If you think that the color combo on the cover of X Ambassadors’ new LP, “Orion,” was inspired by Wiz Khalifa’s 2010 No. 1 hit “Black and Yellow,” think again.
There’s a deeper meaning behind that choice for their album artwork. It’s a very personal statement about the band’s keyboardist, Casey Harris.
“A lot of the artwork on this record is specifically geared towards my brother, who is visually impaired,” says Sam Harris, lead singer and guitarist for X Ambassadors. “The best stuff that he can see is high contrast, so, like, yellow and black. That’s why we do a lot of that kind of aesthetic right now. And we’ve incorporated braille on the vinyl.”
Harris, 30, has been inspired by his older brother, 32, for years. “He’s been [virtually] blind since birth,” he explains. “He has about 10 percent of his vision. He’s a pretty inspiring dude, really amazing. Not a lot of people know that he’s blind.”
The title of X Ambassadors’ second album is also related to the group’s keyboardist. “My brother is a new father; he and his wife had a baby last year, and his name is John James Orion Harris,” says Harris. “So that’s where the title comes from. This record is about looking ahead towards the future.”
The alt-rock trio from Ithaca, NY, had to overcome some pressure built up from its past success to make “Orion.” “It was a big deal following up a record that had gone platinum,” says Harris, referring to their debut album, 2015’s “VHS.” I was scared s–tless! I had no idea how we were gonna follow it up.”
In fact, he says, “We scrapped two other versions of the record that just didn’t feel right.”
But working on Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” this year’s breakout album from the singer-rapper, provided another creative outlet to alleviate some of that anxiety.
“I was a huge fan — she’s a f–king star,” says Harris. “So I reached out to my management and said, ‘Hey, I want you to bend over backwards to get me in a room with her to try and write some s–t together ’cause I think she’s incredible.’ It finally happened…and we just immediately clicked. The first day, we wrote ‘Jerome’ together.”
Although the collaboration on three “Cuz I Love You” tracks would be considered unlikely to some, it proved fruitful with Lizzo’s success this spring. “She deserves it, man,” says Harris. “She’s been working so hard for so long. This is her time to shine, and she is just owning it. It’s really inspiring to watch and be a part of in any way.”