Our Whitney Moore hosted a Livestream with Adam Met of AJR from quarantine to discuss their 2019 album Neotheater (which toured in 2019 and had been slated for a second round in 2020) and their recent 2020 single “Bang!” The indie pop band is known for their electronic sound, eclectic mixture of influences, and driving beats. Also, you probably shouldn’t tangle with Adam since he’s pursuing a doctoral degree at Columbia University in Human Rights Law. This guy will mess you up if you mess with human rights! Just kidding, but I’m sure you wouldn’t want to face him a courtroom, particularly if you were a large corporation polluting the planet…
He’s not a grower like Jorel Decker, but Adam has been experimenting making all kinds of pickles, including one he hasn’t tasted yet: jalapenos with apples and brown sugar. In about a week, it’ll supposedly be edible. Just don’t try pickling bananas, Moore advises! That was a very dark path for a friend of hers.
For the last ten years, Adam has been in school during all the recording and touring for AJR, and in about a year he’ll be done with his thesis on human rights and sustainable development, focusing on moving towards sustainable energy. As great as it is to go renewable, it’s important to protect human rights at the same time, like the rights of indigenous peoples.
How does brother-based-band AJR find time to partner with charity work alongside their touring and studies? Adam says that their fans are affected by many issues and they want to address through charities, including RIP Medical Debt that is paying off medical debt for First Responders during the Pandemic. They’ve managed, with the help of fans, to offset 3 million dollars in medical debt so far.
Do artists have responsibility to make an impact on the world? Maybe so. AJR takes that very seriously. For instance, what’s happening with their own carbon footprint when they are touring? Adam explained that their plan is to “offset” their carbon footprint on tour by taking actions that will balance out the carbon footprint that you are creating in a kind of unavoidable way while traveling. For instance, last tour, they planted a lot of trees to “pull” carbon out of the atmosphere to offset the carbon they were putting out. It’s not a “perfect” solution, but it helps. Delta Airlines and Chipotle are companies making strides in this respect, and so ADR will work with them to accomplish their goals.
The number one question Adam gets from individuals is, “How can we help?” since people, singly, feel like they can’t do much. Widespread change is possible if all the individuals influence “business practices”, and that requires people to be vocal. AJR wants to help on the individual and the corporate level and influence businesses. Voting green and voting sustainable are the other main actions to take, he advised.
Even in daily life, there are a lot of easy ways to switch to recyclable materials, for instance changing up using a plastic toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush. Using recyclable coat hangers, even, will make a difference.
Moving onto discussing the relationship between environmentalism and human rights, Adam said that the question of climate change and sustainability is essentially a human rights question, because people are being “decimated” by weather events due to global warming, like in South East Asia. This forces people out of their homes, their water and food are being contaminated, and more. So, this is very much a human rights issue. The companies who are polluting are also “violating human rights left and right” and now is the time to take that on and be at the “forefront of renewable energy” and change, Adam urged.
What are AJR getting up to in quarantine? The band is working on music, they’ve done a “bunch” of songs over the last six weeks, and they think they will release something “in the next month or so”. It may not be a full album, but they will “definitely” put out music.
The quarantine has given them time to “reflect” on themselves and their projects, placing music at the center of things. The philanthropic efforts and the videos they create have been part of a “web” around their music, but the music is at the heart of it. They are spending time thinking about their plans for the next year and how to keep that musical heart true.
In terms of social media and fans, they would “go crazy” without that outlet right now. It keeps them “motivated” to create more art. Adam lives by himself while his two brothers live together, and right now, they see each other about once every two weeks to film a couple things and play together, but they don’t see anyone else. They will then use and develop that content over the next couple of weeks until they meet again.
Moore asked how they find time to “put aside” music and spend time together as family members, or whether it’s just a “constant” thing for them. Adam explained that interviewers always ask if they fight. But the truth is that they try to take time separate from music to spend together. For instance, they like to play the “old” Nintendo Wii, together. They have a Switch, but they still play the Wii by preference. It’s very “nostalgic”. They play a lot of Bowling and Ping-Pong.
Living in New York right now, Adam, Jack, and Ryan are allowed to go out on walks, and they have noticed that one type of person really “obeys” and wears masks, and another other type pays no attention. Still, Adam feels like since 911, there hasn’t been something like this in New York that really brings people “together”. Most people are coming together, whether it’s landlords forgiving rent or restaurants giving free meals. “There’s an energy here that I haven’t seen in a long time.”, Adam said.
AJR’s single, “Bang!” came out in February, and the music video has a “Wes Anderson” feel with a “one-shot” approach. They filmed in a location that was actually in an Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums. It was filmed in a casino, with people changing as the cameras zoom in and out, reflecting a “relatively complete” vision they had, with “super-saturated” color, that the director brought to life.
What’s Adam’s favorite Wes Anderson film? So many! Royal Tenenbaums is high on the list, but Isle of Dogs is a big favorite. Moore watches The Fantastic Mr. Fox most autumns to remind her that it’s actually autumn in the unchanging weather in LA.
The album art on Neotheater also looks kinda Wes Anderson, and Adam said that they found the artist on Instagram, as they often do, since they have a commitment to bringing attention to new talent. The album Neotheater existed in a particular world for them, and they had a design in mind, so they worked with the artist to design it. Working with someone “new and up and coming” is important to them, since the musician Sia did that for them, and they want to pass it on.
Asked about music or art discoveries they’d recommend that we check out, Adam recommended the [New Zealander] musician Benee. He’s also been listening to a lot of old music, feeling nostalgic while at home, such as the work of Simon and Garfunkel and The Beach Boys.
Moore commented on AJR’s use of harmonies, an influence from Simon and Garfunkle and the Beach Boys that you can hear in their. The members of AJR also seem to be “characters” in their albums, Moore noted, and Adam agreed that with each album they create a “world” and the art and videos need to be consistent with building that world. That creation is an “escape but also a commentary on the current world that we live in”.
Asked if they’d rather have Wed Anderson direct one of their videos or for them to score one of his movies, Adam said they’d have to go for scoring one of Anderson’s movies! No question. Adam would like to bring music to spaces that don’t “traditionally host” music, and AJR are working on something like that right now. There are new ways to explore music than have been explored yet, and “there could be some cool things happening”, he teased, for AJR.
Commenting on the VR options for playing live music shows these days, Adam commented that they haven’t done that yet, not even in Wii Bowling, attended by Miis. People probably don’t have enough original Wii consoles to make it worthwhile. Doing a concert in Fortnite would be cool, and Twitch is a thing Adam is “not cool enough” to know about, but might be a thing to look into for the band.
AJR are trying to balance giving their time to fans and “taking time for ourselves”, Adam said. Moore asked how they decide what they want to “keep personal” and what is okay to write about online or in music and share with fans. Adam revealed that “emotional experiences” that they have in their personal lives lead to song writing, rather than personal, specific events. Except the song “Karma”, from Neotheater, which is based on something that happened to Jack. By keeping things non-specific in their song writing, that allows audiences to relate to the emotions instead and apply them to their own lives, rather than being limited by a real event that happened to Adam or his brothers.
The “sincerity” associated with AJR is a trademark thing, Moore feels, and something that she remarked is “rare”. Adam replied that it’s a “rare thing to do it well”, but he laughed and said that he wouldn’t comment further on who is sincere and who isn’t in music.
It’s the five-year anniversary of AJR album Living Room, and they are going to be celebrating that this week, playing “some of the old songs that we haven’t played in years”, Adam said. Whereas some bands seem reticent to revisit their older music, it’s definitely fan pleasing. Adam noted that they didn’t tour much back then during Living Room, so it’ll be interesting to see people hear and react to the songs, since only a “few hundred people” have ever seen those songs performed live during their initial release.
How has their music has changed since Living Room? Adam said that they had a very different approach back then, since it was a heavily “production-focused album”. They had a number of different sound and production techniques applied to the different songs on the album. It was necessary for them to produce in so many different styles in order to figure out who they were as a band, he feels.
But when they got to Click and Neotheater, the production quality was still there, but the thematic elements came first. Using choirs and orchestral elements, mixed with Hip-Hop and EDM style beats later on became part of the story, not a production goal. Now those techniques can be used “in a more storytelling way”.
Adam feels that the “emotional core” of their experiences in AJR have changed “so much” from when they put out Living Room. Jack was 17 years old, for instance, not even 20 yet. They’ve all gone through a lot in five years, not only because of their fast-moving career, but because they are different ages now. It’s “difficult” to manage to put things out that they are proud of without reflecting accurately who they are “as people” at the same time. So, naturally, the music will begin to change as a they grow. There’s a “balance” to look for in keeping fans happy and making sure they don’t wander too far from their previous sound or work, though.
Ryan and Jack have different processes for creating different songs, whether starting with a few chords, a few words, or production elements, and those could all be the basis for songs. They don’t use a studio, but record in their living room, so they can record any time of day or night as they have ideas that they want to capture.
People were asking if AJR is going to make Adam sing during their Livestream on Friday, May 8th, 2020, and he says, “No.” He enjoys playing the bass and “sitting back more”, letting Jack sing lately.
Moore pointed out that Adam has the big 3-0 coming up, but he laughed and said he didn’t want to talk about. Looking back on his 20’s, what are the biggest things that he’s learned, Moore wondered?
Adam paused for a moment, thinking, before he explained that he’s learned “to have just as much faith in individual people” as he does “in humanity as a whole”. And that “developing a sense of trust for us as a race has been really important”. The two things are equally important, he feels, whether in a close-knit family group or a wider group.
Adam couldn’t show us his music rig or record collection easily because he’s staying in someone else’s apartment while they shelter u-state during quarantine, but he could show us his pickles!
Moore asked for Adam’s “desert island” picks. Adam had them ready: Old Friends by Simon and Garfunkel, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, and Phil Ochs from the 1960’s. Very chill! They are indeed “islandy” kind of sounds.
Adam showed us his pickles, and they were much wider ranging than you might imagine. There were really pickled-looking onions, peppers, carrots, mustard seeds, asparagus, radishes, cabbage and pea pods, and lastly those jalapenos with apple and brown sugar. He’s “excited” by the results. What are his plans for them? He’ll divide them up and give them to his brothers and family members since “It’s all about sharing now.”
AJR have been pursuing music for a while, so have they ever had any good advice along the way? Adam reminded that AJR were technically discovered by Sia. Ryan and Adam had been tweeting out the recording “I’m Ready” to celebrities, and Sia picked up on it, inviting them to meet her at her hotel the next day. Which they thought might be a joke, but turned out to be a real invitation. They found that she was “such a nice, down to earth, outside-the-box thinker”, and she gave them advice about the industry when starting out.
So many people wanted to do deals with them on the basis of “I’m Ready”, getting them into the studio with “massive” writers or producers, but she, along with their manager, said that if they felt like the music was “done”, they should “stay true to that”. And in the end the song that was released was the same recording that they had made in their living room, not mixed or altered by anyone. And, of course, that is their most well-known song.
After a technical malfunction, we dragged Adam back for more questions with Tower Records!
The advice to stay consistent in their vision is easier said than done, Moore observed, since you still want to be respectful and take feedback from more experienced people. It’s easier now, Adam said, since they’ve had “some success going with our gut”, but in the beginning, all their deals with distributors meant they stayed independent. Their label was AJR, with final creative say. Companies they had signed with couldn’t refuse to put things out once AJR had made creative decisions, but they were still open to advice, Adam explained.
Adam said that AJR sat down with the “biggest of the big” in the industry and were asked to change things, and most of the time they didn’t. He feels “lucky” that they have gotten to this place by “sticking to our gut”. They have made some compromises along the way, but he feels they have never “compromised artistic integrity”.
Asked if there was anything he’d like to convey to fans, Adam reflected that “Now is a time that, hopefully, you will never have again. The pandemic part of it, at least. But now is a time that you have to balance the idea of making progress in your life and the idea of taking time for yourself.” He’s trying, and it’s difficult, but taking time for yourself is also progress. If you are a musician, take up the guitar, but also “don’t hate on the idea” of taking walks and spending time in self-reflection, since that’s just as important as a new skill.
The desire to stay productive while also looking after your mental health is definitely something everyone, but especially creative people, are struggling with, Moore agreed.
What about our Tower Records motto: Know Music, Know Life/No Music, No Life? Adam Met said that it means that “Just as much as Music can inform, and develop, and speak to things that you do in your life, Life can inform and develop the way that you hear music. So, something you hear when you are young might have a totally different meaning for you today.” Music can influence Life, but also Life, Music.
Remember to tune in when AJR will be livestreaming a performance on Friday! And look out for some new music they might be dropping soon for fans.