AJ Smith

Interview: Talking with AJ Smith about “Better”

AJ Smith recently released his new single/music video, “Better,, a song about not taking yourself too seriously and staying humble.

Inspired by the cult classic movie Fight Club, “Better” delves into two types of therapy: one, sitting in a chair while the therapist listens, and two, fighting it out, which only brings out the worst in people. Brimming with visceral, primal emotions, the video for “Better” hits home like a roundhouse punch.

The lyrics define the source of his fury: “Why why why / You think you’re better than everyone / As if you’re better than anyone / No you’re not better than anyone.”

AJ Smith is all about bringing pop to a heightened level of creativity through playful irony and recontextualizing everything we love about modern music. The rising star was born to entertain with the undeniable stage presence that he showcased on The Kelly Clarkson Show. Landing a prime spot on a daytime television show is only one of AJ Smith’s accomplishments. He garnered over 100 thousand monthly listeners across streaming platforms and is developing a solid fan base on a global scale. His success comes down to his impeccable ability to develop bubbly pop tracks with a splash of nostalgia.

Impressed by AJ’s evocative voice and his contagious, retro-flavored music, CelebMix spoke with AJ Smith to find out more about the person behind the music, how he got started in music, and how the video came together.

What three things can’t you live without?

Sound, love, and a sense of purpose.

What inspired your new single/music video, “Better?”

The overall theme or message that I wanted to convey in the video is threefold: 1) we all have our inner demons that we’re fighting, 2) we’re all our worst critics and often beat ourselves up unnecessarily, and 3) the entertainment industry in its obsession with “authenticity” and “vulnerability” can often mean exposing our traumas or personal battles to an audience, who cheer on while underneath it all we could be getting stronger or we could be suffering quietly.

To capture this, Evan (the director) and I were talking about referencing some classic films with ‘Better’ and he mentioned ‘Fight Club’ as an option. And I knew that was the perfect fit. I called my friend Ben Schuller, who is an awesome artist and actor in his own right and asked if he’d be down to act opposite me as my imagined nemesis. He really crushed it. Evan wanted a raw, handheld style to capture the rugged intimacy of the conflict. And it really worked out so incredibly well – he did such a great job.

Who directed the video and where was it shot?

Evan Deng of Family Video Store productions. I found an abandoned-looking garage in east Nashville, train tracks in west Nashville, and a great house (also in Nashville) for the therapist’s office scenes.

The video for “Better” is totally different than your last video, “Nobody.” Did you have any input on the two visual concepts?

I actually usually have a pretty specific vision of what I want for every video, way before we ever go into production. It’s sometimes how I know I’ve written a song that I’ll love forever – if I can “see” it when I write it. Beyond that, I’m kinda a little bit of a type A control freak (but hopefully in a fun way!) when it comes to my music videos, down to me making sure the costumes for all of the extras are color-coordinated (In ‘Nobody,’ I put together very specific looks for everyone with matching necklaces, earrings, gloves and more) and often sending exact shot lists to the video teams I’m working with. But while I have a clear vision, I often don’t have the big budget to create my grand ideas and so that requires some creative planning with my incredible directors to figure out what is possible. I also don’t know a lot about the technical side of filmmaking, but I’ve loved learning more about it. So to bring these ideas to life, we usually have to have a good amount of pre-production to go into it so that we can be on the same page and ready to rock for shoot day.

How did you get started in music?

I’ve been obsessed with music since I was a baby. Figuring out how to play melodies on the family piano by ear since I was three and well, the rest is history, I guess.

Where are you from?

Denver, Colorado originally! Then I kept growing up and went to high school in the DC suburbs. 703 represent!

Did your hometown impact your sound?

I played fiddle in a bluegrass band with members from my church growing up, and a lot of them were big classic rock lovers. So, between them and my parents, that’s probably where I got my retro-inspired sound.

Which singers/musicians influenced your sound?

Queen, Panic! At the Disco, Fun., Jukebox the Ghost, Billy Joel, Bruno Mars, and so many more.

Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?

I think I spent a long time trying to fit into different molds rather than just resonating within my nature. Now, I feel like I’ve finally unlocked my sound and who I am and I’m really excited to share what that has turned into.

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?

Stories from friends, family, fans, or my personal life. I don’t read a ton of poetry, but I used to go listen to poetry readings at Bowery Poetry Club when I lived in NYC. I do read a lot of novels, and sometimes there will be a sentence in there that I write down to rework into a song one day.

What can you share about your writing process?

Voice memos, title lists, and a ton of lyrics. I love co-writing because it keeps me accountable to creating that day and because it helps to have another set of ears to bounce ideas off of.

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

So many! It’s such a wild time for music. I’ve really enjoyed following artists like Jordy, Charlotte Sands, Sub-Radio, and more. Sub-Radio is an incredible band out of DC, and I love everything they’re doing right now.

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?

Lots of new music, music videos, and eventually more touring opps too!

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Written by Randy

Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.