It starts in a quaint and unassuming Chelsea, NY living room…
This space doubles as a creative lab for the three brothers of the critically acclaimed three-piece AJR—Adam [bass, vocals], Jack [vocals, guitar], and Ryan [ukulele, piano, vocals]. It’s here that these young men assemble a handcrafted hybrid of sticky pop hooks, cinematic electronic beats, live instrumentation, theatrical panache, nineties nerd rock energy, and cleverly colloquial lyrics. This unpredictable homegrown style defines the trio’s second independent full-length offering, The Click and is especially impressive given that RIAA Gold certified lead single “Weak” has achieved viral success.
Speaking to an eternally D.I.Y. spirit, the thirteen tracks rally around a central question from the tune “Come Hang Out.”
“Should I go for more clicks this year, or should I follow the click in my ear?”
“The idea is that society wants me to go for more clicks: more fame and more notoriety, but sacrificing what I want to be on the inside,” Ryan elaborates. “As time went on, we realized it’s the central theme of the entire album. Since we write, produce, and record everything ourselves, the best metaphor to describe the inner struggle of following your own heartbeat is a metronome. Now, the metronome sound bookends The Click.”
First appearing on the 2016 EP and album precursor What Everyone’s Thinking, “Weak” introduced The Click to audiences everywhere with a big bang. In less than nine months, the runaway smash generated over 210 million Spotify streams and counting, achieved an RIAA Gold certification, and amassed 12 million-plus YouTube views. The guys delivered a hyper-charged live rendition of the single on TODAY in between selling out the headline “What Everyone’s Thinking” Tour. Simultaneously, the track “I’m Not Famous” would crack 8 million Spotify streams as the aforementioned “Come Hang Out” crossed the 3-million mark. All while, Billboard, Time, Paper, Pop Crush, Idolator, and more praised the group.
Beginning with solo piano and a delicate vocal, “Weak” organically builds into a rush of keys, synths, and beats fueling the massive chant, “But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?”
“A lot of people are faced with temptation and they’re told to be strong and confident,” Adam goes on. “We’re all weak at some point and give in to temptation when we know we shouldn’t. We wanted to turn saying ‘I’m weak’ into an anthem everyone can be proud of and shout together.”
Unfurling like a film trailer, the Broadway-style “Overture” kicks off The Click, teasing various choruses and phrases from the songs that follow it over a regal orchestra swell. Punctuated by live strings, “Drama” sharply dissects the modern generation’s preoccupation with gossip, admitting “We act like reality shows, probably cuz reality blows.” “Sober Up” [feat. Rivers Cuomo] represents a “full circle moment” for AJR as the Weezer frontman makes an electrifying cameo.
“Rivers followed us on Twitter and said he was a fan of ‘Weak’,” recalls Ryan. “It was such a great moment when he officially agreed to feature on the record. When we’re making decisions about our music and image, we sort of position ourselves as the Weezer of the 2010’s. They’ve been a huge influence. The song itself is about being at a party and feeling too grown up. You get to that moment where you’re like, ‘This isn’t really fun anymore. I’m an adult now.’ This was a true story.”
“We wanted to get back to that feeling when you had a crush on someone in elementary school,” adds Jack. “You didn’t know every annoying thing that came with liking another person, it was just a very visceral emotion. It’s a theme of wanting to return to an age of innocence.”
Long before they joined Demi Lovato, Train, Andy Grammer, Hoodie Allen, Fifth Harmony and Ingrid Michaelson on high-profile national tours, the brothers began busking in NYC’s Washington Square Park, starting in 2005. At the time, Jack was only eight-years-old as they played covers “well enough to get pre-occupied passersby to actually stop.” Repeating their residency in the park every day for six consecutive summers, they saved enough money to quietly amass an arsenal of recording equipment, outfitting the living room as a makeshift studio. In 2013, AJR’s debut Living Room spawned the hit “I’m Ready.” The song racked up over 47 million Spotify streams, soundtracked the trailer to Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, went platinum in the US and triple-platinum in Australia. Building a national profile, they later received an invite to perform at the Obama White House for the IT’S ON US Campus Sexual Assault Summit, in addition to crafting the organization’s theme song.
Rounding out a multi-dimensional vision, the three members infuse individual idiosyncrasies into the collective whole.
“We each have a very unique role in the band,” explains Ryan. “I do the production. Jack and I both write. Adam is involved in the business end and management. We’ve built a well-oiled machine.”
Outside of AJR, Adam, Jack, and Ryan are all either current or former Columbia University students. Ryan has also lent his writing acumen to Andy Grammer, co-penning the gold-selling “Back Home” and “Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah)” which recently scored him a BMI award. Adam received his Masters from NYU and is in the midst of working on his PHD in Comparative Constitutional Law, while Jack just completed his first screenplay.
As music from The Click resounds louder and louder throughout pop culture by the day, AJR still harbor quite a few surprises up their sleeves.
“When people hear us or see us live, I’d love for them to say, ‘I can’t explain this, but I know I’m feeling something’,” Ryan leaves off. “We hope they connect to it and want to listen again and again.”