If honest, feel-good, indie pop jams are what you need this summer, AJR has you covered. The group, made up of Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, write and produce all their music independently—often from their own apartment. As New York City natives, the boys got their start busking and covering other artists in parks around Manhattan. By the time they were teenagers, the brothers were already budding multi-instrumentalists and songwriters, and decided to start their own project making music.
The trio got their big break when their debut single “I’m Ready” went viral—the video currently has over 28 million views on YouTube. After quickly climbing the pop charts and securing live performances on shows like Today and The X-Factor (Australia), AJR released their first EP, gaining a loyal fanbase who adore their lighthearted pop music, which is unafraid to delve into the sincere issues of growing up in the 2000s.
Following this early success, the band released their first two albums, 2015’s Living Room and 2017’s The Click on their own label, AJR Productions. Impressively well produced, their sound combines a myriad of influences—like EDM and barbershop music—to create a sound all their own. Their latest album, Neotheater, just dropped at the end of April. An exploration into the stress and uncertainty of leaving adolescence, the band perfectly tackles the heavy subject matter while maintaining their pop sensibilities that make their music impossibly fun to listen to.
We got a chance to catch up with AJR before they embark on their world tour promoting Neotheater. Check it out below, and be sure to track them on Bandsintown to see when they’re coming to your city!
Congrats on the new album! Neotheater is a wonderfully candid and honest depiction of coming of age in the 21st century. What inspired you to tell this story with your latest album?
It’s honestly hard for us to write about anything other than what we’re experiencing in our own lives. This past year has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster in our personal lives, so we wanted to translate the rollercoaster of being in your twenties into an album.
You all went viral at a pretty young age––what’s it been like growing up in the spotlight?
Lucky for us, our music has gotten to be pretty popular without us as people becoming extremely famous. The responsibility and sacrifice of being a celebrity is pretty taxing—we’ve seen it first hand with a lot of our friends... so it’s always been important for us to be able to maintain private lives while getting the music out there.
You’re all multi-instrumentalists––did your parents encourage you to take up music when you were younger? What instruments did you start out with, and do you have any favorites now?
The passion behind us playing music actually came more from the song-writing. We became so obsessed with the craft of writing songs—how to use 12 notes in a scale to convey an emotion—and learning these instruments became tools in order to do that.
As NYC natives, do you have any favorite local venues?
Terminal 5 had always been a milestone goal of ours. In our minds, it’s always been such a cool-guy venue to play. And when we sold it out last year, we definitely felt like cool guys (for one night).
The band has very much embraced it’s Gen-Z/Millenial cusp identity, unafraid to meme and make pop culture references with titles like “Netflix Trip” and “Don’t Throw Out My Legos”. Did you decide on this generationally relatable tone to your music, or did it come naturally?
Our writing style took about 12 years to develop completely—to find a way of writing that felt really truthful to us. I think a lot of songwriters can be afraid to call out specific modern things in our society, because they’re afraid of it being ephemeral; they’re afraid of the song not being relevant in the future. The way AJR looks at it is like a movie—The Godfather is still an amazing movie even though they use rotary phones and talk about political problems that no longer exist. It was a moment captured in time, and the themes last forever.
The past two albums have featured cartoon versions of yourself on the art, and you’ve released an animated music video (“Turning Out”) –– what about this style do you think fits well with your band’s sound?
AJR’s sound has always been very fantastical. We take whimsical orchestral sounds and mix them with dirty hip-hop beats. In our minds, that kind of sound conjures images of fantasy lands, and we wanted our visuals to reflect that.
You’ve had some pretty impressive collaborations so far, including Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and DJ Steve Aoki. Who would be your dream music collaborator?
We’d love to surprise people with a feature. We’d love to feature Randy Newman or Tom Waits, or the Blue Man Group drumming. Something that will make people say “what?”
You’ll be playing huge festivals like Bonnaroo and Firefly this summer––what’s your favorite part of the festival experience?
Festivals are like the live concert equivalent of a Spotify playlist. You walk from one stage to another and completely throw yourself from genre to genre. For a band like us, that takes so much influence from every genre, that’s heaven.
We know you’ll be spending the remainder of the year on the road in the US and Europe on your Neotheater tour. Do you tend to get a lot of songwriting done on the road, or do you prefer to work in a studio?
We probably won’t be writing for AJR for a little while. We need a break from that kind of intensity; however, we write a lot for other artists, so we’ll likely be doing that on the road.
Your performance of “100 Bad Days” on Jimmy Kimmel utilized some cool projections and effects––can fans expect similar live visual tricks on your upcoming tour?
Literally any money we’ve made from our albums goes right back into our live show. Especially for this coming Neotheater World Tour, we’re conceptualizing so many insane effects. I think it’s really gonna blow you guys away, we’ll see you out there!