If you haven’t developed an entirely healthy obsession with 18-year-old Illinois-born artist AJ Mitchell, then you’re about to.
The singer-songwriter, who’s been writing and playing music since he was six, has already clocked over 30 million worldwide streams, was the #1 most added Pop record in the US and is currently Top 30 on the US Top 40 Radio chart with ‘Slow Dance’ ft. Ava Max.
With tracks like the addictive ‘Say It Again’, the filmic ‘All My Friends’ and the emotional punch of ‘I Don’t Want You Back’, it’s any wonder there’s a building groundswell around AJ Mitchell.
AJ Mitchell – ‘All My Friends’
He was one of VEVO’s newest LIFT acts of 2019, following acts such as Sam Smith, Halsey, Khalid and Billie Eilish, he is currently MTV’s Global PUSH Artist, and his views on YouTube total over 45 million.
During his Australian visit this week, Don’t Bore Us sat down with AJ to talk his new blockbuster single ‘Slow Dance’, his upcoming LP Skyview, growing up in Belleville Illinois, and the new tattoo on his leg that (trigger warning: for those with hemophobia) was so fresh it was bleeding at the time.
Is this your first time in Australia?
Yeah first time. I actually just got a tattoo two minutes ago. It’s a little bloody right now.
What does it mean?
So basically, before I like went to school – or anything I did – my mum would jot this exact smiley face on everything I did. She’s like, ‘have a good day’. And it just reminds me to stay positive and to always keep a smile on my face.
Are your parents involved in your day to day with your career? Do you keep them close?
Oh yeah, I keep them close. I’m living with them right now, but I’m actually moving out in two months. But I’m very close with my parents. […] We are like best friends. I love my parents.
You moved to LA from Illinois but your family didn’t come straight away. Is that right?
I first moved in with my Manager (Mike Spitz), for a year-and-a-half and that was when I was going independent for a while. I released three songs independently, and that’s when the labels started approaching.
We met with all the labels and once we met with Epic Records, which is who I’m signed with now, it just felt right.
Joey Arbagey, who is my A&R – he is like family – he played us a song called ‘I Don’t Want You Back’ […] it felt like I wrote it. So it was like he really understood who I was as an artist and you could tell that he really cared about the project – and he still does to this day.
How does your songwriting process now, in terms of working up to this debut album, compare to when you first started?
I wrote my first song when I was six and it was about two birds flying and one broke its knee (laughs).
[Then it] was love songs but also I was telling stories as well. It wasn’t always something that was going on in my life. But now I think when I write songs I write about what’s going on in my life, life experiences and kind of life lessons that I’ve learned in my life that I want to share with everyone else.
Would you write for other artists as well?
If I write a song that doesn’t fit with me, then definitely. When I was a kid I always wanted to write songs for other people and I never wanted to be in the spotlight. But then once I started going out and performing and doing all that, that’s when I realised that I could do this. But I would love to write songs for other people as well. I’m a songwriter at heart.
I was a very nervous kid, I was so nervous to go on stage and perform anything for anyone. When I was a kid my mum would always be like, ‘do the talent show, do the talent show’. And I would always be like, ‘no no no no’. When the time would come I would always be like I’m not even going to go on stage, I’m not going to do it. I can’t do it, I can’t do it.
I’m so thankful for my mum always being there and pushing me to do it.
AJ Mitchell – ‘All My Friends’ [live]
Tell us the story behind ‘Slow Dance’.
This song reminds me of eighth grade and going to the school dance, and you know asking a girl to slow dance, but you are so nervous. It’s so hard to even ask her. So it brings back those nostalgic memories of high school.
AJ Mitchell – ‘Slow Dance’
Is it right that you named your upcoming album Skyview after a drive-in movie theatre in your home town?
That was a place that I went to every weekend. My parents went to it all the time as a kid, my grandparents went to it all the time when they were kids. It was a big staple piece in my hometown.
And there wasn’t a lot to do in my home town, at all. The cool thing was to go and explore abandoned buildings, that was the really cool thing to do (laughs).
When I think of my hometown I think of Skyview and for this album I kind of wanted to let the world know who I am and where I came from. I’ve never really talked about my childhood or shown people.
But I think it’s important that people know where I came from and who I am because if people just hear my music and they don’t know who I am, then they might not get the music.
You should buy Skyview the drive-in.
We know the guy that owns it! It’s actually the 70th anniversary for Skyview. He is a super nice guy and when we wanted to copyright ‘Skyview’ he was like, ‘Am I going to be in the newspaper?’
We were like, ‘You’ll be in the newspaper’. He was like, ‘You can have it for free’. It was amazing.
Did you get into trouble when you were a kid?
We definitely got into trouble. We would ride around town and sneak into this college to play basketball. They would call the cops on us and we would run out on our bikes. But we didn’t cause trouble, we weren’t out there to cause trouble.
But with an abandoned building, we tore it up. We put umbrellas through the walls and spray painted inside. There were fire extinguishers we used to spray them through the whole building. I hope I don’t get in trouble for that. The building got knocked down a year later.
Did you do a photo shoot or film at Skyview?
This year and did a whole Vevo Lift campaign, that was at Sky View. It’s one of my favourite videos of all time, because we had such a big crew. It was the most meaningful video.
AJ Mitchell – Vevo LIFT short film
What do you like most about the music that you are releasing next year?
I found my style. I’ve always had a style of ‘piano me’, I think I’ve found on the production side, more upbeat tempos and more inspiration from the R&B side, and the classical side.
I don’t stick to one lane, I’m not like straight down the middle pop, I like to pour inspiration from all over.
I like putting out music that I like listening to and I like listening to all sorts of music.
Are you still close with your friends from back in your hometown?
Yeah I’m very close. I kind of always had a small group of friends. I didn’t have a tonne of friends. I keep my circle close and small. Actually, one of my best friends, named Shawn, just moved out to LA with me, and we are about to get our own spot in two months.
He is a vegetarian so he is thinking about being a chef.
Tell us about your aesthetic and current style era.
I totally went through a phase where I was thrift shopping a lot, and when I was thrift shopping, I got a lot of ‘80s clothes. All the shapes and overalls and different colours, like really bright. That lasted for two months.
I think now I’m a little more laid back, black pants and a white t-shirt tucked in, nothing too out there. More laid-back, I feel like I’m more of a laid-back person.
I love experimenting with fashion. I love fashion. I remember when I was a kid I wasn’t into fashion at all. I also didn’t have a tonne of clothes at the time. I wore the same shirt and pants all the time.
When I came out to LA, and I saw that everyone is fashionable and everyone is wearing cool stuff, that is when I kind of got into it. And I love it now, I love putting outfits together.
We’re so happy that you’re in LA and you have your family and best friend around you.
Some people go to LA and they feel they need to be a certain way, and they lose their sense of self.
I remember the first time I went out there I was totally dressing that LA style, and doing what everyone else was doing. It was nice to have my best friend come out and my Manager and people like that to keep me humble. I wear what I want to wear.