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The All-American Rejects on playing by their own rules and breaking the 'anti-aesthetic' aesthetic

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by Chloe Catajan

In true alternative fashion, The All-American Rejects are playing by their own rules now. Their latest release, Send Her To Heaven, is a testament to that.

The EP's three songs were written and recorded circa 2016 and 2017, but were put on hold due to the track, “Gen Why? (DGAF)." Boasting about sex, drugs, and alcohol, the song is a tongue-in-cheek salute to your everyday millennial wild child. This had raised some eyebrows at the group's previous label, resulting in the release of 2017's Sweat instead. But a few years and one new partnership with Epitaph Records later, The Rejects are finally free to give however many f----s they please.

“When all of that happened, it sort of pushed everything we had written into the background except for two songs, 'Sweat' and 'Close Your Eyes,'" vocalist-bassist Tyson Ritter says. “We're finally getting to release music that a major label would have been afraid for us to do."

“To be able to do it without any question or second-guessing on our part or the label's part—it feels free for the first time in a few years," he adds.

Every song takes form totally differently on Send Her To Heaven. Next to the ironic flow of “Gen Why? (DGAF)" is the sludgy, guitar-driven title track, which Ritter describes is about that girl at the party. Then there's “Demons," an introspective slow-burner that rounds out the EP's wildside with a reality check. The band says experimenting with their approach to recording inspired a spontaneous mix of ideas. Still, the EP comes across as more cohesive than it does a compilation of just any three songs.

“We recorded the songs separately with three different producers, three different mixers, three different studios, but all during the same general time frame," guitarist Mike Kennerty says. “So there's something about them that make them all work together in a way that I don't think we planned, but it's very cool considering each song has its own voice and personality."

“Even with three different producers, each time we come together to record, there's always some kind of common thread," guitarist Nick Wheeler adds. “I don't know if it's just the vibe or what. Something comes through."

The All-American Rejects before their Warped Tour performance on 21 July 2019.

When they're not in the studio, Ritter, Kennerty, Wheeler, and drummer Chris Gaylor return to their own lives all across the country. Ritter says navigating the distance is an experiment in itself, but things still seem to come together smoothly for the band. Within the week The Rejects released Send Her To Heaven and announced their new journey with Epitaph, they also played the last ever Warped Tour date. What started as teases for something new snowballed into a momentous surge of activity.

On the eventful week and how it came to be:
Ritter: It was all happenstance, the timing of it and how it all worked out. We had Warped on the books, so we knew we wanted to put something out around that.
Wheeler: It's like a really well-planned summer vacation—the kind that you plan really far in advance and when it comes up you're like, “Wow, everything went off without a hitch. How did that happen?"
Ritter: It's a new chapter, but it's a chapter about a great summer. It's our Stand By Me moment.
Wheeler: We'll always remember this summer.
Gaylor: Who knew it would be the summer that changed our lives?
Ritter: It's very Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

With timing in mind, The Rejects are also more conscious about the way they present new material. The creative process goes beyond songwriting as visuals become essential to their storytelling. From the abstract graphics that accompanied Sweat to the recent DIY-inspired visuals on social media and the cinematic noir of Send Her To Heaven, The Rejects are giving an increasingly deeper look inside their universe.

“Realizing with technology growing, I just thought, 'Oh shit, man—we can really elevate the music with a narrative that's provoking or thoughtful,'" Ritter says.

“After 'Move Along,' 'Gives You Hell,' and all those videos that we had with our MTV days for music videos, I realized that was where our biggest strength was with all our songs. We just happened to couple them up with cool, creative visuals that were always sort of tongue-in-cheek. When we put out Sweat, we found really genuine artists to work with that took the music to a place where it had a little bit more of a dance between the visual and the audio. With “Send Her To Heaven," it was great because Parker Croft, the director, took a concept that followed the song but added a little more depth with this sort of dreamstate vision."

With Send Her To Heaven finally out for the world to take in, The Rejects say they're ready to take full creative control with releases to come, even if that means figuring things out along the way.

“In the mid-2000s, a band's visual was their video on TV, and while videos are still very important, it's not the only visual that people expect now," Wheeler says. “We've always kind of been the anti-aesthetic band and we're trying to fix that."

(Banner photo courtesy of the artist, Warped Tour photos by Chloe Catajan)

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