cover story Almost Famous November 17, 2019

AJ Mitchell: On track to bookend one of the decade’s bigger music trends

AJ Mitchell: On track to bookend one of the decade’s bigger music trends

It’s a slow dance to the top if you want to be a pop star.

The current decade has launched a barrage of male singer-songwriters, with labels hoping to unearth the next big thing, as one after the other arrived to crack streaming and radio playlists.

Some of the bigger breakthroughs include Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Vance Joy, Shawn Mendes, Dean Lewis, James Bay, Charlie Puth, Alec Benjamin, Troye Sivan, Lauv and Lewis Capaldi.

With so many artists finding a big-enough audience to build a career and retain their major label record deals, the male solo artist just might be one of the top music trends of the twenty-tens.

And it’s a course that’s showing no signs of slowing anytime soon.

James TW, Blake Rose, Fergus James, Aaron Smith and Mitch James are just five of the many rising stars in development, waiting in the wings. Their fate lays in the hands of playlist curators and radio programmers.

But before the next crop creeps into our TikTok feed, there is one Epic Records-signed artist who has already built an impressive following and is tipped to follow in the footsteps of Shawn Mendes.

AJ Mitchell, the 18-year-old small-town boy from Illinois in the US, has amassed over 200 million streams and 20 million views since he was discovered on Instagram two years ago.

His recent singles ‘Used To Be’ and ‘All My Friends’ have placed Mitchell on many Ones to Watch lists in the US and around the world. Now it’s Australia’s turn.

He was Down Under last week to promote his latest cut,  ‘Slow Dance’, featuring Ava Max. “So far it’s been an amazing trip,” Mitchell tells TMN over the phone from Sony Music Australia’s Sydney office.

Mitchell’s path to Epic began on the piano at age four. His father, who is also musical, picked up an old, out of tune upright from their Church; even though some of the keys were missing, he would play it for hours on end.

People in the started to take notice of a then 13-year-old Micthell as his covers and originals gained momentum on Instagram. That led to an ill-fated invitation to move to Holywood and join a boy band. But it wasn’t to be.

“I kind of realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’m a singer, I’m a songwriter and wanted to release my own music and for people to take it seriously,” he says.

“I think, in the beginning, I was a bit intimidated [by the music industry]. I’d always heard stories. But once I met with Epic Records, that’s when I knew these people are amazing and it just feels like a family. I’ve no regrets.”

After leaving the group he met his now manager Mike Spitz, and that’s when everything “started rolling”. Mitchell was courted by multiple labels before forming a connection his Epic Records A&R, Joey Arbagey (Camila Cabello, Zara Larsson).

“When I met with Epic, I met my A&R, which was really one of the main reasons why I wanted to sign with them. He understood who I was as an artist and he saw the vision.”

Together, Mitchell and Arbagey sent a demo of ‘Slow Dance’ to ‘Sweet but Psycho’ singer-songwriter, Ava Max. Within six hours Max had returned the track with her vocals. “When I first head it, I was blown away,” recalls Mitchell.

It’s one of those made-for-radio records that will find its rightful place on airplay charts over the summer months.

A debut album is also in the works and ready for an “early 2020” release, according to his label.

Skyview, named after a drive-through cinema in his hometown of Belleville, includes songs written over the last two years.

“On this album, these are all songs about my life and things I’ve gone through. I just want the world to know who I am, and where I came from.”

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