AJR Interview: Band Talks ‘Living Room,’ Favorite Lyrics and Stretching Their Sound [EXCLUSIVE]
New York City basically transformed itself into a living snow globe the day that AJR -- that would be brothers Adam Met, Jack Met and Ryan Met -- came by the office to discuss their new album Living Room and to treat the PopCrush editors to a totally kickass acoustic performance of their single, "Infinity." But for the native New Yorkers, the snowy scene was somehow totally fitting -- and it made for a stunning backdrop for our interview.
The guys dished on everything from their unique sound, their fave tracks and lyrics off of Living Room to the craziest thing that happened to them while street performing as kids -- as well as the coolest thing that happened to them while on tour. Check out the full interview below.
You have a lot of New York references on your album. How has growing up in the city influenced your music?
Jack Met: Growing up in New York has been our favorite thing. We just love it so much. New York has such a rich and diverse culture to it. We started out street performing, and that is the biggest thing in New York. We felt from such a young age that we were really part of the culture. We thought it was really necessary to include these references -- we have a reference to the Hudson River and we have a song called "Growing Old on Bleecker Street." We just felt it really fit with our sound.
What was the craziest thing that happened to you while street performing?
JM: We had a homeless person steal our microphone at one point so he could showcase his own project. That was crazy!
Did you learn anything cool from busking in Central Park so much?
Ryan Met: We learned a lot -- not necessarily about the park -- but about the street performing culture. There are all of these weird time slots. You need a permit for amplified sound. There's kind of a mutual understanding between street performers -- that we start when the other guys are on a break. There are these hip-hop break dancers that we became friends with that were also street performers, so we worked out our sets in between.
JM: There's a whole unknown politics to street performing.
Did you ever combine your performances with the hip-hop dancers?
AJR: [in unison] That would've been so cool! We would've doubled profits! We did not even think of that.
What is the most meaningful song on your album to each of you?
Adam Met: They're all meaningful in different ways. We had so many songs to choose from for the album -- every song means something different. We have everything from opera samples to yodeling to Spongebob to crazy things on the album. Right now the song that speaks to me -- and it changes every day -- is "The Green and the Town." A lot of the imagery in the song was based on the Aeneid by Virgil, the epic poem. So, it has a lot of rolling hills imagery and it's over pirate-y style production.
JM: For me, it's our song "Growing Old on Bleecker Street." I really gravitate towards songs that could be in the background of a movie as someone is kind of walking around or doing something. I think "Growing Old on Bleecker Street" really fits that feeling as I'm walking around New York and I would be listening to it. It just feels kind of right.
It's a very movie-esque title.
JM: Yeah! Like a Woody Allen-type kind of thing. Which is another one of our songs.
RM: We should make a movie -- like a short film -- called "Growing Old on Bleecker Street!" [For me], like Adam said, mine keeps changing, We have a song called "Overture," that's the first song on the album. We love the idea of an overture for theater, where it takes the different themes from different songs and it combines them in a really artful way. So we thought we'd do a modern, electronic version and take a lot of samples from the album, take each theme, and work them together in a very artful way. And the fans seemed to have responded to it really well to it, so we're pretty proud of it.
Your album goes from chill, acoustic tracks to very electronic-heavy songs. How would you describe your sound -- or would you label your sound as something specific?
RM: It's definitely pop, if I had to [give it] an overarching word. Going back to the New York City thing, I think we're super inspired by the city. … We live in Chelsea, where it's super chill and there's the High Line. We're pretty inspired by a lot of diversity and everywhere you go in the city, you see different types of people and different types of landscaping. We're really into that. We just like to keep surprising people on the album, and just when you think we're gonna do a really nice acoustic song, the next song full-out, dub-step, electronic production.
AM: We also like to make music that we like to listen to, and we don't just enjoy one genre of music. We wanted to make an album that covers everything. It's overarching pop, like Ryan said, but there's everything from folk to hip-hop to Beach Boys influences, so we wanted to include all of that on the album.
RM: I don't think anybody just enjoys one type of music. I think the average listener loves many different types of music we wanted to include.
JM: Hopefully that could be the future of music -- a wide range for each album.
What is your fave lyric on the album?
RM: I'm gonna pick a lyric from our song "Big Idea," and that song really tells our story. "Good music's still good even if no one is watching." And that has to do with us being a band for like 10 years where no one was watching us and we had to keep believing in ourselves.
AM: A fan of ours in Madison, Wisconsin, got this lyric tattooed on her arm -- it's from "Growing Old on Bleecker Street." It's "You cannot rush what can't be timed."
JM: I think my favorite lyric is the first line in the chorus of "Infinity," which is our single right now. It's "All our troubles gone / Like when we were young." Ryan wrote that lyric, and when he sang it for me, it just hit me as a lyric that could just apply to life in general. it just made me feel really good.
RM: I'm glad I could do that to you!
What is like for you for a fan to have your lyrics tattooed?
AM: That was our first experience with a fan tattoo! [laughs] It was crazy. It means a lot to us! I'm really glad she picked that lyric. I'm glad that resonated with her.
JM: There's a lot of really specific things that fans can do to really solidify the fact that we're a band that they really like, which is such a crazy thing for us. [The tattoo] is one of them. And also, the first time that someone said "You guys are my favorite band." It doesn't happen a lot, but it has happened. That's just a crazy thing to think about -- my favorite bands growing up are the bands that I idolize. The fact that we came from playing on the street to being someone's favorite band is just amazing for us.
Ryan: We're still very new at this, so it's all just really exciting for us.
We just like to keep surprising people on the album, and just when you think we’re gonna do a really nice acoustic song, the next song full-out, dub-step, electronic production.
How did you choose "Infinity" as your single?
AM: I think it was the fans that ended up choosing it. We put out a whole bunch of songs on YouTube and we saw the reaction, and then the "Infinity" video got a TON of views. We really enjoyed the song and thought it would be a nice, second step from our first single. But also the fans seemed to react to it really well.
RM: Whatever we did for the next single,we wanted it to be really different from [their first single] "I'm Ready." If we did something really similar to "I'm Ready," we could easily be pigeonholed as something and we wanted to just be like, this is the depth of what we can do. This is the gamut.
You've toured with Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, the Vamps… What is the most memorable moment you had with each artist?
JM: With Demi Lovato, we only did one show with her, in California. That was, like our fifth show we had ever played and we had never played for an audience that big -- it was 15,000 kids out at the Pomona State Fair. It was this HUGE stage and it was just the three of us on it. It was just unlike anything we have ever done before, so it just introduced that whole other side of performing -- the idea of performing in an arena, which was just completely new to us.
RM: We did something with Hoodie Allen in the U.K. a year ago or so. That was our first tour. We got flown out the U.K. so that was really exciting. Hoodie Allen has a really funny fan base in the U.K. -- it's all guys our age in tank tops, kind of like bros. We were expecting to be booed off the stage, and they really took to the music and we've kept all of them as fans, which is really exciting for us. We just did the Melanie Martinez tour. She came up with a very interesting sound and image -- she dresses like a demented baby -- so she has all of her fans dressing like that. She has a cool, really niche fan base, and that was cool -- we were able to make some of those fans that were clearly just there for Melanie and dressing like her.
JM: Touring in general, we've realized, is super important to us, because each show that we play -- we play shows with a huge range in demographic -- each show that we play it makes us realize how much further our music can stretch. We did a tour with Lindsey Stirling, who is this electric violinist. Her audience is like 30-year-olds and up, and we were like, "Okay, let's do this tour and we'll get it over with." And even [her audience] -- they were coming up to us after the show, and they were like, "Wow, you guys have cool music." It's really cool 'cause it makes us see how far our music can stretch.
AM: We opened for Train, and he has a very adult audience. It was really exciting to see people connect to the music. Even those shows -- like Train and Lindsey Stirling -- we've made fans there and they end up coming out to our headlining shows. It's really nice to see that our music connects to so many people.
I think what you were saying before that your music is so broad it can appeal to a wide range of people.
AM: I feel like those are the best kind of artists too. I feel like Bruno Mars -- he can put out anything next and you'd believe that it was a Bruno Mars song. Or Sting, when the Beatles were big, those are the best kinds of artists. That's what we're trying to be, at least.
You guys just dropped your debut album, but I read that you're already writing for your second. Can you talk about that at all?
RM: I think we have a really cool sound for the next album that we're working on. For this album, we were doing a whole living room thing, so how crazy and diverse can we get these songs made all in the living room. I think for the next album, we're going to channel into one of those sounds and delve into that and explode that sound from within.
JM: I think we know how different the sound is gonna be from the first album. We were writing songs for our second album even when we were writing songs for our first album. So we wrote a song and we were like, "No, that's WAY more second album than first album." So we put that aside and wrote a song for the first album. So we definitely have a goal to have a different sound for the album.
Any hints on what this sound is?
RM: It's gonna be weird. It's gonna be a lot of juxtaposition… very Kanye West, Yeezus-isnpired -- with a lot more AJR, and a lot more nostalgia and beautiful melodies.
AM: Kanye West, Yeezus, in terms of production.
RM: Not in terms of rapping -- that would be a nightmare! [Laughs]
Jack, how do you juggle being a senior in high school and being in the band?
JM: I go to a school called the Professional Children's School, so that school gives me time off to do this stuff. I could take the whole year off if I wanted to, but I've taken two months at a time to go tour. They say, here's the work, have the work down, and I email my teachers, so it works out!
How did you guys decide the order of your initials in the band name?
RM: Is it.. is it alphabetical? Oh, it is alphabetical!
JM: That probably wasn't the reason.
RM: I think we started off as Adam, Jack and Ryan, because we were trying to do a Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel thing, and then it developed into AJR. It sounded the best.
JM: It felt right! Also, on stage I stand in the middle, so it kind of worked out.
For AJR fans who are visiting the city, what's one place they should go?
RM: I love Cheslea. I really like where we live. I think the High Line is great and it's right on the Hudson, so there are all the piers out there. I think it's a really quiet, chill area of an otherwise bustling city.
JM: A restaurant we go to a lot is this restaurant called Veselka.
Yesssss! Love their pierogies.
JM: Oh yeah, of course! I'd really recommend going there. It's just great, really cool food.
AM: If you come to New York over the summer, Governors Island is a great place to go bike riding. You take a ferry there -- I think it's free. It's just a really cool place.
RM: Not as good as Veselka though! [Laughs]