The All-American Rejects have found themselves in a similar spot to where they were 15 years ago, minus the “camera phones” and hotel bed bugs. 

As guitarist Nickolas Wheeler reflects on the group’s monumental Move Along era, he says it came during a “dark time” after the 2004 election. And as the group prep a return with their latest single, “Me Vs. The World,” the music industry is facing what many consider its darkest period ever

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Some of Wheeler’s favorite venues around his home in Nashville and throughout Los Angeles have closed their doors, some permanently. He sees longtime crew members struggling to find work across the country. His band even reconsidered how they celebrated Move Along’s milestone 15th anniversary.

But “Me Vs. The World” didn’t start as a response to any of this uncertainty. The Rejects wrote it well before shutdown and without the intention of helping the industry itself move along. Still, Wheeler says their timing is just as serendipitous as it was 15 years back.

“Regardless of what position you find yourself in, in this pandemic or whatever, I think everybody has this mentality that this is the worst fucking year ever,” Wheeler says. “And it literally feels like me against the world, regardless of your status or situation.”

The Rejects intend to donate proceeds from the four-minute track to MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s nonprofit, which assists with the health and well-being of those in the industry. And today, the pop-punk icons are exclusively premiering “Me Vs. The World” before it hits streaming services Friday. While you listen, check out our chat with Wheeler on how it came together, how he’s personally celebrating 15 years of Move Along and whether or not the Rejects would be suitable for a future winery performance.

The title “Me Vs. The World” is quite fitting for where the industry is right now. Can you talk to me a bit about the process of writing this track before lockdown?

It was written quarantine-style a few years ago when [singer] Tyson [Ritter] and I were doing our part separately. And our keyboard player Scott Chesak co-wrote it as well and produced the track. We never got around to finishing it, and then lockdown hit, and we were all looking at free time on our schedule. So we decided to finally finish it and turn it into something. It ended up being a cool thing, not just for us to do, but to be able to put out there since we weren’t able to do literally anything for fans this year.

When we talked about putting something out, I was like, “We should do something for all the people who are out of work, not just ourselves, but our crew, every crew in the industry.” [This is] the one industry that, for some reason, is not allowed to come back. They figured out how to do sports. There’s some live music. But not every genre can get away with putting on a show at a drive-in theater, outside in a park or at a winery. Not every genre really fits those venues. 

When a band like yours or other bands are working to help those struggling in the industry during the pandemic, what do you think it means for the industry as a whole? 

We create music because it’s our passion, and we love to do it. And we’re lucky as hell to get to do it for a living. But if nobody bought that music or listened to that music, we couldn’t keep doing it. And if we can’t pay the people to come out with us to help us put on the show, then there will be no shows. If venues close and there’s nowhere to play, then there will definitely be no shows. 

So I think it’s really cool that everybody is acknowledging how important each piece of this puzzle is and doing whatever they can to help keep the industry afloat right now. There are people in this industry who literally only work when a tour happens, when a show happens, and that really fucking blows that they can’t work and they can’t do what they love. 

Outside of this track, how much music have you been able to work on in quarantine, whether it be finishing these preexisting song drafts or starting fresh?

As far as Rejects stuff, this is the only thing we’ve worked on. We’ve used tools like this in the past to send ideas back and forth. But this is the first time we actually proved to ourselves that we could execute it. So maybe in the future when we’re all in different cities—and now Tyson‘s in a different country—this is definitely going to be useful now that we know we can actually see something through the fruition. 

We have to talk about the Move Along anniversary. Does this feel like a 15-year-old record?

It does not. But honestly, now that I’m [looking back], it seems like a lifetime ago. It would have been really awesome to revisit that this year. I remember rehearsing to make that record when we all moved to Atlanta for two months, and we all lived in the same hotel room, $30 a night, and half of us got bed bugs. It sounds miserable, but [it’s] like what Andy says in The Office, “I wish when you’re in the good old days, you knew you were” or whatever. I’m probably butchering the quote.

Our first record, we missed the 15-year anniversary, so we celebrated the Sweet 16. So maybe we’ll do that for Move Along if we’re allowed to get out there and play some shows next year. 

No winery shows?

At our age and with our genre, we can cross over to the wineries if there are any out there that will have us. By all means. I’ll show up by myself. I don’t care. 

How have you been able to celebrate the anniversary on your own? Do you have a scrapbook or anything you look back on?

I’m not good at that stuff. Obviously, we’ve all spent a lot of time alone this year. So it’s one of those things when you find yourself alone on a holiday. How do you celebrate? You only want to go to work and just treat it like any other normal day. 

Ironically, we had so many tour promotions for cellphone companies and shit over the years. It wasn’t until our third record came out that iPhones were even a thing. I have some pictures on a hard drive somewhere that are from either old camera phones… Remember when you had to specify that it was a camera phone or an actual point-and-shoot digital camera? I have them somewhere. But I mean, honestly, Kids In The Street was the first time we ever did anything where we were carrying around a scrapbook in our pockets at all times. 

How has it felt to see the same fans who grew up with you still support and get excited about this new track? 

I think that’s really cool. I’m the type of music fan who sticks with a band or an artist. And when they change or when they evolve, I’m the kind of music fan who isn’t turned off when I hear something different or something new from an artist. So the fact that there are people out there who are that way with us is really fucking awesome. And it feels really good because I know not everybody is like that. I know a lot of people have those bands, those artists they grew up with, and they haven’t listened to them or bought a record from them in fucking 15 years. And that’s fine, whatever. But the fact that we have fans that are now taking their kids to see our shows or showing their younger siblings our music or still paying attention to what we’re doing now, and still interacting on social media, is really special. That’s definitely fuel to keep the engine running.