What It’s Actually Like to Be a Rock Star on Tour

Drummer Adam Levin of the X Ambassadors on life on the road and early morning cheeseburgers

What It’s Actually Like to Be a Rock Star on Tour

The X Ambassadors (from left): Sam Harris, Casey Harris, Noah Feldshuh, and Adam Levin

Photo by Catie Laffoon

From the international tours to the sold-out arena concerts, the alt-rock band X Ambassadors is living out every small town garage band’s dream of hitting the big time. Best known for their hit ode to underdogs and adventurers, “Renegades,” the band’s four members now spend the majority of their year crisscrossing the globe, a long way from their Ithaca, NY, origins. We caught up with drummer Adam Levin about the realities of a touring life and picked up a few useful travel tips along the way.

How much does travel play into your lifestyle?
It kind of defines our existence, to be honest. For us, it’s weird to be in one place. Touring is very transient, you know. We’re constantly on the move, surrounded by different people, cultures, food, and music. For instance, last weekend we had three shows. We left on Thursday and went to Arizona, Philadelphia, Ohio, and then back to LA in three days with very little sleep.

How long are you usually away on tour?
In 2016 we were on tour for 10 or 11 months, and in 2015 we were probably on tour for eight or nine months. It’s pretty constant work—I mean, we’d have something like three days off every two months. But that’s something we’ve gotten used to.

Do you get much time to experience the places you stop in?
It really depends. For the most part, no. We get to have lunch and see the airport and the immediate area surrounding the venue, but that’s about it.

Do you have a favorite airport?
No. I hate them all equally. Actually, JFK in New York has a Shake Shack, this amazing burger chain that started in New York, so that’s always a nice way to get excited about a 4 a.m. flight—with an early morning cheeseburger.

Do you have a favorite show that you’ve played abroad?
There are so many. We played a great show in Milan—actually, we played twice in Milan, and both times were amazing. It was in our early days and we didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know that anyone in Milan knew who we were, but then there were bootleggers selling our merch—it’s just always a good sign if people want to bootleg your stuff. That’s when you know you’re doing something right. It was in a sold-out club and everyone was really into it.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about travel?
You don’t need to bring your whole closet. If you bring two weeks’ worth of clothing, you’ll probably wear the same three things every day. Maybe I’m gross, but at the end of last year’s tour there were clothes in my suitcase that I hadn’t worn once. So I always pack light.

Traveling with a group, especially for work, can be tough. How do you guys deal?
I think it’s important to know each other well and know which buttons you can’t push. Also, try to have a short memory and don’t hold things in. For us, I think communication is key to of having a successful traveling group.

The X Ambassadors recently paired up with No Barriers, an organization that helps people hurdle their challenges through life-changing travel. How did that come about?
No Barriers is an amazing organization and the work they do is very close to home for us. Our keyboard player [Casey Harris] is blind and has never let that stop him from doing anything, which fits in with their whole mission statement. We paired up with them to launch the Renegade Scholarship Fund, which is raising money to fund No Barriers scholarships. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people who are doing amazing things. It’s just the best feeling in the world to be involved with an organization that’s doing such great work.

Learn about how AFAR and No Barriers are helping kids travel deeper

No Barriers programs take on some pretty intense challenges, like summiting mountains. Has that inspired you or anyone else in the band?
I’m queasy when I walk up two flights of stairs, so you won’t catch me like climbing Mount Everest anytime soon. But Casey is the most adventurous one in the band. He’s really a thrill-seeker and I could see him getting into some of those things.

Are there any upcoming 2017 shows you’re excited about?
Yes, I’m really excited about the Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta. A lot of the time, festivals are kind of in-and-out—you fly in, play the show, fly out that night. But for this one, we’re going to be there the whole weekend. Atlanta is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. We’ll definitely go to the Porter Beer Bar—it’s our guitar player’s favorite restaurant. They have a ton of beer, but I’m not even a big beer drinker. I just love their fish and chips. We go there every time we’re in Atlanta.

You travel all the time for work, so what do you do on your vacations?
I like a beach vacation with nothing planned except sit on a beach. That’s my kind of vacation. I like to eat a lot, read a lot, be in a nice atmosphere, and just relax—that’s very much my style.

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Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.