Interview: AJ Mitchell Talks Debut LP ‘Skyview’ & Collaborations
AJ Mitchell ranks as one of the breakout stars of 2019 thanks to a steady stream of very good singles. The 18-year-old has shone on his own, churning out undeniable bops like “Say It Again” and “Like Strangers Do,” and collaborated with acts as diverse as Ava Max, Nina Nesbitt and Digital Farm Animals. The talented teenager, who initially built a following by covering songs on YouTube, is now gearing up for the release of his first album. With half a dozen of bangers already in his discography, Skyview is destined to be an attention-grabbing debut.
I recently spoke with the Belleville, IL native about his prolific 2019 and much-anticipated debut LP. He revealed that Skyview, named after a drive-in theater in his hometown, will be a visual album. Furthermore, AJ explained that it tells his journey from small-town boy in the Midwest to budding, LA-based superstar. Other topics of conversation included his aforementioned collaborations, performing “Slow Dance” with Ava Max at the VMAs and adding a little choreography to his live show. Get to know AJ a little better in our Q&A below.
Let’s talk about “Like Strangers Do.” Is it about being a side dude?
I mean it could be for a relationship, but also for a friendship where you have a falling out. It’s about that awkward moment where it’s almost as if you’re a stranger. It’s like when you see that person you just turn away. Almost as if you don’t know them.
Is it based on something you went through?
Definitely. Yes, experiences with old friends. Ending friendships is always hard. When you see them it’s like, “Oh.” It’s always a little bit awkward. You’ve never sit there and talk it out, and share those feelings. It’s always harder than it has to be.
You are so prolific. I feel like every week there’s a new song.
How far away is your album at this point?
At this point, we’re still trying to figure it out. We have the album done. It’s finished. It comes down to timing and the label. But I’m super excited. Very, very excited for this.
Is Skyview the official title?
It is official. Skyview is actually something that has been a part of my life since I was a kid. Skyview is a drive-in movie theater. It was something that I went to as a kid. It was something my parents went to as a kid with my grandparents. I’m from a really small town. The only fun thing to do is either go into abandoned buildings or go watch a movie at the drive-in movie theater, which was such a cool experience. When I think of my hometown, I think of Skyview. This album’s about who I am and where I came from.
That’s so cool. I can’t remember the last time I went to a drive-in.
It’s so cool. When I release the album, I’m hoping to do a whole experience where fans come and listen to the music with me at the drive-in theater.
At this point, you have so many songs. Is the album all new material or do you include hits from the EPs?
There are definitely songs on the album that have already come out. I don’t want to say which ones. I want to wait until it’s released, so people are like, “Wow. I’m surprised that song is on there.” But there are also numerous songs that I haven’t released yet. I’m very, very excited for people to hear those songs. Many of them are better than stuff that has been released. I’m just so ready for people to hear them.
Can you maybe talk about some of the writers and producers you worked with?
Yes. One of my favorite writers of all time is Sam Roman (AKA RØMANS). I did almost half of the album with him. He really helped shape the album.
What is it about working with him that clicks for you?
I think he’s a very good lyricist. I also think we’re very similar in a way. He’s like my big brother. We’re just so similar. Every time we get in a room we just start laughing. It’s always a good time with him. I feel like that’s the best way to write music. You want to create with people you have a good time with. You can’t really come up with great ideas if you feel uncomfortable. I can really be open with him and he could be open with me.
How do you start a song?
It really just depends. Sometimes I bring up an idea like, “This is something that’s been sitting in my notes. This is something that I’ve wanted to write about for a while.” Sometimes, it can be something completely random. Recently, I wrote a song, that is included on the album, when I heard the words: “Left, right. Left, right.” It sounded like a marching band. I was like, “That would be super cool for a music video, we could have a marching band.” We thought of the video first and then we wrote a song to fit it.
Are visuals important to you?
Yes definitely. I feel like when it comes to music, some people listen to the lyrics and that’s what really gets them. Other people connect with the production. And there are those that need to see the visual, which is why for my album I’m releasing a music video for every song. Every single song.
How do you pull that off? It sounds like a lot of work.
It is a lot of work. It’s definitely a lot of work. I fly to Kansas City tomorrow to film two music videos. We’re just rolling them out and I love it. The fans deserve it, so I’m just going to give them as much content as I can.
What’s your favorite video so far?
I would say the “Slow Dance” video. I love Romeo and Juliet and that’s what we referenced in one of the party scenes. Ava Max was also great to work with. Another one of my favorites is “Without You Now.” It has a cowboy versus robots theme, which was so cool. I got to play this cowboy character. I felt like I was acting a little bit. [Laughs]. It was super fun.
How did the “Slow Dance” collaboration come about?
Originally, I cut the song first. We were trying to decide if we wanted someone else to be on it or if it should just be me. We thought about it. It’s a really intimate song. It just made more sense as a duet, and Ava Max is one of the first people we thought of. We sent it over to her team and she ended up cutting it that day. She sent it back the next day and we were just like blown away. We knew she could sing, but had no idea she could sing like that. It just fit perfectly. She was perfect. Super sweet.
When did you first meet her?
I met her the day before the music video. I didn’t meet her prior to that. It’s funny how it works out. A lot of people think like, “You must have cut together in the same studios.” It doesn’t work like that.
Is it a little awkward to meet someone after recording an emotional song together?
A little bit actually. I wouldn’t say it’s too awkward, but it can be. It’s like you are posting about her online and you are tagging all this stuff, “Me and Ava.” But you haven’t even met yet. It can be a little bit awkward, but when I finally met her it was super cool. We felt like friends already.
What was it like performing the song at the VMAs? A Little terrifying?
Yes for sure. There were a lot of industry people there. I was definitely very nervous. I’ve been watching the VMAs all my life and it was surreal to finally be a part of it. It was amazing to be there and know that I’m performing. It was a little scary, but also, at the same time, I was like, “This is a dream opportunity.” I was very blessed and honored that I was able to do that.
How much effort goes into a performance like that?
So much. For that specific performance, we had a whole gospel choir. We had a full-string section, we had a band, we had dancers. There were so many moving parts.
Are you interested in adding choreography to your performances?
Yes, for sure. Definitely. I feel like dancing is something I really want to get good at. Right now I can do the basics, but I’m no Chris Brown yet.
How did the song with Nina Nesbitt come about?
These producers actually wrote the song with Nina Nesbitt. She wasn’t going to put it out, so they just decided to make an artist name. They released it as their project and they were looking for another singer. I’ve worked with them before and they were like, “You and Nina would sound great on this song.” Then that’s how we got together and put it out. I love the song. I love Nina as well.
I also loved the collaboration with Digital Farm Animals.
So Digital Farm Animals is one dude. I actually wrote a couple songs with him. That song I actually wrote with him about two years ago. About a year went by and that’s when he got signed to a label. They were like, “We want to put the song out.” I immediately agreed because we never thought it was going to be released. It’s one of my favorites.
Do you have a lot of good songs locked away on various computers?
Oh yes. I wrote a song called “Freaky” that was going to be a Halloween song. I wrote it two years ago. We were going to try and release it this year. But I’ve been releasing songs like crazy and we didn’t want that one to distract from those. So another year has gone by. Maybe we’ll release it next Halloween. You never know. For me it’s like we have all these songs, so there’s no reason to hold on to them.
Thank you and good luck with the album.