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An Explicit Front Man

Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects on sex and new music after the band’s five-year hiatus

Tyson Ritter sits down with an endearingly blasé attitude and makes himself comfortable, outstretching his lanky legs from a pretzel position with ease. His disheveled (read: sexy) hair, grungy black sneakers and severely sculpted jawline make me feel like I’m 15 years old again, belting out the All-American Rejects song “Dirty Little Secret” alone in my bedroom.

The All-American Rejects emerged in 1999 when Ritter was 17 years old. Hits like “Swing, Swing,” and “Move Along,” immediately cemented them as a core pop-punk band of the early aughts. It’s been five years since the band, comprised of front man Ritter, guitarists Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty, and drummer Chris Gaylor, released their last album, Kids in the Street.

“We used to be like the four Lost Boys from Peter Pan, stuck on the road together for a decade,” Ritter says of the band’s hiatus. “Over the past five years, we gained a lot of individualism and our new music feels genuine and honest.”

Now, at 33, Ritter sits across from me and breaks it all down with a few choice words: If someone wants to keep the band in a time capsule, they can “go listen to the first album.” He recognizes that die-hard fans may hold onto assumptions of who the All-American Rejects should be, but with two new songs, a long-form video and their forthcoming fifth album, Ritter refuses to dwell in the past.

“This isn’t a pack of Lunchables. We’ve been cooking this meal for a while,” he says of the new music. “It’s not the same shit we might have fed you 10 years ago. I hope everyone wants to come to the table hungry and without expectations.”

So far, the music on the menu consists of “Sweat,” an adrenalized and sexualized anthem, and “Close Your Eyes,” an atmospheric ballad. The songs are products of a writing process that Ritter colorfully compares to being in the porn industry: “You walk into a building and get emotionally naked with a stranger. Hopefully it’s this awesome bit of sex that yields something the world can collectively come together to watch.”

The two songs exist on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, offering a kaleidoscope of sounds. “As far as the next record, this is the A and the Z,” he says of the scope of music. The 11-minute video tying the songs together, directed by Jamie Thraves, stars Ritter as the two contrasting protagonists, Robert and Betsy. Robert is a straight-laced man facing an identity crisis while Betsy serves as his fantasy, a cross-dressing prostitute.

Ritter lives out his own fantasy on stage, bringing the sex and spectacle back to rock and roll. “I really charge the audience with pulverizing intentions,” he says of his eccentric on-stage persona. “You either want to love me, hate me or have sex with me. When I step on stage, people like to tweet about how much of an asshole I am but that’s not me,” he says. “And I win if I evoked something in you that made you tweet about it. I’d rather be boiling hot or ice cold. No one is going to sit in a bathtub that is tepid.”

With Ritter’s middle finger to majority rule firm as ever, The All-American Rejects are ready to serve up an album that may not satisfy the usual cravings, but is sure to fill you up regardless.

Main image credit: Paige Wilson

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