Interview: AJR is getting famous on the road with Ingrid Michaelson

Mix 12 years of busking on the streets - add some Simon & Garfunkel-esque lyrics fused with millennial fresh pop riffs – doused with a heavy hip-hop influence – along with a heaping serving of Ivy League brains, and you may start to understand indie-pop standouts, AJR.

This band of actual brothers takes their band name AJR from their given birth names, Adam (bass/vocals), Ryan (ukulele/piano/ vocals) and Jack (vocals/guitar). These close-knit New York City-based siblings not only share an apartment in the hip Chelsea area, but they also record all of their music in their very own living room.

After riding a wave of platinum success with their single, “I’m Ready,” the boys are back with another chart-rising and even catchier single, “I’m Not Famous,” off their recently released EP, What Everyone’s Thinking. The Columbia University educated AJR may not be a famous household name quite yet. However, with another hit song, and now opening for the bespectacled indie-queen Ingrid Michaelson on her national tour – fame is a coming.

On a sunny day in Denver before a show at the Paramount Theatre, AJR, Adam, Ryan and Jack joined AXS via Skype to chat about their love of Simon & Garfunkel, debuting their new song on national T.V. and brunching with Sia.

AXS: What music influenced you guys growing up in New York City?

AJR Adam, Ryan, and Jack: Our parents introduced us to music from the 50s and 60s when we were growing up, like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel. Growing up in New York City, groups like Simon & Garfunkel played on the Lower East Side or Greenwich Village all the time. Writing about real things about their lives really influenced how we write music today. As well, that honesty that we were able to achieve on this new EP is really rooted in our love of hip-hop, modern and classic hip-hop. It's the most honest genre of music today.

AXS: When did you guys decide to try a go at music?

AJR: We’ve been a band for 12 years now. We started out street performing on the streets and parks in New York City. We first went out with a ukulele singing originals and covers. We were able to make enough money to buy a mic, pro tools and a computer to start recording in our apartment, where we still continue to record in our living room.

AXS: After being on the streets for so long, when did that first big break come about?

AJR: At the time, we had a homemade video for our song, “I’m Ready.” This was three or four years ago we decided to tweet the video out to a bunch of celebrities, like Justin Bieber, and so on. The last one we sent out was to Sia. She saw it on Twitter, re-tweeted our song, then she reached out to us to have us meet her at her hotel. So, we had brunch with Sia, and she introduced us to some people in the industry.

AXS: We now know your initials to your names, but how did you arrive at calling the band AJR?

AJR: The name has its roots back to our love of groups like Simon & Garfunkel or Peter, Paul & Mary. We really liked those artists that had their name in the title; it's like no smoke and mirrors. It's exactly who the people are in the name of the band. So, we decided to shorten it to AJR, make it snappier or catchy.

AXS: Speaking of catchy, your new single “I’m Not Famous” is one of the tunes that gets stuck in your head. What’s the inspiration for that song?

AJR: When we had our first single out a few years ago for “I’m Not Ready,” that song had some success and went platinum. People would come up to us and say, "what's it like to be famous?" We always replied we're not famous because we generally believed that we were not famous yet. The cool thing about not being famous is that you can be your own weird self, nobody is judging you. I think it’s something that everyone can relate to.

AXS: Your new EP, What Everyone is Thinking sounds like a title of our current Presidential election. What’s it really about?

AJR: The idea of the EP is about what everyone is thinking, and nobody is saying. We wanted every song on the EP to be about a topic nobody was really talking about. It's our story over the last two years since we put out music. The burden of the artist, what you have to sacrifice in order to get your music out there.

AXS: You're not only opening for Ingrid Michaelson on this current tour, but you also wrote a song with her, "The Lotto." How did these collaborations happen?

AJR: She saw our video for "I'm Not Famous" at a radio convention. She said, "I want these guys to open for me." Supposedly she had a list of 20 other bands, and she chose us.

Writing with her was a super easy experience. She actually came to our apartment, and we wrote the song in 2 hours. We get to perform the song with her every night with her on stage, which has been great.

AXS: This past September you debuted “I’m Not Famous” on Live with Kelly. Was that a surreal experience?

AJR: While we were writing “I’m Not Famous” we were coming up with the lyric, “I’m never on T.V.,” which we got to perform that line on Live with Kelly, actually on television. That was a really cool feeling.

AJR continue their opening act duties for Ingrid Michaelson with two big shows this week at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, with the tour rolling around the U.S. through November.