No 'Maybe' about it, AJR plays Orlando's Kia Center Friday

Band of brothers

AJR plays Kia Center Friday night
AJR plays Kia Center Friday night courtesy photo

"This album was a lot more immediate and personal than our past albums."

That's how Ryan Met summed up The Maybe Man, the new album from his group, AJR. Ryan probably could add that he hopes he and his brothers, Jack and Adam, who together make up AJR, never again have to make an album under the circumstances that surrounded The Maybe Man.

"This album, the universe just threw thing after thing at us while we were writing this album over these two years," Ryan says. "You know, losses and crazy legal troubles and a lot of other stuff. And we just decided we're going to write about everything that happens to us as it's happening to us and see what capturing those snapshots actually sound like. It was really difficult to do.

"But we felt like, 'Oh, this is our job right now. This is going to help us process [things].' It's going to help the fans process if they ever have to go through stuff like this, to capture it as immediate and urgently as possible."

The main event was a cancer diagnosis for Gary Metzger, the father of the sibling trio (who shortened their last names to Met for the purposes of the group). Sadly, their father succumbed to the disease in July of last year.

Their father's illness is directly addressed on the new album in the song "God Is Really Real" to devastating effect. Just consider these lines early in the song: "I gotta leave for Paris now/My band goes on at 10/And my dad can't get out of bed." It's a prime example of AJR capturing their emotions in real time.

"It happened when we were on tour and that's when we wrote 'God Is Really Real,'" recalls Jack Met, who joined Ryan for the interview. "We wrote it two days after ... no, the next day after. He was in the hospital. We didn't even know what his diagnosis was yet. The emotions were raw. It was about eight months until he passed, which was definitely the toughest eight months of our lives. Obviously, we think about him every day. It's really, really tough."

Gary Metzger had unfailingly supported his sons in their AJR venture. The brothers started out busking in New York City in 2005, and soon began writing songs.

AJR's big break came after writing "I'm Ready," a song the brothers felt combined their varied influences — ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to the Beatles to hip-hop and Broadway musicals — into something unique. That song caught the attention of pop star Sia, who alerted her manager, Jonathan Daniel, to the group. Daniel, in turn, contacted Steve Greenberg, head of S-Curve Records, who signed on as AJR's co-manager and helped the brothers start their own label. Since then, things have taken off. "I'm Ready" got regular airplay on satellite radio, and in 2016, AJR's third EP, What Everyone's Thinking, spawned a platinum-selling hit single in "Weak." The band's popularity has grown steadily since, as three subsequent full-length albums have added five more platinum singles, including the 2020 top-10 hit "Bang!"

All of which brings us to The Maybe Man and the emotional challenges the Met brothers experienced while writing and recording the album.

Interestingly, while their father's ordeal is part of the story, The Maybe Man as a whole is built around a broader theme of reaching one's late 20s and early 30s and realizing that life is getting more real and there are serious responsibilities that come with becoming a full-fledged adult. And of course, dealing with a loved one's death will cause someone to grapple with the reality that life is short and it can end at any time.

Both Ryan and Jack feel The Maybe Man – understandably so — is the most serious AJR album yet. But as a band that has consistently created cheerful, highly catchy — and often quite innovative — songs, it's no surprise that the latest album does not feel like a downer, especially on a musical level.

Yes, "God Is Really Real" and "Turning Out Pt. III" are melancholy ballads, and the song "Maybe Man" starts the album on a somewhat subdued, albeit pretty, note. But things brighten, as lively songs like "Yes, I'm a Mess," "The Dumb Song," "Hole in the Bottom of My Brain" and even "Inertia" deliver the playful, buoyant sound AJR fans have come to expect.

Now that AJR have launched an extensive tour in support of The Maybe Man, fans can expect a visually elaborate show that spans the trio's career. This tour will take them to Orlando this very week.

"I think this arena tour is everything we've ever wanted to put on stage," Ryan says. "We finally have the money and the budget to play with where we can create magical illusions and a real Broadway narrative and real cinematic CGI. I don't want to give away too much, but [we have] a lot of crazy stuff we know you've never seen on stage before."

You can see and hear it for yourselves when this band of brothers plays the Kia Center Friday.

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