Nick Wheeler, guitarist for The All-American Rejects, sounds rehearsed. It is 12:40 p.m., and although he admitted he was just starting the day, the 26-year-old has a quick, often promotional answer for everything.
This is par for the Rejects' course, where even in their days as a local band with a markedly smaller audience, Wheeler employed hair-metal stage antics while singer/bassist Tyson Ritter hammed it up to an invisible arena. The primary difference between then and now: That imaginary arena full of screaming fans is a reality.
LATE-NIGHT DINING SELECTIONS
STRONG OKLAHOMA TIES
Presumably, this sounds like a bad thing. But, in the Rejects' case, it isn't necessarily. The group's image is practically trademarked " a DIY band backed by a major-label agenda, tenuously straddling the line between organic and overproduced, ceaselessly marketed, sometimes at the expense of the music's credit.
But the music is the bottom line. The Rejects' eponymous 2002 debut went platinum with a slow leak, and 2005's "Move Along" proved the act capable of overcoming the sophomore slump. Their third record, "When the World Comes Down," is scheduled for a Dec. 16 release, and Wheeler couldn't be happier.
"As far as the actual writing and recording, it gets harder every time," he said. "We're not just out there to capitalize on any success we might have had or make the same record over again and hope it'll do the same. We try to beat it every time. We write music that we would listen to otherwise. The new record has a lot of great songs on it. We like to think the songs are better than the last record, even."
What the Rejects do seem to possess in performance, in contrast to many other pop stars, is a genuine appreciation for the music they make and an adoration of its receptive audience. There's no glassy-eyed, Britney-at-the-VMAs-type shilling in the live show, and that might make what the bandmates do in their creative downtime just a little more palatable.
LATE-NIGHT DINING SELECTIONS
From a "Got Milk?" advertisement to the "All-American S.O.S.," the band's late-night dining selections tapped for inclusion in Denny's "Rockstar Menu," the Rejects are relatively unavoidable, even if you don't care about music.
"All these things were opportunities given to us because of what we do," Wheeler said, "and that alone is reason to do it."
Among the less-commercial opportunities the band has been afforded: a Danny Elfman collaboration on the soundtrack to Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" and a later appearance on the "The Nightmare Before Christmas" covers compilation album, "Nightmare Revisited," to what devout 1980s rock fan Wheeler described as an ideal show: participation in VH1's 2006 "Rock Honors," where the band covered a Def Leppard's "Photograph" and shared billing with Queen and KISS.
"That was the most ridiculous day. I got to watch KISS sound-check, and (Queen guitarist) Brian May watched us sound-check," Wheeler said. "If I could live that day over again and actually pay attention and not black out every time I turned around, that would be my dream lineup. It's unreal, and all these people would have been fine without us, so I can't say it's great to give back, but it's great to participate with all these musicians who are reasons that we are doing what we're doing."
Despite what looks like a seamless transition into stardom and having surpassed local status by leaps and bounds, Wheeler and Ritter, along with lead guitarist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor, seem profoundly aware and appreciative of everything they've achieved, and hopeful they may help Oklahoma music get much-deserved recognition.
Its "Move Along" is one of 10 finalists for the official Oklahoma Rock Song, and the group was awarded the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame's Rising Star Award earlier this year. Ritter and Kennerty preside over Edmond Records (named after Kennerty's hometown), a Doghouse Records subsidiary that recently signed Oklahoma City band The City Lives, currently on tour with the Rejects.
"During (the recording of) 'Move Along,' Tyson and I moved to Florida," Wheeler said. "Coming off that first record, Stillwater was a little suffocating. There were a lot of 'friends' that we didn't have before coming out of the woodwork, and we kind of wanted to get out of there. But now, we all miss our families and true friends, so I split my time between Florida and Stillwater."
STRONG OKLAHOMA TIES
Although the Rejects return to the state infrequently " "Maybe, collectively, one month out of the year," Wheeler said " the group has been careful to keep their Oklahoma ties strong, both personally and professionally.
"It's definitely a big deal," Wheeler said, about visiting the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. "Muskogee ain't that far away. Everyone should check this place out. You definitely feel a sense of pride being from Oklahoma, the same place all these really great musicians are. It's pretty unreal how many great songwriters came out of our state."
Wheeler said he is "out of the loop" in terms of current local music, remembering the Rejects' days as a startup in what he perceived as a largely musically cultureless college town.
"When we were playing music in Stillwater, there were not a lot of original bands, or if there were, they weren't playing out," he said. "I like to think we could have maybe inspired kids to get out from Stillwater and (all of) Oklahoma and play their own music, because, you know, we got lucky. It could happen to anybody."
The now-legendary story about the band's initial signing to Doghouse Records, wherein the band's demo was rejected and then retrieved by an intern for a second listen, proves Wheeler's assertion that success can come as a fluke.
Any level of prolonged success, as the Rejects have achieved with a string of successful releases, takes a determination and dedication that tends to narrow one's focus. Edmond Records, Ritter's appearance as a love interest in Columbia Pictures' "The House Bunny" and a smattering of other, infrequent projects aside, being an All-American Reject is more than a full-time job.
"We've had our hands full for about six years, and I like to think of myself as kind of the guy that makes it happen," Wheeler said. "The creative part, the idea man, that's Tyson. I'm the guy that executes it, so I can't multitask. There have been a couple of opportunities to go in the studio and work with another band, and I got to play guitar on a song for 'Snakes On a Plane,' but even then, I was like, 'All right, I don't have time for all this other shit.'
"I'd love to go into the studio and produce, but I haven't been given the time, which is fine. I am plenty happy doing what I'm doing, because I love this band, and I love these songs, and I do everything in my power to make this happen. We all do." "Becky Carman