It was December 2009 and The All-American Rejects were in celebration mode. The band — which lead singer, bassist, and lyricist Tyson Ritter and his long-time friend guitarist Nick Wheeler formed as teenagers in Stillwater, Oklahoma, before being joined by guitarist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor in 2002 — had just wrapped up touring behind their third album, 2008’s When The World Comes Down. The Rejects played to ecstatic audiences across the globe, thanks to scoring their first international hit, “Gives You Hell,” which also spent four weeks at No. 1 at Top 40 radio, became the No. 1 most-played song of 2009 at the format, and went on to sell four million copies in the U.S. alone. After finishing a tour that capped 10 years in the music industry — during which time the Rejects also released a self-titled platinum debut in 2003 and the double-platinum Move Along in 2005, as well as a string of well-received singles — Ritter should have been on top of the world. Instead, he found himself feeling utterly lost.
“I decided that I needed a major life change, so I did a massive spring cleaning and rid myself of everything that was normal and domesticated,” says Ritter, who, when the tour wrapped, ended a long-term relationship and moved to Los Angeles, “which I swore I’d never do unless it was to date Winona Ryder and lose my craft,” he jokes. “I've been in a band since I was 17. I was in a relationship since I was 17. So here I was, at 25, still feeling 17 in every way, because I'd just come off the road after being on it my entire adult life.”
In the nine months that followed, Ritter fell down the rabbit hole of excess. “I basically crawled into a bottle of Jameson’s and didn’t come out,” he says frankly. “The worst it got was me lying on the floor talking to myself and knowing it was morning but not caring, and not even really remembering how I got there. The whole time in L.A. was about constant distraction so I didn’t have to deal with the fact that I had to function outside of the band. I had to grow up, and it turns out I had a lot to say about that realization once Nick pulled me out. He basically said, ‘Ty, let’s get our shit together and go up to the mountains and see if we’ve got anything to say.’”
The result is the album of the Rejects’ lives: Kids In The Street — a musically brash, lyrically candid portrait of the past two years that finds Ritter exploring themes of regret, nostalgia, and excess, wrapped in the Rejects’ trademark earworm melodies, bright harmonies, and potent rhythmic energy. “The record tackles everything I’ve never been brave enough to talk about,” he says. “Even if I may not always seem very likeable, it was important that I be truthful and really open up about what I’ve been through.”
Ritter and Wheeler wrote the songs in various remote locales, including a cabin at the base of California’s Sequoia National Park, as well as in Maine and Colorado, before presenting the songs to Kennerty and Gaylor, whom Ritter calls “the judge, jury and executioner on these things. I practically wore a hole through the seat squirming and watching them trying to gauge their reaction.”
Kids In The Street opens with “Someday’s Gone,” a lacerating takedown of a person Ritter says tried to destroy him emotionally, followed by first single “Beekeeper’s Daughter,” which finds Ritter assuming the feckless character of a guy who believes he can get away with all manner of bad behavior and still get the girl. “This guy never backs down from that opinion,” Ritter says. “At the end of it, he's even stronger and more snide, but in the end he’s the loser, even if he doesn’t know it. He's an asshole, but at that point in my life, I was kind of an asshole. As we were making Kids in the Street, I went from that to being a completely humbled guy who's looking at his reflection saying, ‘Wow, what have I done?’ Hence the inclusion of several apologetic songs, like the searing “Bleed Into Your Mind,” the hushed closing ballad “I For You,” and the epic “Heartbeat Slowing Down,” a bittersweet goodbye that Ritter calls the pulse of the album. Then there’s the title track, the majestic “Kids In The Street,” which Ritter says is a nostalgic reflection on how far the Rejects have come. “It’s about realizing you can always hold onto moments where you still feel alive. That's the theme of the album: Hitting bottom and realizing you can’t stand up until you find the floor.”
With its surreal, synth-driven sound, “Kids In The Street” is also an indicator of how the band has let itself grow musically. “I feel like we've come into a sound that is really original for us,” Ritter says. “You can also hear it on ‘Gonzo’ and ‘Fast & Slow.’ We're putting in doses of instrumentation, like horns and various synths, that we've never injected into our music before, and I think it's taken our sound to a different place.” The band credits working with Grammy-nominated producer Greg Wells (Adele, Katy Perry, OneRepublic) with helping them to evolve while still retaining what their fans love about them. “The whole record was this collaborative effort where Greg felt more like a fifth member than a producer,” Ritter says. “He really spoke our language, which translated into the sound of the album. If you really want to know what Kids In The Street sounds like, it sounds like The All-American Rejects got their shit together and wrote a record that was going to keep them around.”
After releasing a viral video of “Someday’s Gone,” the band got its first sense of how the fans might react to the material. “I’ve creeped on a few message boards and the general consensus seems to be surprise that it doesn’t sound like When The World Comes Down but more like our first album,” Ritter says. “That alone makes me feel like if you were a Rejects fan and maybe have disconnected with us along our journey, Kids In The Street will be the album that reels you back in. And if you’ve stuck around, then thanks for growing up with us. Because that’s what we’ve been doing for the last ten years — growing up. Audibly.”