This past spring, when Australian songstress Sia Furler told her manager Jonathan Daniel about AJR, a trio of brothers whose undeniably catchy pop song “I’m Ready” caught her ear, he knew exactly who to call: Steve Greenberg, a producer/songwriter, former president of Columbia Records and current head of S-Curve Records, who’d previously worked with two other brother trios, Hanson and the Jonas Brothers.
AJR’s Met brothers — Adam, 23; Ryan, 19; and Jack, 16 — found that Greenberg shared their independent-minded vision for their career. They’d previously met with several major labels, but the three siblings, who write, produce and mix their material in the living room of their parents’ Manhattan apartment, responded positively to Greenberg’s don’t-change-a-good-thing proposal.
“You really don’t need a record label anymore,” says Adam, who graduated from Columbia University in the spring. “You really can do everything yourself.”
“I’m Ready,” which melds the brothers’ love of Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel harmonies with more contemporary electro-pop influences like fun. and Imagine Dragons, is quickly becoming a bona fide hit. SiriusXM’s 20 on 20 channel has spun the track nearly 230 times through Sept. 16, according to Nielsen BDS, and positive reaction to its success has led to the group garnering opening-slot gigs for teen acts including Demi Lovato, Hoodie Allen and Fifth Harmony.
Greenberg says AJR’s success is entirely organic. “These guys are ahead of the curve,” he says, noting that neither Hanson nor the Jonases initially produced their own music. “I didn’t feel any temptation of those active A&R skills of trying to hook them up with writers or producers,” he adds. “[Their music] was perfect the way it is.”
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The brothers are no strangers to the spotlight: All three were heavy into theater from a young age, and two of them also logged TV work (Ryan had a small role on “Chappelle’s Show,” while Jack was in “The Pink Panther” alongside Steve Martin). But it was their time spent busking in parks around Manhattan during the past seven years that convinced them they had the chops to pursue music professionally.
“We realized that the three of us could sing together and our voices worked really well harmonizing,” Adam says.
Several major media outlets agree: SiriusXM has championed “I’m Ready,” a song Ryan wrote in his Columbia dorm room during Hurricane Sandy. “I thought it was instantly a hit,” Jack says. “It was an incredible step from the songs that Ryan was writing earlier.”
“The song shows some real potential,” says SiriusXM VP of programming Kid Kelly, who adds that he was particularly drawn to the group’s unique sound. “It’s very different from what’s available, what’s being played on the radio right now. It’s got a not-quite-dubstep feel but something similar to that with a poppier approach.” Kelly also points to a recent uptick in sales on iTunes as proof of the song’s appeal. “The response is extremely strong,” he says, citing SiriusXM’s “very secret metrics” as evidence. “You can’t deny that this song appears to be gaining traction.”
AJR has its forthcoming full-length debut written. Ryan says it combines “all of our influences and puts our own modern spin on them.” But Greenberg is in no rush to release it. Rather, he’s focused on making “I’m Ready” the “big juicy hit it deserves to be.” He lined up partnerships with RyanSeacrest.com and Vevo for the release of the track’s lyric video, helping it garner nearly 77,000 views on YouTube since Aug. 26. And Vevo has already signed on to premiere the song’s official music video with a home-page placement next month.
The career upswing means “there’s just a new set of worries now,” says Ryan, who’s taking a year off from Columbia to focus on music. Jack, still in high school, says his life has changed drastically. “It’s like Hannah Montana,” he says of his current double life as a student and blossoming pop star. “It’s unbelievable. It’s really what we’ve always wanted.”