“I feel that pop music is missing a bit of ‘realness’ at the moment. So these are all real stories, which come from a real place.”
Mitch James’ journey has taken him from sleeping rough and busking on the streets of Europe, to topping charts, performing sold-out shows, and now, his debut full-length album.
Even before the release of the upcoming record, the Kiwi singer-songwriter has amassed over 30 million streams from the handful of songs he’s shared - including ‘No Fixed Abode’,‘Move On’ and ‘All The Ways To Say Goodbye’.
The new chapter in James’ story begins with the album’s lead single ‘21’. The reflective, acoustic-driven track was co-written in Australia with emerging songwriter Mike Waters and showcases a maturity and growth in James’ song writing abilities. ‘21’ captures the nostalgia Mitch feels towards a period “where you have no worries and don’t know how good you have it,” he describes it as a love letter to the people he’s been close to, and the place he loves most in New Zealand, Dunedin.
On song writing he says “We are in this place with pop where everything feels a bit like a jingle, there are great melodies out there, but there’s no real substance for people to cling on to, I wanted to give people stories - stories that they can relate to.” It makes way for an incredible debut record. A raw and honest collection of songs written over the course of 18months, but based on the tangible experiences of his lifetime.
“All the lyrics mean a lot to me, this is all real s*** that’s happened to me, or to people around me. It’s about me chronicling my own journey but also putting stories into a broader sense so that other people will also understand them.”
It also sees the 23yr old artist pushing new ground in the studio -seeking out some of New Zealand’s most well-known musicians, Ji Fraser and Eli Paewai from Six60. Recorded and produced at the legendary Roundhead Studios in Auckland with Simon Gooding, Fraser and Paewai took on the roles of executive producers, with fellow Six60member Chris Mac also lending a hand.
The record is truly the culmination of all that’s been before, for James. From gigging around Europe in 2016 with barely enough to pay for food, let alone a bed at night, to then being signed by a major label. On the surface, James’ rise through the ranks in the highly competitive world of pop appears to have been at lightning pace. But dig deeper and you’ll find the experiences that stretch
back to his early teens, explaining just why he’s now being touted as one of Kiwi music’s next big success stories.
“In my early years at high school, I didn’t have a lot of mates, so I’d lock myself away in the music centre. I’d grab a guitar, go to a practice room and pull up videos on YouTube and teach myself to play,” James says. Influenced back then by the likes of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, James worked hard on his craft. In his words, it “kept me out of detention and gave me something positive to focus on.”
James cleaned cars to save enough for a one-way ticket to London and headed off to chase his dream - having never before played a live gig. What followed was three years of hard graft.
“I played 230 gigs, busked more than 100 times. But I also slept on the street for eight weeks, was robbed twice, beaten up once, and witnessed a stabbing.”
James’ big break came when someone at Sony Music back in New Zealand spotted a video he’d uploaded to Facebook.
His first song ‘No Fixed Abode’ hit #1 on Spotify’s Viral Chart, has racked up more than 17 million streams and is now certified gold in Sweden. In December 2016, he followed it up with his official debut ‘Move On’, which achieved #1 NZ airplay and #2 in the Spotify Viral Chart. It’s since had more than 2.5 million streams on Spotify, while ‘All The Ways To Say Goodbye’ has topped more than six million.
Skip forward to 2018, and the charismatic singer from Auckland has chalked up an incredible list of accolades, from a ‘Best Pop Artist’ nomination at the 2017 VNZMAs, to performing at New Zealand’s biggest festivals, including Rhythm & Vines and Bay Dreams, a
nationwide headline tour in a Kombi van, and playing to over 100 thousand when he opened for Ed Sheeran’s three stadium shows in Dunedin.