When you hear the name AJR, the first thing that comes to mind is probably 'I'm Ready', the breakout track for this New York-based band consisting of three brothers. But things didn't always come easy to the group: when they started about ten years ago, the only gig they could book was in the streets and parks of New York, and they had to write, record and produce all of their tunes by themselves.
AJR released their first LP Living Room three years ago. Even though it wasn't hugely successful, they didn't give up. They came back with a brand new EP called What Everyone’s Thinking, whose brutally honest lyrics indicate that the band has nothing to hide and that they treat music as something more than just income.
Now, with their fans highly anticipating their upcoming What Everyone’s Thinking Tour and their second full-length album, AJR talks to us about creating bops and touring with other artists.
Hey, guys! I'm so happy to have been given the opportunity to talk with you today. Where are you chatting to us from?
For those who don’t know too much about you, let’s give a brief AJR history lesson. What lead you guys to become musicians? Was music a big part of your home life growing up, or was it something you became interested in later on?
We were inspired by music of the 50s and 60s and our parents played us their vinyls growing up. From a young age we knew we wanted to go into music.
Not many artists can say that reaching out to Sia on Twitter helped them make it big in the music industry. Tell us the story of how you got in touch with her!
We made a video for our song 'I'm Ready' and we tweeted it to a bunch of celebrities. Sia responded and invited us to her hotel for brunch. She has been really supportive of the music.
You began honing your live performance skills almost ten years ago by busking in Central Park. What did these shows teach you about live performances?
Street performing is the most nervous you can possibly be while performing. We don't really get nervous anymore because people are actually showing up to see our music unlike when street performing.
Since your early performances on the streets, you’ve opened for huge artists like Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, Lindsey Stirling and The Wanted, and you’re currently on tour with Ingrid Michaelson. How has your current tour been going?
The tour is going great! We learn a lot from every artist we tour with. Different people have different quirks so it is really interesting.
As well as touring with Ingrid, you also collaborated with her on a new song called ‘The Lotto’. What inspired the song and what was the writing and producing process like?
Ingrid invited us to write a song with her and the process was really collaborative. She is a great songwriter and having her in our living room was great.
You’ll be launching your own headlining tour, the What Everyone's Thinking Tour, next year. What are you most excited about for the shows? Are there any particular countries or states you’re looking forward to travelling to?
We are really excited for the tour. We are planning it now so I don't want to give away anything too crazy. We're looking forward to hitting a bunch of the markets we're playing on this tour. We are making a bunch of new fans and it will be great to see them again.
Between the three of you, you write and produce all of your own material in your Chelsea apartment. How do you generally split up the workload? Do you each work on specific areas of the song or is it more of a free for all?
Ryan does the production but otherwise its a pretty even split.
Would you ever consider working with outside producers or writers? Who would be your dream collaborator to work with?
Definitely. When the time is right, we will know. It would be really interesting to work with Kanye.
As well as writing and producing, you all each play a variety of instruments as well, including guitar, keyboard, melodica, ukulele, and trumpet. How do you juggle all these instruments on stage? Are there any other instruments you want to learn how to play?
We keep switching off on stage. It makes the performing experience really fun. It would be great to learn the cello.
If you had to describe the sound of the band to new listeners in three words, which three would you use?
Diverse, nomadic, eclectic.
Your new single ‘I'm Not Famous’ is an absolute banger. Ironically, the song is one of your biggest hits yet but finds you rejecting a whole bunch of ideas connected to fame which you say you’re lacking. How do you think you would cope if the song hit #1 today and you had to face a sudden wave of fame?
I think we would stay exactly the same. The goal is not to embrace the vanity of fame but to maintain the same way of life that we have because that is what influences our music.
‘I’m Not Famous’ is the first release from your new EP, What Everyone’s Thinking. In my opinion, every song deserves to be a single, because they’re all amazing - but which one is each of your favorites?
Adam: Come Hang Out.
Jack: I'm Not Famous.
Just recently, you uploaded the lyric video for ‘Weak’, my personal favorite song off the EP, onto your YouTube channel. Are you planning for ‘Weak’ to be the next single? What would you imagine a music video for the song would look like?
'Weak' is our next single. We're working on the official video now! The concept is going to be really cool!
What do you have planned after the release of the EP? Are you working on another full-length album?
Our full length album is just about done and should be released in 2017.
Your last album, Living Room, was released just a little over a year ago. How did you guys handle the pressure of an album release last time? Has anything changed in your process since then?
It is not so much pressure, but excitement. We can't wait for our fans to hear our new music because it keeps growing and changing.
Your image has changed a lot since Living Room - how would you say your sound has evolved?
Our project is now focused more on lyrics. Previously we focused more on production but now we start with lyrics to make sure they are honest and relatable.
Where do you generally find your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from all kinds of art. We find emotion in the world around us and try and convey it through music.
The fact that you’re all brothers working and living so closely together impresses me so much. What’s the best and worst part of working with your siblings?
We are all on the same page regarding the direction of our music. It is actually the best possible scenario for us.
Many artists use their celebrity platform to discuss important political issues, such as Lady Gaga with LGBTQ issues, Miley Cyrus with animal rights and pretty much everybody disseminating an anti-Trump agenda. What political issue would you most like to spread awareness about?
We are working with a great non profit called It's On Us. It is promoting awareness of the major problem of sexual violence. It is a cause that we are very passionate about supporting.
AJR, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us today! Is there anything else you’d like to say to those who have supported you for a long time, or to people who are just tuning in today?
Thanks to the fans who have supported us for so long. We really appreciate it!