Adam Met is a man with a green mission. The NYC native is part of AJR, a family trio of brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan (A,J,R). The DIY group has cracked the Billboard charts multiple times, hit millions of Spotify streams, all while steadily churning out pop music from their own apartment. They hold a special place in our heart not only as wildly talented minds, but also as artists who’ve been part of Sofars since the early years. For Adam, AJR isn’t just a sound, but a voice to reach fans about sustainability. When he isn’t performing, he’s pursuing his PhD and running Sustainable Partners, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and action surrounding the climate crisis. We got to talk to him about it, along with what we can do to help.
Adam: We started out street performing about 15 years ago in the parks of New York City. At that point we were doing it for fun– Jackson 5 covers– my youngest brother Jack at that point was about 8 years old. So I think people felt bad for us. They would put money in a little hat for us. We actually made enough money to buy a ukulele and a computer, and the program Pro Tools, which is what we use to produce our music now. Once we saw we could actually make money, we started to write music. For the next bunch of years we wrote hundreds of songs. That was the muscle that needed the exercise to get to where we are today. Songwriting is an incredibly difficult process. It got to a point where we wrote a song called “I’m Ready” and it got picked up by a few artists online. We’ve never signed a record deal, never been signed to a label, always owned everything ourselves. That start on the street led us to where we are today.
My PhD is completely focused on sustainability and human rights. Because of that, and the band's platform, I started working with the UN a few years ago in the UN development program, really to amplify and translate the work they do to make it accessible to younger people, and make it actionable. Some of the projects I did with them became so successful we decided to formalize, and I started Sustainable Partners. It really is to bridge this thought and action. I live in the academic world– thought is something highly praised, but academia does not do a good job translating high levels of thought into something the general public can understand and act on. That’s what we do, through our fellowship programs, media– we take this high-level research and translate them into advocacy campaigns, in a creative way.
Our fans are so passionate about so many different things, from climate to trans rights to gun control. As we grew our band, some of our songs got picked up by different movements. For example, “Burn the House Down” was picked up by March For Our Lives, and they played it as they marched through the halls of congress. It gave me the opportunity to see how powerful music can be as a tool for social change.
There was a young woman in Indianapolis, who after I started posting about sustainability and ways people can get involved, came up to me at a meet and greet and said, “In my high school they had plastic silverware and styrofoam trays. I started a petition to end use of all single-use plastics.” It got enough signatures that that high school banned single-use plastic. Not only did she do it for her own high school, she brought it to the district. That just shows that one person with an idea can affect large-scale system-wide change.
The key is gonna be partners really starting to understand they need to be on board for artists to continue. So, venues running on renewable energy, food that’s provided at the venue [with] vegetarian options, having compositing, donating leftover food, sourcing locally. This is a priority for artists, everyone from Billie Eilish to Shawn Mendes, huge artists like Maroon 5, they’re all making this a requirement. Coldplay just announced one of the most sustainable tours. That’s Coldplay, they can afford to make their tour sustainable. But if we can get the partners on board, that means the smaller club shows and the living room shows, the places that people are playing who can’t necessarily afford to pay for offsets and force partners to take sustainable action– it’s gonna have this trickle-down effect.
There are four clear categories to integrate sustainability. Food, Waste, Travel, and Energy. Those four really make up a big portion of what you can do. Food, if not transiting to a plant-based diet, a plant-forward diet. On the waste side, making sure your plastic is coming from not single-use plastic, there are some great alternatives out there. Really understanding that recycling is a problem, but doing your best. Travel– public transportation, carpooling, electric cars, hybrid cars. Telepresence, zoom is something that can reduce carbon emissions significantly. And bikes, that’s also something that’s really important. And the last is energy, a lot of people don't know that when you get your electric bill, you can actually check a box at the bottom and it’s usually zero cost to you for electricity from renewable sources. It’s a very simple, easy thing to do and informs the electric company they should be investing more in renewables. Things for artists is to educate their fans. These are easy, and a lot of them don’t cost any money.
AJR, we’ll be on tour for a good chunk of next year, in countries we’ve never played before. On the academic side, I will defend my dissertation on December 3rd. I’m working on a bunch of projects for expanding Sustainable Partners and our fellowship program. And working on a few creative projects I can’t say too much about, but you might see them on a streaming service.
Photo credit: Adam Met, photo by Austin Roa
Revisit AJR’s mash-up Sofar performance: