While New York welcomed The Vamps for the first time, the 'Met Brothers', otherwise known as AJR, reclaimed their home-field advantage, as they played before Gramercy Theater on February 19, 2014. Composed of Adam (23), Ryan (19), and Jack (16), AJR has worked from the ground up, much of their career spent performing before strangers in Washington Square Park. The challenges they faced in performing before an unknown crowd have helped the members muster the strength that they now possess, allowing them to grow into facing the unknown, and knowing how to handle mixed reactions. The confidence the previous challenges presented the band with is evident in the way Adam, Ryan, and Jack carry themselves. All of which, have faced troubling crowds, which has made them appreciate the roaring, reverberating screams their fans echo before them, whenever they perform. It's evident in their DIY, independent mentality that AJR is not just another pop band, nor do they take for granted the success they've claimed, thus far.
All without a label's assistance, AJR has soared through the assistance of social media and their fans' help. They've been labeled anything from the 'Next Jonas Brothers' and the 'Next Hanson', but AJR is paving their own path - a path that they only intend to lead on their own, for now. They're seeing just how far they can make it without a record label's guidance, and thus far, are proving triumphant, as they're performed alongside the likes of Hoodie Allen, Demi Lovato, and The Wanted. With the independent mind-set, AJR's music video for "I'm Ready" - that illuminates the power of social media - has accumulated nearly 800,000 views, and the views continue to burgeon daily. Before their performance at Gramercy Theater on February 19, AJR sat down with me to discuss their New York upbringing, their DIY-mentality, amongst plans for the future.
Alexa Spieler: Tonight, you’re playing your home city - New York - so how’s it feel to have the home field advantage tonight?
Adam: It’s great. We’ve been playing New York City shows for like eight years now, and we’ve done a lot of street performing. We’ve done Webster’s Studio before and Gramercy before - it’s great. It’s where our biggest fan base is, so it’s very exciting.
AS: Growing up in New York and playing in New York, how do you think the city’s helped your artistic development?
Jack: It’s the people, you know. We started street-performing when I was eight years old. So, eight years ago we were sitting in Washington Square Park - right near NYU. The people in New York have such a wide range of tastes, and that’s what our music is. It combines genres of old 60s music and newer, contemporary hip-hop. It’s the people’s cool taste that really drives it.
Adam: One of our biggest influences is Simon & Garfunkel, who wrote a lot about New York City. There’s one we’re going to be doing tonight, “Growing Old On Bleecker Street,” that’s actually about the neighborhood we grew up in.
AS: Do you guys ever miss those days of playing in Washington Square Park? I heard you were making $150/hr at one point.
Jack: I don’t really miss it. Those were some of the most nerve-wracking shows we’ve ever had. Since then, we have not been nervous for anything. Like, that is the scariest thing you could ever do: going and performing for nobody...or performing for people who hate you. They don’t even know who you are. But, when we’re here, we know that our fans are here to see us and that they like us.
AS: Before, you mentioned how hip-hop influences you and I know that you’re big fans of Macklemore. Has he been a major influence in your DIY, independent-stance?
Ryan: We’ve been DIY before we had even heard of Macklemore, but he’s been a great person. I think other people have done it in hip-hop, like Mac Miller or Hoodie Allen, but as far as I know, we’re the first pop group to do it. But Macklemore, he’s amazing.
AS: Do you find it more difficult to be an independent pop group? Rappers may have it easier, since they can just release mixtapes.
Ryan: I mean, it’s harder and it’s easier. I think that the hard part is money. There’s a big, front-heavy advance that you get when you sign with a label. But, we’re our own crew. We set up our equipment, you’ll see. But, we’re also our own bosses. So, we don’t have to check with anyone. We can just put out any music that we want, and that’s a good feeling.
Adam: Everything from the song order to the album cover - is us.
AS: Down the road though, could you see yourselves signing at least a distribution or publishing deal with a major?
Adam: Yeah, we’re not anti-label! We’re just trying to see how far we can get without one. We’re absolutely open to a deal, if it makes financial sense.
Ryan: Like you said, even if we do sign with a label, we want fans to continue to see that it’s us. We don’t want someone behind a desk saying that we have to do something a certain way. ‘Cause, we want it to be honest.
Adam: I think if you’re persistent, you can do it on your own.
AS: Let’s talk about the music video for “I’m Ready.” It’s one of the most innovative videos I’ve seen, and it really highlights all the different types of social media. Would you say you have a favorite one?
Adam: I like Twitter more and more. A while ago, I didn’t really understand what Twitter is for, but it’s such a great tool to connect with fans immediately.
Ryan: And YouTube, if you consider YouTube a social media. We’d basically be nothing without YouTube. It’s like replaced MTV playing videos. It’s so important for what we do.
Jack: I know this sounds stupid, but if you consider this, then it’s the fans. That’s basically how we are where we are. One person tells another person, and then you have 10,000 fans. I mean, we were trending last week. It’s insane, and it was just through the fan’s dedication and them getting the word out.
AS: Since you mentioned that Twitter is your favorite, would you say you use it more to build individual connections or to reach millions?
Jack: We really love it to build the personal connections.
Adam: ‘Cause, that’s what makes the fans dedicated. When you respond to their questions or they can ask you stuff, they know there’s a real person on the other side.
Ryan: A good example is someone we’re really inspired by - Hoodie Allen. When he released his album, he was calling every single person who bought the album. He made like..10,000 calls. It’s about those very close relationships, that you can only build on something like Twitter.
Jack: And in the end, it pays off. People will know you as this modest person, no matter how big you get.
For more on AJR, head to: https://www.facebook.com/AJRBrothers