Like most right now, it's an interesting time for AJ Mitchell. The Illinois-born, LA-based artist is prepped for a big 2020 which will include his debut album Skyview led by current single Spring Break.
Spring Break came just days before most of the globe was placed on lockdown. It was meant to signal the start of the US spring, delivered with a sun-soaked video. That hasn't quite happened but it's now serving as a momentary escape with those vocals and snappy hooks sounding just as sharp.
At the ripe age of 18, Mitchell has already had a sharp trajectory. He's been writing songs since he was a kid and penned his biggest streaming hit Used To Be when he was just 14. Now, he's maturing into a potent pop writer delivering crisp cuts like Slow Dance and Down In Flames.
We spoke to Mitchell early into his self-isolation about how it feels to release a song in the midst of it, the direction of the album and his collaborators Ava Max and Rich The Kid.
How are you going with it? Are you going crazy?
I'm not going crazy yet. For me, this is one of the craziest things that's ever happened in my lifetime. Right now, I'm just taking precautions and not going outside too much. This is the first time I've been out in a few days because I'm running out of food. But I'll head back home and stay isolated.
Is isolation good creative juice for you?
Actually, today I might have some people come over and we'll be writing. It might be a good time to work on my next album.
It's interesting to be talking about a single called Spring Break in these times.
I know, it's a very different time. It's crazy. When I released that it was like, "Yes, spring break!" Now, we're just tryna make it a positive thing and say this is how you can bring spring break to your home.
I was watching the video before. It feels transporting right now.
Yeah it still feels good.
Spring Break was a change for you. It's your first turn-up anthem, really.
Yeah it is. When we were writing it, it came out of nowhere. It's something that I've never put out before but it's a sound I've always loved. It was something when I was younger I loved listening to. Even writing it. Now that I'm finally 18 and can finally talk about more things, it's cool that I can veer into that lane and start releasing music like that.
You're a Lil Wayne fan yeah? It must be nice to tap into the hip-hop world.
It's amazing to get a rap feature on my song and see it all come together.
Did you feel the song needed a rapper when you finished it?
Oh 100%. I knew that it definitely needed a rapper. It brings up the energy a bit.
If Lil Wayne is at the top. Do you have a list of dream rappers to work with?
Drake is dope. I love NBA Youngboy, J.I.D., J. Cole. I have a huge list right now.
How do you feel about giving your song to other people? You've done it with Rich The Kid and Ava Max. Is that scary?
I guess with the people I've given my songs to I wasn't nervous because I knew they were gonna give back something good. That's the reason I chose them because they're so good. Ava Max is super talented. She can sing her face off. Rich The Kid's tone is super dope and I knew him on a verse was gonna turn out cool. I do wonder what I'm going to do if they send back a verse and I don't like it.
I know you grew up writing songs by yourself. How was it to start sharing ideas with other people in the studio?
In the beginning, it was super weird. At first, it made me forget how to write songs because I was so nervous. I wrote all my songs by myself when I was younger and then I started writing with people in LA. I was intimidated. There were a lot of older people with their ideas and I didn't want to give mine because I didn't know if they were good. That stage went for about 6 months and then I started to realise, at the end of the day it's my project and these are the songs that I'm gonna be releasing. I can't have these writers writing all my songs for me. Now every time I go into a session, I go in with my own idea and the melodies I have.
Was there a song that gave you the confidence to do that?
I think it was Down In Flames. I knew from that moment that I needed to be the one to go into every session knowing what I wanted to talk about. I had the idea, I had the melodies and I had the chords. I felt so happy. I wrote this whole song, not by myself, but I felt like it was my song.
You're prepping an album and it's your first chance to make a full statement. Are you happy with what you're telling people about yourself?
Yeah, I'm really happy with it. The songs all show my personality - slow and fast songs. There's like Spring Break which is totally something I haven't done before and then there are songs like Down On Flames. It's cool to get to show those sides on the album.
You've grown up showing songs to your family but now you've got a huge audience to play it for. Do you wonder whether you want everyone to hear your songs before you release?
Definitely. I start over-thinking like, "is the song even good anymore?" You have to go with your first feeling though.
I read that you just wanted to be a songwriter initially. Did you doubt your ability as an artist?
When I was younger I didn't have the confidence to think I wanted to be an artist and that's why I said it. I used to be so nervous to perform my own songs. As soon as I got older, I started performing a lot more. Huge thanks to my parents for pushing me to perform my songs.
How was the transition to LA for your confidence?
I definitely took a hit initially when I moved to LA. I lived with people my age and then I moved in with my manager. I had to learn to grow up fast but I think it made me less nervous about going up on stage and performing because I started doing it early on.
When you get over your nerves you can start being ambitious. Are you starting to think about what an AJ Mitchell arena show might look like?
Yeah. Right now, we're thinking about what the tour looks like. Maybe a floating piano. That would be cool.