Wunderkind AJ Mitchell started posting music to the internet when he was just 13, not suspecting that the tunes would take off far beyond his group of friends. But by 15, he was packing up his Illinois bedroom to pursue a musical career in LA, and now, three years later, he’s set to release his first full-length record in the top half of 2020. I caught up with the affable 18-year-old while he was in NYC a few weeks ago to find out more about the journey he’s been on up until this point; we talked about his brief stint with YouTuber Jake Paul’s Top 10 group, how social media has influenced the way he thinks about releasing music, his inner carpenter and more:
So you’re based in LA; how long have you been out there now?
Right, I’m originally from Illinois, but I moved to LA when I was 15. I’d posted some covers and some original music that I was writing at the time of 13, mainly because I wanted to see what my friends thought about it. Then about a year later I started gaining a fan base from it, and I kind of realized, “Oh, maybe you should start taking this seriously and doing this as a career.” So I kept posting more of my songs online, kept posting covers of songs I really liked, and I had a great opportunity to move to Los Angeles when I was 15.
And that sort of came about through Jake Paul, yeah?
Yeah, exactly. So he was the first person who reached out to me, and he was like, “I have this great opportunity for you, this is a group called Team 10; you can come out here and we’d all help each other’s accounts grow. I’d post with you, you’d post with me, and basically it’s a group thing.” So it was a great opportunity, and I ended up going out there and living with him for about four months. And then, you know, they started doing parody videos and more comedy stuff, and for me, I didn’t want to be known as a social media influencer; they wanted me to sing parody stuff, and I didn’t want to be known as that. I wanted to be known as an artist, and I wanted people to actually take me seriously, and I knew if that’s where I stayed then people probably wouldn’t take me very seriously.
So I ended up getting out of that situation, which is when I met my manager. He kind of pulled me out of that. And then once that happened, I started releasing songs independently; I released three songs independently, and off of those songs I went on a short showcase tour. Labels came, and then after that they started approaching, and we started taking meetings with them. When we met with Epic Records it felt right, and that’s how things kind of got started.
How much convincing did it take to get your parents to let you move out to LA at 15? I know you were born in California, so it wasn’t like moving to a foreign country or something, but what was that conversation like?
In the beginning when Jake reached out, my parents both came with me the first time. We met with him, my parents were like, “This is crazy, there’s no way we’re letting you live with a bunch of kids!” So we went back home, and then we came back out two weeks later, we did one last little talk, and my parents were like, “Okay, this is a great opportunity.” For me, I wanted it really badly. I was like, “This is so cool! They’re gonna help me build, and this’ll be a great way to get into the music industry!” So they really understood that it was what I wanted to do, and they’ve always been really supportive with music, ever since I was a kid. So they let me do it, as hard as it was for them. It was really hard for my mom, because I didn’t get to see her as much. But they let me do it.
Right. Now, what’s it like to come of age as an artist in a social media-heavy culture? Do you feel like that has at all shaped the way you think about what you want to do or how you want to release music?
For me, I kind of see music in the same way you use social media; you use social media to post content all the time, so for me, I’ve been releasing new music every two weeks. And it’s kind of been working for me; you put a certain song out, and it gets a certain amount of streams, and then the next two weeks we put out another, and with each release we see more growth and more growth. So I kind of use music in the same way as I use social media since I keep putting out content. Same thing with music videos! When we put out a song, a music video is already ready.
Totally. And what about the content of the songs themselves? Obviously with any sort of creative effort, there’s often going to be this feeling of “molting”, in a way, like, “I felt this type of way in this specific moment, but now maybe I’m not in that place anymore and feel differently.” And in a way, the internet really crystallizes that. So how does that feel for you? I know it’s very intuitive to songwrite, but do you ever feel worried about introducing the result to the rest of the world and have it be out there forever?
I guess I’ve thought about that, but it doesn’t really worry me. When I write songs, it’s something that I really feel. I guess as I get older, you know, everything I write is something that I’ve gone through, so I feel like five years down the road that won’t change too much.
Speaking of songwriting, what’s your creative process like? Do you have any sort of set routine? Or do you have a preferred method of jotting thoughts down?
Yeah, so I bring a laptop with me, because often times I’m working out of lobbies and things. Sometimes I get an idea, I’ll quickly record it in my voice memos; if a melody or lyric pops into my head, I’ll instantly grab my phone and make a note of it. Later I might pull out my laptop and start making some chords, but it really just depends. Sometimes I’m walking down the street and something will pop into my head, and then right when I get home I’ll start writing.
And I assume you work with others to build the tracks out; does it ever feel nerve-wracking to show things in their early stages to other people?
I’m pretty confident nowadays. In the beginning, when I first got into writing sessions, it was really hard to be vulnerable and talk about things I’d been going through, or talk about my life in general with people I didn’t know. But now that I’ve done it a lot more, I’m a lot more confident in being vulnerable and telling people about my life. It’s just talking, really.
Absolutely. Now, you’re 18, and that’s the age that a lot of kids traditionally have been headed off to college. But from your perspective, do you think that’s changing? Obviously you’ve got your career going right now, but do you think in general there’s been a shift away? I can’t imagine a four year university has the same appeal now that the lid has been blown off this sort of permanent state of student debt.
Yeah, I think so many things have changed nowadays. Anyone can go online and just start their own career for themselves. I guess it really just depends on what you want to do; obviously if you want to be a lawyer, then it makes sense to go to college. One of my best friends just moved out to LA and thought about going to college, but he kind of came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be worth it to spend that much money if he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. And I feel like a lot of people do that; they go to college without really knowing what they want to do. So he’s going to wait, maybe take a year, because you can go whenever you want.
So if you weren’t doing music, or if you had more time to do something apart from music, what would you be interested in exploring?
I love building things and fixing things. When I was a kid, my uncle was building houses and stuff like that, so I’d always want to help him. We’d put in wooden floors and build cabinets, stuff like that. So if I wasn’t doing music I think I’d be building houses, be a carpenter or something.
That’s awesome! And honestly probably increasingly valuable skill-wise; I feel like a lot of people are forgetting about hand trades.
Yeah! I think it’s super cool. I feel like when I’m a little bit older I’d like to buy houses and fix them up. Maybe that’ll be a side hustle or something. I love that stuff.
I love that! Alright, before we wrap up, let’s talk about what’s on deck for the last little bit of this year and for the new year on the horizon.
I’m doing all the Jingle Balls until December 23rd, and then I head home, spend time with family, maybe do a little ski trip (that’s what my family likes to do at Christmastime), and then I move out of my parents’ place and get my first place with my best friend on the 27th. I’m so excited. Still living in LA. Then at the top of 2020 I’m releasing my first album, and as of right now, that’s about it!