I’ve been keeping tabs on AJAY since I saw him at an open mic in 2019; he covered D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” and completely captivated my attention with his crazy smooth falsetto. During the pandemic, which sent the city’s musicians into the lab to create, AJAY made music on his own and waited for the right time to put it out. Two years later, he dropped so many great singles like “Swindlers” and “I Never Slept In The Summer Shade.” I got to see him open for Thee Sacred Souls at Underground Arts in November, and this past month opening for Stereo League at Johnny Brenda’s — he destroyed both sets. And now, that EP is out there in the world: this past Friday, February 3rd, These Yesterdays hit streaming services.
In advance of his release party for the album, I sat down and talked with AJAY about his growth, his inspirations, the appeal of mellow energy and vulnerability, and the often-shiesty music industry he and many Philadelphia musicians have to navigate — a theme that he gives voice to on some of the songs on his album.
Listen to our conversation and read some excerpts below, and this Thursday, February 9th, head to Silk City to see AJAY play live with Jonill and Black Buttafly; tickets and more information can be found at WXPN’s Concerts and Events page.
…on his new singles and why he thinks they’ve got people paying attention.
I think it’s a mix of things. I want to think every time I release something the process gets better. I personally like the new record more than most of my older stuff, which I think a lot of artists probably feel like. I’m also trying to lean into my own sound more. I feel like the first record had a very lo-fi hip-hop meets R&B feel and I feel like now I’m trying to…I mean at the end of the day, I’m trying not to think about genres at all when I create, but naturally when you hear it, there’s definitely more of that indie alternative indie synthy surfy dreamy influence. More than just the R&B/hip-hop tip, now it’s mixing in other things.
…on why he gravitates towards a mellow songwriting style.
It’s funny man, I think that in general there’s a vulnerability to slow music, I think. Really at the end of the day it’s always about the subject matter. People have made these super happy-sounding folk songs that are about someone dying, you know? Crazy stuff. I was talking to one of my older mentors today on the phone, and we were talking about the roots of when I started playing and what kind of music I was playing. And when I reminisce, I’ve always been into slower things. I grew up going to blues jams in Harrisburg when I was 14, and it’s just so funny because anyone who was singing or leading a set would get to choose four songs. And I’d always be like “allright, that’s three slow ones, guess I got to do a fast one.” And now over ten years later, writing my own music, it’s the same way. All my favorite artists sometimes don’t always have that banger on the album.
…on how formative performing experiences shaped him.
Honestly, performing from such a young age was really a blessing. When I grew up, it was everything from local gritty bars where I was playing blues with my old heads, but also everything from little jazz cocktail gigs where I was wearing a suit and tie. I’ve really have had to be a chameleon as a background musician in so many spaces since a young’un and I feel like that lined me up to be a performer.