AJR Move From Opening Act to The Headliner on ‘The Click': Interview
The last time we spoke with AJR, they were working on expanding their sound and becoming household names. Fast-forward a couple of years and Adam, Jack and Ryan Met return with The Click, a collection of pop songs with orchestral sounds and meaningful lyrics.
We had the chance to catch up with Jack and Ryan to talk more about the new record as well as discuss becoming headliners themselves.
So how’s the tour going?
Ryan: It’s been going really well. It’s very cool for us to finally be selling out shows. Before this last tour, we had never filled out a show in our life. We’re just very used to trying to get a few people in the room. And just very recently, I think with putting out the album and the organic growth of our fan base, [fans have] really been wanting to come to shows. Now this is our second tour, and we’re going to sell out, which is pretty cool.
Now it's a little harder for your fans to get tickets. How did you guys react to the larger crowds? Did it make you a little bit more nervous to go out and perform?
Ryan: No, we didn’t get more nervous. If anything, we got less nervous because I think we're very used to opening on tours. We’ve opened for all these different types of artists and different bands. We opened for this rapper, Hoodie Allen. We’ve opened for Demi Lovato and most recently we opened for Ingrid Michaelson, who has more adults as fans. So whenever we do that, it just makes you a little bit more nervous because you have to figure out how to appeal to those fans and win them over. It’s always like the first song that you come out with, [the] energy is kind of low, and then you build it up from there. You have to win people over throughout the set. Now we come out, and the energy is at an all time high the second we come out. So it’s such an amazing cathartic feeling coming out to fans that actually want to see you.
The Click has been doing great, especially your single, "Weak." Talk about the moment you guys realized you have a hit on your hands.
Jack: I feel like there’s never been a moment in our career where something suddenly starts working. Everything we’ve ever done has been a very, very slow process. And "Weak" was a very random song, which just kind of just took off. We had this EP called What Everyone Is Thinking, and "Weak" was just one of five songs. Spotify gave [us] a shot, and it just slowly started to work like, "Oh it went a thousand more. Oh, two thousand more."
You've always recorded in your home studio. What are the challenges that you guys went through trying to put this album together?
Ryan: I think there are definitely advantages and disadvantages that you have making it in the living room. In terms of advantages, I think creatively it's easier than working in a big studio. In a big studio, the money is always kind of a big aspect in the back of your mind. Every hour that you don’t accomplish something great you realize, "Okay, I just sunk this much money in the studio. What a waste of money." So when you have that at the back of your mind, it’s really hard to be creatively free. So [with] our situation in the living room is we have much time as we usually work through the night. We can work in our underwear if we want to, and it’s just when we have a good idea that we were able to put it out in the best way possible.
In terms of disadvantages, doing everything yourself can be kind of overwhelming. We’ve been doing this for a really long time but I’ll say we’re really not experts at production or mixing or anything. We’re just still taking it song by song and improving with every song; so it’s basically just us listening to the radio and thinking, "How is this mixed? Is this snare drum loud enough? Is this vocal tuned correctly?" We don’t really have any super producer overseeing [and] saying, "This is how you should do it. It’s kind of just us call the shots." So in that way, it can really be nerve-racking right before you put something out.
Only because you guys brought it up, I now have to ask, how many times did you guys actually record in your underwear?
Jack: Actually a lot. I feel like there are way, way more times that we recorded just in our boxers than in full clothing!
Fair enough. One of the things I noticed about The Click and Living Room is that you guys start with this overture. It’s a very interesting way to start a record. Why did you guys want to put that in as the opening track?
Ryan: I think we’re really big fans of classic Broadway, stuff like Les Miserablès and Phantom of the Opera. A lot of those Broadway shows started with an overture. [It] sets the tone for the show and the themes of the big songs throughout the overture, and it kinds of puts you in the mood to listen to the soundtrack and watch the show. So we thought, "What's kind of a modern version of that? How can we make this a cohesive album and make the first track something that really puts you into the world of the album?" We wanted to kind of redefine what an overture was.
“Come Hang Out” has a pretty straightforward but interesting message. Can you tell me about how that song came about and why you decided to end with it?
Jack: I was looking through my texts with friends, and I realized that the most common phrase in those texts were, "Come hang out" from their end. And my response was always, "I can't, I'm sorry, I have a flight to catch" or "I have to wake up early the next morning for a concert." We wanted to kind of write a song about the sacrifices that we’ve made by doing what we’re doing. You know, we’ve kind of given up the prime years of our childhood, our college years, hanging out with friends to really discover who we are. We’ve given that up to go get on flights and go to concerts, so it’s sort of that balance between having a childhood and following your dreams.
You guys mentioned earlier about opening for Ingrid Michaelson. You also worked on "Celebration" with her for her latest EP. What was it like working with her, especially doing that video?
Ryan: It was really great. So she had that song "Celebrate," and she wrote the original. That was all her, and she came to us saying, "I definitely wanted to do a sort of remix of it and feature on it and sing the second verse." And, of course, we said yeah! She is just the most talented, nice person of all time. She gave us a shot, letting us open up for her on tour. So that’s how that came about, and she really, really loved it... And she was like "Oh my God, it has to be the single!"
And the video concept, which is so weird, was just something that she wanted to just do badly because she loved Hamilton. She had us all dressed up in these sort of 1700s and 1800s costumes—like old makeup and wigs—but sort of a modern setting, dancing together.
What would you say is your definition of success?
Jack: So everyone says like, playing the biggest venues possible...and I completely agree with that. But, to be a successful musician: One, you have to have longevity for sure. You have to try to stay relevant; and two, I feel what would be really great is just to be able to influence other artists. So maybe a phrase like, "Oh, that’s from AJR. That's an AJR thing to do." If that phrase ever comes up in any one session then I think we would feel like we definitely had a good amount of success.
I know you guys are on tour, but anything else fans should look out for?
Jack: We have some cool collaborations coming up. Actually, I can't say specific names, but we don’t do that many collaborations. And people have been reaching out to us, like big EDM people, so those are in the works right now. We’re finishing up the tour now and we’re also going over to Europe to do some dates over there in the fall. We’re just going to keep touring, I think, until the next album comes out.
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