Music News & Reviews

X Ambassadors: Out of the ‘Jungle’ and into Chapel Hill

X Ambassadors, who had a huge hit with “Jungle,” play Local 506 on Saturday.
X Ambassadors, who had a huge hit with “Jungle,” play Local 506 on Saturday. NICK WALKER

Even if you haven’t heard of X Ambassadors, you definitely have heard their song, “Jungle.” That’s mainly because it’s been licensed all over the place.

At first listen, the Ithaca, N.Y.-based rock band’s hard-driving track, produced by in-demand producer Alex da Kid (Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Imagine Dragons) and featuring vocals from British blues/rock musician Jamie N Commons, sounds like the sort of tune you know will be picked up for a commercial at some point. It’s been used in ads for the “Battlefield: Hardline” video game, a Beats By Dre World Cup commercial, that “Hercules” movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the new seasons of “Teen Wolf” and “Orange in the New Black,” among other things.

While most rock artists would probably recoil at the thought of having their music used by corporations to shill their products, X Ambassadors frontman Sam Harris is just pleased that their music is being heard.

“I can go home and have all my friends back home say, ‘Hey, man, I heard your song in the Beats commercial!’ or ‘Hey, man, I heard your song in the trailer!’ ” says Harris, on the phone from Ithaca. “It’s kind of cool, you know. At the very base level, that’s like the coolest part about it. People you know being like, ‘Dude, I heard your song!’ ”

“Jungle” is a song that continues to evolve. A remix was released featuring a verse or two from Jay-Z, while another recently recorded remix has the band jamming with buskers from all around the world. Of course, having all these people included on the song wasn’t what Harris was thinking of when he first came up with it.

“I had written a hook for it, and Alex had the beat,” he remembers. “I thought he was gonna put a rapper on it, but then he gave it to Jamie, and Jamie wrote these great verses on it. That’s sort of how it came to be. And, then, Jay-Z – that was through Alex and (record mogul) Jimmy Iovine and Jay-Z’s people getting in on it. I don’t know what magic they worked, but I didn’t question them.”

Now that the band has an omnipresent hit on their hands, perhaps Harris can cool out a bit. The 26-year-old musician isn’t afraid to admit he gets riddled with self-doubt from time to time. That’s practically the running theme through “The Reason,” the band’s latest EP.

“I try to write a lot about my deepest fears and what I’m most afraid of,” he says. “At the time, we had just signed with a major label. Things were starting to really go with the band, and I was afraid of (messing) it all up. … And we also knew a lot of people and know a lot of people who are struggling artists, who are struggling businessmen and women – people trying to make something of themselves and it kind of doesn’t work out, you know. Or life just takes a different turn for them, and they have to kind of start over and do something new. And that’s really scary.”

Considering how this foursome has always been a close-knit group – Harris, older brother/keyboardist Casey Harris and guitarist Noah Feldshuh have been playing collectively since they were in junior high, with drummer Adam Levin joining the band eight years ago – working for most of their young lives to make it as a band, it’s understandable how Harris can be worried about messing up their big chance.

“I didn’t feel like there were enough people writing about that, you know,” he says. “A lot of what I was hearing was kind of like, you know, ‘reach for the stars – you can do anything and be anything.’ It’s not the case for a lot of people. That doesn’t always happen. And what happens when that doesn’t happen, when you do fail and have to pick yourself up again?”

At the moment, Harris and his boys don’t have to worry about that. They’re currently on tour with Commons, making a stop in Chapel Hill this Saturday. They’re also concentrating on finishing their new, full-length album, slated for release next year.

“It’s hard when you’re kind of in the eye of the storm, to really get some good perspective on what’s going on,” he says. “It is all so exciting, and we’re so thankful and lucky to be having all this great stuff happening with ‘Jungle.’ But we’re kind of focused on the next thing. You kind of have to be in order to survive in this industry.

“New beginnings are really an incredible thing and a lucky thing to have,” he says. “So there’s always something to look forward to, no matter what.”