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The All-American Rejects Catch Their Breath

The All-American Rejects play Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday night.
The All-American Rejects play Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday night.

Touring the country with bandmates on the strength of major record label releases can sound glamorous.

Guitarist Mike Kennerty of The All-American Rejects said 15 years of incessant touring put a serious ding in that excitment for the Oklahoma-born pop-rock quartet. So much so, the band went on a hiatus after touring in support of their 2012 album "Kids in the Street" to take stock of everything.

AAR did catch their breath - enough to rethink how to move forward as a band. Eventually four new singles were written and recorded ... none targeted for an album.

“And at the end of the day we were like, ‘This is cool, let’s just release singles and play a few shows here and there.’ That’s kind of what we’ve been doing for our own mental health to avoid the grind of a normal album cycle,” said Kennerty.

It also kept them engaged with fans, letting them know AAR is still in the game and more is on the way.

“It’s a weird thing where if you don’t put out an album, the general machinery of press kind of considers you not doing something. But even if we did do an album, they’d concentrate on singles anyway,” Kennerty laughed.

“It’s annoying that we’re putting something (singles) out there but it doesn’t get the attention as if we did an album. But we still enjoy it and we’re still really good friends and love playing together. We should probably be smart like a lot of bands and say we broke up so we can eventually get back together,” he laughed again.

Three of the singles ended up on the 2019 EP “Send Her to Heaven,” released on Epitaph Records, the Southern California-based label known for its punk and pop-punk acts, including Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, and Pennywise among many others.

“I met Brett (Gurewitz) many years ago. He runs Epitaph and we all grew up listening to bands on that label. That was a cool opportunity to work with someone else and see what happens,” said Kennerty of what was intended as a one-off relationship.

Nearly 20 years after releasing their self-titled debut album, Kennerty was taking stock of the changing landscape of music, and how the AAR themselves moved from sound to sound with each succeeding record.

“We’ve never tried to stay in one certain pocket. If you go through our catalogue each record has its own personality and we’ve burned a lot of fans with each record. But we’ve also gained a lot of new fans. And at this point we try to do the same thing. We just go in and write whatever’s in our heads at that moment and whatever style or instruments we use, that’s what comes out,” said Kennerty.

Despite the recording and touring lull and living in different cities, Kennerty said he and his bandmates find it easy to get back into shape for the occasional one-off gig or recording.

“We’re still a machine. We can go a few months apart without playing, then we do a 30-minute soundcheck and we’re right back in lockstep and good to go,” he said, snapping his finger for emphasis.

Prior to the 2019 EP, the All-American Rejects recorded three albums for Interscope Records when legendary producer Jimmy Iovine was in charge. The relationship began when Interscope purchased the Dreamworks label, which released the bands self-titled debut that spawned the decent sized hit “Swing, Swing.”

“Move Along” was their first Interscope release, and the band lobbied for the title track to be the first single. Iovine had other ideas.

“He was insistent that ‘Dirty Little Secret’ be the first single. We were like, ‘Well, he’s the head, let him make these decisions.’"

The single wasn’t an immediate hit at radio, and Kennerty said it was Iovine’s sheer will that turned things around.

“We hear these stories from our A&R guy about being in these meetings where he (Iovine) is like, ‘This is an eff-in hit, make it a hit!’ yelling at all the radio people. And it took a while, but he did it,” said Kennerty.

Not every current or former major label recording artist will say great things about their label. Kennerty said he too has heard sour stories, but for the most part, AAR have good things to say about their relationship with Interscope. The end began about the time their 2012 album “Kids on the Street" came out as Interscope was experiencing high turnover at that time.

“That was a bummer because all these people we’d been working with for almost 10 years were suddenly gone and we didn’t have that champion at the label anymore. That’s when we got the feeling you always hear about the negative stuff about a major label: there’s turnover; there’s not the same people there as when you signed. But we had a good run of almost 10 years with a lot of the same people and they were amazing for us. So yes, we had good experiences, unlike when you hear a lot of bands talking about major labels,” said Kennerty.

The All-American Rejects will headline Illinois Wesleyan University’s “Big Show” in the Shirk Center on Saturday, organized by the Campus Activities Board (CAB). Jej Vinson, former contestant on "The Voice," Season 16 is slated to open. Doors will open at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. showtime.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.