AJR is the Ivy-educated band of brothers behind the hit ‘Weak’, the song that’s been in your head all month. Below, we talk to 1/3 of the DIY pop group about bouncing from one headlining tour to another, when we can expect their next album, and more.
This interview with Adam Met of AJR has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You just wrapped up a headlining tour. Final thoughts?
The tour was great! On our previous tour, three or four years ago, we had to end up canceling some shows. So this time, we were blown away when the whole tour sold out. We never expected that. We are on the verge of announcing our next leg in July, with 12-15 more dates, mostly on the West Coast and in the South, and a full US tour should happen later this year or early next year.
What’s the role of your parents in all this?
Our parents are very supportive. They’ve always been! They came out and visited us in Chicago and New York, they’re based here, but they really like the music.
Did they think it was crazy when you were street performers back in the day?
Street performing in New York is a rite of passage. They thought it was important to do, a test to make sure this is what we wanted to do. Nobody’s there to see you, and you need to convince them to be your audience. It’s very weird for us still to have people singing the words to our songs back to us.
On the non-music side of things, the three of you have attended Columbia University. I think you’re singlehandedly keeping their doors open.
It’s more like their financial program has slowly funded us. I finished at Columbia; Ryan did his first year and a half there and Jack did a semester. Both of them plan on going back to school, but this is the right time to do [music]. I was doing my Master’s while on the road at the same time, so there are opportunities to continue our education simultaneously.
You and your siblings are a team, or the whole thing wouldn’t work. But is there anyone who bosses the others around sometimes?
I don’t think so! It’s an interesting process. Each of us fell into a different role. Jack deals with artist relations when we’re doing remixes or writing sessions or developing relationships with other artists and managers. He maintains those relationships. Ryan is completely the arts side. He edits all of our videos and the production and a lot of the writing and does the photo editing. I take on the business role. I’m involved in the radio campaign, marketing and advertising. All three roles are very necesary, so we don’t argue at all, and no one is in charge of the other two! It functions very well.
What are the pros and cons of being self-produced? I heard you mix in your living room.
The biggest pro is freedom. We get to experiment in many different ways. There aren’t that many cooks in the kitchen. It’s us saying, ‘Let’s decide how we want to go about doing this.’ When we’re writing for others, if there’s another producer in the room, they’ll push us in the direction of what’s on the radio or what’s the top hits on Spotify. We’re focused on, let’s write about something personal and also say it in a way and make it sounds like it hasn’t been done before in pop music. The freedom and the experimentation that we can do as producing ourselves is something that’s really freeing. And we get to do it at any time. We don’t have a scheduled session. If we have an idea, we can wake up at 3 in the morning and go on the computer.
The cons are, when you’re working with a producer who has done this before, the Max Martins of the world, you know they know exactly what will work on pop radio and what will be a successful song. But it’s a risk we’re willing to take, not working with those people, to try out this direction, even though it’s not necessarily a guaranteed hit.
What’s the weirdest show you’ve played?
In Lancing, Michigan two years ago, we played a winter festival, and it was -12 degrees. We rode on a float through the city, then we played on the steps of the capital. They had a space heater and it froze. So instead of playing 45 minutes, we played 15 minutes. Luckily, we’ll be heading back to that same city this summer to play another festival. Hopefully it’ll be better in the summer!
For production, Kanye West. For writing, Jack Antonoff. Lorde is awesome, too.
I really like the song you have with Ingrid Michaelson.
Ingrid was fun. She’s a really interesting person because she writes very differently from us. She has a strong foundation of how she develops songs. She’s asked us to produce and remix one of her songs that’s coming out soon, which is nice. She’s also working on an EP where she takes some of her old songs and changes them up. A bunch of other artists are on it, including Tegan and Sara. I won’t give away any more!
What’s your favorite New York memory?
The blackout! It did so much for New York. It got people to work together and create solutions for problems. I was stranded uptown and because there was so much traffic, my family jumped on bikes and brought me a scooter and we biked and scootered around the city while eveyrone was going crazy about the blackout.
Who are you listening to right now?
Lots of Chance the Rapper. The Lumineers — I can put on that album and I won’t skip any song. Some soundtracks of movies. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of my favorite movies. I enjoyed that. That’s something we’d love to do going forward — write for movies.
Would you ever score a movie?
I would love to score a film; that’d be incredible.
If someone hasn’t heard you before, what song should they listen to first?
“Come Hang Out” is a good one to start with. It tells our story and fits with the genre. It’s the center of the EP and it brings together the different songs.
The album is coming out in June. We’re two or three songs away from it being done!