This Friday, April 26, AJR will welcome their fans to the world of Neotheater with the release of their third full-length album. The band began working on new music as soon as they released The Click in June 2017, and Adam Met is ready for fans to hear it. “We’ve lived with all of this material for so long,” he says, “and to see fan reactions to [it] – this will be the first time that they get to listen to the complete story of Neotheater, and so it’s nerve-wracking, but also really exciting at the same time.” The album is “so connected” to the live show that AJR is putting together for their headlining tour this fall, and Met is eager for fans to join the world of Neotheater with them.
The Neotheater World Tour will be “more, bigger, and crazier,” with everything “dialed to 11”; Met says the band is excited for returning fans to “see the next step,” and for newcomers, they intend to “set the bar really high.” Release shows at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and London’s Hoxton Hall will serve as teasers for the full show in the fall: the New York show will be “kind of a return to four or five years ago, when we were playing venues in that size,” but with “as crazy production as we can in that tiny venue.” For London, they’re eager to “give those biggest fans a really special and different experience.” This fall, they’ll hit some new cities, and play larger venues in cities they’ve played many times before: Radio City Music Hall in their hometown of New York, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver are “dream venues for us.”
But what is the world of Neotheater? Like AJR’s previous releases, it was recorded in a living room – although not the same one where they created The Click and 2015’s aptly-named Living Room. Ryan and Jack moved out of their parents’ apartment, which inspired the song “Don’t Throw Out My Legos”; Neotheater was made in the first apartment they lived in after moving out. Met mentions that while they tend to stick to a formal studio setting when they write and produce for other artists, the living room setting works for AJR right now. It’s “the most creative and conducive to how we live”, and it means they don’t have to worry about money nearly as much: “If you’re in a recording studio, you’re counting the hours go by and saying, ‘Oh, I spent another few hundred dollars, I spent another few hundred dollars.’ If you can literally wake up in the middle of the night and go over and record a melody and go back to sleep and then when you wake up you can do something else, it’s a really different way of thinking about writing music, but it really works for us.”
On Neotheater, AJR is specific – “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” sees Ryan and Jack ready to move out but not ready to leave their childhood entirely behind, as they hope their parents keep their old Lego sets. However, the intention of the song wasn’t for everyone to think about their own Legos, but rather “for everyone to apply their own feelings of nostalgia and not wanting to grow up and leaving home”, whether that’s with Barbie Dolls, race cars, or any other toys or items that they miss. When choosing singles, there was a fear that people wouldn’t relate to overly specific details; but the ultimate goal of Neotheater was to create an album of songs that “you can’t describe it in one sentence. It takes more explanation.” Tracks like “Dear Winter” and “100 Bad Days” also take specific images to paint a picture, but at the end of the day, they’re about the feelings that surround those images.
After the initial success of their first single “I’m Ready” in 2013, it took AJR some time to find their footing again, but The Click offered extended radio play for singles “Weak” and “Sober Up,” and lead to countless sold-out shows. But success can be scary, because “once you have success, you never know how to follow it up. You’re never gonna know exactly what your fans loved about the last record that was successful. Was it the production, was it the lyrics, was it the melody? You can ask as many fans as possible, but if it is a success, you’ll never get a consensus of what really resonated with people.” These feelings of stress and pressure to follow up are channeled into “Next Up Forever,” which opens Neotheater. Met explains that the position of being “next up” takes some of the pressure off, since “you always have a place to grow, you always have a place to move forward, and you’re not stuck in the, ‘Okay, what do I do next?’ – you see that there is always space for you to grow and change.” If you’re always waiting for what’s next, you don’t have to worry about following it up with something even more significant.
The first few songs that AJR wrote for this album were songs that could’ve worked on The Click, but the band chose not to recreate an old formula, and instead to keep pushing forward, landing on a “Disney / 1940s sound meets more modern production.” The vocal that opens “Next Up Forever” was recorded with traditional copper mics that were used in the 1940s; the song’s arrangement resembles something out of an old Disney movie, like Pinocchio. The Met brothers grew up watching Disney movies, so “the way those harmonies are put together, the way those vocals meet” is “very nostalgic for us.” While this sees them “thinking backward”, it’s also “at the same time, thinking forwards for us as our next step. Later, they nod to fans of “Turning Out” from The Click with “Turning Out Pt. II”; although it takes elements of the story of the original, it’s an entirely different song with regards to the chord structures and melodies.
That nostalgic sound is also there in the album’s cartoon artwork, and evident again on “Birthday Party.” “Birthday Party” is “probably the weirdest song we’ve written”: here, AJR writes from a perspective that’s never been written about, imagining how someone would see the world if they just stepped into the world today. It may take a few listens to understand what’s going on as they take stances on issues – from our country’s treatment of immigrants to the side effects of social media – that they might not speak out on if speaking in their own voices.
Building a strong connection with fans is perhaps a better metric of a band’s “success” than record sales, awards, or streaming numbers. When “Dear Winter” was released in early April, fans were immediately drawn to the song; Instagram user @the_passionate_freak started a hashtag, “#MyDearWinterStory,” for fans to share how they connect to the song. Met hopes that Neotheater helps people “access emotions in a more overt way,” that “the specificity of the songs evokes certain emotions that allow people to put their own stories and think about their own lives using those different emotions.” Each song relates to a different emotion, and Adam looks forward to seeing people “put their own stories on to that kind of more meta-emotional experience that we hope the album will be.” The stories may come from a particular point of view, but now, it’s up to the listener to join the world of Neotheater to see what they’ll feel next.
Neotheater is out this today, April 26; pre-order the album here. AJR will play two release shows for the album, as well as in-store performances and several festival dates, before embarking on the Neotheater World Tour this fall. Visit www.AJRbrothers.com for tickets.