All-American Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter has basically no musical knowledge — except for limited knowledge about musicals. The twenty-one-year-old owns four CDs, and he’s seen more plays than concerts, but he somehow retains the ability to write some of the catchiest emo-pop on radio today. AAR’s first single — ”Dirty Little Secrets,” from their second album, Move Along — caught fire, abetted by a fantastic video that toggles between shots of the chiseled singer and postcards in which people share their dirtiest little secrets, like ”I pee in the sink.” Their latest hit, ”Move Along,” is another MTV staple, perfectly timed to their upcoming arena tour with Fall Out Boy, which kicks off on March 15th in Albany, New York. The quartet is also blowing up in Europe, and we checked in with Ritter on a tour stop in Amsterdam. ”I’m definitely trying to involve some culture with my disgustingness,” says Ritter, who visited the Van Gogh museum instead of sampling the wares in a local coffee shop. ”It’s crazy! These people have museums on every fuckin’ corner!”
What song reminds you of being a kid?
I’ll never forget when I was riding in my dad’s faded turquoise-blue Chevy pickup, coming back from the drag races, and my dad heard a song on the radio and said, ”This is the shit!” So he blares it and he was pumpin’ a fist in the air, and it was Alice in Chains’ ”Rooster.” So that was a highlight. I actually remember more songs from movies. Like the original Willy Wonka — dude, there were more hooks in that than on pop radio today.
You also did musical theater, right?
High school musicals, local theater. Low budge. I was the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. I tried out for Bye Bye Birdie. I did not get cast. It was political — I don’t wanna talk about it.
You guys all got AAR tattoos. Do you ever regret that?
We all got the same tattoo, on our right breast-icle. We did some spring-break shows, and walking next to each other on the beach we’d look like a frat. People were like, ”Wow, Alpha Zeta Beta!” I was like, ”You’ve got to be shitting me!” That’s the last thing I wanted people to think. So I have a power outlet on my elbow, plugging into my AAR.
Do you and your hot model girlfriend have a song?
No, we don’t have ”our song.” [Yells] ”Honey, do we have a song?… What was it? OK, you’re right.” Shit, you just got me in trouble. I knew we had something. It’s ”Fools Rush In,” Elvis Presley. Cliché? I don’t think so.
What’s your favorite dirty little secret in the video?
The sick ones. Like ”I only love two of my three children.” That one’s so screwed up! And ”I had gay sex at church camp (three times).” That’s what someone wrote in that they were ashamed of. I don’t think you should be ashamed of that. So that was our little piece of Brokeback Mountain.
You’re credited for playing theremin on your song ”Stab My Back.” How’d that happen?
When we’re doing guitar overdubs I don’t get to do shit. So I was completely bored, and our producer said, ”Think of something crazy for the solo section.” I said, ”What’s that crazy-ass thing on ‘Good Vibrations’?” He’s like, ”Theremin. You can’t buy them, you have to build them.” So he bought me the kit and I soldered it, put it together. It was like Boy Scouts, but with electricity.
Is there a musician you love to smoke weed with?
There has never been such a musician, but there are musicians I love drinking with. The band Limbeck — they’re badass drinkers. You have no idea the kingdom of drunken-ness that this band reigns over. I’m all business now. I don’t drink till after the show. I used to be bad, have a bottle of wine for myself. That would get me tanked, because I’m a little guy — with big dreams.
You used to weigh more than 200 pounds. How’d you lose it?
I ran a bunch, man.
Did you have workout music?
No, that’s where I wrote a lot. I ran five miles every day. I wrote the first record doing that. I’d run over to Nick’s [AAR guitarist Nick Wheeler] and be like, ”Here’s what I thought of when I was running.”
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve seen a groupie do?
The dumbest thing is when fans get so nervous that they treat you like shit. I’m so fascinated by it. I’ll be like, ”Did ya enjoy the show?” and they’ll be like, ”Eh.” They figure everyone is adoring you, so they’ll take the opposite approach. At the very end, they’re bummed that they acted the way they did, and it breaks my heart.
What’s the best show you’ve ever seen?
You know what sucks? Other than playing and seeing musicals, I’ve seen four shows in my life. My first one was Bad Religion. That was great. And my second one — I listened outside because I didn’t have tickets — was Third Eye Blind. I saw Velvet Revolver. That was kick-ass. And I saw Camp Freddy — Jerry Cantrell came out and played ”Man in the Box.” I’m not a music snob at all.
There’s, like, four records I own. I have my Neil Diamond Hot August Night, Pet Sounds, The Best of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rod Stewart’s greatest hits.
Do you have a favorite song on Pet Sounds?
Probably ”Good Vibrations.”
Dude, that’s not on Pet Sounds.
Damn! Then I don’t know.