A.J. Mitchell took a girl to see Transformers at Skyview Drive-In. It was his first date and one of countless pivotal memories from Mitchell’s life involving his hometown movie theater. Skyview was Mitchell’s escape when his friends began getting involved with gangs and other mischief. It has been a safe place for generations in his family, as his parents and grandparents made their own memories there during their childhoods.
“Since it was only open on the weekends, we’d go to Skyview as a whole family rather than me running off doing God knows what,” the 18-year-old pop/R&B artist tells tmrw. “I remember that kids got in free, but once you turned 14, they started charging. So, after my friends and I got too old, my parents started hiding us under blankets in the back seat.”
It wouldn’t feel right for Mitchell’s debut full-length album to be titled anything other than Skyview. The project, due out sometime this year through Epic Records, will pay homage to his roots while simultaneously acting as the first official chapter in what has already been an impressive music career.
Growing up in Belleville, Illinois, Mitchell kept his voice to himself. He was too nervous to let in anybody in on the secret that he could sing. His closest friends had no idea until he decided to take the leap and upload music he had been privately working on. The first official song he released was “Used To Be” in June 2017, which was originally written when he was 13 years old.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” Mitchell says. “It just kind of came out of me. I think people can feel that.” Based on the 12 million views and counting on the “Used To Be” music video, people felt that. His 7.8 million monthly Spotify listeners prove he has only gotten more relatable in the nearly three years since.
“I’ve always been influenced by the people around me and what they’re going through,” he says. “My family and my closest friends inspire me to write songs a lot of the time. I don’t plan on changing that any time soon. Amazing artists like The Beatles, though, kept getting better as writers and musicians, they kept growing and evolving. That’s something I’d really like to be able to do also. To continue learning new things and new instruments. I want to start producing more of my songs. That’s a goal of mine soon.”
Mitchell went from hiding his songwriting from his friends to titling a song after them. “All My Friends” was released in March 2019 and has attracted over 41.7 million streams on Spotify. And while Mitchell aims to get better as a songwriter (reminder: he is just 18 years old), he credits songwriters and producers such as Dan Gleyzer and Sam Romans with helping to get him where he is right now. His budding versatility is palpable throughout his relatively small discography, including EPs Hopeful (2018) and Slow Dance (2019) as well as singles such as “All My Friends” and “Slow Dance.”
“I don’t know if I really ever want to be held down by any one genre,” he says. “I love all kinds of music, and I love to challenge myself to make something I’ve never done before.”
Mitchell’s three offerings so far in 2020 have seen him take another step in maturity.
“Spring Break” featuring Rich The Kid—co-written alongside Gleyzer, Matt Bubel, Chelsea Balan and Grant Landis—finds Mitchell in an R&B lane that he had not occupied before, but his silky voice is right at home.
Mitchell released “Spring Break” in early March before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the majority of the world into lockdown. “It was always meant to be a fun-loving song, and it’s actually kind of crazy because the original idea behind the song was that anywhere could feel like spring break,” he says. “Now that we’re all forced to be in our homes, though, I feel like the song has taken on a new meaning. We’re all stuck in our living spaces forced to make the most out of our situation. I hope now the song can maybe bring a little spring break to everyone listening.”
The MTV Push Artist and VEVO LIFT Artist honoree warns to “expect the unexpected” from Skyview, and it becomes apparent why when “Down In Flames” and “Unstoppable” are released in back-to-back weeks to close out April.
“It feels amazing to show every side of my musicality and not feel confined by any one thing or style,” he says. “Every song will be different from the next because that’s just how I write. I constantly want to be doing something different from the next to keep growing as an artist and person.”
Back when Mitchell’s biggest plans were spending the weekend at Skyview, he figured he would grow up to work in construction. The life he is building for himself is more than he could have imagined.
“Sometimes I still can’t believe any of this is real,” he says. “Other times, I realize I have so much farther to go. I’m forever grateful for everything that I have. To be able to meet people in different countries who say one of my songs helped them in one way or another will always be the greatest thing in the world to me.”
Skyview will give the world a glimpse into where his story began.