There can be few as hardworking or determined as Kiwi singer-songwriter Mitch James, whose journey has taken him from busking and sleeping rough, through to topping charts with his infectious blend of acoustic pop.
In early 2016 James was doing the hard yards in Europe. He struggled to get gigs and slept on the street when he couldn’t afford a bed. Less than 12 months later, he’d signed a record deal with a major label, released two smash hits and headlined his first New Zealand tour.
James released his first song ‘No Fixed Abode’ which hit #1 on Spotify’s Viral Chart, and has racked up more than five million streams since. In December 2016, he followed it up with his official debut ‘Move On’, produced by Sam de Jong, which achieved #1 NZ airplay and #2 in the Spotify Viral Chart. It’s since had more than 1.2 million streams on Spotify, with the video clocking 6 figure views on YouTube.
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 a compelling and inspirational tale that stretches back to his early teens, and explains 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 him out of detention and gave me something positive to focus on”. But the turning point came the day he heard Ed Sheeran. “It was like a perfect storm for me. I looked into his back story and I was like ‘S**t I want to do this. I can do this! I started taking my song writing seriously from that point 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! After three years of hard graft and struggling to make ends meet in the UK and Europe, James’ big break came when someone at Sony Music back in New Zealand spotted a video he’d uploaded to Facebook.
Charismatic, cheeky and full of life, James perks up a room when he walks into it. He’s refreshingly open and honest. And he goes about his music in much the same fashion. His songs are personal; he writes from the heart and delivers with heart.
“They’re all 100% real - real stories and real experiences. I think people have a sixth sense if you’re writing about something that’s fake. I wrote ‘No Fixed Abode’ about Europe. When I wrote ‘Move On’, that’s what I was going through at the time,” he explains.
A prolific songwriter, in July 2017 James released four tracks in four weeks ‘Won't Bother Me’, ‘Saving time’, ‘Lucid’ and ‘All The Ways To Say Goodbye’ (co-written with Grammy Award winning US writer Emily Warren).
The young artist, who now bases himself in Auckland, also possesses the remarkable ability to stand alone on a stage with just his trusted acoustic guitar and a loop pedal, captivating a sea of faces.
It’s easy to see why he’s been described as a breakthrough New Zealand artist. “It’s a huge compliment” says James. And yet, he is very much his own man - a talented songwriter and performer who has earned his stripes at some of the biggest summer festivals in New Zealand, including Rhythm & Vines and Bay Dreams, as well as his 2017 ‘Humble Roadie Tour’ that saw him pack out venues the length and breadth of the country.
Now, the 22-year-old stares down his biggest challenge yet, as he readies himself to take on the world with his guitar and a swag of songs that lay the foundations for a long and exciting road ahead.