New album is huge leap forward for All-American Rejects

Lauren Dukoff
All-American Rejects — Nick Wheeler (left), Tyson Ritter, Chris Gaylor and Mike Kennerty — headline the Jingle Jam.

Lauren Dukoff All-American Rejects — Nick Wheeler (left), Tyson Ritter, Chris Gaylor and Mike Kennerty — headline the Jingle Jam.

Q 107.5 Jingle Jam with All-American Rejects, Chris Wallace and Skyline Divide

8 p.m. Saturday at Minglewood Hall, 1555 Madison Ave. Tickets: $22, available in advance at the box office and online at minglewoodhall.com. For more information, call 901-312-6058

At a tour stop in Allentown, Pa., Nick Wheeler, lead guitarist for the pop-punk quartet The All-American Rejects, takes a break to take care of the only member of the group's 13-person entourage that needs to be walked regularly.

"He does a pretty good job, and everybody really gets along with him," Wheeler says of his Boston terrier mix, Dexter. "He kind of keeps morale up. Honestly, after doing this this long and being with these dudes for this long, it helps keep us all sane. I can't imagine doing a tour without him now."

On Saturday, The All-American Rejects — and Dexter — pull into Memphis to headline radio station Q 107.5's annual Christmas concert, "Jingle Jam." Former White Tie Affair frontman Chris Wallace and local rap-rock outfit Skyline Divide, who recently released their debut EP, also perform.

The show comes as the All-American Rejects — which also includes bassist/lead vocalist Tyson Ritter, rhythm guitarist Mike Kennerty, and drummer Chris Gaylor — celebrate a decade of playing together. Founding members Ritter and Wheeler first started playing music together in high school in their native Stillwater, Okla. The band released its debut EP in 2001, and, after adding Kennerty and Gaylor in 2002, released its self-titled full-length in 2003.

That effort, which included their first hit "Swing, Swing," landed them their first major-label contract. Since then, the group has released three more records, including the multiplatinum Move Along in 2005.

Each record has come about in the same basic way, with the opposite personalities of Ritter and Wheeler holing up to write and then the pair running the results by Kennerty and Gaylor.

The band's latest, the March release Kids In the Street, had a more tortured path to fruition thanks to members' turbulent private lives. Ritter, who also acts, moved to Los Angeles and threw himself into a life of booze and partying.

Wheeler also went through his own personal crisis. Staring down age 30, he chased a girl to Los Angeles that "ultimately didn't really work out."

Through the travails, the songwriting duo was, nevertheless, able to come together to craft Kids In the Street. And, perhaps as a consequence, the record is a huge leap forward for the band. Ritter has spoken publicly about how the album features the group's most cohesive, thematically unified writing to date. Much also has been made of the expanded sonic palette the band has employed, breaking beyond their basic guitar, bass, drums instrumentation to discover new sounds to express themselves.

"It's a milestone for us," Wheeler says of the record. "We've been doing this for 10 years, and this is not only a where-are-we-going but where-have-we-been kind of record. There's some nostalgia in there. 'Kids In the Street' and 'Gonzo' are both songs about our growing up and where we came from. And a song like 'Heartbeat Slowing Down' is hopefully going to show people what we're capable of and where we're going."

For the immediate future, the band is going on the road. When the tour stops, Wheeler says he and Dexter will return to his home in California.

"And so long as I've got my little friend here, I can pretty much live anywhere."

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