Musician A.J Shelley-Why I'm not afraid to experiment with my music

A.J Shelley is a young, talented up-and-coming Newcastle singer/songwriter. Creative Collections caught up with A.J to discuss all things music, including why the music of yesteryear is so successful and what make experimenting with music so intriguing.

It’s a mild winter’s day in Hamilton, sunny with a temperature just cool enough to need a light jumper. The main road is buzzing with adults, children, dogs and even news crews reporting on a house fire. We
settle for a moderately busy, cosy café called Tailor’s Workshop which has a great industrial feel to it.

We sit down, order our food and begin our conversation. “I first started learning the guitar when I was eleven, but it was another year before I started to properly play music,” says A.J. But, her interest in music started well before that. “When I was little, I wanted to play the keyboard, but I was no good at that. I tried the cello which also didn’t work. The viola, the flute and the recorder I also attempted but had no success".

A.J Finds Her Rhythm

The moment that A.J picked up a guitar, she knew that she had found the perfect instrument. Within a couple of years, she had progressed to writing her own songs which was a way for her to project her teen angst, feelings and emotions but it would turn into something more significant down the track. “I used to use a lot of metaphors for drugs when I was first writing. But I had no experience with them, so they didn’t have the right effect.” Needless to say, with time and more life experience, A. J’s songs have come a long way.

With the Newcastle music scene being so competitive, it can be hard to find gigs. What makes it particularly difficult for A.J is that she is under 18, meaning that a lot of pubs and clubs won’t allow her to play. She tells me that she is 18 next week which will bring her the potential for more gigs.

I bring up the subject of open mics, knowing that the greater Newcastle region has a lot to offer. A.J tells me about one that regularly plays at called ‘Chicks with Picks’. “Last July I played there, and I quite enjoyed that. I did a live debut of one of my songs off my previous EP and they seemed to really dig it.” In fact, after our interview A.J is headed to Sydney to open for a Chicks with Picks gig there.  As A.J says, it’s difficult to get your own music out there as a lot of places prefer cover gigs which is why such nights are a great opportunity for musicians to showcase their own music.

Musical Influences

While we chat and eat, we notice the old school music playing in the café. A.J remarks that this is exactly the kind of music she listens to regularly and has influenced her music. She really enjoys covering Elton John, The Cure, INXS. If she is playing a gig like ‘Chicks with Picks’ then she usually plays more recent alternative songs.

 “When I was eleven, I got a Katy Perry CD and it was the first CD I have ever owned. I was very content with it until my dad showed me his record collection”. A.J goes on to tell me that this is when she was first introduced to old school rock and alternative music and her appreciation for it has only grown since then. “I love David Bowie’s album ‘Human’. It’s a total mess but I just love the turn of the century experimentation of so many artists in the 90s,” she says as ‘Tainted Love’ plays in the background.

“Music was so experimental back in the 70s, 80s and 90s which is why I think it’s so popular now”.  I can’t help but agree with this statement; so many songs in this say and age sound the same but back them artists took risks so that they could stand out from the crowd. All these years later, people of all generations are still singing along to it which speaks volumes about the quality.

Her influence comes bands that are not afraid to experiment. “I’m being pretentious now, but I think I would get a little more success in my music if it was a little more streamlined and commercial. I don’t know how to produce stuff like that though”.

Writing her own music

A.Js previous EPs are all individual and demonstrate her desire to experiment. She writes, records, mixes and produces her own music from the comfort of her own home which allows her to be as experimental as she wishes. “If I did a generic production maybe more people would like it. I’m hearing the charm of the experimentation, but I don’t think a lot of other people will”. But is being so different in a sugar pop world so bad? In my opinion, no it isn’t and A.J shows a lot of potential to introduce the world to more of what it needs- music that is unique and experimental.

Inspiration for songs comes from anywhere and everywhere. “I’ve written a song about the TV show Skins because it helped me get through my HSC. I rewarded myself with the show whenever I had an assignment to do”.  Her song Public Transport for Vampires was inspired by A.J daydreaming about what it would be like if vampires had to use public transport.

There’s a song written back in 2015 which features on her first EP. A.J says that that song is probably her most popular song to date. “It’s even been used on TikTok. I re-recorded it for my third EP which was a newer version. A lot people really seem to enjoy it”.

Her latest EP Liminal Points was more of a conceptual album, A.J tells me. “They were very story driven. When I play them live to people who don’t know it, I have to give them a quick overview of the context.” A.J confesses that this makes her slightly nervous because playing for the audience and talking to them are two completely different things. “I can put the anxiety aside for a second when I’m playing but if I'm speaking it’s a whole different story and I get nervous”.

After she initially writes the song, before she records and produces it, A.J says that she is often nervous to play it for friends and family. “In my head, I always have the meaning of the song, what the different parts of instrumentation mean, and it’s all laid out in my head”. She says that when she then shows them for the first time and there’s no context it can be tricky.

Releasing her debut album

As our interview comes to an end, A.J tells me about her plans for the rest of 2019. Having already released multiple EP’s, A.J is set to release her debut album. dig where the ground is soft will feature 10 tracks, all of which have been written, performed, recorded and produced by A.J. The album is due to be released on October 31st.

To keep up-to-date with A.J, follow her Facebook page here

Support her on Bandcamp here

Stream her music on Spotify: AJShelley

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