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Members of AJR release new music. How are they coping after their dad died?


Adam, Jack and Ryan Met are the brothers behind the pop band AJR. Their father died as they were finalizing their fifth studio album, "The Maybe Man," out this month.


AJR: (Singing) You got older cause you're good at life. I'm all 17 at 35. Now I don't know if there's anything else. The DJ is cryin' for help.

A MARTÍNEZ: My colleague Steve Inskeep spoke with the group about the pensive mood of this album as the brothers plan a 43-city tour across North America starting April 2 in Norfolk, Va.


I've heard a lot of your music voluntarily because I like it. I've heard a lot of music involuntarily because it is on the hot music radio station that my kids listen to.

ADAM MET: Oh, cool.

INSKEEP: So it's got a broad audience, I think. And in thinking about what you do, I ended up thinking about a sentence. You tell me if I've got it right or got it wrong. You have been producing joyous, expansive, celebratory music about people who feel really bad about themselves.

RYAN MET: Wow. This is Ryan. I think that describes it well. Yeah, I think we are not depressing people, but we're also kind of realistic people. We know how screwed up life can be sometimes. And I think we always try to find a balance of, OK, if we're going to talk about something really deep, let's add a little juxtaposition in there. Let's have a more upbeat clap thing or a weird production quirky element, just to remind people that, you know, life is sometimes OK.

INSKEEP: You've got a song here called "Yes I'm A Mess."


AJR: (Singing) Yes, I'm a mess with an S on my chest. Got stress fillin' up my head.

INSKEEP: Yes, I'm a mess with an S on my chest, which is a great "Sesame Street" sounding thing, but also, something else is going on there. What's happening there?

JACK MET: This is Jack. And that song is about when things get awfully stressful and difficult in life. I feel like everyone kind of has this brief fantasy of, what if I was able to kind of start over? What if I was able to throw away my life, move to a new city, change my name and basically take it all from the top?


AJR: (Singing) I could hate my guts when the sun comes up, but I like myself like this. I like myself like this.

J MET: Yes, I'm a mess with an S on my chest is kind of this way to, like, show, you know, I'm truly a mess underneath, but I'm kind of making it look like I'm this hero on top. So that's kind of how we started off the course. And that's kind of the entire feel of the album.

INSKEEP: I can't help but note this album seems to have been composed in a time of loss for you, a time of tragedy. What was happening?

J MET: Right as we were starting to write the album, our father got really sick.


AJR: (Singing) I gotta leave for Paris now. My band goes on at 10. And my dad can't get out of bed.

J MET: And it turns out that there was an issue with his lung, which turned into cancer. And basically, the entire time we were writing the album, our father was getting sicker and sicker. And things got so bad so quickly that it became a lot more personal and emotional than we had planned on. And it was this sort of tough thing which made us kind of grow, like, 30 years in the span of eight months, which was sort of needing to write this album. We had a due date for it and needing to put everything we had into it but at the same time being there for our father and having to rush back. We kind of inadvertently wrote our most personal and most emotional album.


AJR: (Singing) God is really real when you really, really need Him. Karma just appears when you suddenly believe it.

INSKEEP: The song "God Is Really Real" includes that line, my dad can't get out of bed. That's a devastating line to hear.

J MET: It was made through massive amount of tears and anxiety and fear, an amount that we never felt again, honestly. Even when he passed, it was the saddest thing any of us had ever had to go through. But that fear in the moment of, what's going to happen? - imagining the worst - that never came up again.

INSKEEP: I'm listening to you put names to your different emotions, which is impressive because in the song itself, describing that moment, you write, we can't face our feelings, so we're making lots of jokes, which is absolutely what I would have been doing.

R MET: Yeah, that's something that you don't really know until you go through a grief in your family - this is Ryan - is that there's, like, a weird, fun element to it. It's like all the barriers that made your dad your dad - and we can't talk about this thing because it's too emotional, whatever. That goes away. You're, like, taking care of him like he's a baby. And you're, like, making jokes the whole time. Like, that was the year. It was, like, really sad, but it was also really funny. And we got to see a side of him that we never saw before.

INSKEEP: Is there any risk that you guys might accidentally become more happy or secure and mess up your music?

J MET: Hopefully not.

R MET: I hope not. This is Ryan. That was a big worry while we were making this album because I think, honestly...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Are you serious?

R MET: Well, kind of the opposite because our past albums always have big kind of bangers with hip-hop beats on them, and we were kind of worried that fans weren't going to like this one as much. And we put it out, and a lot of fans are telling us this is their favorite album that we've ever made. So to answer your question, that worries me a little bit. I hope that we never have as emotionally turbulent a year as we had this past year. So I hope the rest of our albums are maybe a little bit lighter. But I think the lesson we learned is just, like, write what we're doing right now, and fans will connect to it.

INSKEEP: So you're getting ready for the stadiums and everything else.

R MET: It's crazy, yeah. This has been, like, the No. 1 goal of this band - is to play arenas. Like, we started off street performing.


R MET: And that was just our goal. It was like, if we can be an arena band, we'll know we've made it.


AJR: (Singing) I'm an object in motion. I've lost all emotion. My two legs are broken, but look at me dance. An object in motion, don't ask where I'm going 'cause where I am going is right where I am.

INSKEEP: Did you literally, when you were, like, on street corners, say to yourselves, someday we'll be doing this in an arena?

A MET: This is Adam. The process of growing as a band is something that I think that we all fell in love with because we didn't skip any steps. We played the 200-person room and then the 500 person, then 1,000, then 10,000. And now we're in arenas. And we were able to appreciate every single step along the way. And the same thing goes for the music. We've had a bunch of songs that have gotten popular in different ways. And that keeps opening us up to different audiences.

INSKEEP: It's influencing the music you're writing - is what you're saying. You're growing as musicians because of the way you've had to grow.

A MET: Yeah, I think so.

INSKEEP: Well, Adam, Jack and Ryan, thanks very much for taking the time. I've really enjoyed this conversation.

A MET: Thanks so much.

R MET: Thank you.

J MET: Appreciate it.


AJR: (Singing) An object in motion. Don't ask where I'm going 'cause where I am going is right where I am. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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