“Someday I'll be so damn sublime/we'll arrive behind a hashtag sign”
— AJR, “I’m Ready”
There is no band, no song, no video, no sound, that is more “now” than AJR.
The band — three brothers born and raised in New York City — has achieved a startling quick level of success with “I’m Ready,” a buoyant electro-pop single that’s taking off. The numbers: over 1 million YouTube views for "I'm Ready," thousands of singles sold each week, features in Billboard and the New York Post, and heavy airplay on pop radio's coveted SiriusXM "Hits 1." And their tour dates last fall included shows with The Wanted, Demi Lovato, and Hoodie Allen.
More amazing? They’ve done this all on their own.
No pop svengali overseeing their work. No studio musicians filling in the blanks. No Max Martin co-write.
AJR may, in fact, be the first independent, DIY pop group from New York to make a splash. They’re certainly the only group that’s done it while writing, recording and producing all their own songs in their Chelsea living room. Their ‘6foot1’ EP includes “I’m Ready,” along with quintessential NY songs “Woody Allen,” “Growing Old on Bleecker Street,” and the anthemic “After Hours.”
So let’s meet the intriguing Met brothers — Adam (bass/vocals), a 23-year old Columbia graduate. Ryan (guitar/piano/vocals), a bespectacled 19-year old Columbia student who serves as the band’s main songwriter. And Jack (vocals/guitar), the 16-year old prodigy who splits time between lead vocals and attending the Professional Children’s School on NYC’s Upper West Side.
Eight years ago, the brothers got their musical start busking in Central Park and Washington Square, singing Jackson 5 covers, and, later, their own material.
Admittedly, the brothers were no strangers to the spotlight: All three were into theater from a young age, and two of them have TV and movie work in their background (Ryan had a small role on "Chappelle's Show," while Jack was in "The Pink Panther").
But music was their passion. "We realized that the three of us could sing together and our voices worked really well harmonizing," Adam remembers.
They took those busking earnings to buy musical equipment, which they — thanks to some supportive parents — set up in their living room, now transformed into a recording studio.
“When we’re playing, you can hear it in the entire hallway,” says Jack. “It’s actually really amazing we haven’t gotten complaints.”
As they were practicing, some interesting sounds started to appear. “We were combining older music, from the ’50s and ’60s, with more modern music,” explains Ryan, who dubs their sound as both “electric and folksy.”
Their break came last year. Bored in a psychology class, Ryan tweeted out a link of an earlier version of their video for “I’m Ready” to dozens of celebrities. The song was something Ryan actually wrote while stuck in his Columbia dorm room during Hurricane Sandy. ("I thought it was instantly a hit," his brother Jack would later admit.)
Apparently, some of those celebrity tweeters heard a hit as well, including popular singer-songwriter Sia, who tweeted back and, eventually, formed a bond with the brothers.
From those first few mentions, “I’m Ready” took on a life of its’ own. The “Spongebob Squarepants”-sampling pop track, which Billboard favorably compared to Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel (for the harmonies) and Fun and Imagine Dragons (for the electro-pop influences), started getting play on Sirius XM’s “20 On 20.”
The amazing music video for “I’m Ready” soon followed and the views continue to jump at an incredible rate. At heart, the video is performance based but mixed with a cornucopia of social media tropes and, concurrently, acting as a commentary on the band’s own rise to fame (very meta for a pop band). It was, as one fan described, “something that could only be made right now.”
What’s next: The band was just named iHeartRadio's Artist of the Month for Top 40, and a Myspace "One to Watch" in February, which is when "I'm Ready" will officially impact pop radio. And late this spring, AJR will release their debut album, all written, produced and mixed in their living room. As one article described the early results: “Sticky-sweet pop melodies with vintage barber shop vocals [and] edgier electronic samples and ‘spokestep’ [aka dubstep breakdowns derived from vocals].”
Ask AJR about their rise to fame—and their apparent lack of band turmoil— and the band points to the one thing that’s always united them.
“The fact that we’re brothers helps,” says Ryan. “Because we’re so close to each other, it’s not really an ego battle anymore. It’s just, let’s find the best possible answer and create the best possible music.”