April 22, 2020
When American Authors first brought an acoustic demo of a track called “Best I Can” to their label, Island Records, they had no idea the track would eventually end up in the hands of Norwegian production duo Seeb.
“It’s a classic label story,” American Authors frontman Zac Barnett tells American Songwriter of the collaboration. “Seeb’s on Island Records with us, and our label heard the song and was like ‘I love this–I could totally hear this being a DJ collab song. Can we send it out to some people?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ So they sent it to Seeb and Seeb loved it.”
The resulting track–released in February, with another remix arriving in March–is an upbeat, club-ready take on the buoyant indie rock for which American Authors are known. Barnett wasn’t sure what to expect from the collaboration, but he trusted Seeb to deliver something special.
“I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first heard about them with [their remix of Mike Posner’s] ‘I Took A Pill in Ibiza,’” explains Barnett. “It was super easy to sit back and let them take the wheel on what they do best.”
Barnett spoke to American Songwriter last week from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s currently writing and recording new music, hanging out with his pets, and doing the occasional livestream performance. LA County’s stay-at-home order will be in effect through at least May 15, so it’s a good thing the American Authors frontman is staying busy.
In our conversation–featured below–Barnett tells the story behind “Best I Can,” reveals his dream collaborators, and reflects on the challenges that many artists are facing right now as they weigh whether or not to push ahead with new releases.
“There are a lot of artists delaying albums,” says the singer-songwriter. “I see Oliver Tree delaying his album, Kings of Leon delayed their album. With American Authors, we weren’t planning to release any music right now since we just came out with ‘Best I Can,’ but I think it’s a tricky time for a lot of people.”
Check out the full interview and listen to “Best I Can” below.
American Songwriter: What’s “Best I Can” about? What’s the story behind it?
Zac Barnett: In my relationships, sometimes, you do all these things and you’re trying to give your loved one so much, but sometimes it feels like there’s never gonna be enough that you can do for that person. It’s like, ‘Hey look, this is me. You gotta take me for who I am and love me for who I am no matter what that is. I’m literally out here giving you my heart and my soul and giving you the best that I can.’
There were actually a couple lyrics we tweaked to kind of change the message. ‘Cause once we went back through and re-listened it was like, ‘Well, this comes across as a little negative.’ So we changed a few lyrics super last minute–probably like a week before the song came out–to give it more of a universal standpoint. I think it came out better. It’s like, ‘This love that we have might not be what other people want it to be, and it might not be what the world expects from us, but this is us being who we are and giving each other our hearts.’
Do you remember any of the lyrics you changed at the last minute?
Yeah, the big one that we changed the week before it came out–no joke–was “All I do is try, try to do my best, but nothing ever measures up to all that you expect.” So that was the original lyric, and then the week before it came out we were going back and forth. It’s this really beautiful sweet song, but “nothing ever measures up to all that you expect” gives it this weird, negative twist. So that was a big one that we changed to “nothing ever measures up to all the world expects,” which I think made the rest of the song more cohesive.
How’d you initially get connected to Seeb?
It was pretty simple. With our last album, [2019’s] Seasons, we had some features on it, like Bear [Rinehart] of NEEDTOBREATHE and a great singer-songwriter named Billy Raffoul. Those were super organic features–those were just friends of ours. We’d been hanging out with them and knew them and asked them to feature on the songs. But with “Best I Can,” it’s a classic label story. Seeb’s on Island Records with us, and our label heard the song and was like “I love this–I could totally hear this being a DJ collab song. Can we send it out to some people?” And we were like, “Yeah, of course.” So they sent it to Seeb and Seeb loved it.
So you already had a version before the collaboration?
We had an acoustic demo. And then Seeb came along and we pushed forward from there. They did the production and then we made edits.
Were you surprised by how the track developed? What was your response when you heard their approach?
I loved it. I think Seeb has a great sound–I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first heard about them with [their remix of Mike Posner’s] “I Took A Pill in Ibiza.” I’m a fan of what they do, so it was super easy to sit back and let them take the wheel on what they do best.
Do you have any dream collaborators?
Yeah, there are so many people I’d die to collaborate with. Paul McCartney is my number one. I’d want to do ANYTHING with Paul McCartney. We toured with One Republic–that was actually one of our first tours as a band–and we still have never gotten to write with Ryan Tedder, so I would love to do that. There’s a bunch of people–a bunch of songwriters, singers, and artists.
I know you must be quarantined at home in LA right now. How’s that going?
You know, it’s not the worst for me. I’m fortunate enough to live in a house with a yard. I have some cats and a dog, so I’m out in my backyard just playing fetch with my dog right now. I also have a pretty beautiful home studio that I’ve been writing and recording in everyday. I literally have the door open to the studio right now, and everything is up and on and ready to go. The minute I get off this call I’m gonna jump in there and start cutting vocals for a song I wrote yesterday.
Does releasing new music right now feel different than usual?
It’s interesting. I hate to be a data guy on this one, but when you look at streaming data right now it’s actually down. So unless you’re like Ariana Grande or Drake it can be kind of difficult for new artists to be releasing music right now.
There are a lot of artists delaying albums–I see Oliver Tree delaying his album, Kings of Leon delayed their album. With American Authors, we weren’t planning to release any music right now since we just came out with “Best I Can,” but I think it’s a tricky time for a lot of people.
It’s tricky for promoting songs that just came out. Even though we weren’t planning on releasing a ton of music over these few months, we can’t be pushing “Best I Can” as hard as we would have wanted to by going out and playing radio shows and doing meetings and all that stuff.
Do you see any virtual performances in your future?
Yeah, I’ve been doing a bunch of livestreams! I just did a livestream for Sofar Sounds last week, and I’ve been doing some collabs with other artists. I’m gonna do a little livestream appearance with Billy Raffoul. So I’ve been doing that stuff, and that stuff is fun for everyone stuck at home, but it still doesn’t hit the same way as a live show does.
“Best I Can” is out now.