Meet A.j. Thomas, an up-and-coming musician from Nashville who is also an alumnus of North Central. Read all about A.j.’s start in music, his motivation, his spot on “Ellen” and his story about how the lead singer of Hot Chelle Rae helped him fulfill his musical dreams.
Q: Is there one song in particular on the album that has come to mean a lot to you? If you feel comfortable, please explain why.
All of these songs are my babies. It’s crazy the connection you can have with a song when it’s just you and the pen in your room and starting from scratch. There’s one song in particular that sticks out, which is the last song on the album, ‘LYFSGD 1.’ There’s an incredibly long story to why I named the song that, and I’ll try to sum it all up in a few sentences.
‘LYFSGD 1,’ as it looks, is a license plate. It’s my mom’s license plate that came from a conversation that I had with her when I was only 5 years old. I just remember her having a hard day or being upset about something, and I asked her what was wrong. The conversation was short-lived as it would be with any 5-year-old kid. I summed it up by saying, ‘don’t be upset because life’s good, Mom!’ The next day, my mom went to the DMV in Rockford and changed her license plate to LYFSGD 1 and it’s been that way for 21 years!
The song is very personal, and the perfect outro for the project to bring light to better days to come. The song features me beat boxing which is how I first came to music by beat boxing on the bus with my friends as a kid, which gives the listener a bit of a nostalgic and raw feel. It’s eight minutes, nine seconds long, so sit back and really dive into the lyrics with that one.
Q: Talk a little about the making of an album: your commitment, writing songs, etc.
This album came at a crazy time. I had no idea that an album was the end goal. I was making beats for awhile, and my friend, who is also a producer, said to me: ‘These are cool beats, but what is your plan? What are you going to do with all of these?’
At that point I had at least 100 or so beats that I had made and thought about what I really wanted to do. I had always written poetry, but never thought about making them into full songs and recording them, but that’s exactly what I did.
The problem is that I was broke and equipment is expensive. I had a great friend of mine, Ryan Follese, who is a big-time singer and songwriter in Nashville, which most people know him as the lead singer of the popular band Hot Chelle Rae, gave me everything I needed to start recording. He’s going to hate me for saying that, but I’ll never be able to repay him for what he did and how much that meant to me.
At that point, I became an artist and wrote, recorded and produced my first song, ‘Losin My Mind.’ I had recorded many others ideas in between, but never finished a song. I put out ‘Losin My Mind’ on SoundCloud, and in the first day it got over 1,200 plays, which is about 12 times more plays than I thought it’d get in its lifetime. I put that song out Feb. 3, 2017, which featured my girlfriend, Bailey Bryan, on the chorus. Since that song was received well, I decided to dive all the way in to becoming an artist and began writing and recording songs by myself. They ended up having a very similar vibe and organically told the story I wanted to tell about my life.
Q: What has been the biggest motivation for you to produce your own music? Tell me about your background with music.
I’d say my biggest motivation to produce my own music is one: a lack of money. Music is expensive and so many people in Nashville are incredibly talented, but their services come with a price. I knew that if I practiced and worked harder than everyone else to perfect what i wanted to do, then I could produce my own project. I know a few rappers still produce their own work, like J. Cole, who is my biggest musical influence!
I got into music when i was in 4th grade and started playing the trumpet, baritone and field drums in the school band and did that until I graduated high school. I got to do some of the craziest things, like go to the Bahamas and play on Carnival Cruise lines, to playing on the ‘Ellen Show.’ That was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made was to join the school band and learn how to play and read music at a young age.
Q: What do you hope listeners take away from your music?
What I hope people take away from my music is that it’s never too late to go after something you really want. You have to be genuine, too. It’s not going to be easy, and it won’t be popular to friends and family, but if you truly want to, you can make anything happen. You have to work harder than anyone else if you want to be successful in life, but even better than working hard, invest in people.
There’s some crazy things going on in the world today, and a lot of people want to sit back and let it happen and complain about it later. I encourage people to voice their opinions and speak up about what they think is morally correct for the people that not only live in this country, but the entire world. We’re all we got.
We should treat people with the respect and dignity that they deserve as human beings. This is just the beginning of the story that I have to share with the world, and I want people to listen to the lyrics more than anything to get a grasp of my life story and how I came to having a voice in music.
Q: Do you have any plans for the future, or are you taking it day-by-day?
My future plans are to build a live show and move forward with the business side of music which is publishing, booking and possible label options if they come about. I’m definitely taking it day by day, but very aggressively. You definitely can’t sit back in this life and hope things happen. If you want it, you have to go take it.
Q: Finally, a little lighter question, who’s your music idol and why?
My musical idol is J. Cole! “Friday Night Lights” and “2014 Forrest Hills Drive” is a huge reason as to why I moved down to Nashville and got into this portion of music in the first place. His story and mine are incredibly similar, and without him knowing, he changed my life forever and opened an outlet that I never knew was possible.
I’m sure he’s done that for so many, but I wanted and have taken action into creating that for my life and will hopefully be able to do the same thing for some kid from a small town trying to make a difference in the world.
Thomas’ album is now available on iTunes and Apple Music.
*This story has been edited to correct the punctuation of the musician’s first name.