American Authors wants to make people ‘Move’ at Copper’s Sunsation
Festival returns for 1st time since 2019
Zac Barnett hated learning how to play the guitar. His father, a musician turned puppeteer and magician, built a guitar for Barnett and taught him how to play. Now the lead singer and guitarist for the rock band American Authors, Barnett is glad that he stuck with it.
“It was awful,” Barnett said. “I remember crying learning. … My fingers would hurt so bad. But I kept with it.”
The group, headlining Copper Mountain’s Sunsation festival Friday, April 22, rose to fame with singles like “Best Day of My Life” and “Believer.” Yet before that, Barnett was in school musicals in Minneapolis.
By Barnett’s junior year in high school, he knew he was going to go to college for either band music or musical theater. He was winning battle of the bands competitions and enjoying the theater stage as a creative outlet that came naturally to him. But Barnett said musicals didn’t capture his heart the way that songwriting and playing rock music in a band did.
“You can’t be too certain about anything, but I felt confident, and really at the end of the day I just loved it,” Barnett said. “It was my passion, and there was really nothing else that I wanted to do.”
A-Mac & The Height — 3 p.m. Friday, April 22
American Authors — 5 p.m. Friday, April 22
Detention — 3 p.m. Saturday, April 23
Letters to Cleo — 5 p.m. Saturday, April 23
Where: Eagle’s Landing in Copper Mountain Resort’s Center Village
Cost: All Sunsation events are free to watch. Visit CopperColorado.com for more information.
Still, as a performer, he was in a production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also did “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” in New York City, and he loves the film “Tick, Tick… Boom!” about composer and playwright Jonathan Larson.
At Berklee he was president of the songwriting club and met the other American Authors members — Dave Rublin, Matt Sanchez and James Adam Shelley — through the club or mutual friends in 2006. Barnett said that Rublin came to the college shortly after he did and actually reached out to Barnett on Facebook in the site’s early days because of similar tastes in music.
The band was originally called Blue Pages, but producers suggested a name change and American Authors was officially born in 2012. Barnett admits Sanchez is the larger literature fan, but he said he does like reading Chuck Palahniuk’s works.
“The name worked with our story, where we tell our story through our written words and our lyrics,” Barnett said. “We all come from different parts of America.”
American Authors didn’t realize “Best Day of My Life” and “Believer” were to become such large hits. Their producers wanted happier songs rather than moody melodies inspired by Coldplay, so Barnett came up with “Believer.” The next week he was taking cues from country and wrote “Best Day of My Life” and its banjo opening to be the B-side.
“Believer” played on satellite radio and began to climb the charts, but ironically “Best Day of My Life” ended up in a Lowe’s commercial. It snowballed and continued to appear in ads, subconsciously to leading to more sales. American Authors signed with Island Records and the band pivoted to promote “Best Day of My Life” as the radio single.
They tried to recapture that lighting in a bottle for “Go Big or Go Home” from “What We Live For,” but it didn’t get as much support.
“That was kind of discouraging there,” Barnett said. “That threw us off where it was like, ‘Oh, maybe people don’t want this ‘Best Day of My Life’ sound anymore,’ which made us change our sound.”
Since then, American Authors has been going through a period of transformation. The band went independent before the coronavirus pandemic, and the downtime allowed the members to regroup — which they were planning on anyways, having finished a tour before the lockdown — and analyze their writing and sound.
The lineup also changed when Shelley left the band last April.
“Us moving forward as a trio was huge for us to start fresh, start new and really get together with the three of us who have been best friends forever really, take our friendship and put it into our new music,” Barnett said.
Some of that new music has been collaborations with other musicians. Last year the group released “Nice and Easy” with Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray. Barnett said they wrote the song, discovered it sounded like a Sugar Ray tune and then reached out to McGrath seeing if he wanted to sing. McGrath agreed and appeared in the music video as well.
Then, playing off of the pairing and to do something different than a more traditional DJ remix, a remix was made featuring TV food icon Guy Fieri.
“Doesn’t it just make sense in your mind? Is that just a dream team?” Barnett said. “Fieri’s a freaking hero. He’s a rock star in every way.”
Another dream team came about when Barnett finished the track to “Moves.” Barnett sent the song to Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty since it was inspired by the artist, and minutes later Thomas sent back an audio file of him singing the chorus. Barnett said they continued to tweak the song back and forth and he floated the idea of bringing in Carlos Santana — who Thomas wrote “Smooth” with for 1999’s “Supernatural” — on board.
Barnett said Thomas liked the idea and contacted Santana, who agreed, so the spiritual sequel released last year as part of Santana’s album “Blessings and Miracles.”
“I’m absolutely honored that Rob Thomas and Santana both even wanted to be a part of it,” Barnett said. “… My jaw was on the ground when I heard that song.”
Barnett enjoys the collaborations and said his dream list of people to work with is massive. However, he said he would love to have Thomas Rhett give some country flavor on upcoming songs.
American Authors is hard at work having just recently finished the songwriting for its fourth album. A product of the pandemic, the creation process involved the musicians hunkering down in studios in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They’d take rapid COVID-19 tests after arriving, stay indoors and focus on the music for days at a time.
“I think it is not only the best writing we’ve done in our entire career, but it is the most on-brand American Authors sounding music we’ve ever done,” Barnett said.
Barnett, who has snowboarded at resorts like Vail and Breckenridge, is looking forward to hitting the slopes at Copper before their set. Opening for American Authors is A-Mac & The Height. Then, Saturday, April 23, the music continues with Detention followed by Letters to Cleo.
Aside from music, Sunsation will also have the Hella Hectic skim pond challenge, stein-hoisting contests and the last tire giveaway of the season from Nokian Tyres. To enter, follow the clues on Copper’s Instagram account and search for a hidden green tire on the mountain.
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