If you watch videos on YouTube (or have teenagers), then you’ve probably heard of Alex Aiono—or at least heard his voice. He’s the artist behind those seriously catchy song mashups that you inadvertently spend two hours watching.
While his covers were going viral, Aiono was busy recording tracks of his own, collaborating with music industry notables such as T-Pain and John Legend. And the 21-year-old has earned quite the following (dubbed the Aiono Army): 6.5 million YouTube subscribers, 2.5 million Instagram followers and 2.3 million Facebook likes.
Set to release his debut album, the YouTuber-turned-popstar takes his talent to the White Oak Music Hall stage Thursday, Jan. 25, as part of his Feels Like Tour. Houstonia caught up with Aiono to discuss his journey as a young artist trying to navigate life, love, loss and change through music.
When you were 14, before you ever started making cover videos, your family decided to move to Los Angeles from Arizona so you could pursue your music career. What was going through your mind at the time?
I didn’t understand the caliber of what my family and I were doing. I knew I was moving to L.A. to follow my dreams, but even with having parents who listen to their 14-year-old son and say, “Let’s move to L.A. so he can pursue his dream,” there’s so much more that goes into it than getting a plane ticket and going. I had to change from going to regular school to finishing school online. My parents left their jobs and transferred. It was a lot. Now that I look back, it’s a little more shocking than I remember. I was just a kid who wanted to follow his dreams. I didn’t realize how much sacrifice goes into making a big move.
Did you have a moment when you realized you were doing more than just making videos on YouTube?
I think back to how I felt, and it felt like a wave. I just kept doing what I thought was fun and cool and kept being myself. There were definitely big points like when I put out my “One Dance” mashup, my mashups with William Singe, and my “I Spy” mashup. But, at the same time, it was one fluid wave that I’m still riding today.
Do themes of love and loss carry throughout your upcoming album?
(Laughs) I’m very fortunate that that’s not the only thing that goes on in my life. I’m obviously going to have songs about falling in love, getting dumped or moving on, but I’ll also have songs about hoping I don’t change throughout this whole process and making sure my mom is always proud of me. That’s the music’s focus, making sure fans can not only relate, but see me as a person.
You were talking about not changing through this process. How has this whole experience been for you personally?
I’m at such an early stage in my career and journey. It’s best practice to be aware of where you are, who you are now, and how I can keep myself like this. I have so many friends who have been on this kind of journey where they make it to ‘the top’ and lose sight of the person they were at the beginning. I’ve had no struggle in being who I am. But I know from others’ experiences it’s very easy to lose sight of who you are, your goals and why you started making music in the first place.
What was the collaboration with T-Pain like?
That collaboration was special; it was a lot of “the right place at the right time.” I was taking a lot of songs for original music, and “One At A Time” was an idea T-Pain sent over for me. When I recorded, finished writing the rest of the record, finessed it and made it my own, we tried it with his vocals, and it just sounded so fun! I was very happy he was excited and wanted to be on the track.
Do you see yourself continuing YouTube videos and mashups? Where do you see yourself going?
I just want to have fun; that’s what I want to do. I’ve been very lucky to do all of these amazing things: tour the world, travel everywhere and meet fans in different places. I still love making YouTube videos because I have fun. If there comes a point when I’m not having fun doing something, like if there comes to a point when I’m not having fun making a YouTube video, then I’ll probably not do it. And then when I want to do it again, because it’s fun, I’ll probably do it again. Life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy.
Tickets $25. White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N Main St. 713-237-0370. More info and tickets at stubwire.com.