Maybe it’s just me, but when I discover new music that really gets me going, my first instinct is to try to envision the artist behind it. Think about it: Here I am with a minor love affair with these people’s most intimate, innermost thoughts and their carefully crafted artistic creations, and yet I don’t know a thing about them. Sometimes I like to tell myself otherwise – I mean, it’s not like their music is about the experiences of some fictional creature. Perhaps there’s no better way to get to know a musician than by sitting down for a few hours and go through his discography extensively, listening to both instrument and lyric.
But one thing I have learned time and time again is never to judge an artist’s personality by his music.
For instance, if you had walked into a bar and run into a young man named Carter Schultz, the conversation would’ve probably went down something like this:
“Hey, I’m Carter. I live in Boston with my brother’s dog and not my brother. I have a couple goldfish that were more than 25 cents, I am a full-time musician, and I am really, really, really, really into beaches.”
“Full-time music, you say? What does that mean? You in a band or something?”
“Yeah, something like that. But you don’t need to worry about that.” There’s something of a playful, suggestive smirk in his voice.
He describes this interaction to me over the phone, where he, his bandmate David von Mering and I are connected through a three-way call. From this response alone, I’m convinced I’ve got the in: They’re exactly what I expected. These are the boys I met through the music. This is the David and Carter I hear every time I hit play on the duo’s latest record, a self-titled collection of 12 catchy, laid-back hip hop tunes with a tinge of dude-tastic alternative rock. These are the guys who sing about smoking a lot, shrugging off sex with ex-girlfriends and living life the way they want to live it. This is Aer.
But the rest of our conversation doesn’t go down quite like that. Aer’s music may be 50 percent goofy enthusiasm and 50 percent serious introspection, but surprisingly, Aer themselves seem to adhere to more of a 30-70 ratio when it comes to their careers – maybe even 20-80. And it works.
The part rock, park rap, part reggae duo got their start when they were just 16 years old. Before that, David and Carter had been in a rock band together. Like most high school bands, the group dissolved naturally overtime, but the two boys both wanted to keep making music. As they began to experiment a little more with their instruments (plus sub extraneous substances), their distinct sound began to take shape, leading to the release of their first mixtape, Water on the Moon, in 2010, followed shortly after by The Reach in 2011.
“We started getting stoned and rapping a lot,” David says. “And then the instrumentals turned into beats. And then we started noticing that we could play live shows, and we kind of just stumbled into something that people call Aer now.”
Interestingly, Carter says he was “forced into music” by his parents. Neither of the two played any instruments themselves, but according to him, they apparently thought getting more involved with his band was the best way to keep him productive and get him out of the house. At first, he hated it. It was only after they stopped pushing the career choice in his face that he began to gain a liking – and a talent – for the art of singing, songwriting and spitting lines.
With the release of their debut EP, What You Need in 2011, which hit No. 1 on the iTunes Hip Hop chart, and The Bright Side in 2012, which hit No. 1 on the iTunes Albums chart, Aer began rapidly moving up the musical totem pole. The boys cite a sold-out show at New York City’s Irving Plaza as one of the concerts that signaling they’d made it:
“It was just a thousand people and sold out. That was ridiculous,” said David. “Just to have a massive amount of bodies in the room and have them there for us in New York City, not Boston, where we’re from.”
According to the two 21-year-olds, catering to this quickly growing live audience is one of the most important aspects of their song creation process, particularly with their latest self-titled album Aer, which dropped this January.
“Lyrically, you wanna sing stuff that everybody in the crowd wants to say with you, not like random shit that nobody has any idea what I’m saying,” Carter says.
David, who does all of the production side for Aer’s songs, cites their latest single “Whatever We Want,” which they just released a music video for at the start of this month, as an example.
“The translation from the song MP3 to a full band – that’s definitely something that’s nowadays in the back of my head a lot more than it used to be,” David says. “That song was purely for the live show. Because we wanted a song to come out to. We wanted a song that’s hitting people hard, one that’s very bold, and that’s definitely a conversation during the song-writing process that we had.”
With a history of widely acclaimed records and a handful of successful tours across the U.S. and Europe, Aer could end up being their biggest album yet, crystallizing what’s become their iconic combination of smooth rap verse and boyish bro vocals laid over jazzy, complex melody.
On David’s end, the overwhelming amount of success is just an add-on to the initial reason he was drawn to music as an art form in the first place. While he can’t help thinking about where “success” factors into his career, he says it’s more a secondary concern next to his desire to produce the kind of “refreshing” music that interests and excites him.
“You’re kind of taken aback by the whole thing, but at the end of the day, it’s like, it’s still what I’ve been doing daily and thinking about daily as a hobby and stuff,” David says. “It’s still a hobby to me. It’s not just a job.”
Both of them seem to agree on this point, and there’s no if’s or but’s about it. They have a firm understanding of the industry they’re dealing with – one in which, as Carter puts it, “it’s an easy time to get in the game.” It’s easy for any schmuck to pick up some equipment at the Guitar Center next door, throw together some beats and put it up on SoundCloud or YouTube over night. But Carter says it’s exactly that ease that has led to an over-saturation of music – and a lot of it, er, a little less than quality – flooding the industry.
“You’re going to have people who come out who wanna get on and make this cheap shit that’s going to give them a lot of money,” David says. “There’s always going to be that. So it’s not really just about focusing on how easy it is to get in. I think it’s way more important to make something that you’re going to enjoy playing every night on tour. And you know, from our perspective, it’s about making good music. For a lot of people, it’s not. It’s just about getting on. For us, it’s about performing. We take everything seriously in that respect.”
It’s not even that the boys think themselves or their own music as the best out there. Both concede to the fact that their music certainly changes over time, increasing in depth and quality as they get older – after all, they did start producing music at 16.
“We’ve grown up a lot in the last three years since we started making music,” Carter said. “Originally I was writing about my soul and smoking weed in the backyard, which I don’t do nearly as much now that I’m not in high school. Now we’ve been through grocery shopping, paying rent, signing leases, meeting people, going to New York, doing a bunch of shit that we never did in high school. So obviously as we grow older, we see more, and we feel more and meet new people and go through relationships, da da da. All these things are gonna be reflected in the music. I mean, it grows with us.”
The boys are humbler than expected. They seem to accept the fact that they’re changing, and David further explains that he sees their music as not total representations of themselves as people but rather “moments in time.”
“It’s just a snapshot of those years, you know?” David says. “You want the earlier stuff to sound a little immature. And then, later, you want that stuff to be maybe a little too – I don’t know, like if you’re talking about an ex-girlfriend of that time period, you want it to be very accurate of how you felt even if that’s a little too emotional. […] You may not regret it, but it would be like, ‘Shit, I wouldn’t feel like that now.’ That’s like a good thing to have.”
Despite the goofy music videos of two young kids in colorful sweat suits dropping haughty lines about doing “whatever we want,” neither of the two seems to kid themselves when it comes to producing the music. The two without question rest at an easy 30-70 when it comes to horseplay versus art and soul. Maybe even a 20-80.
Aer performs this Saturday at The Stone Pony Summerstage in Asbury Park, New Jersey along with The Dirty Heads and Pepper. Click here for tickets.