It’s been an exciting and anxious time for fans of young artist AJ Mitchell. In 2015, Mitchell was discovered via social media while living in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois. He released his first single, “Used to Be” in 2017, after writing it at the age of 13. He has collaborated with musicians like Meghan Trainor, Cheat Codes, Ava Max, and Ella Henderson. Mitchell is a candid, free musician, taking inspiration from his life and shaping it into worthwhile lyrics. I got the chance to speak with Mitchell about his writing tactics, inspirations, and upcoming album Skyview, set to release soon.
Conner Tighe: What was your inspiration behind “Camera’s On?”
AJ Mitchell: It came to me about three years ago, which is when I originally wrote the song. Basically, I was inspired to write that because I was in this situation where I was surrounded by people where it just seemed like a fake environment. It seemed like people were wearing smiles, people were saying “I love you” when they didn’t mean it, so I felt like a weird dynamic which I’ve never experienced before. That was when I first came out to LA. So, I wrote the song about how as soon as the camera’s on, everyone switches up. The “never with you” part is the music side and my family and friends and the people that make it worth it, and that’s what the songs about.
CT: What do you find most difficult when writing music?
AM: The music part is easiest for me. I write songs every day, like I love it. I mean, I could write three songs in a day. But the most difficult part for all of it, I would have to say, is the emotional part. I’m promoting the songs and going on social media, doing all that stuff because honestly, I’m not great at social media. I try to give the fans what they want, but when it comes down to promoting the music, I’m like, “I don’t know what to do. I’m just going to take a video from a song and post it up.”
CT: What was your childhood like?
AM: I would say my childhood growing up was very free for me to explore, adventure, and live my life the way I wanted to as a kid. I was from a really small town. There wasn’t much to do at all other than write music all day because I was bored, and I just wanted to play on the piano and learn and practice. It was fun for me. Or I’d be outside with my friends, riding our bikes around town, exploring abandoned buildings, sneaking into this college down the street so we could play basketball. We were super adventurous kids, and I just wanted to have fun. I was the type of kid where if I was bored, I wanted to do something. I wanted to go on adventures. I wanted to go in the woods. I wanted to have a thrill with my friends.
CT: Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
AM: When I was growing up, my first inspiration was my dad. He was writing songs and practicing the piano, and when I saw that, I wanted to do it myself. He was one of my first inspirations. Then after that, I loved The Beatles, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Adele, Whitney Houston, Etta James. Honestly, I drew inspiration from everywhere. I wouldn’t say there’s one artist that’s my favorite. I’m that type of person that doesn’t have a favorite anything, because I love so many different things.
CT: How did writing songs at such a young age impact your life?
AM: I loved it. I was writing songs all the time. I only knew a couple of piano chords, but with those chords, I was writing songs all the time.
CT: Where do you get your inspiration from when writing music?
AM: I get my inspiration from life, I think, just life experiences. Honestly, the inspiration can come from anywhere. If I’m walking down the street with a friend and we’re just having a real conversation about real life, and something pops up, and I’m like, “Honestly, that’s beautiful. This would be such a beautiful topic to write about.” And I’ll take it to the studio, and I’ll write the song. That happened one day with the song “Growing Pains,” which is going to be on my album Skyview. I had a wild night out, and the next morning I woke up like, “Oh, I’m growing through growing pains,” so I know I’m going to do that again. You know what I mean? And that’s how everything works out. I’m inspired by real-life situations, and it’s either with my relationships or life lessons that I’ve learned that I want to share with other people. I like my music to be motivational or happy.
CT: Is there a past performance that comes to mind where you were extremely nervous?
AM: I would say in the beginning, when I was first performing was when I would get extreme anxiety when it came to performing, to the point where I didn’t want to go on stage to perform. I’d rather just say, “You know what, I feel sick. I want to give up.” I was so scared, but I had a lot of friends and family that pushed me, and because of that, I don’t get any anxiety anymore. Now I just get like a little bit of nerves when I go on stage, but I’ve done it so many times to where I can bring myself to a place where I’m calm. I tell myself I’ve done this before, and every time I do it, I get on stage, and I’m a little bit nervous, but as soon as the song kicks on, I feel great, and I know what I’m doing. So, I always try to remind myself when I get anxious that I’ve done this before, and I know what I’m doing.
CT: Do you have a routine or remedy to keep your voice in tip-top shape?
AM: As much as I can, I like to drink warm tea just to keep my throat hydrated. And, with the foods I eat, I stay away from dairy and a lot of sauces that are acidic, like tomatoes. I do vocal warmups/lessons every Thursday, constantly keeping my voice warm. It’s like a workout. You know you work out once a week to get bigger; you work on your vocals to be strong and healthy.
CT: Did you model before your singing career or during?
AM: The modeling happened during my singing career, and I feel like it’s a part of the entire artist brand. You’re shooting as well, so you can do this, but also you can do editorial shoots in a fashion magazine. I’m doing that side too, which is also something I love. I love fashion and being able to wear cool clothes and stand there and do my thing. It’s a lot of fun, and I actually didn’t expect to do modeling because I just made music, but it’s cool. I can do music, modeling, and if I wanted to, I could do acting. That’s what’s super cool, like where I’m at. I’m not stuck; I can do multiple things, which is nice.
CT: What’s the process of writing the beginning of your songs?
AM: When I want to start writing a song, it depends. Sometimes I have an idea, like what I was telling you with “Growing Pains”; literally the idea just popped in my head. Like man, I’m going through growing pains, and then immediately I’m like, “Ooo, that could be a really cool title and topic.” And then immediately a melody came into my head, and I’m like, “That’s it. That’s the song.” So, I ran to the piano, and then I found the chords for the melody I had. Honestly, that’s just how it works. There’s not too much thought into it. It just flows in a way. It just comes to me. So, I think for me, when it comes down to music, it just comes down to feeling. When I feel something, I know it feels right, and I’m like, “Okay, this is it. I’m going for it.” I just go with the flow, whatever feels right to me.
CT: What was your first live performance like?
AM: I think my first live performance was when I was nine. At the time, I was doing piano lessons, and they were doing a talent show thing, and of course, my parents wanted me to do it. I went to the talent show and performed Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the Moon.” It was one of my favorite songs at the time. I was so nervous. It was one of those things where I was sitting on the benches, waiting for them to call my name, and I was like, “Please don’t call my name.” I was literally sitting there hoping they didn’t call my name the entire time, because I was so nervous. I was like, “Maybe they’ll forget my name.” I went up and performed. I was terrified, my voice was super shaky in the beginning, but once I hit the chorus and I started singing, I just went for it. I was like, “I got this. I know what I’m doing.”
CT: Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
AM: I would say my favorite song to perform is “Used to Be.” There’s just this energy in the crowd whenever that song comes on. It just seems like everyone’s singing it, everyone knows the lyrics, everyone’s super hyped about it. And that’s the one song I feel that energy from the crowd.
CT: What’s been your favorite collaboration?
AM: Obviously, Meghan Trainor was a great collaboration. She’s super sweet and such a good person. Also, the Ava Max collaboration was another favorite of mine.
CT: What do you hope your fans remember you by?
AM: I hope my fans remember me by the energy that I bring out with my music and as a positive person; someone that motivates them, because I want to be that person. I feel like a lot of times on social media—you go on social media, I’m not going to lie it can be really depressing with everything we constantly see on a daily basis, so I want to be that person that brings light and positive energy through music and everything I do.
CT: What can we expect from your upcoming album Skyview?
AM: The reason why the album is called Skyview is because basically this album for me is super close and super personal to me and who I am, especially with this music and the things I talk about. It hits super close to home, and Skyview is a drive-in movie theater in my hometown. Like I said, there’s nothing to do there, so that was one of the places that was super fun for me, and it took me out of the world of Belleville. When I’d watch movies, I’d listen to the scoring in the background and just remember being a kid and wanting to hear my music out here someday.
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