They're ready: AJR is riding a SpongeBob SquarePants sample up the charts. One of the cartoon character's catchphrases is featured prominently in the sibling trio's ebullient breakout hit, I'm Ready. "(Nickelodeon) probably didn't think it was going to be a huge hit," says Ryan Met. "So we got a pretty good deal" on licensing. Now No. 29 on USA TODAY's top 40 airplay chart, I'm Ready has sold close to 350,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- not bad for a song recorded in their living room.
The New York Mets: AJR takes its name from the first letters of each of the Met brothers' names -- Adam, 23, Jack, 16, and Ryan, 20. They began busking eight years ago in New York City, bringing in $150 an hour. "We were at the corner of Central Park, where the tour buses got let off," Jack says. "The tourists thought we were part of the tour, so they came up to us and emptied their wallets."
Oh, brothers, where art thou? The Mets' youth and bright, poppy songs draw easy comparisons to Hanson and the Jonas Brothers, but the Mets identify more with another harmony-rich trio of brothers: Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Welcome to the Maschine: In addition to the harmonies, AJR's recordings feature vocals electronically manipulated in a way that resembles the bass lines of dubstep, an approach Adam calls "spokestep." Jack activates the sounds with a computer-based groove box called a Maschine.
Nothing if not persistent: The Mets applied to ABC'sShark Tank and handed a homemade CD to Rosie O'Donnell on a plane. Then Ryan began tweeting the I'm Ready lyric video to favorite celebrities. That caught the eye of Australian singer Sia, who retweeted it, launching the single. "The video had, like, 700 views" before her tweet, Ryan says.
Sealing the deal: Labels started sniffing around when I'm Ready downloads hit 100,000. "It was actually that week when they started calling," Adam says. They signed with Warner Bros., which will release Living Room on Sept. 30. If successful, it could provide a huge return on investment: Jack figures the album, recorded at home, cost "maybe $3,000."