Deep in the heart of the Meatpacking District, the sun pounded the posh rooftop at STK.
The black ballistic rubber floors radiated heat from below as the sun beat down upon the brows of the 150 or so invited guests awaiting an acoustic set from American Authors, a band very much on the come up who boasts a triple-platinum single, “
Best Day of My Life.”
Despite the heat, the sweeping views of the High Line and Hudson River provided a picturesque backdrop for the upcoming show.
The guests were ostensibly eager for the band to play, but many appeared not to be fans per se, but rather pretty people who reveled in the thought of attending an invite-only party with a relatively-famous band and an army of professional photographers in tow.
That’s not to say no fans were in attendance, but the room had a distinctly divided feel.
Throughout the crowd, you could see the Brooklyn-ites contrast starkly with the Manhattan-ers. The former adorned almost exclusively in fierce, black rocker attire; the latter bedecked in tight, oft-revealing dresses for women alongside men who looked like they walked straight off the pages of a J. Crew catalogue.
While it would be unfair to say the Brooklyn-ites were there for the music and the Manhattan-ers were there to be seen, there was a definite distinction between factions within the crowd. It’s entirely possible some of the fierce, black outfitted individuals hailed from Manhattan and some of the J. Crew wannabes were from Brooklyn (or any other borough for that matter).
Regardless, about half the people there seemed to have come for the music, and the rest simply to be seen.
Sharply dressed servers buzzed around the party toting burger sliders, deviled eggs, miniature kale salads, and other appetizing hors d’oeuvres.
Those same servers were slinging highly alcoholic mixed drinks concocted for those wanting to board the Blackout Express. With a full bar available to the guests, the booze flowed freely. There was both a literal and figurative buzz in the air as some of the tipsy guests mingled with the band or the other attractive people in attendance.
Members of the band (and their entourage) visited with friends and fans alike.
Another instalment in the Island Records Summer Series, the event was intended for industry personnel and friends of the band.
Having just released a catchy new single, and on the eve of performing at the Arthur Ashe Kids Day at the US Open, the band was making good use of its admittedly limited time back home (they hail from Brooklyn).
The stage was set for American Authors to deliver a fun, informal acoustic set. At 5:15, the band took the stage as many in attendance turned their back to the band for the perfunctory selfie.
Lead singer Zac Barnett thanked the crowd for showing up, promised a one-and-a-half hour Led Zeppelin jam session at the end of the concert (about which I’m still pissed he didn’t deliver on), and then jumped into the concert with “Go Big or Go Home.”
The show was lighthearted and imminently enjoyable. The instruments were tight, the group locked in. Barnett showcased a singular vocal talent, at once powerful and strong while equally caressing concertgoers’ eardrums with his pure, silky-smooth falsetto.
For the most part, the crowd was engaged and invested — save for the obnoxious few who took selfie after selfie, or filmed whole songs with their hands held high in the sky.
It’s always interesting to hear a highly produced studio band perform live, without the bells and whistles from their album. It’s even more interesting to hear them unplugged.
American Authors delivered the rare show where a non-jam-band was better live than they were on an admittedly good album. But, like their first album, the short show left me wanting a little bit more.
Conceptually, those who are famous have done something earning them such status — he or she is an incredible actor, elite athlete, talented musician, etc. Certainly, some people stumble into fame based not on merit but sheer happenstance, but by and large, the people who become famous have a reason for being so. But fame comes not simply because you’re good; luck plays a huge part in who breaks through and who wallows in obscurity until abandoning the dream for a desk job.
Like most well-known bands, American Authors is good. The foursome met while studying music at one of the most prestigious music schools in the country, the Berklee College of Music. While this doesn’t guarantee innate musical ability, it’s a pretty good indicator.
While at Berklee, the band decided to “turn pro,” so to speak: they dropped out and moved to Brooklyn, New York to chase the dream full time.
“We met each other. We got what we needed there. So we decided to take it to the next level,” Matt Sanchez, the band’s drummer, said.
The foursome met while studying music at one of the most prestigious music schools in the country.
“We didn’t really have all that much keeping us in Boston,” Zac Barnett, lead singer, added.
While parents might cringe at Barnett’s attitude, he said their dream was more immediately important than school.
“We were all very logical in the sense that school would be there, and this moment might pass us up,” Barnett said. “We were writing and recording and performing and going to parties and whatnot in New York, so it just made sense to make the move and be there full-time and really just kick it into high gear.”
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Originally called The Blue Pages, the band initially struggled to find its sound and identity.
“We spent a lot of time in our early days trying to figure out our scene and where people could categorise us and where we really fell,” Barnett said. “And that never worked. Once we discovered what American Authors truly were, and our sound, was really when we let it all go.”
After struggling as a relative unknown for years, letting it all go netted the band three things. First, fans in the New York area responded enough for American Authors to catch a record label’s eye. Second, Island Records signed them to a record deal, and the band received the runway and support needed to record its first album. And third, the band got incredibly lucky.
Harnessing a seemingly unshakable optimism and fusing it with upbeat, anthemic instrumentals, American Authors embodies an ethos that has resonated strongly with music fans in the last few years. In the same vein as fun., Neon Trees, Imagine Dragons, or Walk the Moon, American Authors’ songs sound almost universally happy, for lack of a better descriptor.
Featuring a driving drum beat, playful lead banjo, uplifting lyrics, polyphonic harmonized backup vocals, and Barnett’s silky smooth voice, the band fills the “happy pop anthem” niche to a tee.
That optimism seems to come from an honest place.
“It was kinda like finding optimism in low places,” Barnett said. “That was a big thing with that first album because … when life throws these obstacles at you, and you have these challenges with whatever you want to do in life — for us, music — there’s kinda like, ‘do you just give up and quit, or do you see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep working and pushing harder to get through that.'”
“In a lot of ways it was self serving optimism,” Sanchez added. “I know that sounds funny, but it really was for us.”
It’s almost as if the band was willing itself to success and happiness by writing songs that reflected that mindset.
Best Day of Their Lives
Smash hits are a tenuous breed. While both financially lucrative and audience enlarging, an up-and-coming band can be swallowed by a single song’s success.
One of the most dreaded designations in music is that of “one hit wonder.”
Every person surveyed in the days leading up to the show either didn’t know the band off the top of their head or made a snarky comment, “Is it going to be the best day of your life?”
Often, this happens not because the band got blindly lucky and made only one good song, but rather because fans become so enamoured with one song that no other songs could ever live up to it.
It’s often better to acquire acclaim and fame in small but steady increments to ensure a longer shelf life. American Authors has no such luxury.
“Best Day of My Life” has racked up over 140 million Spotify plays. It has over 62 million Vevo views. Every person surveyed in the days leading up to the show either didn’t know the band off the top of their head or made a snarky comment like, “Is it going to be the best day of your life?”
And for those that didn’t recognise the band initially, when prompted with American Authors’ hit song, everyone knew at least that one tune.
While American Authors have had rather successful singles in addition to their smash hit, the band currently occupies a delicate position on what I call the “one hit hump.” The question for them now is whether or not they can keep plodding forward, crest that hill, and become more than just their one hit song; or, if they can’t, and figuratively roll back down the hill from whence they came.
The Next Step
If there’s one knock on the group, it’s that their songs are almost too consistent. Even on melancholy tracks like “Luck,” the song sounds joyful.
Almost every song is either fun, optimistic, or both. If you love happy pre-game songs that get you amped up for a great night out, then American Authors should be your new favourite band. If you like a little more emotional range, the band has yet to fully deliver on their heretofore nascent musical talent.
“Luck,” one of the deeper cuts from “Oh What a Life,” is actually the best song American Authors has produced to date, and provides listeners a glimpse of all the band could become.
In the song, the protagonist apologizes to his mother, his brother and father:
I’m sorry father, I up and left this town.
Please just listen ’cause I don’t ask for much
I am my own man
I make my own luck
…and some birds aren’t meant to be caged
“I haven’t talked to my mother in probably like eight years,” Sanchez admits. “I don’t want to go too deep into it, but the song was more about the sacrifices you make to do what you love. And while it is a literal story, I know it’s something we all relate to. I didn’t just write the song by myself; we all inserted our own stories into it.”
The group’s infectious pop anthems belie deeper musical and lyrical talent. Barnett showcased honest-to-God, capital “r” Rock vocals during their show. Their eclectic instrumentation and obvious skill therein hint at a greater ability than many of their tunes showcase. The level of emotional awareness demonstrated in “Luck” is seen in many of the truly great rock songs throughout history. The specific lyrics granting the listener a peek into the band members’ real lives humanize the track beyond a pump-up jam. The depth of emotion and universal theme wreathe the song in the trappings of greatness.
“Luck” is a glimpse into what American Authors could become. But, with industry pressure to keep churning out hits, it’s tough to know whether the band will take that next step.
“We’re really feeling the pressure of, ‘OK, how do we take what people know and love about us from the first album, but really give it where we’re at today and kind of take it to the next level for who we are as people and who we are as musicians right now,” Barnett said.
“There’s always people breathing down your neck, looking for that next big single … But, when you do the best you can, you can only just write from your heart, write the best songs, write the songs that you love, and hope that you get something amazing.”
Sanchez and Barnett are genuine, nice guys who you can’t help but pull for.
Here’s to hoping they can make more of their own luck.
NOW WATCH: Mark Cuban just sent us this hilarious ‘Shark Tank’ spoof that replaces all the judges with clones of himself
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.