Mitch James – Reaching The Next Level

Catching up with Mitch over the phone, he immediately comes across as your classic Kiwi man. No pretension, just a genuine guy who just happens to be blowing up in the music scene at the moment.
So what’s your story?

I’ll give you a shortened version of it. At school, I didn’t have too many mates so I would go to the music centre at lunchtime and just taught myself guitar and started singing along to it. Eventually, I decided that was what I was going to do so I got a job after I left school cleaning cars and then got enough money to buy a one way ticket to London. When I went over there, I didn’t have enough money to get onto the subway so waited for someone with a pram and I snuck behind them in the larger barriers.

I spent £18 on a hostel and woke up the next day and started busking and playing gigs. I did that for a long, long time and then I came back to New Zealand once and then went back [to London] to give it another try and started making some YouTube videos. After those YouTube videos got noticed, I signed to Sony Music and the rest is history.

Why London? Did you feel like that is where people get found?

Yeah, I sort of found out the hard way that it’s not really. I just always knew it had a bustling musician scene. I have always looked up to Ed Sheeran and that was his blueprint. I saw his success and that I wanted to replicate it in my own way and I just decided London was the place. But you can always find a gig no matter what. You may not get paid or you may just get paid in a couple of free beers or a feed, but there is always somewhere to play, which is what I can sort of contribute to cutting my teeth on.

If you had to start again from scratch, do you think you’d do the same thing? What would you do differently?

Hard to say, retrospectively. I would do a few things differently. I ended up spending some time on the street when hostel prices went up, so I’d definitely change that. But again, it’s also what’s made me so I don’t regret any of it and where it’s got me, but they’d be some intricacies that I would probably change.

During those really rough stages, did you ever consider ‘Oh man, maybe this isn’t for me’? Or did you have a specific goal in mind that you were shooting for?

I always believed that I was good enough to get noticed and do my thing. I’d given myself until I was 27 or 28 and I was going to just tirelessly chase it until then. There was times where I wish I was more comfortable but there was never any stages where I was going to give up and I think that’s what I think got me to where I am in the end. But by no means am I anywhere close to where I want to be, I’m just at the start line.

You’re only just getting your album out middle of this month right?

Yea, next Friday [September 14] actually. It’s crept up really quick.

What was the production process like?

So I wrote for the album for about a year and a half. And it was a very long period, where I wrote a s**t tonne of songs. Then, we wittled them down to about 15 at the start of the year. Me and Ji and Eli from Six60 did a pre-production process of about two months. And then we went off to play the Ed [Sheeran] shows and literally as soon as I got off the plane, we went to Roundhead [Recording Studio] to start the actual recording process which took 5 weeks.

What was it like playing for Ed?

It was absolutely ridiculous. There’s big gigs and then like 10 million feet of nothing and then there’s that. I’ve played big gigs before but 40,000 people is something else; especially in a town like Dunedin where they don’t get many shows like that and people are coming in from all over the South Island.

He’s the biggest act in the world so it was something I would never, never forget. It something that went very quickly because the adrenaline of the whole thing was intense. The man himself was an absolute GC as well!

Do you have any stories about him?

There’s some good ones. I was actually playing UFC backstage with Ji and I was screaming some expletives at him saying I was going to “knock him the f**k out” and I got a tap on shoulder and it was him [Ed]. He’s a legend and I’m very glad to call him a mate.

If you ever had to open for anyone again, who would be your dream to tour with?

It’s probably Ed, to be honest. Once you go with the biggest guy in the world, it’s kind of hard to set your sights on anyone else. He would be number one. Oasis would be a dream but I reckon Noel and Liam would f**king hate my music!

What are the themes of your album? Where did you get your inspiration?

It’s all just real s**t, bro. It’s all just stories that I’ve experienced and it’s like therapy that I’ve just verbally spewed onto a notepad or into a computer. I wrote a song for my friend who struggled to conceive and eventually through a ridiculous story, him and his wife managed to have a miracle child. There’s abortion, there’s love, loss, there’s everything on there.

So it’s really just stories from my life, which I couldn’t be more proud of, especially in pop now where it’s all just empty jingles. Money and girls and drugs. For me, that’s just not what music should be about. For some people it may be, but for me it’s quite the opposite.

What would you tell other young musicians starting out?

I would say just find your lane and work harder than anyone else and never be disheartened by rejections. It’s about keeping a very strong sense of self and knowing what you want to do and not being apologetic for it at anytime.

It has sort of been my unspoken mantra for years and it wasn’t working for a bit and then one day it just did so it made all of the rejection and that ‘what the f**k am I doing here? Why am I playing in front of two people that don’t want to hear me’ and all that, it makes it all worth it in the end. It’s all just being resolute.

Most people would start a high school band, but you went for that solo singer/songwriter lifestyle, right?

Yeah, I didn’t ever have a jam with a band until I had a band. Music was always a very personal thing for me just because when I started playing and writing songs, I didn’t have any friends. So it was always very introspective and something I kept very close to myself.

I wouldn’t have even played a song in front of anyone for two years, I was just so s**t scared of having even more rejection in my life. But once I just embraced it, it just turned into something else.

Are there many songs that hit the cutting room floor that you want to bring back for the next album?

No, not really. I’ve already started writing again before the album’s even out for the next one so I’m always looking forward. But I’ve given all my songs to my publisher so maybe someone else might want to sing them. It’s not that they’re bad songs or anything, it’s more just a mindset of looking forward at all times. I’m very happy with some of them but it’s just that the others were better!

So looking forward, you’re going to release the album and then go on a big supporting tour for it?

Yeah, I’m actually supporting Conrad Sewell in Australia in a couple of days but then later in September is the New Zealand tour which is going to be super fun. Just getting out to all the people that have supported me before it all goes haywire, which will be real fun.

Then I’ve got Aussie headline tour planned later for the year. Then a big support tour in Europe next year which is going to be super, super fun to just get out and grab some new fans by the scruff of the neck.

One last thing that we always ask people here at M2, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

This is from Ed Sheeran: ‘Do not give a f**k about what anyone else thinks’.