There’s a man dragging an authentic, Messiah-size cross along the sand in Daytona Beach, Fla. We spot him on our way down to the boardwalk.
”I didn’t know Jesus went to the beach,” Tyson says, prompting an impromptu riff on what it’s like to have a face that rings bells.
”I wonder if anyone ever goes up to him and says, ‘Jesus! Can I get your autograph?”’ Nick asks.
”Hey,” Mike calls, ”I know you! I didn’t recognize you without the beard!”
The All-American Rejects — vocalist-bassist Tyson Ritter, 18, guitarist-keyboardist-programmer Nick Wheeler, 21, guitarist Mike Kennerty, 22, and drummer Chris Gaylor, 23 — remember the first time they were recognized in public like it was yesterday, probably because it was two days before yesterday. They were passing through a Houston airport when some kids called out, ”All-American Rejects rock!” Then the woman at the drink stand recognized them — or just spotted their tour badges and figured they were somebody.
Since their debut single, ”Swing, Swing,” first went to radio last November, the band has experienced many more firsts. They discovered that kids in the U.K. know the words to their songs. They played MTV’s Spring Break with Missy Elliott, Sum 41, and 50 Cent. They learned just how many takes it takes to make spontaneous fun look spontaneous and fun. They appeared on ”The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” and passed Bill Maher in the hall. They met the girls from t.A.T.u. — who were not very nice — on ”Total Request Live.” They played with the Donnas — who were very nice — in New York City. They got to spin the wheel on the set of ”The Price Is Right.” Six college girls in two cars showed up at Tyson’s mom’s house in Stillwater, Okla., asking to see his baby pictures. ”College girls,” Nick says. ”That’s hot.”
It is pretty hot, especially to a band that still has only 11 catchy, hook-filled power-pop odes to teen-love-gone-wrong to its name and whose founding members still need to engage in furtive ID swapping to buy a beer in Daytona, the third stop on their four-leg Spring Break tour. ”When I turn 21 in three days,” Nick says, showing me Mike’s license, ”we’re just going to trade IDs.” Mike takes this further. ”We can trade identities, dude! It’s hot!”