BREAKING DOWN WALLS: An Interview with Rising Pop Star AJ MITCHELL

Photographer DRAKE HACKNEY @drakehackney
Editor In Chief VIKTORIJA PASHUTA @viktorija_pashuta
Director/Cinematographer/Editor JOSHUA M. CHÉRIE @m.cherie._
Grooming TATIYANA ELIAS @tatiyanaelias
Stylist JESSE J. GUILLEN @jessejcollections Agency @sixkla
Showroom @thetrendhaus
Location W HOLLYWOOD HOTEL @whollywood


Words by Ebony Williams

Mix together a mischievous nature, explorer instincts, an old soul, a piano, and a supportive family, and you get AJ Mitchell. Raised in Belleville, Illinois, with a population just under 43,000 people, the singer-songwriter had always dreamt of becoming a musician, a craft inspired by his father’s musical serenades to his mother. Despite the usual charms of a small-town life, Belleville wasn’t a place for Mitchell to settle, as he had bigger dreams that didn’t involve trouble.

The wanderlust musician headed west, drawn to the mountains of California after a lucky break. As he jumped headfirst, the bull-headed and sometimes stubborn Taurus, took his chances on fate, relying on his talents to create music that would resonate with the world. With his charm, good looks, and wicked vocal range, Mitchell has amassed over a million followers and billions of streams through his music, inviting listeners into his creative process and imaginative mind. At just 22 years old, Mitchell’s sophomore album, As Far as The Eye Can See, is his most vulnerable and authentic work yet, a collection of songs he describes as a story of the human experience that takes us on a journey through his world of heartbreak, honesty, growth, passion, and expectations.


What was it like growing up in Belleville, Illinois?
It’s a really small town, about six hours south of Chicago if you’re driving, but it’s closer to St. Louis. It’s not the best place in the world, but it’s taught me a lot about life. There’s many different backgrounds of people in Belleville, a lot of diversity. I feel like I got to meet a wide spectrum of life in a way, to where if I grew up in California, I would have a completely different perspective on life. In Belleville, kids grow up pretty fast. Kids get into drugs and join gangs at a young age. I think it’s because there’s not much going on in the town and not many people have money, so you kind of have to figure it out. I wanted to get out of Belleville. It wasn’t a very nurturing place and not a place I needed to be if I wanted to start my career. I ended up leaving when I was 14 because I had an opportunity. Someone reached out and asked me to come out to Los Angeles and start my career. I was kind of blessed in that moment.

What is one lesson you have learned from growing up in Belleville that’s helped shaped who you are today?
I would say one of the best lessons is not really a lesson, but more of a reflection and it’s that I’m extremely grateful every single day. I look back and I remember being in my home all the time, looking outside of my window just so bored. I was always wondering what to do, other than going to an abandoned building to smoke weed. I’m just grateful for where I’m at today and hopefully, I can get my music out to the world and bring something back to Belleville. Maybe I can start something good in the community.

Who has inspired you the most?
My dad. I would have never gotten into songwriting or playing the piano or doing any of that if it weren’t for my dad.

Did you always want to be a musician?
Pretty much! I started writing songs at four. My dad started writing songs for my mom and I guess I was kind of a copycat. I was like, I’m going to write my own songs too, and I’m going to write my songs better than you. Sorry dad! I’m competitive, and seeing him do it, I just had to do it too. Ever since that day, I knew music was what I wanted to do. I was writing, singing, and then started learning the piano.

Is the piano the only instrument you play?
I also play the guitar. It’s pretty difficult to play, but once you lose those calluses on your fingers it starts to get easier.

I want to make people feel good, so to know there’s a billion streams on my songs is the best feeling in the world.

Your first album Skyview was the perfect emotional debut, and it resonated with your fans worldwide, racking up over a billion views. How does it feel to reach so many people?
Honestly, it feels surreal in a way. It’s not really a tangible number that I can hook in my hands. It’s just there and it’s hard to believe in a way. But it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s why I do what I do. I want to make people feel good, so to know there’s a billion streams on my songs is the best feeling in the world.

Can you talk to us about your upcoming album As Far as The Eye Can and the inspiration behind it?
For me, this album is kind of an exploration of the human experience. The way I released the music tells the story a little bit. The first song I released from the album was “Passionate.” Two years before I wrote it, COVID had hit and that was the first time in my life I ever felt depressed. I was working all the time, with COVID, and I stopped working when I was about 18 or 19. I never really sat with myself and thought about my life or all the things I went through. COVID was the first time I really sat with myself. All of my thoughts and everything hit me all at once, which kind of made me a little depressed. I was not very inspired and I stopped posting on social media. I wrote “Passionate” because I was getting that passion back again in my life and I was starting to grow up a little bit. I was starting to understand myself more, understanding the things I went through when I felt the way I did when I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way I did. I guess it was me just growing up and that song was letting people know that I was back and I’m better than ever.

It’s refreshing to hear someone openly admit to struggling with depression and finding ways to overcome it. Is there anything currently lifting you out of those occasional low moments?
I would say the people in my life, the people around me like family and friends. I surround myself with very positive people and they bring me down to earth and remind me why I’m here. They remind me of the per- son that I am. I couldn’t do this without them. They bring me out of my shell and take me to mother nature. They get me out of the house. We play games and stuff. I couldn’t do this without the people in my life.

What feels different about your sophomore album in comparison to the first?
I think a lot of things, but I would say it’s a lot more mature. I’m far more vulnerable in this second album than I was in the first album. I talk a lot about the human experience, the things I have felt from falling in love and falling out of love, to stories about the dreams that I’ve had and things like that.

Do you get scared or nervous when it comes to revealing intimate details about yourself ?
Sometimes, a little bit. But I’ve been doing it for so long now that every time I do, it gets easier and easier. But yeah, it can be really hard to get so vulnerable and it’s something I had to learn a lot over the years. Getting vulnerable in the studio when I’m talking about my life and in interviews is something that I’m slowly getting better at and getting used too. I think it’s a good thing though, because not many people know how to be vulnerable or talk about things like that. I think it’s good for people to hear and they can relate. It’s just like music. They can relate to a song and feel better about themselves because they know someone else is going through what they’re going through as well.

Do you have a particular artist or song that you play to help get you through a hard time?
There’s one specific song I’ve been listening to my whole life and it makes me feel so good. It’s “At Last” by Etta James. I can’t help it, when I’m feeling a type of way, I have to put that song on.

I love that! But now we have to know, are you an ugly crier or can you just vibe and make it through the song?
Not gonna lie, I can make it through the song, sing along to it, and vibe, but if I’m being honest, I can also ugly cry with it.

Aside from Etta James, what other artists do you have on your playlist that might surprise people?
My playlist is all over the place. I listen to a lot of old songs. I have a playlist that I call my “throwback playlist.” It has Stevie Wonder on it, Aretha Franklin, Whitney, Enya, Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese classical artist, and even The Beatles. It’s super eclectic and that’s just my go-to playlist when I’m feeling super nostalgic.


I started writing songs at four. My dad started writing songs for my mom and I guess I was kind of a copycat. I was like, I’m going to write my own songs too, and I’m going to write my songs better than you.

You have such a soulful sound. I love how you incorporate the electro-pop vibe into your music. It’s clear that your musical influences bleed through in your songwriting and creative process. Is there a specific sound you’re looking forward to experimenting with next?
There’s not one specific sound I’m really trying to shoot for. I’m trying to experiment with everything. Just like you said, I love soul and pop and if I can intertwine that into one sound, then hell yeah, that sounds good to me! Anything that makes me feel something is what excites me. It’s like solving a puzzle and then I want to do more.

You are locked in a mall with no WIFI, but you get to bring three people. Who are they and why?
Okay, that’s a good question! I would bring Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars, and Will Farrell just to bring some comedy to the avenue. I’d choose Lil Wayne because he’s one of my favorite artist and Bruno so we cook up in the mall. Let’s make a crazy album honestly! And Will Farrell will bring major comedy energy for the room.

What’s one food you can’t live without?
Pizza. I love pizza. It’s also very nostalgic for me. In Illinois, we would pick up a Little Caesars’ Hot-N-Ready $5 pizza every Friday. I love pizza so much that when I was 13 years old, I stole my parents’ car and went to Little Caesars with eight of my friends just to pick up a pizza.

Who is your dream collab?
Lil Wayne is at the top. I’ve loved him ever since I was a little kid. Also, Chris Martin would be such a fun collab. Jack Antonoff. I think he’s an incredible producer. I’m sad I didn’t get on the Paul McCartney album when he collaborated with a bunch of artists. I’m sad he didn’t invite me. That would have been fun. Oh, and Jon Baptiste! He has great energy. Maybe a piano album. That would be fun.

In a world where no doesn’t exist and money is not an issue, what would be your ideal music video?
Done! So, it would be inside of a pyramid! I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids my whole life and to be able to see them and do a music video inside of one would be great! I don’t know if you can really go inside of them and I don’t even know what you can and can’t do when it comes to being allowed to shoot a music video there, but IF I could do that, that’s what I would do. It would go crazy. If I were standing on it, that would be even more insane!

What would you tell your five-year-old self ?
I would tell him to keep pushing. Keep pushing and when you fall, get back up and stay positive. Don’t let negative thoughts turn you away. Keep the positive ones and you’ll see positive results.

Finish this sentence: In 10 years, I …
I will be a Gammy-nominated artist.

Describe yourself in three words.
Empathetic, funny as hell, and charismatic.

You’re back on the road this summer kicking of your next tour. What’s the process like for you when it comes to touring?
It’s the best feeling! I was supposed to go on tour for Skyview, my first album, but then COVID hit and I wasn’t able to go on tour at that time. Now that I’m able to finally go on tour again, to see the fans, to see everybody, I haven’t been this excited about anything in so long.

What do you want the world to know about you?
I want them to know that music is my life and there’s nothing else in the world that I would ever be doing but creating the best songs anyone’s ever heard. Every time I write, I want to make the best song. I want people to know that’s what I care about most—music.