As a child, X Ambassadors bandleader Sam Harris was an extra in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” and he even got to meet Scott and star Russell Crowe, thanks to his father Rob Harris, a show biz unit publicist. “It was filmed in Malta, and my pops flew us all out on some holiday break,” he recalls of the shoot. “So I got to see the world when I was very young, and growing up in a small town like Ithaca, that was just priceless for me.”
Watching his dad work on dramas like “The Sandlot,” “Perfect Storm” and “Black Swan” made the New Yorker restless, eager to leave town to attend Greenwich Village’s progressive New School as soon as he graduated.
“Visiting him on set was the greatest thing, ever, and a real eye-opening experience,” says the singer, who appears with his band (and Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie and others) at Live 105’s Not So Silent Night concert in Oakland this week. “As a young kid wanting to be an artist, I was able to see that as a viable career, and that people could actually make a living from various forms of entertainment. That was a very unique position to be put in,” he says.
Harris went on to form X Ambassadors (initially without the X) with his longtime chum (and New School classmate), guitarist Noah Feldshuh, later adding his keyboardist brother Casey, whose blindness hasn’t deterred his musical career.
They were discovered by Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds, who heard the anthemic tune “Unconsolable” when an enthusiastic taxi driver played it for him. Reynolds phoned the executive at KIDinaKORNER, his label, and Alex Da Kid promptly signed them. He also collaborated on most of X Ambassadors’ debut album “VHS,” as did Imagine Dragons, on the track “Fear,” and stablemate Jamie N. Commons, on “Jungle” and “Low Life,”
“VHS” flickers like cinema, starting with the opening family-past soundbite, wherein Rob Harris asks his son on the millennium where he’ll be in 15 years: “I will not be here, I will be far away,” Sam vows, before it segues into the breakthrough hit “Renegades,” a story of he and Casey’s struggle to break out of their hometown, which they now appreciate: “Ithaca is beautiful, and there’s a real sinister quality to it, and that darkness is a part of me,” says the vocalist.
Film also inspired Harris’ Springsteen-ish songwriting style. “My dad was very particular with what movies he’d show us, like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’” he says. “He really schooled me on the classics, and exposed me to a lot of storytelling. So I’ve always been drawn to that — telling stories and inhabiting other characters.”
IF YOU GO
Live 105’s Not So Silent Night
with Weezer, Death Cab For Cutie, Bastille, Silversun Pickups, Chvrches, Halsey, Foals, X Ambassadors
Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11
Tickets: $39.50 to $69.50
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com