For most of us, 2020 has been a strange and ultimately perhaps a bit of a depressing year. With the pandemic hanging over us, there have been limited chances for creativity, fun or even career progression, and the world has felt loaded with tragedy.
For London-based songwriter AJ Wander, though, it might just have been the kick up the rear end he needed. Escaping a world of playing piano bars to make rent – that’s not an option anymore after all – he’s released his debut two singles instead, charming pop tracks full of emotion, entitled ‘Time Out’ and ‘Way We Walk’. Both are loaded with potential.
I caught up with AJ to reflect on a year crammed with change…
Congrats on what’s clearly been a very successful lockdown. How has all the contractual stuff come together for you?
Thank you! Itʼs definitely been a crazy time for me. I feel so lucky to have been able to take something positive from this year. I recorded a bunch of tracks with my friend and producer Brad Mair just before lockdown hit in March. I then sent out the tracks to a bunch of industry and subsequently spent much of lockdown in Zoom meetings.
At the end of summer I took on a great team that Iʼm so excited to be working with!
Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you to this point?
This has always been my dream situation…to be releasing music that means so much to me. Iʼve been singing for as long as I can remember, but the piano playing and writing kicked off for me when I was around 14. I joined a band called ʼTorsʼ whilst studying in Guildford in 2015. I spent an amazing few years with the band before leaving to pursue a solo career.
I must admit I got a little side-tracked after leaving the band and drifted into performing at piano bars and hotels in order to pay my rent. I spent two years playing covers for cash, whilst I was still writing during this time, I spent most days kicking myself for not putting my all into my own music.
Lockdown this year forced a shift in attention for me as gigging was no longer an option. I finally started focussing all of my attention onto my artist project which ultimately led me to the point I’m art now.
Why ‘Time Out’ as a debut single, and what’s the story behind it?
When scrolling through my catalogue of songs with the team, ʼTime Outʼ was instantly the track that everybody clicked with as being the place to start my musical journey. It is a song that helped me through a really challenging time and represents being hopeful about the future.
I wrote the song a few years ago, a week after breaking up with my first love. It marked the point at which I first realised our split was inevitable; we were young and she needed to explore the world outside of the one we had created together.
The day I wrote this song was the first time I was able to extract any positivity from the breakup. Not only was it the end of a relationship I held so close to my heart, it was also the start of the exciting unknown.
What can you tell me about the coming EP at this point?
I can tell you that single 2 is scheduled for release on December 9th! Itʼs
definitely a breakup EP but I hope not in an obvious sense. The songs are
quietly hopeful and speak frankly about navigating the emotional minefield that is relationships.
I try to wrap these, often solemn topics, in hooky melodies and anthemic production to soften the blow!
There’s obviously a personal angle to your music. How do you feel putting it out there, and have you had any comment from those you’ve written about?
Writing these songs has helped me through a whole host of rough patches. But no rough patch is unique to me, I hope those listening can find some common ground in there and they can take a new meaning on for others. My songs are my musical kids and I couldnʼt keep them around me forever as theyʼd probably start to annoy me! So Iʼm sending them out into the universe so I can see them do their own thing. No comment from the subjects of the songs yet……a little awkward that, I know.
Is the ‘piano bar’ phase over for you now?
I think so. I do miss it at times but my own music is my passion.
How do you feel all those cover shows helped prepare you for playing your own stuff?
Theyʼve helped me to feel comfortable on a stage and working with other
musicians for sure. They also helped me to to realise that sometimes you just have to go with the flow in a live show and that you should never let drunk people use your microphone. You often donʼt get it back.
How do you see your time with Tors now you’re on your own?
I see it as an amazing phase in my life and career. I treasure so many moments with the guys and miss having my best mates their by my side through this rollercoaster ride that is being a music artist. I am still close with the boys, Iʼm writing with them for a few days down in Devon next week as it happens!
What do you hope is on the horizon for you, once this pandemic is all over?
GIGS! I canʼt wait to get out there and play some songs for people. I really
hope I get the chance to tour my pants off and I never have to use Zoom again.