KIWI musician Mitch James has gone from fan of Ed Sheeran to friend of Ed Sheeran in less than a year.
James, 23, was 16 when he discovered Sheeran’s No. 5 Collaborations EP back in 2011.
“I’d been kicked out of home, I was at the boarding house at school and I was scouring the internet for new music,” James recalls.
“I came across the No. 5 collaborations EP. I love conversational lyrics, then I fell in love with +, his first album. That started me on my journey of taking songwriting seriously as well.”
Inspired by Sheeran’s musical path, at 17 James headed to England with a one-way airline ticket and minimal cash to try his hand at busking and couch surfing. His two years in Europe and the UK saw him sleep on the street, get robbed twice and witnessed a stabbing.
As is the modern way of being discovered, James was posting cover songs on You Tube (he’d taught himself to play guitar by watching tutorials on the site) which helped him land a deal with Sony in New Zealand.
After a string of singles this year Sheeran hand-picked James to open for him for his three stadium shows in Dunedin in March this year, putting him in front of an audience of 100,000 people.
“The first show was the most intensely stimulating thing I’ve ever been through in my life so I was so grateful there were three shows,” James says.
“In the first show I messed up a few chords in one song, forgot a verse in the other, no one would have noticed though. So I took what I learnt from the first night into the second and was more calm and by the third night I never wanted to leave.”
James went directly from the third show into the studio to record his self-titled debut album.
“There was no time for post-show blues. I got a whole bunch of new fans through being exposed to 100,000 people. I just want to keep climbing up that staircase.”
Recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in Auckland, Mitch worked with Kiwi legends Ji Fraser and Eli Paewai of New Zealand’s biggest band Six60, their funky grooves expanding his sound.
“All my previous stuff had been recorded through a laptop. This album is a huge graduation from what’s already released. It’s more band-y but it’s still acoustic-based pop telling real stories, from missing a place to falling in love to going through an abortion and a friend’s struggle to conceive a child. They’re all real stories I want people to connect to. If they connect to the songs them I’m doing my job.”
It was that instant connection that drew James to Sheeran. So when he finished his album the first person he sent it to was the British chart dominator.
“Two years ago I was pretty much homeless, listening to Ed’s music, being inspired by how he launched his career. To be able to give him my album first was an amazing full circle moment. I’ve kept in good contact with him.”
So much so that James was Sheeran’s guest at one of his sold out Wembley Stadium shows, rubbing shoulders backstage with Niall Horan and Anne-Marie.
“Ed’s just a bloody legend. I think he sees a bit of himself in me. I make sure to never ask for any photos with him, that’s not what mates do, but it was a really surreal moment. The first step was for him to even hear my music, that was just mind blowing for me.
“At the Dunedin shows Ed would come into the dressing room before and after my set every single night without fail. That was professional but also very personal. I’ve never met most of the acts I’ve opened for let alone spent any time with them. You can really see why he’s such a success. It’s not an act.
“We were having a few drinks at the after-party after the second Dunedin show. We spent a few hours just talking to each other. I mentioned in passing that I half stole one of his chord progressions for a song I wrote. I told him I’d loved his music since 2011. He said ‘Would you believe you’re the first artist who’s supported me who has openly admitted to being a fan?’ Everyone obviously respects him, but it was lovely to hear that.”
James (who opened for Conrad Sewell in Australia last month) has already got his eyes set on conquering the world.
Look at my beautiful baby 😍 pic.twitter.com/vN5wBHOFlL— Mitch James (@mitchjameshello)
“I’m massive on the law of attraction and visualising things. So it was cool to be behind the scenes at Wembley and see how it all operates from that perspective and see what can happen if you’re prepared to work hard.”
As well as Sheeran’s album and the first two Six60 albums James loves the first two Oasis albums — Definitely Maybe and What’s the Story Morning Glory? He has the Oasis logo painted on his electric guitar.
“My old man would always play Oasis when I was growing up. It’s pop music with heavy guitars and solos, Beatles music evolved. I still listen to Oasis pretty much every day. They’re songs that are timeless. If music can stand the test of time and have the same effect on me in 2018 when it was released in 1994 and 1995 that’s how you know it’s just f—ing great music.”
Mitch James (Sony) out now