Tyson Ritter probably wouldn't mention his name in the same breath with that of John Lennon when it comes to songwriting and music.
That's not a slight to Ritter or his band, the All-American Rejects. That group has had considerable success in its first decade, notching a half-dozen modern rock singles and selling some 10 million copies worldwide of its three CDs - 2003's self-titled debut, 2005's "Move Along" and 2008's "When The World Comes Down." That's not on a level with the Beatles (Lennon's band, of course), but it's not too shabby, either.
But with the All-American Rejects fresh off the spring release of its fourth CD, "Kids in the Street," Ritter sees a parallel between what he's been through in his life recently and Lennon's.
"I had my lost weekend, as Lennon would have said," Ritter said. "I think it was necessary, man. I think you have to lose yourself to find yourself. I think that's sort of, if I hadn't done it to get here, where I am today, then I'd feel like I'd still be lost somewhere else."
Lennon, of course, is famous for his "lost weekend," an 18-month stretch between 1973 and 1975 when he was separated from his wife, Yoko Ono, and lived in Los Angeles and New York with a girlfriend, May Pang. Lennon did a lot of studio work during this time, completing three solo albums, among other projects. But the also did his share of carousing, famously getting thrown out of the Troubadour club in Los Angeles for misbehavior with his friend and fellow partier, singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.
Ritter didn't have any such incidents of public misbehavior, but on a few levels, the singer-keyboardist went through a similar period after the All-American Rejects finished touring behind "When The World Comes Down," a CD that included the blockbuster hit single "Gives You Hell."
Coming off the road, Ritter felt lost and decided to turn his life inside out, leaving his former home base of Florida for Los Angeles.
"I think when you live your life in front of a record button and in front of sort of a tape recorder, you sort of freeze yourself in a time capsule," Ritter said, providing context to the shakeup he brought to his life. "I've been in that time capsule since I was 17. I came out at 24, and just got off of this ride of my life with 'Gives You Hell,' and I was just sort of like, at the time I was (thinking) I've been doing this for eight years. I didn't go to college. I had been such a worker. I'd worked my ass off for all of those years, not taking a break. When I was off the road, I'd take four weeks off and then I'd start writing my next record.
"I was so domesticated," he said. "I moved to Florida. I had this lovely girlfriend that acted like a wife. I wore white linen and sat on the beach and had beers. It was just the whole 40-year-old retiree life. So I moved out to Los Angeles, and in doing so, I just sort of got sucked in, into whatever you can let yourself get sucked into, a little too (much). I must have been caught up in the glare of too many sunrises. But I left my girlfriend. I left my manager of eight years. I just decided to clean house, piritually, emotionally and personally."
Ritter, 28, didn't go into too many specifics about living the life of a Los Angeles newcomer with no romantic commitments and a measure of fame. He did some dating, which from the sound of things, wasn't that special.
He also said he spent time at home with his refreshments of choice, watching late nights turn to dawn's early light - the kind of routine that can develop when a musician doesn't have a project on deadline or any real requirement to get up and do something productive the next day. Eventually, Ritter realized he needed to get out of Los Angeles.
"When I sort of realized that Los Angeles wasn't doing good for me, I ran away to New York, and sort of made peace with the city," he said. "And honestly, that city, I jumped on a skateboard and chased pavement for hours and hours a day and just sort of listened to the city and she sang songs to me. And I'd go back up in my little loft, and I'd play my organ and write some music."
Indeed, Ritter tried to do a couple of writing sessions in Los Angeles with his bandmate, guitarist Nick Wheeler. But all that came from those efforts was the song "Beekeeper's Daughter." But in New York, Ritter found his groove as a songwriter and in his life.
Each time Ritter would build up a certain number of song ideas, he and Wheeler would head off to a secluded location - usually a cabin somewhere in the Northeast - to get serious about developing the songs.
"We just lock ourselves up in a house," Ritter said. "Nick sits about 20 feet away from me and we just put ourselves in little prison cells of songs. I'll get a song going and I'll pass it to him. He'll start doing all of the basic production on it, and I'll write another song as he's doing that. Then by the time he's got that one ready for me to sing on, I'll have another one on deck. Some of those trips were really intense."
They were also productive, generating a batch of songs that became the "Kids in the Street" CD.
Working with producer Greg Wells (known for his work with Adele and Katy Perry) the All-American Rejects, which also includes guitarist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor, went for a live-in-the-studio sound and also learned to embrace the little flaws in performances that can make music sound human and real.
"When you're surrounding imperfection with beauty, it makes that imperfection stand out as a beautiful thing, as an intriguing thing," Ritter said. "So I think this record captures a flaw and also a vibrant, live feel that we've never executed as a band before and definitely really wanted."
"Kids in the Street" retains the youthful, highly catchy rocking pop sound of the first three All-American Rejects CDs. Big and bold tunes like "Walk Over Me" and "Someday's Gone" sound like they could follow earlier hits like "Swing Swing," "Dirty Little Secret" and "Gives You Hell" onto modern rock radio. But there's an appealing new restraint to songs like "Fast & Slow," "Out The Door" and the title song that, coupled with ballads like "Affection" and "Heartbeat Slowing Down," gives the new CD a variety and a flow that was lacking on earlier albums by the band.
The new material is also bringing more highs and lows and a greater sense of dynamics to the band's concerts, Ritter said. He also promised that fans will experience a show that delivers plenty of visual, as well as sonic, treats, with songs that are played entirely live, without the assistance of pre-recorded backing tracks that so many groups use in their concerts these days.
"I think this record provides a more grand show because the (new) record itself is sonically more grand," Ritter said. "I think if you're at the show, you're going to leave, your body's going to be sore and you're going to wake up with your ears ringing. You're going to feel like you were at a real show, where your face hurts from smiling."