off when he's driving. "That helps me hear whatever pops into my head," he explains. "Then I'll grab a guitar and show the song to Nick, and he puts those great, jazzy guitar riffs in there."
Their material is generally derived from real life. Says Tyson: "It all comes from my ex-girlfriends. All my songs are about simple relationship bullsh*t. There are different scenarios to each song, so you've got pretty much every f***ed-up thing that can happen in a relationship." Nick puts it this way: "We just write what we know. The things we love and listen to the most tend to be radio-friendly, so that's how we write."
When the two began playing gigs around Stillwater, they backed themselves up with rhythm tracks Nick had programmed. "We won a battle of the bands with that lineup," Nick says. "It was me and Tyson up front, with a keyboard in the back pumping out the drum loops." Tyson chimes in, "We beat these old people busting their asses playing Jimi Hendrix songs."
As far as recording, Nick and Tyson began cutting demos in high school, so they had plenty to choose from when they hit the studio to lay down The All-American Rejects with producer Tim O'Heir (Sebadoh, Superdrag, Come). Now, in addition to enjoying early songs like "Don't Leave Me" and "One More Sad Song," fans will be able to ride the locomotive energy of "My Paper Heart," soar with the falsetto hook of "Time Stands Still" and try to resist the head-bobbing first radio track, "Swing, Swing."
These and more will surely bring the band an ever-widening circle of devoted followers, but don't expect much else to change. Nick and Tyson know where home is and they have no plans to leave. "Rent in Stillwater is still only $395 a month," Nick points out. "Yeah, and everybody who moves out to L.A. gets that Hollywood thing in their blood, and their second record always sounds like shit," Tyson says. "And if we end up there, we take it back."