This story was edited on Aug. 5, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Since he was a little taller than a piano stool, AJ Smith has been playing music.
“I’ve been playing music ever since I was really little — 3 or 4,” Smith said. “When I was practicing my piano, for some reason I just didn’t really like playing all the Bach and Mozart so I decided I would start improvising and playing my own songs in order to make the practice time go by faster. My mom would hear it instantly and say, ‘Hey, stop playing your made-up music and play what you’re supposed to be playing for your lesson.’”
That “made-up music” was the start of what has been an award-winning journey for Smith. To celebrate the release of his upcoming EP, “Dragons in the Sky,” Smith will be performing at Jammin’ Java on Sunday.
Smith said he got so good at goofing around at the piano, his mother couldn’t tell if he was actually playing what was on the sheet music unless she was standing behind him.
“My mom and I would talk and I had to separate my writing time and my messing around time — as we thought it was then — from my practice time,” Smith said. “Eventually I decided I just wanted to start writing songs on my own. One of the first presents I ever got was a tape recorder … back when we used to listen to cassettes. My favorite song to listen to was ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ I ended up taking the recorder and another one that we had and I would set them up so I could play music on piano and record it on one, then play that back while recording on the other so that I could play violin over top of it. I did that back and forth, back and forth — apparently, I was multitracking, although I had no idea what that was at the time.”
Smith is constantly writing music. He writes for other musicians and has “10 legal pads full of music,” sitting on his desk right now.
“I’d say one of my goals is to make music that’s fun to listen to, enjoyable to sing along with, but has a deeper purpose and a deeper meaning,” Smith said. “I’d like to think my music is an eclectic mix of a little bit of everything. At the end of the day, I want it to be listenable, memorable so that it sticks in your head, and intelligent.”
Last year, Smith was named the 2012 Songwriters Hall of Fame Songwriting Scholar of the Year. After earning a degree from the Steinhardt School at New York University, he was accepted into the Steinhardt’s Master of Songwriting, Film Score, and Music Composition Program as a Carol Bayer Sager Songwriting Scholar.
As an undergrad, he worked with Rosanne Cash and Glenn Frey of The Eagles. He even opened for The Eagles at the Beacon Theatre in New York.
Although Smith said he’s not in a hurry to rush through things, he’s certainly keeping himself busy.
“I’m meeting with a couple of people right now so that we can do some music video shoots so that we can launch the YouTube promotional campaign and start getting my music on YouTube,” Smith said. “Besides that, I’m working in the recording studio already on some other new songs that will be a part of a full-length album. I’m not really in a huge rush to be putting that out yet. I’m going to keep writing new songs and performing new songs as I write them.”
Smith co-wrote the song “Summertime” with songwriter Alex Forbes. When released in Australia in February, the song skyrocketed to No. 3 on the ARIA Club Charts.
“I was a little [surprised],” Smith said. “All of a sudden, we’re No. 3 on the charts out there. I actually just had a Skype meeting with a collaborator out there — he was just signed by a record label and he reached out wanting to see if I would be a featured vocalist and a songwriter for him. When we Skyped, it was so weird because … I mean, it’s on the other side of the world and I haven’t really thought, ‘Oh, my song is No. 3 …’ Even though I know it’s No. 3, I haven’t heard it on the radio where I am, so it doesn’t feel quite real yet. So in this Skype session, this Australian bloke said that he was all starstruck and I was like, ‘Why?’ Yeah, that was really funny. His roommate was like, ‘Oh hey, it’s AJ Smith!’”
Correction: The photographer was not originally credited for taking photos.