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Name: Adam Bernard
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AJR Brings Brotherly Love To The DIY Pop Scene
Thursday, March 12, 2015

From Hanson to the Jonas Brothers, pop music has seen its share of successful bands of brothers. For the AJR trio of Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, however, there’s one major difference between them and those who came before them – they’re completely DIY.

Already armed with a ubiquitous single, “I’m Ready,” that features a SpongeBob sample, and made its way to commercial radio, the trio released their full length debut, Living Room, this past week.

Written, produced, and mixed entirely on their own, and recorded in the living room of their parents’ New York City apartment, hence the album’s title, the lack of constraints of demands from others allowed AJR to create a brand of pop music that incorporates a little bit of everything they love.

On the heels of the release of Living Room, I caught up with Adam Met to find out more about AJR’s music, as well as their humble beginnings nearly getting arrested for busking in Washington Square Park, and their current reality of performing with some of the biggest acts in the world today.

Since the brothers are native New Yorkers, it’s only appropriate that we say it’s time for the music world to “meet the Mets.”

Adam Bernard: Let’s start with something fun. All brothers fight, so tell me about the worst fight any two, or all three, of you have gotten into.

Adam Met: I feel like that’s a stereotypical brother thing to do, but we grew up in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, and all three of us shared a room until I went to college, so we kind of couldn’t fight, because we all shared such a small space.

Adam Bernard: With a small space, though, and three of you in the same room, there wasn’t even a “Get out of my room! I want privacy! I want my own room!” type of argument?

Adam Met: Not really. I mean, I wish I had that kind of story to tell you, but it’s just been too easy.

Adam Bernard: Were you all heavily sedated as children?

Adam Met: {laughs} Growing up in New York City, I feel like that’s sedation within itself.

Adam Bernard: So you actually had plenty of space, since even as kids you had the ability to hang out in the city.

Adam Met: Exactly. The apartment was so small that no one spent any time in the apartment except to sleep.

Adam Bernard: The title of your full length debut, Living Room, is an homage to the area in the apartment that has doubled as your recording space. When you set up shop to record there, what was the initial reaction from your parents, and do you think they felt they’d get their living room back a lot sooner?

Adam Met: We actually asked our parents, and they let us throw away the couch so we could move a drum set into the living room.

It all started when we brought a microphone, and a little speaker, out into Washington Square Park to street perform, just cuz we wanted to see what that was like. It’s part of the culture of NYC, so we wanted to try it.

The money we made street performing is what allowed us to buy a (better) microphone, keyboard, Pro Tools, a computer, and we brought it all back to the living room because that was literally the only space we had. In a bedroom where there are three beds, in an NYC apartment, there was no room, so we brought it all back to the living room, and that $90 microphone that we bought eight or nine years ago is the one we recorded the entire album with.

Moving forward, we’d love to work in a studio that’s not our living room.

Adam Bernard: Have you moved the living room studio to your personal apartment, or is it still in your parents’ apartment?

Adam Met: It’s still in our parents’ apartment, although we did write our first single, “I’m Ready,” in our dorm room. My brother did his freshman year at Columbia, and during Hurricane Sandy we locked ourselves in our dorm rooms because we had power up there, and there was no power down in Chelsea, so we wrote “I’m Ready” during Hurricane Sandy, in the dorm room.

Adam Bernard: Which is ironic because I don’t think anyone was really ready for what was going on at that point.

Adam Met: Yeah, it was crazy. The power was out for almost a week in the rest of Manhattan, but for some reason, up in Morningside (Heights), I think because it was on top of a hill, the power stayed on. Lucky for us we were able to write and record most of that song in a dorm room. Nothing was sound-proofed, (it was) just a microphone plugged into a computer.

Adam Bernard: You noted earlier that you want to record in studios. Is there a lot of extra effort with your current recording conditions, or is the want to record in a studio simply to have a little more room?

Adam Met: The set up that we have now, and the fact that we may need to stop recording when ambulances go by, because our room is not sound-proofed, is part of the sound of the record.

We wanted to make something that felt fresh, and original, and not too crispy clean. We didn’t want it to sound like something that was so articulated and perfect. We wanted it to sound real. That’s kind of why we allowed the record to pay homage to the living room, but moving forward we’d love to also work with some other people. We’d love to write with some other people, and produce with some other people, so that would be fun to do in another studio.

Adam Bernard: So this album literally has NYC as its backdrop.

Adam Met: Yes. From starting out in Washington Square Park, and almost getting arrested while street performing, to (recording in) the living room.

Adam Bernard: How old were you when you were almost arrested for street performing?

Adam Met: I think that was about nine years ago, so that would make me 16, and my youngest brother, Jack, was probably seven, or eight, at the time.

Adam Bernard: Take me through this. You were fresh faced kids singing in the park. How did you almost get arrested?

Adam Met: The way it works in NYC, if you’re gonna have amplified sound you need a permit. Because it’s such a political culture, every street performer has their specific area that they go to, and if you infringe on it it’s just the end, they’ll blackball you in the street performing industry.

We didn’t have a permit to play amplified sound. The police came over to us and said, “You need to go. You need to close up shop.” We had a crowd of 150 to 200 people watching, and they all booed the police away. The police left, we finished our set, and then the police came back over and said, “OK, you’re gonna need to come with us because you didn’t listen to us when we said to put away the sound.” I started talking to them, and said we didn’t know that we needed a permit. We just pleaded ignorance, then we actually got a permit.

Adam Bernard: Knowing what Washington Square Park is notorious for, how young were you the first time someone offered you drugs when you were there to perform?

Adam Met: I think that same day.

There are some crazy characters (in Washington Square Park). Homeless people would come up and throw rocks in our hat. People, as you eluded to, would offer us drugs during our performances. There was this one guy who we call the pigeon man, who covers himself in bird seed and just sits on a bench, and hundreds of pigeons come and land on him, and eat the food off of him. He’s covered in little tiny holes from when the pigeons land on him, and their claws go into his skin.

There are some crazy characters.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of crazy, I love that on a day where you were nearly arrested for singing, someone else was dealing drugs.

Adam Met: That’s Washington Square Park.

Adam Bernard: Getting back to the music, “I’m Ready,” took off like a rocket. I remember hearing it every day at the gym for about six months. The song has a prominent SpongeBob sample in it. How did you not get your pants sued off by Nickelodeon?

Adam Met: We asked to get the rights to the sample from Nickelodeon long before the song even started at radio, and they really didn’t think it was gonna be a hit, so they gave us a great deal, and we ran with it.

Adam Bernard: Did anyone from Nickelodeon contact you afterwards to say congrats?

Adam Met: They actually used it in a commercial of theirs for their Worldwide Day of Play, so they’ve been really supportive of the band. We’ve also done stuff with them for their Teen Nick countdown, and a couple other things.

Adam Bernard: Living Room includes “I’m Ready,” which had been released previously on an EP, but of the new content, what was going on in your lives that was inspiring your work?

Adam Met: So much weird stuff.

I think the oldest song is maybe four, or five, years old, so (the album) spans from the three of us being in middle school, high school, and college, so it has a bunch of different perspectives. Now the youngest one (of us has) graduated from high school, so we’re all in the college, and post-college, phase, so it shows a lot of growth, but it also is extremely weird. That’s something that we wanted to do with the album, we wanted to make a really weird album. We wanted to make an album where no song sounds like any of the other ones.

We have a pirate-y song on this album. We have a song that samples yodeling. As soon as you think we’re going in one direction, we make a left turn.

Something else that we included on a couple different songs on the album is our version of dubstep, which we call spokestep. Using the same idea (behind dubstep) of cutting up a bass line, and messing it up, we took a vocal line, cut it up, messed it up, and made what we call spokestep. That’s another thing we threw in there.

Adam Bernard: You’ve taken your music on the road, opening for a litany of big name artists, from Demi Lovato, to Lindsey Stirling, to Train, and you recently wrapped up a tour with Melanie Martinez. Was there any one moment from those experiences that especially blew you away?

Adam Met: We opened for Hoodie Allen in London, and seeing that our music was accepted by an audience that was mid-20s and older, and both guys and girls, the fact that our music was able to reach such a wide range of people, was really exciting for us. Previously we’d done a bunch of shows in the US, and we opened for Fifth Harmony, and Demi Lovato, and they were awesome experiences, but it was much more female based, and a lot younger, so to see that our music was well received by an older audience, and by guys and girls alike, was really refreshing for us.

Adam Bernard: The past two years have been a whirlwind for you and your brothers. Have you had an opportunity to sit back, and reflect on everything that’s happened, or will that come later?

Adam Met: I think we’re gonna have to look back at a later time. Even though the album is done, we’re doing a lot of producing and writing for other people, and we’re actually doing a bunch of remixes of songs that are currently on the radio that will hopefully be going to radio for other artists, so we really have no time.

Adam Bernard: Are you at liberty to speak about any of the remixes you’re working on?

Adam Met: The most recent one we’ve done has been approved by everybody but one person, so I don’t think I’m supposed to say, but it’s of a song that is on the radio quite a bit now.

Adam Bernard: Which Taylor Swift song is it?

Adam Met: {laughs}


Interview originally ran on Arena.com.

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