Dave Rublin of American Authors

by Corey O'Flanagan

On "Best Day Of My Life," their latest EP, and mental health in music.

"Best Day Of My Life" is a song we're sure you've heard. It was written and recorded by American Authors: Zac Barnett (vocals), James Shelley (guitar), Dave Rublin (bass), and Matthew Sanchez (drums). Today we bring you a wonderful conversation with Dave, who also does a lot of the production in the band. We go over the band's beginnings at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, find out how their writing and recording have progressed, and talk about their work with Sound Mind, an organization helping to improve mental health services through music.

American Authors were writing for their first album, Oh, What a Life, in 2012 when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened not far from where they were working. They reacted by making the kind of music that celebrates the best in us - the kind that gives us home for humanity. They followed with What We Live For in 2016 and Seasons in 2019. Their most recent release is the EP Counting Down, which again finds them in tune with positive vibes.

Rublin spoke with us from his living room in his New Jersey apartment.


Background

I grew up in the wonderful state of New Jersey about 30 minutes outside of Manhattan. It was very cool to grow up in that area because that is where The Boss [Bruce Springsteen] is from and a lot of that deep-rooted East Coast rock has grown. I was a little kid rolling into the city all the time to look at all the bands trying to be a part of the energy. I would say I'm a city boy through and through.

My older brother is a really talented piano player and my parents both loved music. I grew up listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong and the "jazzers" and the "loungers." I just loved big singers. I think that's what happened listening to my parents' records growing up. I love a great story and a big voice.


Berklee Boys

All members of American Authors attended Berklee College of Music.1 There's a lot that I learned at Berklee. I started out in the electronic music world. I love German music, French house music, and I was into the Detroit music scene growing up. I did a lot of electronic music production as a kid, mixing acoustics and playing around with them on a computer.

Going to a school like Berklee made me understand that I was very different. I was very bad at music because I was going off pure emotion and creativity. That was part of the reason why Berklee was really cool: It enabled me to take my craziness and focus it, but then I got very annoyed at the rules and tried to break them as much as I could.

I actually went to Berklee late and met the guys when they were already established as another band. Going to a prestigious school like that gave me two emotions, the first being that I don't belong here, they're all too good. Then the second, well, if this guy goes here, then I definitely belong here. There's no reason I can't be that good.

So I stepped up to the challenge and I actually found that people were looking for new ways to do their music. That's where I found my calling and how the band was formed.

They had a different bass player and band name to start. Berklee was a place where everybody was learning about each other and connecting musically. There was definitely that whole cliquiness about music ratings, like, "What are your performance numbers? What are your sight-reading numbers?" and things like that, but the beautiful thing about the language of music is that it doesn't matter about the skill levels as long as you come with your emotional self. Berklee really taught me how to understand other people's musical histories and passions and now I do a lot of production for other artists. It really solidified the bedrock for the professional world.

We were going into music with whole hearts, trying to write great songs for people. Then one thing led to another and we were performing for the whole world. This is where you kind of look at one another and think, huh, my school did actually prepare me for this moment.

While I saw amazing collaborations during my time at Berklee, I would say that there was definitely that competitive edge. That's just the music industry - it's competitive.


Dave RublinDave Rublin

From The Blue Pages to American Authors

Just getting a fresh name really allowed us the ability to present a new sound to the world. We were going under The Blue Pages for about five years, touring up and down the East Coast. We were thinking to ourselves that the songs were great and all, but we needed to establish what was really working and what wasn't, and move to the next level.

We met up with one of our good friends, Shep Goodman, and he produced the first record. He saw a light in the band that we really wanted to lean into for a while, but we didn't have the know-how, so we wrote some songs with him and changed the band name. It turned out that the name change sparked a whole new life. The songs hit the nerve of the world really randomly and the roller coaster came from that. The lesson that we learned was that there is beauty in rebuilding who you originally were.

I equate being in a band to living at home with roommates. If you're not paying rent on time or pulling your weight, it's time to reinvest in what you're doing and reorganize. I think reevaluating and pivoting to your developing self is a really healthy way to be and ultimately brings you success.


Sandy Hook

One winter we were upstate in the woods writing with our producer when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. When we heard the news, it was shocking to all of us because it happened right down the street from where we were. And in that framework, we were thinking that the world has hit a whole new low, and we wanted to focus on making things that make people happy and make people feel positive, because that's something that was missing from rock and from songwriting, just something so simplistic that can be an earworm, that can carry people.

We didn't think it was "Best Day Of My Life" at first [that would be the hit]. We went into the studio and wrote three tunes: "Believer," "Best Day Of My Life," and "Hit It."

When we finished those songs we all thought they were horrible, that they were too happy and not cool enough. Luckily for us, our producer had been in the industry for some time and he sent "Believer" around to some of his friends. People were asking about it like crazy - "Who's this band?" The demo wasn't even mixed or mastered and it was already getting a lot of love from people in radio because they wanted something positive for the moment.

"Believer" was such a resonating thing because it sounded very alt and very new. The minute it hit, it just started rising to the occasion. That was when labels and managers all came out of the woodwork. We ended up showing friends "Best Day Of My Life," then it got in a Lowe's commercial and that's when it all kick-started. That was the era when sync music was the pairing you needed to get the broadest audience.

When middle and coastal America heard "Best Day Of My Life" for the first time, it just did its thing. It did the thing that everybody needed it to do at that moment.

A lot of the music that we do comes out of severe, tragic moments. We try to do our best to give people that hope. The cool thing about the band is that we have stuck to that message of giving people the emotion as well as the hopefulness that is missing.


Seasons

The third record was the moment when we needed to do a record that involved our personal lives. We had done so much travel and experienced so much in life, that we had a ton of things to get off our chest. So while you still have the American Authors of positivity, you also have the American Authors who are in their 30s and have experienced life and want to talk about it. Seasons was such an important record for us to put out on a personal level.


Stretching Our Wings

A lot of people don't know this about the band, but we are very rooted in songwriting. Zac was president of the songwriters club at Berklee and he was very much a collaborative force. James was very much the same, while I have a producer mindset. Matt also has a producer mindset and he is a very talented classical composer. We are always trying to stretch our wings as far as we can because we don't have to fit in a lane. The lane we want to be in is songs that make you feel good.

Coldplay are a band that we look to for inspiration. They go through so many textural changes, so many different vibes on different records. You go from Viva La Vida to Ghost Stories, and you hear such a dynamic. You hear the pain in the record, you hear the low-fi-ness and the digitalism of Ghost Stories, you hear the anthemic tympani and etherial English bells in Viva La Vida. So with these bands that we adore, we're trying to figure out the state of American Authors, and I think we will be hearing a lot more banjo on the newer releases and hearing a lot more of the things that make us who we are, and make people fall in love with the band all over again. We're getting way cuter as time goes on. We're aging like wine :)

Once people identify you as one thing, it's almost as if you can be mysterious in another thing at the same time. It's funny when people fall back into American Authors and you see people commenting like, "What is this song? Wait, this is American Authors?"

That's such a rewarding thing for us because you get to see the different generations of fans coming up and discovering us.


Nashville 2020

The process of doing Seasons was crazy because we were packing in a lot of emotion and energy into a certain amount of time, a time when we really had to focus on the things that make you feel, which is a really scary thing for a lot of artists. With that carried-over energy, once Seasons was done we decided to knock out a few more songs to see what happens.

We've grown to the point where we feel comfortable producing our own music. I love creating the soundscape, I love helping in the process. We can now be self-sustaining, which is really important, so we're not leaning on anybody. That was the beauty of going down to Nashville - we could just dive into the room. We rented a bunch of gear and an Airbnb, bought a bunch of snacks and literally poured out five or six productions - almost full songs - in five days. It was crazy being behind the desk focusing on that. I was producing and trying to get all the parts out of the guys while keeping what we were trying to do in context. It was a very invigorating and wild experience. It felt like the meeting of creative and collective minds where we were all reading the same book but in different languages.

By the end of it we realized that in those days we came up with some really interesting stuff. We were honing in on some big sounds of the late 2010s, like Chainsmokers and tropical house vibes. I brought in this song "Best I Can" that I wrote and we took the beat, then wrote something completely new over it and sent it over to the producers Seeb - they did the Mike Posner tune "I Took a Pill in Ibiza." They fell in love with the song and that's how that happy collaboration started.

We felt like being in the woods and that energy of the space in Nashville really helped us lock into the situation we were in, which was to write some great material. We literally built a full studio in an Airbnb for a week, and "Counting Down," "Sky's The Limit" and the basics of "Best I Can" all came from that. There were just so many different flavors that we were putting out, we just wanted to pack them into something where you can hear all the records that we did. We crafted this EP to showcase the growth from album one into album two into album three. We want people to be able to look at the manual and see which one they identify with.


"Microphone"

During Seasons we had a songwriting session with Sam Hollander, who did a lot of stuff with Panic! At The Disco. During that time we learned about Sam's style as a writer and producer. "Microphone" was so unbelievably sugary that at first I really wasn't into it, but Sam is really talented and it's an amazing song.

It's an interesting tune. I look at it as if it is galvanizing the people during these crazy times we are in. It's a message of extreme vivaciousness. Here we are with these blaring horns, calling on everybody to rise up. We're going to go out there. We're going to have a voice.

There was such an energy that came along with the song, and sometimes that energy is what we fall in love with. It made sense that the band that wrote "Best Day Of My Life" wrote "Microphone."


Sound Mind

This area of the world we are advocating for is something that we as a band identify with. We have all felt like outsiders at some point in our lives. On behalf of us and the community that is hurting, we are here to support anybody who is hurting during COVID times. We want to help out the ones who don't have the biggest voice.

Sound Mind is a nonprofit organization that focuses on mental health and wellness in the music community. They are especially for those people who have bridged over that initial success gap and are really in the throes of the industry and in need of an outlet.

They facilitate a safe space for artists to feel comfortable asking for help in such a volatile industry where the highs and lows are so extreme. Not only do they open the door for conversations about mental health by bringing in artists to do events, they also help find therapists and therapy assistants for artists.

They're a New York-based organization that has outposts all across America. They're just getting going so if you do see a Sound Mind event, you're going to meet a community of wonderful people and artists that are here to listen, to help and to guide you to becoming your best self in both music and in your own space.

November 18, 2020

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